DO YOU view the Internet as a competitive threat or a competitive tool?

In “Leveraging the Internet for Competitive Truck Fleet Management,” Todd Arsenault, national account manager for iFLEET, challenged his audience to be forward-thinking business people by understanding the Internet, being comfortable with it, and embracing it as a competitive tool.

He said the Internet is revolutionizing the way people do business. iFLEET is doing it by connecting fleet managers with the drivers they want and the service providers they need so all of them can talk to each other. iFLEET'S automotive fleet support services include customers such as Saturn, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Isuzu, Toyota, Cendant, Sears, and Mercedes-Benz, and its commercial fleet support services include GE Capital Fleet Services, PHH, Bridgestone, Allied Automotive, and NationaLease.

He said iFLEET is much more than a breakdown service. By using the Internet as a communication device through satellite indicators, it allows companies to know that a load may be late and proactively inform their customers.

According to Arsenault, United Parcel Service is an Information Technology/e-commerce leader because it has made an $11-billion investment in technology in the past 10 years — including mainframes, PCs, handheld computers, wireless modems, cellular networks, and 4000 programmers and technicians — and will spend 7.5% of its annual revenue on technology.

Charting Every Shipment

UPS, a $27.1-billion company that handles 13.1 million packages a day and was named Company of the Year by Forbes magazine in 2000, launched its e-commerce strategy in 1996. He said it used to be known as a trucking company with technology. Now it's a technology company with trucks. Its network has improved to the point where it has an immediate knowledge of every movement of shipment, creating a glue of trust for a new wave of global commerce.

“If you know where your package is, you'll be able to put your trust in them,” he said. “It's the same thing with transportation professionals. You've got to deal with it if you're going to continue to stay competitive in this environment and shrinking economy.

“As you deal with your customers, you're going to get their trust. UPS hasn't cut sales people. They're hiring an average of 150 additional people a year.”

Arsenault challenged the audience to become virtual companies using the Internet as a cooperative information system. The formula: Internet = partners = brand = profits.

“If you're building relationships on trust, there's no reason why you can't go out and build competitive advantages with another distributorship of truck parts,” he said. “He may have something you need. Let's say he has systems and you have a warehouse. It's a good partnership. You can launch into the Internet together. Together, you're creating a strong bond.”

He said the future will revolve around smart vehicles (“They have equipment on board to measure every brake or accelerator movement”), smart drivers (“They'll be provided with handheld tools so every product can be scanned so their location is known”), smart customers (“It's a partnership, so help them by offering them more tools and access to you”), and an Internet to hook them up.

The Application Service Provider (ASP) methodology is simply a way to provide information among all members of a service chain.

Put Your Knowledge to Use

What should you do? Throw away everything you've done — the non-integrated, proprietary, single-service philosophy — but nothing you have learned.

His checkpoints to future success:

  • Partner with people who are better than you.

  • Bad people do not do good business.

  • Integrate, integrate, integrate.

  • Control, don't own.

  • Be open. Open systems means you're open to opportunity.

He said the Internet is a less expensive, more effective way to conduct business. The best resources and the best players are delivered down a single pipeline.

He said people in the transportation business don't have enough information to be competitive. There is fragmentation, distribution-channel complexity, and unpredictability of supply and demand.

The functionality of the Internet is shown in its ability to fill information gaps and open doors to effective partnerships.

“Bridgestone/Firestone did not have access to information over the Internet until recently, when we started to provide that service to find out what breakdowns were happening, what the tire pressure was, where those breakdowns were happening, when those tires were ripping off, whether it was causing accidents,” he said. “Can you imagine if Bridgestone/Firestone had that information 18 months ago? Last year, when they made the decision, they would have been able to predict when the stuff was going to fail. They would have known ahead of time to make a recall, rather than to try to patch it all up.

“So the Internet, as a communications device, really gives us more information so we can be in the know, make better business decisions, and continue to increase our business opportunities.”