National Fast Freight delivers Web reporting to top clients

A Canadian transportation and logistics company has expanded an internal business intelligence project by pushing out analytical data to some of its most valuable customers.

National Fast Freight has been up and

running on a customized business intelligence (BI) system based on Microsoft SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition, including Analysis Services and Data Analyzer, for the better part of a year. More recently, however, the Concord, Ont.-based freight consolidation specialist has started offering Web-based access to reports initially developed for its own executives that includes pricing, weight, and shipping history to its approximately 30 of its top clients.

“”Anybody can go in and see how much money they’ve spent with National for the year,”” said Lori McCreight, National Fast Freight’s director and general manager. “”This lets them drill down and say, ‘This is how much I spent to go to Calgary, or Medicine Hat for the year’ and to break it down even further and look it like we do — on a customer-by-customer basis.””

McCreight said the BI project was the brainchild of its longtime reseller partner, Mississauga, Ont.-based GHI Technologies, which saw a way to pull together disparate pieces of data throughout its organization. GHI executive director Graham Hislop said National Fast Freight’s existing data management system provided paper-based reports on a daily basis, but did not allow users the ability to cross-reference information on load status, shipping prices or customer sales.

As a multi-modal transportation company, National Fast Freight works with some 1,500 to 2,000 customers. That’s why it was an easy business case to consolidate its data into the SQL system, McCreight said.

“”If the customer is not profitable, why keep them?”” she said, adding that BI could help the industry as a whole get customer margins to where they needed them. “”A lot of times everybody’s going out for a five per cent increase in rates. In some cases, they might not need it, so why pass that cost on if we don’t have to? Now we can deal with them on an individual basis.””

Hislop said the system keeps about two or three years’ worth of history on each customer. Clients log in to the NFF site and that find a link that takes them to GHI’s servers.

“”National Fast Freight has sort of pulled down their pants and lets their customers know about every transaction that they do with them,”” he said. “”It really gives them a competitive advantage in the marketplace, because what they’re doing is, they’re showing off.””

Microsoft Canada product manager for SQL Server Darren Massel said pushing out analytical data can be an effective customer retention strategy, and that National Fast Freight is one of few organizations to take BI to that level.

“”A lot of organizations are working on getting that capability done and be able to manage the internal side of it,”” he said.

McCreight said the project has seen no major process changes at National Fast Freight, and the learning curve was relatively small. Hislop said he became interested in Data Analyzer since 1999, when it was still owned by Maximal Innovative Intelligence. Microsoft purchased the firm in 2001. Since it’s integrated with Office products like Excel, PowerPoint and offers HTML output, it offers significant visual support, he added.

“”Colour actually means something,”” he said. “”It has thousands of shades you can go to. Obviously green is good and red is bad, but there’s many shades in between that tell you where profitability is lower in some areas and higher than others.””

So far, said McCreight, the biggest benefit has been productivity, allowing users to get in minutes information that would have taken over an hour to compile. The same benefits hold true for National Fast Freights’ customers, she said.

“”A lot shippers’ budgets are being cut,”” she said. “”They have to cut personnel and are being asked to do analysis that their systems can’t do. If you don’t have the personnel, it’s very cumbersome.””

Given the hosting costs, National Fast Freight is only offering access to customers that meet a bechmark minimum of $30,000 in revenue a month, McCreight added.

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