Are Integrations the Way of the Future?
A Chat with Truckstop.com and Industry Partners
By Joel Bartron, Marketing Content & Editorial Director, Truckstop.com
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that as few as 40% of companies have transitioned to digital systems. At the same time, the trucking and logistics trade pubs are lighting up with news of integrations between established TMS’s, ERP’s, and large brokerages’ proprietary platforms. Additionally, with the arrival of Silicon-backed ventures like Convoy, Uber Freight, and others, businesses are scrambling not only to streamline and simplify their operations, but protect their margins and market share. A paper-log-and-rubber-tire-driven industry is suddenly stuck with more and more analog debt when the name of the game is automate and integrate.
Against this backdrop, a few of the players at Truckstop.com sat down and talked shop about integrations: Trent Broberg, General Manager of Truckstop.com, Brett Webb, VP of Integrations, Nick Wynkoop, Product Marketing Manager of Rates and TMS, and a surprise industry influencer, who popped by during the chat.
Wynkoop: All right, integration experts. API, EDI, FTP…generally speaking, what is an integration? What’s happening in the systems?
Webb: From a high-level perspective, it’s a way to marry data and/or services from one source to another. Our goal is to streamline our customers’ workflow so they can get Truckstop.com data and services into their TMS or any other software they use to run their business.
Broberg: Nailed it, Brett. I’ll say too: the industry as a whole has been a laggard with technology – EDI still remains the more prolific means of digital "integration" across systems. This is due, in part, to the large investments of time and money to move off the legacy systems and platforms.
Wynkoop: But, if we back things up a bit, why are integrations so important for transportation organizations? How does it benefit them?
Broberg: When you look at the complexity in transportation, goods change hands from raw materials, manufacturing, warehousing, to the store or home delivery. Each of those touchpoints have a myriad of systems to manage the freight execution.
Webb: Integrations are important on multiple fronts. First, a business can streamline their workflow and gain efficiencies in the system on how their people work. Second, integration provides data (or intelligence) to decision-making and can positively impact the bottom line. Third, even going one step further, integrations might even remove work that exists in the current organization (such as payment systems) and allow those orgs to move people to more strategic growth areas.
Broberg: In order to flow smoothly from one hand to another, an integration or paperwork hand off must happen at each touchpoint. This is adoption of more technology platforms and the integrations of these platforms the freight execution can move faster with less waste. For example: Carrier invoices are manually-processed, overwhelmingly across the industry. Typically, a carrier that is not integrated will email, fax, or snail mail a paper invoice for their accounts receivable. This means heavy, manual data entry on the accounts payable side. An integration to the carrier's accounting or fleet management system to pass this information can easily automate the entire process. Furthermore, the simple questions of "where's my truck" can easily be solved through integration as opposed to a phone call.
[At this point in our chat, we were surprised by a visit from Robert Voltmann, President & CEO of TIA, the industry’s premier 3PL association. Bob gamely sat in for a few questions.]
Wynkoop: And it’s not just the biggest players, right? Where are you seeing smaller organization use integrations?
Webb: It’s definitely not just the big guys. We had an experience just this year with a small brokerage that integrated into their homegrown software, built around their daily processes. The integration was quickly completed and the impact to their workflow was pretty substantial. They suddenly went from delayed feedback to real-time data availability. It sped up the way in which they worked and also helped with the customers they were working with because the data was timely and accurate.
Broberg: Previously, the larger players in the industry had the capital to invest in technology stacks that make integration easy. With companies like Truckstop.com focusing on the broader market, the small and mid-sized players increasingly have an equal playing field. We often see the small, mid-market organizations moving faster as they have more control and are more nimble with integrations. The API economy is growing significantly in transportation – it's no longer a luxury but a necessity to all players in the market.
Voltmann: We always tell new businesses or those looking to enter the industry, “There are three things you need to worry about: cash flow, cash flow, cash flow.” If you’re going to start a brokerage business, you need $150,000-200,000 in working capital. You need to float cash 28 days a month. But with integrations, and the right software, the small guys can play on the same field as the bigger guys. And they can target smaller segments. The bigger players have the advantage early on…but that gap shrinks over time.
Wynkoop: What would you say to a smaller organization with a homegrown system who has never shopped integration options?
Webb: Reach out to us and ask!
Broberg: What she said! In reality, it's not about the integration, it's about the result. Look at what you’re trying to accomplish. Is it a reduction in manual data entry? Increased efficiency? New functionality? From there, reach out to folks like Truckstop.com for our take. We’re always here to help steer you in the right direction, whether or not it's with us.
Webb: Agreed. We have a portfolio of integration points we can walk users through, so a small org could understand and evaluate the impact it could have on their daily workflow and, ultimately, their bottom line. As Trent said, we’re working hard to level the playing field, to increase accessibility to data and services. We’re striving to make our integration products intuitive and easy to integrate in a short amount of time.
Wynkoop: Okay, final lob: What are some of the issues our industry faces, particularly regarding integration? Trent, you mentioned legacy systems and EDI; any others jump out at you?
Webb: I’d have to say: there isn’t just one thing that stands out anymore. We’re getting asked for integration points across capacity, rates, payments, insurance, and tracking on a daily basis.
Broberg: Fragmentation. The industry isn't standardized, plain and simple. Systems, fields, even terminology isn't standardized. Planning up front, and having the resources to plan up front, is always a challenge as well. Two-thirds of the success of an integration is in the planning stages, not the development. Another challenge with integration remains all the new start-ups in the industry. Silicon Valley has produced some great technology but the design and development was completed by those with limited transportation experience, in many cases. This creates adoption and mapping challenges throughout the systems.
Voltmann: Well, the economy isn’t helping. Right now, we’re bouncing along the bottom, so to speak, so businesses have to find ways to cut costs. You can only squeeze so much margin from your carriers or build so much into your shipper relationships without losing their capacity or their business. You have to find other ways to reduce costs. I think the most disruption in the market is going to come from back-office automation and integration.
Webb: Lastly, one of the things that jumps out at me is how many new players are jumping into the transportation industry on certain fronts and, for them to be successful, they require integration. This is putting a demand on the TMS community to do many more integrations and possibly bet on players who might not be around in the future. Not to honk our horn too loudly but I like to think the value Truckstop.com brings is the breadth of our integration products, the fact that we’ve been around 22 years, and our position as the most secure and well-vetted marketplace out there.
Wynkoop: Thanks, team. And a special thanks to you, Bob, for stopping by and giving your take.
Robert A. Voltmann
In June of 1997, Bob was named President & CEO of the Transportation Intermediaries Association. TIA is the only organization representing the interests of North American transportation intermediaries of all disciplines: brokers, domestic freight forwarders, air forwarders, international forwarders, logistics management companies, intermodal marketing companies, and perishable commodity brokers.
Trent Broberg is the General Manager, Truckstop.com and Vice President of Customer Success. Broberg’s background includes more than 13 years of logistics leadership experience with the likes of Swift Transportation and DB Schenker.
Brett Webb serves as the Vice President of Integration Services at Truckstop.com. Webb comes from a diverse development and product delivery background. Brett began her career as a developer before holding various leadership positions in development, quality, and product delivery. She spent 17 years at HP and in her last role, moving to Product Marketing to extend her breadth.
Nick Wynkoop is Truckstop.com’s Product Marketing Manager for Freight Matching and Rates.