The road haulage business has changed out of all proportion over the past 10 years. The removal of customs barriers and the creation of the European single market at the end of 1992 changed the landscape forever.
“It has become very competitive,” agrees Tom Thornton (pictured), general manager of ICS Forwarding, a small freight forwarding and groupage business based in Dublin that has been in existence since 1999.
“We have 11 employees and a turnover of about €4.5m,” he says. “We don’t own our own truck fleet. Rather we subcontract that out.”
To compete with major international players such as Danzas Meadows and ABX, ICS differentiates itself by taking a more personal approach.
“We have to focus on customer service and we try to get a slightly better margin by giving a different and more personal service than the big guys tend to,” says Thornton.
To help the company achieve this, it uses an integrated duo of software applications: Asgard freight management software and Exchequer accounting software.
Asgard is an Irish software house specialising in software for the logistics industry, according to Helen Rahill, managing director of Asgard. The company produces packages for the freight forwarding, haulage and warehousing sectors. In addition, the company is an Exchequer partner.
“Originally we wrote DOS packages which included our own accounting software,” she says. “However, when we moved to Windows we became an Exchequer partner.”
Asgard’s products are integrated fully with Exchequer, she points out. “There is no batch processing. If you are using Exchequer and get a freight-related enquiry you can bring up that data live. Likewise, if you are using an Asgard package and get an accounts enquiry, you can bring up that information live.”
Thornton appreciates this flexibility and power. There are other software packages available, he admits, but they tend to be strong on the freight management side, the accounting functions are not as advanced as a pure accounting package.
The Asgard/Exchequer system allows ICS to record all the data for every job carried out. Data entry can be manual or electronic. In the latter case, partners can email files relating to jobs to ICS and the software automatically captures the data. The software then generates all of the paper work required for the job such as delivery dockets, collection instructions, delivery instructions, manifests, sub-manifests and so on.
“The main advantage is labour saving,” says Thornton. “It avoids duplication of typing documents. From a single data input we get all of the paper output we need.”
This, he says, cuts down on the potential for error but it goes beyond that. It is possible for staff to see the costs for each job as the rates are stored the system and totals are calculated.
Another key facet of the system is its ease of use, a fact that has contributed to the recruitment of staff. Of the 11 employees, four have been with the company since its foundation while the others have joined over the years since.
“I suppose the newer people would be younger and more exposed to computers at home and school and they would find it very easy to work with Windows-based products,” says Thornton. “The Asgard software has the look and feel of Word or Excel. We haven’t encountered anyone yet who has a real issue actually coming to terms with the software.”
In fact, the presence of the software has made it easier to find suitable staff. “In a way you can nearly gloss over the lack of experience they might have in the freight sector,” he says.
In the past, he says, he would have needed to hire someone who knew the industry, how to calculate charges based on volume and mass. Now, however, the software guides the employee through each job, indicating which data are necessary and preventing the job going forward until all necessary fields are filled in.
The next step in ICS’s evolution will be to move to EDI (electronic data interchange) or paperless invoicing. According to Thornton, the project has already started, but it will probably be next March before it is fully operational.
The biggest difference the new invoicing system will bring will be a reduction in the volume of paper. ICS’s system is set up to send a single invoice for multiple jobs if that is what is needed. However, not all of the company’s partners can do the same. One partner who has to invoice a separate invoice for each job accounts for 30pc of the paper invoices that go through the system.
“If, however, we receive his invoices electronically we can check them electronically because his rates will be stored in our system. We can then approve them electronically, post them to the accounts package electronically, reconcile the account electronically and pay him electronically.”
By David Stewart