Bill me Featured

11:38am EDT November 20, 2003
Thousands of transactions from hundreds of locations leads to a logjam of paperwork, faxes and e-mail.

Westlake-based TravelCenters of America, with more than 200 locations in the United States and Canada, was spending too much time dealing with everything from bill presentment to disputed charges. More than 45,000 registered truck drivers and hundreds of large corporate customers were creating a flood of information. The company was also looking for a way to make sure transactions billed to customers were preauthorized.

"What we want to do is have the pump turned on and be pre-authorized by a party," says William Burslem III, director of enterprise systems for TravelCenters. "Up until five years ago, a truck would pull in, fill up with several hundred gallons of fuel, and we wouldn't know how we were going to be paid. Now we are moving to getting the transaction authorized before the pump is turned on."

As part of the overall system, the company needed to be able to present bills to its customers on the Internet to help them manage their drivers in real time.

"We have now presented a means for our customers to come onto a secured site, access their account and take control of their drivers and trucks," says Burslem. "If they use driver-carried cards, they are able to take control of the cash advances they can get. They can review pricing for a particular location and look at all their statements. They can see all they need to authorize a transaction: Driver ID number, an odometer reading or whatever is required. There is also an automated avenue where they can dispute a transaction or a piece of it."

When a dispute is registered, it is automatically sent to customer service, where the discrepancy can be reconciled.

If a truck needs to be repaired, an image of the work order from the TravelCenters' shop can be pulled directly from the shop system and presented in PDF form for review and approval.

"We mail out hard copies now," says Burslem. "We sometimes send out 600 to 700 pages per week. Now the customer gets it the day following when the transaction took place and can download it by various means into their system."

Some trucking firms prefer to issue a purchase order before any work is completed. With this system, the dispatcher or representative from the trucking company can be contacted and authorization obtained to do the work from the work order directly, eliminating the purchase order delay but still allowing the customer to control what repairs are done.

TravelCenters' customers get all the information they need almost instantaneously, and can use the system to help manage their fleets and drivers better. And for TravelCenters, quicker billing means quicker payment, and the customer service aspect of the system helps it beat the competition.

"We think the system will eliminate paperwork on our side and eliminate paperwork on the customer side," says Burslem. "It's all about getting information in front of people in a more timely basis to deal with issues and problems." How to reach: TravelCenters of America, www.tatravelcenters.com


Outside help

When TravelCenters of America needed to develop a complex system to handle customer accounts, billing and purchase authorizations, it went outside the company for help.

After searching for the right company, TravelCenters settled on Cleveland-based e-Ventus, whose product modules already could handle most of the functions the company was looking for.

"The big thing we saw was they already had the working guts of the system we needed and we could take and acquire that through a licensing arrangement," says William Burslem III, director of enterprise systems for TravelCenters. "They were able to get us going within six months. If we didn't have that, it could have been a year to 18 months to develop it."

Ron Quick, product manager for e-Ventus, says TravelCenters benefited from the company's prior development work.

"They saw the linkage of what we already had in our foundation modules would provide them with what they wanted," says Quick. "Around that core, we can embroider any custom solution."

TravelCenters saved more than half of the expected development costs, completed the project quicker than expected, had its employees trained on the system and can now maintain it itself, all while reducing the strain on its e-mail and phone systems and decreasing billing errors.