Automation and Data-Management Tools Seen Benefiting Fleets, Logistics Providers

By Seth Clevenger, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the May 28 print edition of Transport Topics.

PRINCETON, N.J. — Transportation companies are using automation and data management technology to streamline procedures that used to be complex or labor intensive, trucking and logistics leaders said.

These tools are making it easier for companies to process paperwork, track driver information and send shipment information to carriers, according to speakers at the ALK Transportation Technology Summit here May 16-17.

One innovation that is changing the industry is mobile document management, said Jeff Sibio, director of industry marketing for trucking and fleet management at Intermec, a provider of supply chain technology.

“We’ve all been completely burdened by paper for many, many years, and we’ve all complained about it, but we’ve not really known what to do about it,” Sibio said.

The information on a bill of lading or another paper document is most valuable at the earliest point it can be added to a company’s information systems, Sibio said. That earliest point is the minute that paper is handed to the driver, not when the driver gets back to the terminal in the evening, he said.

Mobile document management makes it possible to process that paperwork as soon as possible.

“What we find in today’s world is customers don’t just want their freight fast, they want their paperwork fast,” said John Elliott, CEO of Load One LLC, an expedited carrier based in Taylor, Mich.

Each of Load One’s trucks features in-cab scanning capabilities, which enable drivers to scan documents right at the time of delivery so the back office can access them.

“It really helped us to smooth out our billing cycles and work flow,” Elliott said.

Shaw Industries Group, a flooring manufacturing company with its own transportation fleet — Shaw Transport Inc. — struggled to process the myriad data and statistics connected to the safety and performance of its drivers, said Greg Whisenant, the company’s transportation safety manager.

Shaw uses disparate systems from a variety of technology and service providers to track driver information but had “zero integration” until implementing an enterprise driver management tool from EBE Technologies, he said.

The new system consolidates all kinds of driver information, including physicals, commercial driver licenses, CSA scores, roadside violations, PeopleNet truck engine data, accident information, citation information, required documents and certificates of violation.

That information is now available from one screen, which improves safety data visibility for fleet managers.

“Probably one of the worst things you can do is allow a driver to get out on the road driving on an expired credential,” Whisenant said.

If that happens, and the driver is involved in an accident, it doesn’t matter if it was the other party’s fault because that driver shouldn’t have been out on the road in the first place, he said.

“It can be very detrimental to your company,” Whisenant said.

The system also maintains all accident related data and documents.

“It’s important to keep all those documents, because you never know when an accident’s going to be litigated,” Whisenant said.

Shaw Industries, Dalton, Ga., ranks No. 38 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest private carriers in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Robert Nathan, CEO of Load Delivered Logistics, a Chicago-based third-party logistics provider, credited his company’s growth to its commitment to automation.

With its current system, Load Delivered is able to broadcast shipment information to 10,000 carriers “with just one touch of a button,” he said.

“Our ability to source and our reach have been greatly expanded by the use of automation,” Nathan said.

Load Delivered also created an internal pricing algorithm that automatically considers the many pricing variables in the North American logistics arena, including capacity, equipment, flexibility and seasonality.

This algorithm gives the company’s sales representatives the ability to give customers a price on the spot, wherever they are, he said.

All customers have unique business requirements, but regardless of whether they deliver fish or haul construction materials, they all can benefit from automation, said Nathan, who encouraged conferees to “be excited about automation rather than fighting it.”