Software solutions

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.

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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.”

By the mid-1990s, he was out of trucking and into selling Easy Trucking. Due in March, the latest version of Easy Trucking includes expanded bookkeeping options, Internet links to maps and shippers and easier-to-use options.

LoadLedger is another popular program designed for owner-operators. Karen Rudolph created the software in 2000 after growing tired of options that did not help her then-husband figure vital stats such as fuel tax, state miles and tolls. The program now has an integrated accounting system for income and expenses, and it’s compatible with Quicken and QuickBooks. LoadLedger is now marketed by Smart Trucking Solutions.

Truckers Helper also hatched from an owner-operator team, according to the company’s website. The software now includes billing, load management and tracking, dispatch, brokering, accounting, safety compliance, maintenance and fuel-tax tracking. Different versions are available for company drivers, owner-operators and small fleets.

Of course, software isn’t for everyone. Joyce Roberts, who hauled for 18 years as an owner-operator before retiring last year, never used a computer to track her operation. “I kept track the same as I always did – paper and pencil,” the Tell City, Ind., resident says, adding that computers can be infuriating.

For those like Roberts, who are easily frustrated by computers, several software vendors’ websites offer customer support, such as through frequently asked questions or e-mail links. Sometimes help lines go directly to computerized answering machines, but not always. Limberg, for example, prides himself on personally helping drivers over the phone with Easy Trucking.

But if you’re one of the many owner-operators already comfortable with computers, you probably will find the biggest challenge is collecting and entering the data.

Denver-based American Truck Business Services suggests the following considerations before purchasing software that promises improvements to your business:

  • Determine how much time it will save.
  • Determine how the software will reduce operating costs.
  • Determine how long you must use the software before it pays for itself.
  • Make sure your computer specs are adequate to run the program.
  • Try a demo of the product.

Some business software is aimed at one-truck owner-operators. Here are some of the best known products.

ALK Technologies
(800) 377-6453
Voice-activated routing, GPS, fuel/road taxes, fleet tracking and optimization, all with PC*Miler brand name

Applied Arts
(859) 225-1572
Operations consulting, software including Truckin Buddy and Fuel Tax Buddy

(651) 482-1124
Regulatory compliance, online fuel and mile tax services

Edonna Products and Services
(800) 846-1802
Profit tracker, log book and inspection reports, pallet tracker, desktop phone system package

HammerLane Trucking
(800) 772-2716
Online route configuration, trip summary, bookkeeping and toll tracker

Omni Communications
(920) 459-9511
Shipper and receiver tracking, mileage, accounting, all with Easy Trucking Software brand name

PBS Tax & Bookkeeping Service
(800) 697-5153
Downloadable accounting program

(800) 324-8588
Mileage and mapping, fuel tax, fuel management, TruckMiles routing and expense tracking

Prophesy Transportation Solutions
(800) 776.6706
Fuel purchase optimization, fuel tax reporting, log auditing, mileage and street-level routing

Pro Series Trucking
(888) 808-8899
Fuel tax, driver log audit, delivery calendar, custom mileage program, load confirmation

(800) 621-0515
Sells log auditing programs LoadSCAN and EZLog

Smart Trucking Solutions
(317) 713-2925
Sells LoadLedger accounting and recordkeeping software, formerly sold by defunct AntWorx

Spinnaker Fuel Tax
(603) 206-9977
Online fuel tax program includes International Fuel Tax Agreement data for 40 states

TLC Software
(205) 594-5711
Downloadable programs for tracking repairs, fuel use, maintenance schedules, tire work and inventory management

Truckers Helper
Trip reporting, settlement reconciliation, log master, maintenance tracking, fuel reports

TruckMasters Logistics Systems
(208) 324-5191
Tracks billing, maintenance, accounting and log-audit reports