Workflow Programs Enhance Fleets’ Access to Delivery Updates

By Mindy Long, Contributing Writer

This story appears in the August/September issue of iTECH, published in the Aug. 27 print edition of Transport Topics. 

Dayton Freight Lines uses workflow software to eliminate “fat-finger” errors. C.R. England uses it to check and correct the temperature of refrigerated cargo. Quality Distribution Inc. uses it to give drivers precise information about proper handling procedures for each of its varying hazardous materials deliveries.

Workflow applications, the next generation of in-cab software, enable carriers to give drivers a set of customized directions for each load, delivered through a series of interactive touch screens that cuts down on error-prone paper or computer keyboard communications.

Carriers and vendors say workflow software can improve operations, generate savings and reduce potential for human errors by integrating and streamlining several functions and replacing paper or computer-based methods of maintaining delivery records.

With workflow software, carriers can create detailed drop-down menus on their trucks’ onboard computers that prompt drivers to perform certain actions or capture specific data in a particular order. The systems then take that data and record, transmit and verify it in real time. The information is automatically stored in the carrier’s back-office system so there is no need for drivers to enter it again.

What’s more, the programs are easily customized, so carriers can create versions that meet the needs of their entire fleet, or drivers hauling certain products, or specific customers. Workflow draws on dispatch and GPS data along with other company information that carriers can enter into the program.

The key benefits carriers take away from their workflow programs vary. Some carriers told iTECH they invested in the technology to cut down on data entry, while others said they valued the immediate feedback and verification drivers receive from the home office. No matter why operators initially invested in the technology, carrier executives said they’ve gotten good return on their investments.

Anthony Rocco, vice president of operations for Dayton Freight Lines, Dayton, Ohio, said bringing added intelligence to the point of delivery allowed the fleet to improve driver efficiency, guarantee the accuracy of its data and boost customer service. The fleet increased its stops per hour by about 3%, improved the miles per gallon by 7.7% and reduced the number of data-entry hours.

Dayton, which ranks 76th on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in the United States and Canada, achieved those gains by switching to Qualcomm’s Circle of Service workflow program from a telephone-based system that required drivers to phone-in updates.

“We took quite a jump to go from phone technology, where it is just voice, to the onboard technology,” Rocco said.

Even though telephone updates were timely, they weren’t automated, which led to inefficiencies, Rocco said. Before workflow, “we double-touched everything.”

Dale Smith, product manager at Qualcomm, San Diego, said workflow has become more intuitive and allows drivers to be proactive rather than reactive. Qualcomm’s Circle of Service integrates with dispatch systems to automate functions — such as trip planning and monitoring, inbound planning, load assignments, dock scanning and inspections.

“The driver has a listed view of the entire trip. He can see all the stops, the information about those stops and the activities that are required at each,” Smith said. “As drivers are stopping, they’re entering and verifying data, which, in turn, allows the carrier to complete back-office tasks sooner.”

Carriers can configure their workflow systems to automatically pop-up certain screens as needed.

For example, “with geofencing, we can recognize when a stop has occurred. We give a driver a single screen with a drop-down box with

all of the information to make it easy to select from a list of appropriate data instead of typing it in and possibly making a mistake,” said Randy Boyles, vice president of tailored solutions at software provider PeopleNet, Minnetonka, Minn.

It is the real-time communication verification that sets workflow apart from other paper- and computer-based systems. Before workflow, drivers had either paper-based systems or computer systems that weren’t able to communicate back and forth with the back office, said Christian Schenk, vice president of product marketing and market development for Xata Corp., Minneapolis, which offers its Turnpike workflow solution.

For example, a driver might jot down or key-in a trailer number, which would have to be verified manually and, in many cases, after the driver had left the location. While workflow programs assume dispatch data is correct, the systems generate exemption reports if anything at the pickup or delivery point differs from the customer’s order.

J.R. Taalman, director of central operations strategy at United Rentals Inc., Greenwich, Conn., said his fleet uses workflow to verify drivers have the right equipment.

“If you’re tracking 2,000 drivers and 4,000 pieces of delivery equipment, there is a significant amount of provisioning and configuring information that needs to go into the system,” Taalman said.

Carriers said capturing and verifying information at each stop helps ensure the integrity of loads and that drivers have all necessary documentation before leaving a loading dock.

For C.R. England Inc., a refrigerated carrier based in Salt Lake City that is ranked No. 20 on the TT for-hire list, being a few degrees off within a refrigerated trailer can compromise a load, so the carrier uses workflow technology to verify the status and condition of its loads.

“We instantaneously compare the bill-of-lading temperature requirement to the set-point temperature we booked on the system and the set-point that we read off of the telematics device. We kick out exceptions if the driver has reported a different temperature on the bill of lading,” said Ron Hall, director of operations technology for the carrier. Once the home office receives the exemption alert, staff will work to verify the correct temperature with the shipper.

C.R. England is using technology from Qualcomm and TMW Systems, Hall said.

To further boost the services workflow can provide, Dayton Freight Lines attached a small barcode scanner that can read the 11-digit numbers assigned to a shipment.

“An 11-digit number for a driver with gloves on can be tough,” Rocco said, adding that about 10% of the carrier’s customers don’t use the barcodes, so data still has to be entered manually. And whether electronically or manually, “whenever a number gets entered, it goes into an algorithm and the system says it is valid.”

To help ensure drivers deliver to the right locations, Dayton uses the system to crosscheck zip codes before a driver takes off to a destination.

“It is very possible a driver could fat-finger it, so we have a look up when the driver enters the zip code. [The workflow system] looks it up and says ‘Is this Warren, Mich.?’ and maybe the driver needs to go to Jackson, Mich.”

