Software solutions

| December 12, 2008

A slew of companies – many started by former owner-operators – offer software that can help you get a better grip on your operation and increase productivity.

Keeping up with expenses, revenue, cost per mile and other aspects of running a business need not be a path marked by worn-out erasers, stacks of paper and unrealized good intentions. Today’s market is flooded with software designed to help keep you trucking, not frustrated behind a desk.

Owner-operator Tom McNiff has been hauling over-the-road since 1970, but only in the past few years started using trucking-specific software. Bekins has provided its owner-operators, including McNiff, with LogSCAN software for three years. He can figure his hours, fuel taxes and how many miles he puts down in several states, among other things.

“I’ve never had a log problem since I’ve started using it,” says the 62-year-old Poughkeepsie, N.Y., driver, who says he was initially gun-shy about relying on computers. “I’ve not been stopped at the scale, which helps. And it helps with your bad adding.” Its biggest benefit: “It saves you a lot of time.”

LogSCAN is just one of dozens of software products squarely aimed at owner-operators. Be they downloadable over the Internet or sold in CD packages, software product choices include hours calculations, settlement reconciliation, fuel taxes, state-line calculations, expense tracking in different categories, maintenance schedules and various cost-per-mile calculations.

“The ways that software can help save truckers money are typically with fuel optimizer programs or mileage and routing programs,” says Angie Bruskotter of American Truck Business Services in Denver, the nation’s largest owner-operator financial services firm. ATBS clients have less cause to run their own business software because ATBS provides tracking services, but those who do often use Excel or Quicken to compare their findings to those of ATBS, she says.

In 2003, only 14 percent of owner-operators who used a computer to track and record business expenses used a software program designed specifically for trucking, says analyst Chris Brady of Commercial Motor Vehicle Consulting, who compiles the Overdrive Owner-Operator Behavior Report. That share grew to 28 percent in 2006, but most truckers still “use a spreadsheet, such as Excel, or a general accounting program such as Quicken or QuickBooks,” Brady says.

Owner-operator software prices vary widely. Pro Series Trucking Software’s new 7.4 Version sells for roughly $1,800 and has features suitable for multi-truck operators, such as quote systems and loads confirmation reports. On the less pricey end, Easy Trucking Software costs about $150.

Most companies – including Prophesy Transportation Solutions, Pro Series and Easy Trucking Software – offer free demos or test periods. Also free are certain functions made available on the Internet.

Prophesy’s website, for instance, has free offerings such as point-to-point mileage, mileage breakdowns by state and truck routing. The Bloomfield, Conn., company’s Planning & Compliance Software – which includes a mileage and street-level routing program titled EasyStreet, plus owner-operator business management programs – offers driver management, fuel purchase optimization, fuel tax reporting, driver log auditing, and scanning and rendition billing.

Julie Harrington, an accounting manager at ATBS, says that using software – be it trucking-specific or general business software – may not save a driver time, but in cases of fuel optimization, it can save money. “It takes away from the time they have to drive and earn money,” she says.

That’s why it’s comforting to know that several of the products available on CD or by download are designed by former owner-operators. Allen Limberg is one. He launched Easy Trucking Software in the mid-1980s as he struggled to track his finances. “I designed a computer program to keep track of my fuel taxes,” he says. “I thought I was overpaying, and it turned out I was right.”

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