A story of a young computer programmer, fresh out of university, who turned his first job into a long, successful business in software development, sounds more like a fable told to keep unruly teenagers in school.
But it was 1980 when Carlos Alfaro evolved that first stint in contract development software for a trucking company into a budding consulting practice.
Fast forward 16 years, the founder and vice-president of product development for Mississauga, Ont.-based TLS Solutions Inc., is busier than ever handling the transportation and logistics software needs of clients like Ford and Honda.
TLS automates the parts tracking network across Canada for both auto manufacturers.
In addition to its flagship TLS System, which includes back end transportation management, accounting, sales and reporting tools, two years ago the ISV began offering a suite of mobile trucking solutions for handheld devices called Pocket TLS.
Based on Microsoft Windows Mobile 5 software, it extends data from TLS products to drivers, giving them real-time information on the road.
“Now operators and truck drivers have mobile handhelds that can talk to the network and integrate with the applications we develop,” said Alfaro.
Mobile trucking solutions, he added, have enabled the delivery process for bar coding, signature captures and management tools on a handheld, where in the past it was paper oriented.
TLS partners with Symbol Canada for its handheld hardware and Rogers Wireless to connect the devices onto the its LinkUs network.
LinkUs, which is operated out of two warehouses, provides provides a central service between customer, shipper and transport organization.
The system can receive requests for pickup and deliveries, track shipment status, run reports, send alerts and messages.
With North America-wide coverage, TLS’ hosted Internet service allows truck drivers to be in sync and in touch along any route, local or trans-border.
Alfaro and his three partners, who run the business management and sales side of the company, are planning to market their products into the U.S. by the end of the year.
Events like Truck World 2006, held this year in Toronto, are important venues to showcase products and garner interest, said Alfaro.
“Rogers Wireless partners with Cingular in the U.S., and we’re hoping to do the same with our LinkUs network across North America,” he said. “We’re taking advantage of the mobile market being in its infancy and we want to exploit that in Canada and in the U.S.”
One of the biggest challenges TLS Solutions has faced, said Alfaro, has been software stability.
“In the mobile handheld market, the operating system has limited resources. We have to rethink the interface and it’s a different thought process and development environment,” he said.
But Alfaro credits Microsoft’s Visual Studio 2005, SQL Server 2005 and SQL Mobile Server 2005 for improving the flexibility in developing mobile based applications in the Windows Mobile operating system.
“We actually beta-tested SQL Mobile over the last year and developed early on it, so I believe we have a great head start in what we’re doing,” he said. His goal is to double the company’s revenue in 2006.
“We’ve always capitalized on new tools and technologies. From DOS to Windows, to the Internet and now to mobile development. The mobile market is our future”