RAILWAY AGE, AUGUST 2022 ISSUE: TransmetriQ, the commercial products unit of Railinc, introduces Rail Management System (RMS), which offers shipment tracking and ETA information, electronic bill of lading capabilities and analytics, all in one platform.
North American rail shippers have long sought better information about the status of their cargo. That’s why in early 2021 our team of experts in product, technology, UX (user experience) design and data science embarked on a focused effort to provide shippers with a more effective shipment tracking solution.
Applying more than 20 years of advanced rail technology, along with Railinc’s vast repository of rail data, the TransmetriQ team developed its new Rail Management System (RMS) starting in early 2021. Mission-critical support to RMS developed by Railinc includes:
- Single-source access to data from more than 600 railroads.
- High quality, near real-time data protected by Railinc’s trusted secure data access policy.
- Insights developed by a team with more than two decades of rail experience.
Today, RMS provides powerful shipping data and insights, and it will continue to evolve as machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are applied.
The story of the team’s work is an example of the rail industry’s determination to continuously improve customer service.
The rail industry already provides shippers with safe, sustainable, and efficient supply chain services. The challenge for TransmetriQ was to make those services more user-friendly with improved shipment management and tracking.
The solution started with the creation of a team consisting of TransmetriQ experts along with rail service users and providers. The goal was to develop and prioritize ideas that would benefit all industry participants.
Looking Through Shippers’ Eyes
We soon found that shippers were ready and willing to help with their experience and insights. Initially we were supported by some 25 shippers, large and small and whose shipping needs covered a wide range of commodities and products. This group participated in voice-of-the-customer sessions that yielded valuable guidance for our efforts. Based on this group’s input, we were able to quickly identify primary pain points, mostly having to do with the need for more timely data, a common desire to reduce or eliminate the need to gather data from multiple sources, and to make RMS more intuitive than available rail management systems.
After extensive briefings from these customers, we developed customer personas that helped us understand what they needed from RMS. These personas revealed that the system would need to encompass a wide range of customer demands. One shipper might have a very complex shipping system involving multiple commodities to and from many locations, while another ships one or two products between a few origin-destination pairs. Some are new to logistics while others have decades of experience. Levels of familiarity and comfort with technology also range widely.
TransmetriQ then built a business case for what could be done to successfully address the key needs identified by customers.
In addition to the important business challenges, we sought to address, our team also launched its work in the midst of the pandemic. Fortunately, we had been developing remote work protocols and practices prior to the onset of COVID-19. This allowed us to pivot quickly and continue to effectively communicate and develop a mutual understanding with our shipper partners in the new environment of Zoom meetings and other remote collaboration methods.
Internally, and as COVID-19 guidelines evolved, our business development team was also able to safely assemble in person at Railinc’s Cary, N.C. headquarters for valuable whiteboard visioning sessions. We also started developing screens that would present data to customers in meaningful and easy to understand graphics and dashboards. As development accelerated, our internal team was meeting twice weekly to continue giving the development team timely input and feedback that would permit them to work without interruption.
Knocking Down the Jargon Barrier
Based on customer input, we recognized that the success of RMS would depend on more than timely and actionable data. It would also need to minimize the use of industry jargon and, instead, provide language and terminology that customers were already comfortable using.
Safe and efficient railroad operations rely on complex internal systems, terminology, and location identification information. For example, railroads rely on Standard Point Location Codes (SPLC) that are assigned to every station to manage operations. In cities of any significant size, there are likely dozens, scores, or even more SPLCs.
A shipper in Indianapolis, for example, likely does not know the SPLC that would apply to the specific location of a plant, warehouse, or other shipping location. Until now they had to look up the code, or request that information from their railroad or third party to initiate a shipment. The advisory council made RMS developers aware that this was time consuming and frustrating. As a result, RMS incorporates a more intuitive feature that allows customers to start typing an address, and the system immediately identifies the SPLC that serves that location and fills it in.
Similar easy-to-use features are provided to specify commodities for shipment and customer identification codes, all of which are maintained in Railinc’s Reference Files and linked to RMS.
Envisioning A Busy Future
RMS developers realized early in their work that the initial roll out of RMS would be far from the final result. They crafted the highest-priority components first, and initiated work on subsequent versions as soon as RMS was launched early in 2022.
The next significant offering is the RMS bill of lading (BOL), which will be available before the end of 2022.
When shippers tender a BOL to a rail carrier, the message is—essentially—“our shipment is ready, come and get it.” Historically, BOLs have been created in a number of ways. Larger shippers often have created systems for this purpose, but others need to visit the originating railroad’s website, as well as one or more connecting railroads if the shipment is an interline move (which most are).
The new RMS BOL incorporates the intuitive features discussed above and can easily be created from a shipper’s smart phone, tablet, desk top computer, or enterprise system.
Further down the road, we plan to introduce an RMS virtual assistant that will handle many routine inquiries to save customers even more time as they tender, manage, and track rail shipments.
All of these capabilities are developed to be fully compatible with shipper systems. RMS is fully customizable and can be tailored to the needs of each user. Customers can choose different product modules and data insights and easily build a system that fits the unique business practices of any enterprise.
Eye On The One-Stop Shipping Prize
RMS is designed to serve as the TMS for rail shippers. Just as shippers have come to expect ease of use from highway carriers, railroads understand the need to minimize customer touch points—to provide a shipment management system that keeps things moving seamlessly and then quickly identifies and provides options to resolve exceptions in real time.
As the most powerful, adaptive rail freight management system, RMS allows shippers to make shipping by rail even more efficient and reliable, with these key features:
- Personalized control that enables users to adapt RMS as needs change over time.
- Embedded industry-leading expertise.
- Comprehensive perspective, with a modular design that allows for data integration with other platforms.
- Increased accuracy by leveraging Railinc’s direct connection with railroads to provide high-quality data, fast.
In addition to providing the industry with a higher value freight rail management system, it has been extremely rewarding to work with the dedicated, bright, and diverse TransmetriQ team that was challenged with the profound task of developing RMS. Those who have never worked in the railroad industry might not realize what a rich and resourceful talent pool exists within our ranks. It is the work of our team—individually and collectively—that will support the success of North America’s railroads and its customers for years and decades to come.
TransmetriQ is a group of Railinc (www.railinc.com) transportation experts, product managers, UX designers, software developers, data scientists, and critical thinkers developing insights and solutions that help customers build businesses that compete and win. Our teams work to improve our current products and develop the next generation of business-oriented transportation solutions. Visit us at www.transmetriq.com.