Editor’s note: Avi Geller is the founder and chief executive of Maven Machines, a transportation management company. This is one in a series of periodic guest columns by industry thought leaders.
The pandemic brought momentum to a screeching halt for many industries, but trucking isn’t one of them. The trucking sector’s drivers and fleets helped to sustain and support the economy through 2020. Yet even as the industry continued its growth last year, it still faces a number of challenges that include not having enough drivers to satisfy increasing freight demand.
This shortage isn’t a new challenge.
In 2018, the American Trucking Association identified a shortage of about 60,800 drivers in the trucking industry. By 2020, that shortage had grown to 80,000 fewer available drivers than the previous year. A 40 percent drop in CDL training thanks to pandemic-related closures and smaller graduating classes, more drivers opting to leave fleets and work as owner-operators, and the removal of 40,000 drivers (or 1 percent of the driving force) for failed drug tests have merely exacerbated the shortage.
That labor shortage also leads to teams struggling to complete clerical work and other mundane tasks. When they lack the tools and technology to streamline operations and increase efficiency, dispatchers, drivers, and managers spend more time:
- Handling paperwork and manually entering data.
- Manually re-configuring or reassigning routes.
- Liaising with customers and other stakeholders to maintain proper information flows.
- Repeating processes.
In an effort to work smarter not harder, encourage current drivers to remain in the field, and attract new drivers, more fleets have implemented cloud-based software and data to optimize driver workflow. This approach enables fleets to do more with less and sets drivers up for success by providing them with the tools to more effectively manage their routes and work processes.
Improving Driver Workflow
While the term “workflow” might sound like a technical buzzword, it’s a solution designed to make everyone’s lives easier. Fleet and driver workflows provide step-by-step guides for driver stops and routes, including information and forms configured specifically for each stop location/type and customer requirements.
Many trucking companies also use a transportation management system (TMS) to handle certain aspects of freight planning and management. But sometimes it’s difficult for drivers to easily access this information — especially from the road. Drivers with access to cloud-based workflow applications that integrate with other systems can more easily see and interact with tools within both their TMS and their workflow mobile apps, stay updated on load and delivery statuses, and more.
Fleet managers also benefit from workflow solutions, allowing them to create or update custom stop and trip-based driver workflows based on operational and business needs. As workflow technology expands and works in tandem with other ELD and fleet software, cloud-based mobile apps for drivers — with accompanying portals for managers — have enabled fleets to streamline and automate processes like:
- Managing and optimizing drivers’ routes and workflows.
- Offering real-time updates on driver ETAs and GPS tracking.
- Managing Hours of Service (HOS) and electronic logging devices (ELD) for compliance.
- Adopting paperless manifests and navigation.
- Managing electronic DVIR and IFTA reporting.
- Scanning and taking pictures of loaded/offloaded cargo verifications, freight exceptions, vehicle issues and bills of lading (BOLs) — and sending BOLs and receipts from the dock to the cloud for storage and easy retrieval.
- Capturing and recording signatures and customer agreements.
Scalable, Intuitive Workflow Solutions
The magic of driver workflow solutions lies in their ability to automate mundane tasks and processes, freeing drivers and fleet personnel to pivot and focus attention on tasks needing a human touch and eyes on the road.
Fleet managers using automated workflow software in tandem with dispatching and planning software tools can more easily plan routes, assign and track drivers, and help drivers stay focused on their tasks to meet customers’ shipment needs. Drivers using workflow apps benefit from transparency and automation. They can see their trips, view updated ETAs throughout their workday, and know when they’ll finish a route. This information also helps them plan their personal and family time accordingly.
Intuitive workflow software reduces training and onboarding time, which saves fleets money and gets the drivers on the road more quickly. Finally, workflow applications with messaging features streamline communication between drivers and managers.
But even the most powerful technology offers little help when it becomes too complex to easily learn and use. Well-designed driver workflows require tools with intuitive user interfaces, like a user-friendly mobile app that drivers can access instantly on their smartphones or tablets.
Drivers who automate previously manual tasks benefit from decreased error rates and increased productivity, making it easier to stay safe while driving and to earn bonuses. Better route and schedule predictability also improves drivers’ overall work environments. A comprehensive workflow that integrates with ELD software also keeps drivers updated about sleep and break times, scheduled miles and routes, trailer management, and general administrative tasks.
Fleets that invest in and train their drivers on workflow solutions recognize that attracting and retaining a highly-qualified group of drivers requires providing them with the tools for success.
Expanded Driver Support
As tech innovations rapidly change how businesses move goods and services, fleets must equip their staff with scalable, complementary solutions. A one-size-fits-all approach won’t work with the myriad of pickups and deliveries that fleets must manage. But regardless of operational processes, all trucking companies strive to meet increased customer service demands. And with that goal comes the need to hold drivers to increasingly higher performance standards.
Implementing technology that gives drivers the ability to focus on driving instead of paperwork and manual processes — or the uncertainty about whether their routes will change unexpectedly — not only elevates service levels, but also helps create a better work-life balance for the drivers.
Embracing and implementing digital transformation like driver workflows gives fleets tools that empower drivers to elevate their own performance. Plus, when fleet drivers know their company has invested in the technology to support their safety and productivity, they’re less likely to leave the company — and that’s a win for both drivers and fleets.
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