With Driver Communication, Data Makes the Difference

Oct. 17, 2007
Getting, understanding and making use of real-time shipment and delivery information is necessary in todays transportation and distribution marketplace.
Getting, understanding and making use of real-time shipment and delivery information is necessary in today’s transportation and distribution marketplace. Such data provides shipment visibility all along the supply chain. For those who operate commercial and private fleets massaging the data can help to boost productivity and drive cost savings at many levels.

For many companies technology permitting data exchange with trucks and drivers is a major factor in being able to get data to serve customers and themselves. Forms of these solutions are varied but they serve well in maintaining critical communications. Simply stated, the major reason Old Dominion Freight Line Inc. (www.odfl.com) has deployed 3000-3500 Motorola handheld communications units is to get better information about the pickups and deliveries its drivers are making, according to the carrier’s Director of Freight Processing Applications, Barry Craver. The units are employed only for local Pickup and Delivery drivers. The super regional less than truckload carrier has nothing similar for line haul drivers. “

The pickups are critical for us as is being able to plan what freight we’re picking up today, where it is going, how can we better plan for directs, head loads and things of that nature,” explains Craver. “We are load building as the data comes in. We have an in house outbound planning system. The information from the handhelds lets the planners know how much freight is coming and allows preparation of schedules for the evening.”

There have been some productivity gains from drivers using the devices. Previously communication was only by cell phone. The Motorola handheld offers both voice and data capabilities. With the cell phones time was wasted for drivers in waiting to get hold of a dispatcher to find out about a pickup. Now that information can be wirelessly sent through the data network to the handheld and there’s no need for the driver to call the dispatcher for instructions. Often drivers will use the voice function to call customers, letting them know they are on the way or may be a bit late.

There is no GPS capability in the device. Drivers use them to report they are en route to a stop, when they arrive and when they’ve completed the stop, whether pickup or delivery. The handhelds do have imagers, but they are currently only being used to scan bar codes.

“We have real time track and trace capabilities because of this technology. In this business that’s the mainstay,” notes Craver. “We are able to track how long it takes our drivers to deliver to particular stops. We can track what kind of delays they run into. We can keep up with the mileage between stops.”

Having the real time information on how long it takes drivers to pickup or deliver a particular shipment from an account gives Old Dominion the ability to more accurately price that customer’s freight versus basing it all on averages.

Having accurate readings on how far away pickups and deliveries are from service centers informs the carrier where it might best put service centers.

For the future, Craver is looking at the possibility of capturing signatures with the handhelds. The device also has Bluetooth capabilities that offer information exchange possibilities.

Moving to add functionality to its current communications package, Giant Eagle, Inc. is looking forward to what Jeff Chulack, the company’s Fleet Maintenance Manager thinks may be a two-year migration into OmniVision from Qualcomm Wireless Business Systems.

Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland uses Qualcomm’s FleetAdvisor terrestrial for onboard computing for its private fleet of 231 tractors— Class 7s and 8s—and Qualcomm’s T2 tracking system for its 600 trailers, 65% of which are refrigerated units.

Giant Eagle has two distribution centers, one in Pittsburgh and the other in Cleveland. It has about 230 stores and an additional 120 outside accounts that are non-banner stores.

While looking forward to the OmniVision installation, Chulack feels it will provide more options for reporting, driver communications and directions to stores that wasn’t thought of when Fleet Adviser was created, he says it’s still pretty accurate now if he wants to find a driver.

“One use we make of communications with drivers,” says Chulack, “is that a back haul popped up and they are in the area and can pick it up. Too we have a maintenance software package that indicates work is needed on a truck. So, I can send a message telling the driver to drop the tractor off at the shop. Driver communication back to us is more on delays at stores and traffic and weather.”

