ProTrans: The Right Toolbox to Logistics Success

Craig Roeder, Founder & CEO, ProTransCraig Roeder, Founder & CEO When Craig Roeder started ProTrans International, Inc. (ProTrans) in 1993, it did not have showy offices with extravagant interiors like many startups would look like today; in fact, it was the exact opposite. With three employees on the payroll, ProTrans was housed in an undistinguished trailer, parked on a gravel road behind a warehouse. Today, ProTrans is the epitome of logistics perfection, standing tall with more than 1,000 employees and 26 sites across the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. “It is an evolution still in the making,” says Craig Roeder, founder and CEO, ProTrans.

With the passing years, it has been a rollercoaster ride for the logistics industry and ProTrans kept up with the pace.

ProTrans’ initial business plan involved consolidation of Midwestern suppliers for delivery through the emerging maquiladora operations along the U.S./Mexican border. Consolidating multiple customers’ shipments on outbound trailers was largely practical and provided customers significant cost savings over traditional less-than-truckload (LTL) shipments.

However, needs evolved, technology progressed, and businesses in the manufacturing and automotive sectors began looking for a comprehensive solution—a total package that can do more than just tendering and dispatching. Looking at the opportunity, Roeder instantly knew that ProTrans’ roadmap would be aligned in the direction of a more extensive and rich product offering. Third-party logistics (3PL) was the undeniable solution that had the potential to answer these customer-driven challenges. ProTrans diligently ramped with technology at every significant milestone, allowing itself full play in the times of evolving needs and the subsequent innovation in the logistics industry. The fact that their clientele includes several Fortune 1000 companies stands as a testament to its success.

In addition, ProTrans has always understood the concept of inventory visibility that customers are desperate to know as product flows through the supply chain. The sooner customers understand exceptions from supplier shipments versus actual demand, reaction can occur and be corrected before product is needed for production. ProTrans Optimiz system can scan part level information at the point of contact and issue customers shipment information before leaving the supplier locations.

Orchestrating the Supply Chain

Today, ProTrans has become a leader in the manufacturing-driven logistics marketplace with freight consolidation, transportation management, materials management, and cross-border processing capabilities through its 3PL solutions. Most importantly, through dynamic visibility, the company has changed the way its customers look at their supply chains. “We have four unique parties in the supply chain equation, including the customer, supplier, end-distributing customer, and carriers, so our solutions are designed to give real-time visibility to all the stakeholders,” says ProTrans’ CIO Allen Phelps.

As our customer operates their supply chain, we keep applying or modifying the rules to configure and fine-tune their TMS instance. In a nutshell, the software conforms to the business processes of customers versus trying to make the business model adhere to the TMS

The company’s web-based transportation management system, Optimiz TMS, provides what Phelps calls, “enterprise visibility” into a pool of dynamic supply chain information. More importantly, considering the rapid activity that a consignment undergoes, Optimiz TMS is designed in such a way that it doesn’t wait for the user to log in to the portal and view the status. Instead, “we push the information to our customers directly, rather than generating fixed-interval reports,” Phelps adds.

Optimiz TMS has a set of pre-defined customer-specific supply chain configurations in place that limits the need for custom programming. After spending the best part of the last two decades on some of the most sophisticated logistics challenges, Roeder says that each customer is unique. This has helped ProTrans build the customization process where all they need is to add specific business rules for a particular customer. “We have over 40 different e-business rules,” explains Phelps. “As our customer operates their supply chain, we keep applying or modifying the rules to configure and fine-tune their TMS instance. In a nutshell, the software conforms to the business processes of customers versus trying to make the business model adhere to the TMS.” This contributes heavily to the consensus that cultivates among ProTrans’ customers that ProTrans is indeed a ‘perfect fit.’

A Hassle-Free Experience

One of the most important functions of Optimiz TMS is advance shipping notice (ASN) management. Customers can share their release information and ProTrans’ team ensures that the release quantities are validated at the supplier’s end. Instead of waiting for days for the freight to reach the destination and then verify its contents, ASN allows the process to be done at the very first step.

Along similar lines, ProTrans removes the hassles of rate-shopping where customers look for the best possible fleet provider with the least price. First off, ProTrans allows its customers to send their end-customer contracts, and then, through a secure customer-driven portal, they can rate shop with ProTrans’ existing carrier capacity or their pool of contracts from the centralized system, enabling customers to manage transportation costs.

Underpinning all these efforts, Optimiz TMS platform acts as a repository that can store a customer’s material requirements planning (MRP) master data including parts, suppliers, plants, stock count, location, and GL codes. With the right analytics and business intelligence tool, that can process the wealth of information, customers can derive meaningful insights to reduce manual intervention in the movement of any material and also prevent damage to goods.

ProTrans understands the enormous potential that advanced business intelligence holds; and this is why a significant amount of R&D resources are expended toward enhancing their TMS suite to accommodate technologies like big data, analytics, and mobility.

The R&D Lab: Where Better Becomes the Best

“We keep our ears to the ground, constantly looking for the newest technology and finding ways to incorporate them in the logistics ecosystem,” says Roeder. For instance, the IoT is proving to be a whole new ball game for the logistics industry. For its part, ProTrans has invested in RFID and bar code technologies, where a unique traceable chip is embedded in the asset for real-time visibility into the supply chain. The freight recipient can track the whereabouts of the consignment at any time, and check whether the data is accurate, as it does not require drivers to log in the details. The system also keeps them informed about shipment ETAs and delays. “We have also developed a mobile application that labels and keeps track of where each part or piece of the freight is in the supply chain across all our 26 sites,” says Phelps.

Yet another innovation from ProTrans’ R&D lab for a particular client is a heat map that shows each customer a single-screen global view of their shipments in the supply chain, color-coded depending on the priority and ETA of the shipment. In another instance, a Fortune 1000 OEM laid down their specific requirements while moving from their outdated TMS system to ProTrans. By flowcharting the OEM’s entire process chain that displayed a clear picture of their business model, ProTrans helped the client make the transition to the new system within six months, beating the industry norm of one year.

Innovation Is Always On

The team at ProTrans makes it a point to hold customer focus groups to gather new ideas or feature requests. Many of ProTrans ideas have been generated from such meetings. To keep up with their value proposition of being a dynamic player in the market, ProTrans’ R&D lab keeps pushing innovative ideas to be applied to the customer’s transportation network, mobile devices, or software. In fact, part of their ‘dynamic capacity’ comes from the fact that ProTrans’ team comprises university graduates, fresh out of college, who are always brimming with bright and new ideas. “The name ‘ProTrans’ fits our purpose because we have a college-level professional staff running a transportation company,” explains Roeder. “Thus the prefix ‘Pro,’ followed by ‘Trans.’”

"We push the information to our customers directly, rather than generating fixed-interval reports"

ProTrans’ journey from humble beginnings through tumultuous times to what they are now—a market leader— is a fair reflection of the leader and CEO that is Craig Roeder. The route they took from being a NAFTA-specific provider to a global provider, having a single-solution portfolio to a full-blown 3PL, has no doubt given ProTrans all the competencies it needs for continued growth in the logistics industry.

- Chithra Vijayakumar
    July 24, 2017