Ask veteran drivers about the good ol’ days in trucking and they’ll tell you stories about friends they worked with, loads they hauled, trucks they drove and coming home for a holiday or a kid’s game on the weekend.
You know what you won’t hear about? Waiting in line for a payphone. Achy hips and knees from shifting gears. Paper HOS logs and shipping documents. Jockeying for a parking space. Ceaseless messages from dispatchers or freight brokers asking where they are and when they’ll arrive. Being routed places they don’t like to go.
Mobile connectivity and digital workflows have changed the driver’s workday for the better. Artificial intelligence and machine learning promise to automate all kinds of tedious tasks and align the job with the driver’s personal preferences.
Here are four ways technology has changed the day-to-day job for drivers, and one big development that shows why the best days may actually lie ahead.
No trucker likes handling paperwork, especially in the cab. It’s difficult to keep organized and adds the task of “courier” to the truck driver’s ever-expanding unwritten job description.
Electronic bills of lading (eBOL) and other digital documents make exchanging paperwork with carriers, brokers, shippers, receivers and other parties faster, more accurate and more secure. No one is waiting for a driver to return to the terminal days or weeks later with proof of delivery, bills of lading, lumper receipts and other records that are essential to carriers producing an invoice with all the right supporting documents.
Even better, no one has to try to decipher handwriting. With the right hardware and software, companies can receive, digitize, sign and electronically catalog shipping documents. This reduces the risk of errors and extra phone calls. Optical character recognition (OCR) technology can verify different types of trip documents, extract the data and reconcile shipment details with documentation.
The electronic logging device (ELD) mandate requires most over-the-road truck fleets and drivers to use a device that automatically records a driver’s off-duty and on-duty time and communicates this information using telematics. Eliminating paper logs fundamentally changed drivers’ schedules, the distances they could run and, for many, the ability to manage their own individual body clocks.
The ELD rule has also been a driving factor in the adoption of telematics among commercial fleets. With GPS, cellular networks and cloud computing, ELDs can reduce the need for check-calls and generate automated exception alerts. ELDs also allow drivers and carriers to share location data, ETAs and the availability of driving time, creating a level of visibility that shippers and receivers can use to prepare for the arrival of trucks and drivers.
One app to rule them all
Nearly 90% of truck drivers use smartphones every day for work, primarily for navigation, phone calls and texts. Carriers have mobile apps to help their drivers manage documents, hours of service and other business, and there’s no shortage of third-party apps for loads, weather, truck stop loyalty programs, truck scale locators – you name it.
Just because “there’s an app for that” doesn’t mean it’s a good idea or that drivers will use it. Smartphone users spend 85% of their time on just five apps. After a decade of cluttering up their devices, folks are scaling back to the essentials, truck drivers included.
Drivers want one platform with one point of access that provides a complete view of everything they need to get the job done, including navigation, hours of service, track and trace, document scanning, fueling options and weigh station bypass — all accessible through a single app. That’s our approach at Transflo.
Our platform is a launching pad for solutions that strengthen personal connections among drivers, carriers, and freight brokers. With Transflo Velocity+ owner-operators and company drivers can live-chat with broker and 3PL partners through the app and eliminate time-consuming phone calls. Transflo Engage gives fleets the ability to measure driver satisfaction with surveys delivered directly from within the Transflo Mobile+ app. Live-chats, surveys, and other personal communication help truck drivers feel more engaged and “listened to,” which has been a challenge for the industry for generations.
Digital freight matching
Digital freight brokering. A “book-now” button. Whatever you call it, automated freight booking is designed to provide one-touch tendering of loads posted to load boards – where the broker posts a set rate and terms.
When the carrier hits a “book now” button to accept the load, the shipment details and documentation are sent electronically to the driver. The load is tracked using an app on the driver’s mobile device, and status and exception alerts are available by text or email. There’s no need for anyone to place a phone call unless there’s a problem.
The result: The ability to manage an entire workflow — load tenders, shipping documents, digital data extraction, load visibility, invoicing and expedited payment processing — through a centralized platform.
AI and machine learning
In order to cover every load, digital brokers need access to a lot of available capacity. Today, most of these brokers connect with carriers on the spot market without knowing much about them. Finding available capacity is a challenge.
Digital brokers today are experimenting with self-driving trucks for fully autonomous dispatch and delivery of freight. In one example, a shipper used the broker’s online booking engine to hire a carrier to haul a load of corn in Texas. The system calculated a rate and then dispatched a self-driving truck to do the job with no phone calls or human interaction.
But, fully autonomous trucks are still likely years away. And in a story about the future of truck driving, who wants to take the driver out of the cab?
A more realistic step toward automated freight matching involves moving from a system where the driver or carrier searches for loads to one where the broker can provide curated options automatically. It’s like Netflix for loads: You can use the search function to find a show, but if you want to log in and see what’s streaming, it’ll offer a few things that are similar to what you’ve watched before.
The broker can serve up loads based on a driver’s preferences for lanes, facilities, rates and other factors. With access to ELD and location data, it can promote loads that make sense based on the driver’s duty status. When the system knows that a carrier has the right equipment in the right location, and the driver has ample hours to work, it can generate a rate and terms that the trucker will want to take.
Automation, ELDs, digital workflows, mobile devices and other applications may seem disruptive and even threatening. However, they have the potential to handle routine tasks with speed and accuracy so drivers can experience what they love most about the job: the friends they work with, the loads they haul, the trucks they drive, and coming home for a holiday or their kid’s game on the weekend.
Verlen Larsen is a Solution Architect for Transflo -- a leading mobile, telematics, and business process automation provider to the transportation industry. Transflo’s mobile and cloud-based technologies deliver real-time communications to fleets, freight brokers, shippers, and commercial vehicle drivers. Verlen is a frequent speaker and writer on technology, training, and transportation. He is a self-professed trucking “lifer” with a background that includes driving, working in dispatch, safety, corporate, and sales management. He also founded Trans-Formative -- a technology and rapid training consultancy.