FleetAdviser is used as the company’s Hours of Service and fuel tax monitor. Chulack says it provides more information than it ever had before. Giant Eagle pushes the data through a number of scenarios and systems for a variety of reports. With exception based reporting, it’s possible to get a list of drivers that have idle times greater than 10%. “Our idle time at this facility at one point was something like 40%,” Chulack recalls. “We are now down to single digits, around 8-9% idle time. That just goes right to the bottom line. That’s big fuel savings.”

Technology is key for Chulack. “With Qualcomm everything is open platform, so it is all integrated backward and forward,” he says. “When drivers arrive and leave stores, they break a geofence boundary. This way we can let the store know that we hit its delivery window and the driver was there a certain amount of time. Knowing how long a driver has been at a store, we can compare the time to similar stores and ask why the store wasn’t ready for the delivery.”

When Pitt Ohio Express began looking at the overall value of getting communication with its drivers three topics would determine its value to the LTL carrier, says Scott Sullivan, the vice president of Information Technology and Services.

The first issue was if the communication would drive efficiency. “We were trying to get rid of the many back-and-forth telephone calls between drivers and dispatchers and to eliminate paperwork as well,” he recalls. “All the information needed could be sent electronically to the driver. Paperwork the driver needs to fill out—in time, out time, start time, finish time and everything else like that—could be automated to the computer.”

A second factor was that Pitt Ohio could get a better read on its customers by getting data on how much time was being spent at their facilities so it could gain a better understanding on how long pick ups and deliveries take at specific customers.

The third point was the ability to derive engine diagnostics data that could lead to miles per gallon efficiency. Analysis of results could be used as a learning to help educate drivers on best practices. Pitt Ohio has governors on its tractors for control of speed. Idling time and shifting could be monitored and adjustments could be made that would lead to significant savings.

With these expectations, Pitt Ohio chose to incorporate on-board computers from PeopleNet in its trucks, and the benefits have been realized. For example, Sullivan estimates an improvement between 30 and 50% in its outbound projections a day based on all of the information Pitt Ohio is able to collect from its drivers. Further, the data is fed into Pitt Ohio’s costing module so that it can look at the price of a customer’s business to make sure it is affordable for the carrier.

“It used to be drivers would call in after every pick up before going to the next one,” explains Sullivan. “Now we send information to the on board computer. Drivers will know where the next three or four pickups are. From that they can decide which one to work next based on their location and what would be most efficient. It puts more power in the hands of the driver.”

Based on driver data, Pitt Ohio is able to offer its customers real time tracking and tracing of shipments. “Not only do we use the information to update our internal systems, we also update our web site,” says Sullivan. “Now we’re rolling out a piece to proactively notify our customers within minutes that delivery is made or if there are any issues with it. We’re dealing with our customer’s service expectations and putting the power into their hands so they can deal with any issue that might occur.”

Katrina’s Communications Lesson
When Katrina hit, recalls Diane Oliphant, Manager, Business Continuity/Disaster Recovery, Ryder had problems finding and getting a hold of people quickly. The lesson was that they needed something more reliable than just email and telephones. “Tremendously important are our drivers and technicians,” explains Oliphant, “and the majority of them are not on our main email because they are out of the office so much.”

Searching for an answer led to Send Word Now (SWN), an emergency notification system.” We are now able to communicate in any number of ways,” continues Oliphant, “by telephone, text messaging, emails—both personal and work—but the biggest thing on there is the fact that we have a list and we can get a hold of them whether it’s their home, cell phone, work number, cell by page and text.”

Even if cell phone towers are out, SWN will go above and beyond those communications systems in order to deliver text messaging.

Ryder can zero in on where people are out in the field. They can immediately be put into a conference call. “If we’re looking for them,” says Oliphant, “and really need to talk to them, we don’t have to wait and play telephone tag.”

SWN provides an audit trail indicating that people have been reached and that the office did talk to them. “Our number one priority,” notes Oliphant, “is the safety of our employees. Without them those trucks don’t move and we don’t get our business needs accomplished.” Although all Ryder drivers have cell phones and on-board computers, they do not yet have SWN incorporated into the tractor cabs.

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