Complying with particular practices may be even more important for fleets that have complicated pickup-and-delivery procedures.

At chemical bulk hauler Quality Distribution Inc., Tampa, Fla., which ranks 38th on the TT for-hire list, drivers are often carrying hazardous materials, which come with additional paperwork and safety procedures. Cliff Dixon, vice president of information technology for Quality, uses XATA’s Turnpike workflow solution.

The system “pre-populates the device with the activities the driver is expected to do. As the drivers do the activities, they acknowledge it and it feeds into the back-office system,” Dixon said.

“It isn’t just the frivolous paper work we’re asking drivers to handle. They have to put on special gear and there are unloading and loading requirements that can vary depending on the chemical,” Dixon added.

PeopleNet’s Boyles said workflow systems can be particularly helpful for applications that require complex editing or mathematical processes. PeopleNet’s BluLink is gaining popularity among fleets working in the oil-field industry, he said.

“A lot of times you have an unmanned well and a driver has to collect and test samples. We have screens that bring up all of the lease and background information for a particular stop so the driver can verify it. Then the driver enters the results of sample tests and calculates the actual barrels taken out of that tank,” Boyles said.

Several carriers said they’re turning to workflow because their customers are demanding detailed information that is best gained through the automation workflow offers.

“Customers are enhancing their systems and they want more real-time reporting to meet the metrics they’re putting out,” Dixon said. “They’re requesting more frequent updates about where the shipment is, and if it is running late, they want the new ETA.”

Jon Card, special projects manager for Combined Transport, Inc., Central Point, Ore., has six different customizations of its PeopleNet workflow software, to meet the various needs of his shippers. For example, drivers picking up loads of crated glass see driver prompts and data requests that differ from those for drivers in the heavy-haul division.

“One of our customers requires us to keep track of when the driver arrived, when the first pack of glass was put on the truck, when the last pack was put on and when the driver departs,” Card said. The carrier has built pre-established fields into the drop-down menus for the driver to fill out.

The information is then automatically recorded in the back office, which is helpful for Combined Transport’s invoicing.

“We charge a different rate for detention and the information the driver enters helps us prove detention issues,” Card said.

PeopleNet has created pop-up screens that let drivers select what they are doing — such as a trailer drop and hook or an inspection — and times the event.

Paul Battista, project manager for Valley Proteins Inc., Winchester, Va., said being able to customize a workflow system with industry terminology and specific drop-down menus was an important feature for the carrier, which hauls animal by-products.

“We’re not your standard pick-up and delivery type of fleet. We’re picking up fat and bones — different grades of grease,” Battista said. The company ranks No. 92 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest private carriers in the United States and Canada.

Valley Proteins utilizes the electronic workflow program PowerVue from Cadec, Manchester, N.H. Battista said drivers are able to interact quickly with the software and are able to focus on the job at hand rather than think about what they should do next.

“Our routes can range from four stops to 40 stops. We’re able to pass through a lot of pre-populated data from our host system so the driver is verifying data, versus key-stroking,” Battista said. Drivers validate information on the number of containers they pick up, the amount of product within the containers and the trailer numbers.

Because changes within those stops can alter a driver’s entire route, Valley Proteins utilizes a custom screen that it calls the stop-attribute screen.

“If there are any changes within the stop or a service request the driver thinks management needs to know about, he can put this information in the onboard computer and it comes directly back to the management desk,” Battista said. The system constantly compares and records the planned versus actual times associated with stops.

“That data helps us manage and track our fleets and our service bubbles and gives us the ability to make operational adjustments on the fly to monitor and meet our customer’s needs,” he said.

Fleets use workflow to boost efficiency in a variety of ways. Card uses PeopleNet to get oversize and overweight permits to drivers on the road. In the past the carrier faxed permits to truck stops, but now drivers receive pop-up windows on their PeopleNet display saying a new permit has arrived. Drivers then can print them in the cab.

Card said, “The state sends me a PDF of the permit and I send the driver the PDF. They’re nice clean copies. If drivers went to the truck stop to pick up faxed copies, they might not look as clean.”

Combined Transport has 100 heavy-haul trucks and runs in 48 states and Canada. Drivers need oversize and overweight permits in each state, so making them available electronically saves drivers time and frustration.

“In the very beginning, drivers didn’t want the electronic communications,” Card said. “Now they complain when it doesn’t work.”

To make life easier for drivers, Card also uses the system to expedite purchase orders drivers request.

“Drivers are allowed to buy different items for their trucks. After they do, they request a PO number from maintenance. Before workflow, they called in to the maintenance department and waited on hold until t­­he maintenance department had time to talk to them. Now the driver can make the request and get an immediate response. He doesn’t have to wait for the maintenance,” he said.

Tallman said United Rentals tries to limit potential for human error and improve safety by using workflow to manage drivers’ pre- and post-trip inspections in real time.

“If the driver notates a deficiency, we receive an e-mail alert immediately,” he said. “This gives us immediate visibility and we can direct the driver on how to proceed. In the old world of paper logs and paper reporting, there was a lag time.”

United Rentals uses handhelds that are kept in truck-mounted cradles when the truck is in motion, but can be removed and carried by the driver while on-site.

The hardware required to run workflow systems varies and can include everything from a removable tablet mounted in the cab to a smart phone or a laptop. Xata’s Schenk said he is seeing a “massive transition” to smart phones and tablets, adding that 86% of all drivers have a personal mobile device.

“The mobility piece is becoming more prominent,” he said. “All of the smart phones and tablets scan barcodes, [and] you see more and more instances where drivers are scanning a trailer or a bill of lading.”