Franchise-based ICAT sees value in switching out its 12-year-old IT system.
By Eric Johnson
ICAT Logistics earlier this year overhauled its information technology platform — a much needed development considering the company was working on a 12-year-old legacy system.
As chronicled by American Shipper
in August 2012 (Franchised logistics
), ICAT has a unique franchise-based model, one that provides a certain amount of autonomy to its network of agencies.
The new platform, called CATS 2.0, is aimed at providing ICAT’s internal team and network of agency partners a system that drives growth, remote access availability, and increased lead generation.
The challenge was to integrate important sharable data between ICAT’s franchisees, while keeping back private information that doesn’t need to be shared with all branches.
Steve Briggs, IT director for ICAT, said the company takes this “stationized” approach seriously.
“We do our best to protect our agency owners’ information,” Briggs said. “There’s no need for one office to see the accounting or contact information of another office’s freight.”
Another complication is commissions.
“With an agency based model, trying to work out commissions is important,” Briggs said. “The corporate office used to receive the invoices and pay, and settle out to the stations. The new system calculates it at the transaction level. It also always calculates commissions for their sales reps. In the corporate world, everybody gets paid by the home office, that’s it. In our world, there are international transactions with duties and such and that gets commissioned out differently. This allows us to automate more of that.”
Externally, the new system does attempt to link ICAT’s agency partners more closely with its vendors.
“We saw the need for interface with our vendors, to be able to receive invoices from our largest vendors. We’ve updated our accounting program so it goes electronically straight to payables and approves shipments for payment automatically. We saw that as an important piece,” Briggs said.
The new system also enhances document management.
“In the old system, if the customer required a hard copy of a document, you had to maintain that,” Briggs said. “Now we require that document to be uploaded. It has benefits on the payment side, for instance, because we have proof of delivery.”
He also noted ICAT has upgraded its customer user interface.
“On the customer facing side, the Website is greatly enhanced,” he said. “Customers could not create quotes for us to spot quote before. Now they can. There are considerably more international pieces. They can complete commercial invoices and they can do their own document management. It’s more of a complete product for them instead of ‘where’s my freight.’ We do want to be a repository.”
Briggs was quick to point out that while IT is a priority for ICAT, the company is a logistics firm first and foremost. As he said, “we have done damn near everything for everybody. Between LTL (less-than-truckload), TL (truckload), warehousing, import/export ocean, customs brokerage, I don’t think there’s anything we haven’t done.
“We’re not an IT company, we’re an IT-focused company,” he said. “Where we can use IT to make everyone’s job easier, that’s where we want to be. It’s easier to throw another server at a problem than add three people. There’s still a mindset in the air freight industry to hire another guy if you have 15 more shipments. It’s still a process to educate our own users. We went live on Jan. 1 and there were struggles as anyone would have moving from a 12-year legacy system. A lot of telling people ‘you don’t have to do that that way anymore.’”
Briggs said ICAT seeks customers interested in a long-term relationship.
“The customer we’re after is more of a partner,” he said. “We don’t want to be transactional. The trick is what happens when something goes wrong. We like to find the customers that are doing their job. We may not be cheaper, but if you’re always tracking your shipments, we can do that in an automated manner. That’s where we excel.”
As for what’s next, Briggs said there are many priorities, both from developers and requests from customers, such as an iPhone app, more access to reports in the system, and increased data mining capability.
“What I would like to see us develop is a dashboard — to be able to show customers year-to-date profit, their top five carriers. What they’ve spent with ICAT this month. There is a laundry list of development items to work through this year,” Briggs said.