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Ascend, ATBS to share data coming off TMS for tax, other services

Ascend TMS, which describes itself as the leading transportation management system for small and medium-sized carriers, is teaming up with a well-known name to use its process as a conduit for financial data organization and information.

Ascend earlier this month announced a cooperative agreement with ATBS, which has long been a leader in tax and financial planning for independent owner-operators and small fleets, as well as providing benchmarking information to its clients. 

In an interview with FreightWaves, Tim Higham, CEO of InMotion Global, of which Ascend TMS is a part, said the deal with ATBS represents another step in the company’s strategic plan to build more services into the Ascend system to give it greater value to customers in the highly competitive TMS market. For example, Higham said there is no fee for Ascend customers to use the services that link data coming off the company’s technology into ATBS’ back office. 

“The more value there is in using Ascend, the more people want to stay with us,” Higham said. “It’s a joint success partnership.” 

Ascend’s small-market base is evident in data noted by Higham: The average number of users per account at Ascend is 2.8. 

The first step in that widening of offerings, according to Higham, came with a cooperative arrangement with Superior Trucking Payroll Service, which has been in effect for three years.

“[Prior to that deal], we would get questions all the time from our customers, not just how you use Ascend but the biggest question was about payroll,” he said. 

Higham provided an extremely basic description of the nature of the Superior-Ascend relationship on payroll.

“So we have a button in Ascend and when it’s pressed, all the information for payroll goes to Superior,” he said.

Superior does its usual payroll process, and  Higham said Ascend is now the largest referral source for Superior. A similar structure will govern the relationship between Ascend and ATBS. 

Ascend had been receiving questions through its customer service team.

“[Questions like] how do I use QuickBooks? How do I do bookkeeping? What tax categories should I be using?” said Higham. “And that was beyond the realm of what our customer service folks can do.”

Higham said in his meetings with Todd Amen, the president and CEO of ATBS, Amen pointed out his company had “the opposite problem.”

“Todd said all this stuff is coming in to use piecemeal and shoddy and it is not organized,” Higham said. “To be better organized, a TMS would help do that.”

Discussions between the two companies began eight to nine months ago. One discovery when comparing notes: The customer profile between the two was “almost identical,” Higham said.

When tax questions come up for the customer service team at Ascend, Higham said the company will “just switch them over to ATBS.”

The arrangement with ATBS is a three-year deal, Higham said. 

Looking to the future, Higham said Ascend is nearing a similar cooperative with an unidentified provider of legal services. He also said the company frequently receives requests from customers on services built into the TMS to provide cross-border services, such as aligning foreign currencies.

Each quarter, according to Higham, Ascend staff looks at the various requests for services coming from customers and focuses on those that “20 or 50 or 100” people will request as areas of potential for additions to the company’s TMS. 

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