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McLeod Keeps on Truckin' With Comms APIs
Next time you're out on the interstate and encounter an oversized flatbed loaded up with steel girders, concrete forms, or other heavy construction materials, steer clear (as you're probably inclined to do) but consider this: One of the hottest communications trends may have come into play along the way -- that is, if the logistics firm that connected the freight to the driver uses McLeod Software's messaging-enabled enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems.
With its spring 2015 software release, McLeod began offering SMS integration for ERP systems serving transportation and logistics companies. The primary use case for SMS integration, at the moment, is with the company's PowerBroker freight broker software, Robert Brothers, manager of product development at McLeod, told me in a recent interview.
Logistics companies use the PowerBroker software in matching up freights to carriers. That sounds simple enough, but the thing is, these logistics companies don't own the trucks and don't employ the drivers, Brothers pointed out. That means they don't have established communications channels with them.
"So they need a way to communicate to drivers easily and in a single transaction -- as in, they may never need to communicate with that particular driver ever again," he explained. "They need a way to communicate load information, instructions, status -- all the things that go along with a bill of lading."
Historically, dispatchers handle this sort of communication using their own cellphones, Brothers said. In other words, they'd get the truck drivers' phone numbers, and send them messages back and forth using their personal devices. That's all good and well, but it wasn't systematic, and it involved lots of manual entry of information. "So we saw the opportunity in making it easier to send load information to the driver, including directions, hours, and contact information, and the driver can respond and say, 'Yes, I understand,' or ask questions, and send status," he added.
After considering a variety of options that McLeod deemed unsuitable, it found the Communications API Platform from Bandwidth, Brothers said. Using a Bandwidth messaging API, McLeod has integrated text communications into PowerBroker so dispatchers no longer have to use their personal devices to reach out to drivers. Now, once the logistics company has contracted the delivery of a load, the dispatcher can use the messaging feature from within PowerBroker to send pertinent information directly from the backend systems -- no manual input required, although the dispatcher has the ability to enter free form text as needed, Brothers said. And now when the driver replies, the inbound message gets matched to the logistics company's outbound phone number.
"We've brought the conversations into the system, so the next person coming on can see the history. Trucking, lots of time, moves in the off hours, so this is a systematic way to capture that communications and make it a lot easier for our users to send information to drivers," he said.
When a company signs up for the integration, McLeod is able to provision a phone number from Bandwidth on the fly. All of the dispatchers' outbound messaging to drivers will then pass through that number going forward. Since introducing the integrated messaging capability, about 20 logistics companies have begun using it, Brothers said. "They're already saying to us, 'Wow, we're going to be using this a lot -- we didn't realize how much more communications we would make with the driver.'"
The benefit of increased communications is not to be given short shrift. "In our business model, if you don't have the right information, that causes delay, and the trucking company's customer doesn't get the load delivered on time, and they're counting on that product to make whatever they needed it for."
McLeod already is scouting around for other ways to communications-enable its product lines, Brothers said. Being able to send multimedia messages is one potential next step, which would enable drivers to send images of signed delivery receipts, for example. As he said, "More communication is better in this business."