CentralDispatch Case Study

As legend goes, Wayne Harris had a bad experience moving his car from San Diego to Boston which sparked the launch of CentralDispatch.com in 1999. The site changed the auto transport industry, taking it from faxes to a centralized online load board.

In 2004 Wayne hired Drive Current to plan and execute dozens of major technology initiatives and manage other aspects of the business. In 2012 CentralDispatch was acquired by Dealertrack Technologies for $74,000,000.

Wayne Harris

Founder, CentralDispatch

“Without a doubt, the Drive Current team builds innovative clean, intuitive products. Tens of thousands of customers demand a flawless experience from CentralDispatch 24/7 and Drive Current delivers.”


ΙInnovation: A Few Notable Features and Projects

Auto transport is a small niche within the auto industry, but CentralDispatch is the big fish in that small pond. It sounds dramatic, but we revolutionized the industry and changed the way people in the industry work.  Along the way there were hundreds of features, small and large, including some of the more notable ones below.


Someone suggested we let users upload a scanned dispatch sheet, and in that moment the infamous “Feature 1037” was born. This small tweak evolved to become a full-fledged dispatching platform, allowing shippers and carriers to enter into a contract, assigning and accepting loads on the site.

This new, standardized dispatch sheet removed confusion from the process of shipping a vehicle. Status changes are now passed on automatically. Contract changes are tracked with a date/time/user stamp and all parties are notified immediately.  Dispatches are now organized and stored in folders.  And a forest of trees has been saved by virtue of the faxes no longer sent each day.


Carriers wanted a way to receive text or email alerts as new loads hit the site. These guys are on the road after-all, not in front of a monitor.  Our challenge with “Notifications” related to the massive number of searches and also the precise timing of delivery necessary.

At any given moment there are tens of thousands of loads on CentralDispatch.  And thousands of carriers want to be notified about their specific load on their specific route (or routes) the instant the load is on the system.

The playing field has to be fair, so everyone has to become aware of the load at the same moment.  Tens of thousands of unique searches run non-stop on the system triggering millions of text and email notifications each month.

ΙUser Experience Overhaul… Codename: Pinto to Ferrari

The CentralDispatch interface and code that Drive Current inherited was fine for its time… but it needed a complete overall.  Over a period of several years we upgraded the framework, introduced naming conventions, refactored the code, established coding/database standards, introduced unit testing and more…

A series of design/UI improvements made the site more intuitive, especially for new users getting up to speed. As the feature set grew, we changed the organization of the navigation.  Site terminology was also modified for clarity and help tips and videos appeared throughout the site.

After many baby steps, a completely new design was finally unveiled. We ran the old and new interface, the Pinto and the Ferrari, side by side for several weeks.  This allowed users to try out the new interface without forcing a change immediately.  Finally, the Pinto was officially put to rest. R.I.P.

ΙjTracker – CRM for Auto Transport Brokers

jTracker is designed to manage all aspects of an auto transport broker’s business, from quoting leads automatically, tracking followups and closing sales.  The system stores carrier info, invoices customers and provides comprehensive reporting.

User permissions ensure each employee has access only to what they should see.  Data parsing techniques developed years ago to process email leads are still the most flexible on the market. jTracker is a fine piece of software that compliments CentralDispatch and makes life as a broker more organized and efficient.

ΙRatings and Dispute Resolution

Unfortunately damaged cars, late pickup/delivery and payment problems are still a part of the auto transport business. We introduced a ratings system to promote best practices and call attention to bad companies.

We also hoped to nudge members to resolve their own disputes, reducing the workload on CD staff.  What we got was a tsunami of “REMOVE NEGATIVE RATING!!!” requests.  Which begot the dispute resolution tool which worked as follows:

  • Carrier A gives Dealer B a negative rating.  Dealer B is notified.
  • During a 5-day cooling off period, the rating is not made public.  This is a time for the two parties to resolve issues on their own.
  • After 5 days, rating goes public.  Now can Dealer B can formally dispute rating but must provide supporting documentation.
  • Dispute is now escalated to CD Staff who review and resolve dispute

This eliminated vast amounts of back and forth busy work. Ratings became more accurate and less likely to be abused.

Scale and Stability


For over a decade Drive Current engineers planned for growth, provisioned hardware and managed the network for optimal performance.  During this time users increased 1600% and usage per user quadrupled.

