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Ready, Set, Go: How to Make the Switch to a New Railcar Tracking System

Posted on December 12, 2018 | Posted in: Core,Railcar Tracking

Making the switch to a new tracking system doesn’t have to be painful or confusing. It does take a little prep work, however, because you need to understand how your current system serves you and how your new system is going to serve you better. Even if you know your system inside and out, it’s worth taking a step back and talking to your team about the bigger picture. Then you can clearly see how your new system is going to meet your needs, and begin to get ready to make it a reality.

Take a look at the present — and the future.

It’s good business practice to evaluate your processes regularly. After all, your business is constantly evolving, so your processes should too. Railcar management is no different than any other business process. But how do you evaluate a process like this? We have a few suggestions.

To get a solid read on what your current process is doing (or not doing) for you, we recommend asking yourself a few key questions. You’ll probably want to consult with members of your staff who are on the front lines (assuming they aren’t you).

Start with these:

– Is your current system limiting in terms of who can use or make sense of it? If it’s tied to an old system of paper files and digital spreadsheets, you may have a hard time bringing new people up to speed.

– Could a new team member easily begin using it? What happens if the person in charge moves on (it happens) or is away for an extended period? Can someone else on the team step in and keep things running smoothly?

– Is there adequate training and support for staff? How do you bring new people up to speed? If they run into problems, how easily can they have their questions answered?

– Is it easy to generate detailed reports if and when we need them? Access to data is a major hurdle for many traditional systems. Ask yourself how yours stacks up when you need a quick update on a shipment’s status. What about a deeper dive into fleet performance?

– Does our current system enhance our relationships with our customers or railyards, or hinder it? Examine how easily you can respond to customer concerns or questions using your current systems. Can you give them updates quickly and easily, or do you need time to pull things together? How proactive can you be with your updates?

– Do we have easy access to the information we need to make sound business decisions? If an opportunity comes your way, it’s important to have the data you need on-hand to help you make informed decisions. Take a look at how your current system supports that. How easily can you determine the effectiveness of your fleet? Can you reconcile your accounts with the rail yards and avoid costly demurrage fees? Can you take advantage of new opportunities as they arise?

– Does your current system provide all the functionality you need? Look at mobile access, cloud storage, and other options that allow your team to work effectively regardless of where they are physical. Can your current system accommodate remote work, even occasionally? How does this fit with your future business goals and plans?

Prepare your team.

If you’ve been using a traditional system and the above questions lead you to believe that it’s not going to hold up to your needs (current or future), it’s time to consider a new system. We’ll delve into the ins and outs of that in a future post, but regardless of which system you choose, this next step is essential in making the switch: you must make sure your team understands what’s about the happen, and what those changes mean for them.

In our experience, the best way to bring the team on board is to make sure you give them an opportunity to ask questions and voice their concerns. Let them know what will be different and what may stay the same. If technology is a concern, make sure you’ve made provisions for adequate training and support as they figure out the new system.

What about technology?

If technology is — or isn’t — part of your system, you may want to take a look at whether your “dream system” requires updates. Depending on your plans, you may not need to upgrade a single thing, but it’s still good to have plans for the future and to recognize how technology can change business processes.

If you’re choosing a comprehensive system, you should also have help with implementation. Take a look at how your system provider will help you roll out the new processes. Make sure there’s ongoing support for your staff as you all get used to doing things in a new way — training is key, but so is having a way to answer the questions that might come up once you’ve rolled up your sleeves.

You’re all in it together.

A tech-based system is often going to be easier to migrate to a new system rather than one involving hard copies and localized files. The learning curve for your team is likely steeper coming from a traditional system, too. But it can be done, and it can be done well if you know what you want from your new system, where the gaps are in your current way of doing things, and how you’ll walk through the process together.

Regardless of your starting point, it’s important to have a clear picture of your current and new systems before you make the change. With some advance preparation, good communication with your team, and a plan for what you want to accomplish with your new system, you’ll be up and running in no time.

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