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September 21, 2015 4:00 AM, EDT

Opinion: The Benefits of Fleets Going Paperless

This Opinion piece appears in the Sept. 21 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

By Ken Wood

Executive Vice President

Product Strategy

Descartes Systems Group

Of the millions of fleet vehicles on the roads every day, only a small percentage of them are managed by paperless operations. However, leading fleet operators are shifting away from paper and toward automated routing, mobile and telematics solutions. The reason? Taking the paper out of the end-to-end processes for transporting goods can dramatically lighten the load.

Automated routing and scheduling improves performance while decreasing transportation costs. This technology moves the ability to plan deliveries, schedule appointments, optimize routes, dispatch orders and communicate with drivers to a completely paperless environment. This allows work such as reassigning deliveries, responding to customer changes on the fly and managing exceptions tasks to be done virtually instantaneously. With more intelligent route planning and more reliable delivery environments, companies drive up on-time performance, capacity utilization and customer satisfaction, and drive down mileage, fuel consumption and vehicle idle times.

Building materials distributor US LBM Holding effectively launched a routing automation solution that is one of the first of its kind in the industry. Construction is a highly dynamic business with most of the ordering and delivery happening in less than 24 hours. Different types of trucks are also used, and the wide range of materials to deliver means different times to load and unload. Contractor customers are always on the go and need to know exactly when material is arriving at various work sites to efficiently schedule crews. US LBM wanted a technology solution to accommodate this highly variable environment.

The results? On-time delivery performance has improved by 35% at many locations. Trucks are turned around 30% faster — helping US LBM stretch toward its goal to emulate a NASCAR pit stop. And yard personnel are notified via text message 45 minutes before trucks return, which allows time to stage material. In New Jersey, one of the company’s biggest markets, the team reduced turnaround times to 25 minutes, a 30% reduction.

Paperless proof of delivery shortens billing cycles, accelerates revenue recognition and mitigates fraudulent claims. With mobile devices, drivers have everything they need to wirelessly confirm deliveries and other details in real time — including electronic proof of delivery, or POD. Usually a signature is captured to signify the safe arrival of items at their destination, and digital pictures confirm whether or not goods are free of damage and that no items are missing. Some solutions integrate different types of payment methods to quicken billing cycles even further.

Subtracting paper makes the equation pretty simple: electronic POD equals immediate processing, quicker invoicing, fewer disputes and better cash flow. With electronic POD, invoices are approved in a fraction of the time. End-of-day reconciliation and returns processing is far less time-consuming. Customer calls and claims drop, the risk of fraudulent claims is mitigated and the process of resolving claims is more effective.

Some companies use electronic POD as part of optimizing business work flow. At Day & Ross Transportation Group, which ranks No. 44 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of U.S. and Canadian for-hire carriers, nearly 1,000 drivers use ruggedized handheld devices not only to receive routing and pickup or delivery information, but also to capture signatures at loading docks. Paperless POD is now part of the company’s standard delivery process. It’s reducing customer calls and improving claim resolution. In addition, because drivers collect information faster, they’re back on the road quicker, which helps them meet delivery windows and could add more stops per day.

POD technology also dramatically reduces the costs associated with paper. At Tony’s Fine Foods, the fleet travels more than 130,000 miles each week to make deliveries of specialty foods in Northern California. With real-time communication, including electronic signature capture, Tony’s has reduced costs of its paper invoicing system and the resources dedicated to processing, imaging and storing these documents. Additionally, overages, shortages and damages have been nearly eliminated. The annual savings are more than $230,000.

Onboard computers automate hours-of-service tracking and reporting. There’s a huge opportunity for transportation companies to move beyond rudimentary GPS black box technology, which itself is only used by 19% of U.S. fleet vehicles. Next-generation electronic onboard recorders combine highly advanced telemetry, positioning and communications with cloud-based capabilities to automatically capture real-time mobile data, including driver log data.

Electronic driver logs improve the accuracy and timeliness of HOS compliance reporting while increasing workforce productivity and reducing processing times and overhead associated with paperwork. Companies also reduce liability by minimizing the risk of noncompliance and the infringement fines that can erode profit margins and cause delays that upset schedules.

Onboard computers also offer remote diagnostics to provide real-time information on driver behavior and vehicle performance. For example, operators can monitor idle time to comply with company policies and city idling ordinances; report on the miles covered in each state for filing fuel taxes; observe commercial vehicle restrictions with turn-by-turn GPS-based navigation; and improve driver performance with alerts on acceleration, speeding violations, hard braking and aggressive maneuvers.

An interesting new direction for automated HOS tracking is the integration of these capabilities with electronic POD, which helps considerably with fleet safety. Dispatchers know what loads are within legal hours, drivers worry about the load and not hours tracked and drivers and dispatchers remain in sync with each other as deliveries are made throughout the day.

Paperless is possible. In a data-driven, mobile-focused world, truck-based paper is one of the last remaining items in an increasingly paperless supply chain. While it’s not necessarily easy, paperless is possible. With routing, mobile and telematics solutions, companies have new ways to purge the paper and hit the gas on getting out in front of the competition.

Descartes Systems Group provides on-demand, software-as-a-service solutions focused on improving the productivity, performance and security of logistics-intensive businesses. The company is headquartered in Waterloo, Ontario.