September 1999 | Commentary | Supply Chain Technology

QUALCOMM: Managing Information in Motion

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While many technologies have been brought to bear on the supply chain, none have exceeded the importance of the advances in communication. It is all right and good to get products resourced, manufactured and distributed, but if the level of communication to accomplish these tasks is not of the highest order, business is not being conducted most effectively.

Managing information in motion is one of the benefits of new satellite systems technology. Being able to track a product while it's moving—even in remote locations, or in multiple locations—puts a new perspective on just-in-time information and delivery of goods.

Let's talk trucking. Previously, it would have been good news for a dispatcher to know when a tractor leaves a warehouse and when it arrives at a specific distributor. Of course, a dispatcher at both locations and a few phone calls accomplished that type of communication reasonably well in the past.

But the requirements of today's supply chain are far more complex. Companies may be tracking hundreds of tractors, fleets and routes. They may need to communicate with the vehicles regarding load scale, type of load, load assignments, arrivals and departures, routing information, fueling and more.

The supply chain will be well served when companies can have as near to real-time contact with their goods as possible. In addition, economics will be well served when companies can make the right decision at the right time in the right place; whether products are in motion, remote, or of an order of magnitude greater than the day before. Taking guesswork out of the connections within the supply chain is both a functional and a profit goal. You can never have too much good communication.

One company that has vigorously taken on supply chain communication is QUALCOMM Inc., San Diego, Calif. Started in 1986, QUALCOMM makes use of a satellite tracking system. Sales exceed three billion dollars.

QUALCOMM makes its own ground stations for its satellite system and its own phones, but leases the transponder space, according to Susan Hind, QUALCOMM's marketing and communication manager. QUALCOMM's Automatic Satellite Position Reporting system was the first commercially available satellite positioning system in the world.

"We do a triangulation algorithm, which gives us a shipment's location based upon the time it takes for a signal to reach the communications satellite and the truck position," she says.

QUALCOMM offers two systems—OmniTRACS and TruckMAIL—that reflect the scale and complexity of its operations. TruckMAIL can be upgraded to OmniTRACS without additional hardware requirements.

OmniTRACS is the more robust system. At the core of the system is QTRACS system software, which consists of three fundamental parts—integrated mobile hardware, network management services (this center, located in San Diego, processes more than four million messages a day), and application software.

The system connects to the user's host computer and lets information be forwarded to third-party accounts. It clearly supports vast messaging capabilities to and from vehicles for a wide variety of user/company functions. In order to interface with application and operations software such as dispatch, accounting and payroll, the software uses QUALCOMM's own External Applications Links library.

The system offers real-time automated dispatch and multi-user systems functions such as grouping by fleet, zone or region. It has been designed to offer not just messaging but robust data management as well. OmniTRACs offers a host of external application links, including request route/send, update hours of service, empty and available data, trailer yard check, pallet count, and on-road breakdown communication.

The TruckMAIL system has been specifically designed for smaller fleets. The system offers a two-way satellite communication tracking capability. It allows the user to work with accurate ETAs, redirect loads and accomplish different communications tasks between dispatcher and driver. The truck has a mobile full keyboard and display messaging unit on board, as well as an antenna communications unit that acts as the transmitter and is mounted on the tractor.

The PC-based TruckMAIL software for the system resides in the office. These units are coordinated by QUALCOMM's Network Management Center (NMC). The software communicates with the NMC via the Internet or a dial-up connection. Options such as Sensor TRACS give real-time information and allow the driver the advantage of immediate change of plans. This includes exception-based alerts as to thresholds that are set by the company. Other options include the about-to-be-released TrailerTRACS that gives drop and hook data for the trailer; and CabCARD, which offers voice mail and other services for in-cab message delivery.

In addition, QUALCOMM offers JTRACS Pro, which makes it possible to monitor exception-based alerts concerning vehicle faults and other location, time and date specifics.

QUALCOMM has made a heavy investment in strategic planning, according to Hind. One of its recent moves is a creative relationship with Symbol Technologies Inc., particularly Symbol Logistics System's division in Atlanta, Ga. The companies are joining together in a common application-programming interface of Windows CE. Together they will create a computer to run this program. The new offering will be directed at inventory control, driver logs and rolling ETAs. The system will be integrated with QUALCOMM's satellite-based OmniTRACS. In time, the computer will be able to communicate via Symbol's Spectrum24 wireless local area network.

Visit QUALCOMM's web site at www.qualcomm.com for details.

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