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ARCHIVED  July 16, 1999

Eclipse casts long shadow on tall competition

GREELEY — Differentiation was the key for Eclipse Software Systems Inc.

In 1989, when the trucking software company started up in Kansas with a staff of zero and a plan without a product, owners Larry and Lori Steinbecker faced an industry dominated by a select few, large-volume players. But President Larry Steinbecker was less in fear of the competition than he was of creating a clone of the competition’s product, and so followed a self-imposed policy of never knowing what competitors were doing.

“Don’t look at competitors’ software,” he asserted. “That’s how you get locked into a box.”

Eclipse’s competitors are big; the largest does on the order of $80 million of business a year, Steinbecker said. For a two-person upstart, the competition was initially intimidating, but as both Steinbecker and Vice President Luke Lanphear were quick to acknowledge (with wry smiles), their fears were unfounded.

“We finally took a look at their software a few years ago,” Lanphear said with a grin. “No need to fear.”

The Steinbeckers moved to Greeley after two years of business in Kansas and worked out of their home until 1993, when they hired Lanphear and set up shop at their current location. Today, the company has a staff of nine employees, more than 1,800 customers in Canada and the United States and gross sales of approximately $700,000 a year.

Prior to Eclipse’s founding, Steinbecker worked for a trucking company in Kansas. Trucking companies both in the United States and Canada must satisfy rigidly defined safety regulations for their drivers, and at one time, Steinbecker pursued a more efficient way to track the company’s drivers’ compliance.

“We tried to buy log-auditing software, and there just wasn’t anything functional. Later when I needed work, I knew where there was a need and started Eclipse,” he said.

“The compliance issue is definitely important,´ said Craig Zwiener, president of Truck.net Inc., who has made a career of watching the ins and outs of the trucking industry. As the rules currently stand, he explained, a driver can be on the road for a maximum of 10 consecutive hours before taking eight hours off, but drivers can work for 15 straight hours if five are taken in nondriving activities (such as loading or fueling). Keeping track of which drivers are doing what can become complicated very quickly.

“These are the current rules for hours of service,” Zwiener said. “The DOT (Department of Transportation) is really staying on top of this because there’s a lot of anti-trucking groups out there.”

All trucking companies require their drivers to fill out forms detailing the breakdown of hours worked and hours rested. Companies — and drivers — can be audited by the DOT at any time. State police conduct random roadside checks. Weigh-station stops often inspect more than just freight. For trucking companies, preparation for a log audit is above necessity.

“Before I came to Eclipse, I did logs manually, without software,” Lanphear admitted. “I didn’t even know half of the regulations, much less how to enforce them.”

Steinbecker agreed: “The regulations are really tedious. To try to do them manually is almost impossible. The speed was really the breakthrough.”

Eclipse markets a single software package that can be used by anyone in any trucking industry anywhere in the United States or Canada. Regulations vary slightly in some cases for specialized industries, such as oil-field transport companies, but preferences built into the Eclipse Software allow customers to instantly adjust the system to their particular needs.

The company uses three sources to keep up with changes in trucking regulations, Lanphear reported: the Minnesota DOT, which uses Eclipse Software, and two DOT consultants.

“But the rules are very slow to change and when they do, they’re publicized very well,” Steinbecker added.

With the Eclipse Software System, drivers can use any standard log slip (standard as defined by the DOT) to record their hours. Logs are then collected by management and automatically input into the system in a matter of seconds with a scanner. All checks for regulatory compliance based on geography and specific industry are automatically executed.

“They do have a good targeted market right now,” Zwiener said. “The industry is in great shape — the biggest problem we have is recruiting drivers. And there’s a lot of companies out there still doing it manually. The last ones to embrace technology will tend to be the transport companies.”

“Safety tends not to be a well-funded department among trucking companies,” Steinbecker said, estimating that as much as 40 percent of trucking companies have yet to employ an automated system for log auditing. “And that’s just among the substantially sized businesses — smaller companies usually don’t bother.”

MS Carriers, a shipping company based in Memphis, Tenn., installed the Eclipse Software System in January and is in beta testing of the product. “It looks very good,” reported Mark Weber, senior safety manager for MS. “We feel it’s going to be a good tool for us. We’ve been with a lot of different systems, and it seems to be the most capable.”

Weber stressed the importance of accurately keeping up with regulations. “It’s the difference between being in compliance and not being in compliance and for us, that’s the difference between customers shipping or not shipping with us.”

Eclipse’s software is continually evolving, adjusting to the demands — and with the requests — of its clients. The company’s latest breakthrough was development of the scanner interface for its software, but the software, the company and the automatic log-auditing industry will continue to evolve.

Zwiener foresees a highly automated system for tracking truckers’ activities emerging in the near future: “In essence, there will be a wireless node inside the truck that will record everything the trucker does. We go to smarter trucks and go to a paperless log system that is linked to the regulating agencies via an Internet pipe.”

Internet connectivity is certainly a possibility for Eclipse software sometime down the road, but for the time being, Steinbecker has his sights set elsewhere: “We’re always looking for other markets, especially in training and education. We’ll possibly try to get our feet wet in computer-based training, but eventually we’ll go into larger markets.”

But wherever they go, Steinbecker and Eclipse are sure to follow one simple rule: Do not look at the competition. “Try to be creative,” Steinbecker said, “and always try to solve problems your own way.”

GREELEY — Differentiation was the key for Eclipse Software Systems Inc.

In 1989, when the trucking software company started up in Kansas with a staff of zero and a plan without a product, owners Larry and Lori Steinbecker faced an industry dominated by a select few, large-volume players. But President Larry Steinbecker was less in fear of the competition than he was of creating a clone of the competition’s product, and so followed a self-imposed policy of never knowing what competitors were doing.

“Don’t look at competitors’ software,” he asserted. “That’s how you get locked into a box.”

Eclipse’s competitors are big; the…

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