Open Source Technology

CentralDispatch was built on a LAMP stack (Linux Apache MySQL and PHP). This  architecture proved to be a scalable, stable option for a fraction of the cost of the alternatives. (Note: we now standardize on Python and PostgreSQL).


Our mandate was “Zero Downtime” for this marketplace with billions of dollars in annual transactions. We achieved zero outages or degraded performance in 2012 and in 2013.  Previous years were pretty good too!


All systems are monitored constantly and for more than just uptime. We monitor every service running on every server, to ensure it is up and assess on the impact to the system.  Engineers are on call 24/7.


CentralDispatch is PCI Compliant which means we achieved “bank level security” on the platform. Custom tools and staff permissions ensure confidentiality and security for customers.

Build System

The platform grew to the point it took 8 weeks to complete a regression test.  A suite of over 2000 automated tests ultimately eliminated the need for these manual tests, enabling us to release much more frequently.

Continuous Integration

This suite of tests also provides instant feedback on whether new code is introducing bugs.  Develops could now check-in code to a shared repository any time, allowing more people to work on the same code much more efficiently.

Software Deploy Practices

Our mantra when deploying to production is “No Surprises!” and the process is honed to achieve this. Code can be rolled out to 3% or 5% of users, and can be rolled back to the previous version if an issue arises.

Cross Functional Team

Programmers and network engineers sit shoulder to should to resolve database problems. Designers and testers compare mockups with test cases to ensure the product is right.  True collaboration yields tremendous benefits.


As the CentralDispatch community grew, more of everything was happening…  more member applications had to be processed, more invoices had to be sent, more support issues had to be handled.

The support and billing staff grew too, and it became apparent internal processes needed an overhaul.  The goal was to freeze staff count, even as hundreds of new customers were added each month.

A comprehensive Intranet made communications between staff and customers more structured and coordinated.  And as customers doubled, headcount remained steady.  Mission accomplished!

The Intranet is at the core of CentralDispatch. It allows the customer experience to be consistent and dependable.  Without it, the marketplace could not scale.

Collaborative Planning


Iterative Development

Product Launch

Maintenance & Innovation

ΙEstablishing Agile and Scrum Teams

We were challenged to ramp up quickly from one team of 4 developers, to two teams, and then to three teams.  There had never been so many balls in the air, so many people working in the same code base, such expectations.

The scrum framework helped us pull it off.  They say Scrum is easy to learn, hard to do. We went about our scrum/agile path with care and diligence and even some raw faith. And everything worked out. Visit the Agile Manifesto for more that.

Acquisition & Integration

ΙMechanics of a $74,000,000 Acquisition

None of us at Drive Current had ever been through this kind of technical due diligence. Panels of people flew in from New York to ask questions for hours on multiple occasions.   Code was reviewed. Architecture was discussed.

Clearly the technology and the Drive Current team stood up to the scrutiny. Drive Current has worked closely with Dealertrack in the years since the acquisition to integrate CentralDispatch into Dealertack’s other products and offerings.

ΙInfastructure Integration

Drive Current engineers led the efforts to migrate CentralDispatch to the Dealertrack infrastructure. The database had to be swapped out from mySQL to DB2. Security was a top priority, as was the proper integration of dozens of third party services and tools.

End to end testing was a grueling, comprehensive effort to ensure the migration from the San Diego data center to the Dallas data center would be a success. We finally  lipped the switch, internet traffic started pointing to Dallas… and not a single user noticed!

ΙSystem Integration

The requirements and expectations of a publicly traded company are very different than a start up. Drive Current worked with Dealertrack accounting staff to integrate state and local sales taxes into the CD invoice.  We used OCR (optical character recognition) to find and redact social security numbers from uploaded documents.  And we worked closely with the the technology team on company-wide initiatives.


ΙThank You, Auto Transport Community

Building and managing CentralDispatch made Drive Current a better software development company. CentralDispatch presented dozens of complex challenges we could never have anticipated as it grew and evolved.  And we rose to the occasion. We’re very proud to have been a part of the auto transport industry for over a decade.

Joe, Bryan, Jon and the rest of Team Drive Current

Rich McLeer

Chief Information Officer, Dealertrack Technologies

“Drive Current has been a true technology partner to Dealertrack. They invest the time to understand our customer and our business. Their process is flexible and consistently delivers high quality software that hits the mark with our users.”