Oops! The input is malformed! Business Intelligence in the Transportation Industry: A Spotlight Q&A with Kevin Webster of Protrans by Ron Powell - BeyeNETWORK
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Business Intelligence in the Transportation Industry: A Spotlight Q&A with Kevin Webster of Protrans

Originally published August 12, 2013

This BeyeNETWORK spotlight features Ron Powell's interview with Kevin Webster, BI Reporting Manager for Protrans.  Ron and Kevin discuss how business intelligence has helped Protrans succeed in the challenging transportation industry.
Kevin, could you give us some background on Protrans?

Kevin Webster: Protrans is a third-party logistics provider located out of Indianapolis, Indiana. We have been around about 20 years, and we do a lot of consolidation work. We have 25 locations in North America where we do warehousing. We do a lot of consolidation of freight. We’ve moved a lot more toward 3PL approach in the last few years, working with larger accounts to optimize their supply chains and provide unique solutions to them.

What are you working on from a business intelligence perspective?

Kevin Webster:  We do a lot of dashboards. We got started on this project wanting to do something for our customers. We had a couple that had seen BI dashboards through their own internal organizations or other places. That sparked an interest in purchasing a product so we could take all their KPI metrics and put them in a place where they could come in and view them at any time. We started doing that and had a lot of success. That’s where this really moved from a project to a department once we found all the different uses. So we had our customer dashboards, and then we moved more toward departments, setting up the KPI metrics of each department and giving them a dashboard where they could come in and view their information. We took all the tedious jobs that we were doing in the past that recorded that information through a lot of manual processes. So we didn’t do as many KPIs for departments because it did take a lot of time.  We’ve also done a lot of emailing of reports. We had one report where every Monday morning we would run all the charges for customers, and then it would get emailed to them. There were a select number of customers – about 40 – and we had an analyst that would log in, run a report, save it, put it in an email and send it. And, then the analyst would do that 40 more times for all the customers. It’s great now having a product like Information Builders where we can set out one report to email out to all of those 40 customers – just their information.  All we manage is the distribution list. It has been great to save us time, to provide more visual representations of how the departments are doing, and we’ve really embraced it over the last few years.

What are you using for business intelligence in your organization?

Kevin Webster: As far as the data sources, for the customers we show their on-time delivery. That’s the big one in our industry. The cost per pound is a big measurement that a lot of the customers like to see. Another metric is general volumes – just showing them who are their larger suppliers and who is shipping on what cadence. Internally, one of our big things is our margin reporting, being able to take what used to be a manual stored procedure where you would get a large data set and that would have all of our shipment level information on the cost and charges. Now we have dashboards where they can log in and see how an account or a region is performing or if a certain carrier is trending positively or negatively as far as comparing the market rates. We’re using a lot more to just analyze stuff that used to be Excel pivot tables or very low-tech dashboards.  

Who is your BI provider?

Kevin Webster: We use Information Builders (IBI). We chose them after we developed a large matrix of BI vendors. The process started with about 25 providers. We listed out all of the top-of-the-line providers, and then we went through a process of identifying over 100 different items that we wanted to rank them on. A big sell for us was customer service, knowing that we were a smaller company that didn’t want a huge investment but still wanted to get into the marketplace with BI at a high level. The customer service has been great with Information Builders, and that was one of the deciding factors as well as all the different functionalities that they have. Luckily we have been able to take advantage of it and do a lot of different items as we’ve grown.

100 metrics – how long did that process take?

Kevin Webster: It took a long time because we looked everything – dashboard quality, different charting options, and more – to identify the top 25 that we liked the best. Our CIO was very integral on this. He selected the product, and then I came along afterwards. I was a finance analyst for the company at the time.

There are a lot of trends such as self-service BI. Are you utilizing self-service BI with your customers?

Kevin Webster: Yes. Part of the Information Builders package is that you can have dynamic filters with a lot of their reports. When we started our first application, we built a customer dashboard and we took things that we were giving them before, and we just put them out there. We received a lot of feedback. For example, one customer wants to see their transportation spend by mode, and the other one wants to see it by their different billing locations. So we took it back to the drawing board and changed the way we were reporting by making everything where they have filters, and they can change the graphs, and they can get the specific information that they want. That’s been good and bad because I think right now our margin reports probably have 25 different filters that they can select as well as 10 to 15 separate reports. They’ve really embraced it and like all the different possibilities, which has led to more and more flexibility and lets them drive and get the piece of information they want. So it saves us a lot of time on doing custom things by letting them decide what they want depending upon the crisis or topic of the day is.

Another trend is big data. How do you approach big data today?    

Kevin Webster: We have a couple of different data sets that are fairly large and transactional based. And, we found that we like to make it so that when an individual is coming in to run reports through our BI dashboards that they don’t have to wait on that computing time. So what we like to do is take some of our more popular data sets and just aggregate them down every night. We’ll use the Information Builders ReportCaster functionality of emailing reports and being able to run things on a set schedule, and we’ll build tables in the morning. So when a customer comes in and they want to run their on-time reports, that’s really a reflection of every shipment in our system but being scaled down to just the core data elements that they report off of. Sometimes we’ll have large data sets where it’s even summarized more, but when they drill through to the different levels, when they get to the bottom it will be the actual data set. So it’s filtered down as they’ve gone through the different levels of selecting what they want to get to. But when they first log in, it’s going to be a quick report. It is going to take away that computing time that the users don’t like to wait on.

What do you feel gives Protrans an edge in your market today?

Kevin Webster: It is a mid-sized company that has grown very rapidly. We’re very tech savvy, so at the start of the company, they built their own transportation management system. We were able to build exactly what fit our model, our pricing, how we operate. We didn’t get something off the shelf, but instead have transitioned to keep making that fit our business. Right now we’re going through a process of creating a new one. As we’ve grown and have gotten a larger customer base and a more advanced set of customers, we want to keep continuing to transfer the way we operate just to make sure it fits our clientele. So it’s a neat place to be because it is fast moving and constantly changing and embracing technology as far as getting a BI product and building our own systems and tailoring it to fit our clientele.

Kevin, it has been a pleasure talking to you today and learning how Protrans uses Information Builders products for reporting and dashboards.

SOURCE: Business Intelligence in the Transportation Industry: A Spotlight Q&A with Kevin Webster of Protrans

  • Ron PowellRon Powell
    Ron is an independent analyst, consultant and editorial expert with extensive knowledge and experience in business intelligence, big data, analytics and data warehousing. Currently president of Powell Interactive Media, which specializes in consulting and podcast services, he is also Executive Producer of The World Transformed Fast Forward series. In 2004, Ron founded the BeyeNETWORK, which was acquired by Tech Target in 2010.  Prior to the founding of the BeyeNETWORK, Ron was cofounder, publisher and editorial director of DM Review (now Information Management). He maintains an expert channel and blog on the BeyeNETWORK and may be contacted by email at rpowell@powellinteractivemedia.com. 

    More articles and Ron's blog can be found in his BeyeNETWORK expert channel.

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