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6 Performance Benefits Of Transitioning From Spreadsheets To Rail Fleet Management Software

Posted on August 5, 2020 | Posted in: Railcar Tracking

Countless businesses run on rail. And a number of those, also run on spreadsheets.

There are several reasons why spreadsheets are so widely used. They’re standard practice in every company. Most people are familiar with them. And many companies have carefully developed and refined their mission-critical spreadsheets over multiple years. It’s the way things have always been done.

Yet, even the best spreadsheets are prone to mistakes due to human error, malfunctions, and the inability to accurately share, update, and validate data using a single source of truth. The larger the fleet grows, the more data must be collected – which increases the probability of mistakes.

Here are 6 performance benefits that come from migrating to rail fleet management software. And if you’re reluctant to let go of your tried, true and ‘track-tested’ spreadsheets, point 6 will be of particular interest.

1. Reduce errors & oversights with built-in data validation

No one likes making mistakes. Especially when they cause headaches and cost money. 

According to a 2019 article by Oracle90% of all spreadsheets contain errors – and even the most trusted and carefully designed spreadsheets have errors in 1% of formula cells. Furthermore, it’s estimated that one out of five large businesses has experienced financial losses due to spreadsheet errors. 

For companies that run small fleets, even the tiniest error can lead to oversized problems.

Rail fleet management software has mastered the art of exception reporting and automatic population of key data fields (eliminating the need to build countless macros into a spreadsheet). 

For example, if you type the wrong Railcar ID for an order, you’ll be immediately notified of the error. The software can even flag potential risks, such as cases where “product last contained” is not compatible with the new cargo (e.g. trying to assign plastic resin to a car that previously hauled butane or gas). 

With so many built-in checks and balances, a side benefit is that you’ll sleep much better at night!

2. One source of truth ensures everyone is working from the same data. 

While it is now easier to collaborate on the same spreadsheet, it is still common for many within an organization to fiercely hold onto their coveted spreadsheet template with the tenacity of Gollum in Lord of the Rings (“My Precious”).

This can lead to version control challenges, as data can be inconsistent from one user’s spreadsheet to the next… and no one can be sure which is the latest and most accurate version. 

The result? Confusion and uncertainty around everything from scheduling to order management to shipping documentation – which can put your team in an awkward spot with customers and key partners.

With rail logistics software, all data is entered into a single platform by all team members. Updates are available in real-time, ensuring everyone is viewing the latest and most accurate data. The result is a trusted, single source of truth that will ensure everyone is working from the same page.

3. Data is easier to find. 

Locating a specific piece of data in a spreadsheet with hundreds of rows and multiple tabs can be like finding a needle in a haystack. “Linked” spreadsheets further add to the confusion.

This can take employees away from more important duties that support the bottom line.

By centralizing all data in a dedicated software platform, users can take advantage of advanced search functionality to find what they’re looking for in an instant. This can greatly improve operational efficiency and make it easier to manage increased data as you scale your fleet.

4. More accurate data. More responsive and informed decision making.

Bad data leads to bad decision making. 

For companies that rely exclusively on spreadsheets, gathering information from multiple data sources can be laborious and prone to error. 

One of the most cited frustrations by executives is the lag time it takes to receive reports and analytic data. This is due to delays required to compile all necessary information from multiple sources and generate a report on demand.

This is solved with a rail logistics platform that is used by all core team members. Because information is consolidated in the central software platform, reports and analytics can be generated immediately, on-demand. Decisions can be made with greater accuracy and confidence.

5. Alerts bring critical information to your attention.

Alerts are another advantage dedicated rail management software has over spreadsheets. These alerts transform ordinary data into actionable items. 

From automatic reminders that a car is due for service, to monitoring railcars that stop moving for extended periods or mileage tracking warnings that identify if a car may be subject to lease penalty… alerts ensure nothing escapes your attention. 

6. Rail fleet management systems can still play nice with your spreadsheets.

Let’s face it: people have a certain comfort level with their spreadsheets and aren’t ready to abandon them entirely. No problem.

Some rail fleet management systems make it incredibly easy to export reports into spreadsheets. This allows users to continue creating their reports using familiar tools such as pivot tables and charts. And people perform at their best when they’re in their comfort zone. That said, today’s rail fleet management software is incredibly intuitive and easy to use. Most packages do a great job of visualizing data (mapping rail car location and report graphics for example). Once users become accustomed to the system and the many benefits (from data integrity to exceptional reporting to communication to collaboration) they’ll wonder why they didn’t do it sooner

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