Reinforce intermodal transportation systems with fleet management software

Small and midsize shipping companies will have a better grasp of their seasonal overhead costs when they invest in fleet management software to organize trips.

It has been a particularly harsh winter for the freight industry thus far. Many cities throughout the Midwest and the East Coast have gone through more than two consecutive weeks with temperatures hovering below the freezing point. The Cap Times, a newspaper based in Madison, Wisc., said the town finally broke a 23-day consecutive freeze on Feb. 18, when the temperature reached 38 degrees Fahrenheit at nearby Dane County Regional Airport. Several polar vortices and ice storms have made road conditions dangerous, even as far south as Atlanta. Such constant severe weather can make it difficult for fleet managers to deliver their goods on time. However, this notably cold winter has also had a significant impact on other forms of transportation.

Great Lakes ice cover creates unexpected complications for freight businesses
According to a recent report from the Detroit Free Press, extended periods of below-freezing temperatures have led to one of the most expansive ice covers on some of the Great Lakes in recorded history. Throughout one week in early February, the total ice accumulation on all of the lakes increased from 79.4 percent to 88.4 percent. The current record for ice cover is 95 percent, which is what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory observed in February 1979.

"We haven't seen many winters like this that are cold from beginning to end," Jeff Andresen, associate professor at the Michigan State University geography department, told the newspaper. "It has been an extraordinary winter, and the ice cover is a manifestation of that unusually cold winter."

As of Feb. 14, Lake Erie and Lake Huron were the two iciest lakes, with 95.7 and 95 percent ice cover, respectively. If the cold weather continues throughout the Great Lakes region in the coming months, businesses involved in intermodal transportation systems may face unexpected obstacles in their daily shipments. Because most of these bodies of water are impassible when covered by ice, organizations may have to use trucks as a reliable alternative. This would most likely lead to a rapid increase in demand for ground transportation. Without the proper technology, small and midsize fleet operations will be unprepared to take advantage of this valuable revenue-enhancing opportunity.

Use of intermodal transportation is already growing throughout the U.S., mostly as a direct result of the oil and gas industry boom throughout the Great Plains and in Texas. MinnPost, a nonprofit news organization based in Minnesota, reported that oil producers are relying on rail transportation more than ever before - especially as the U.S. debates the environmental impacts of pipeline systems. The publication estimated that the number of rail-based oil shipments will increase from 1 million to 4.5 million barrels per day over the course of the next decade.

Firms must find a way to meet the demands of today's transportation industry
Because of these trends, intermodal freight businesses may be already be operating at full capacity. Taking on additional shipping assignments during the winter as the Great Lakes continue to be covered by ice could lead to disorganization and missed profit opportunities without the right tools. Technology such as freight management software helps fleet owners streamline many of the most time-consuming and complicated aspects of their daily operations. For instance, managers can keep track of small details such as billing and driver payments without losing sight of big picture issues like regulatory reporting and long-term industry forecasting.

Both consumer and manufacturing products make their way around the U.S. through a complex network of freight businesses and distribution channels. The intermodal nature of the industry requires high standards for keeping track of even the smallest details. The owners of small and medium-sized organizations have the responsibility to make sure their operations are running smoothly. This process becomes much easier when firms take advantage of the many benefits of fleet management software. Not only will these tools lead to lower overhead costs, but they will also make the transportation process more efficient and profitable for everyone involved.