3 keys to digitize your truck fleet

John G Smith

The science of digitizing a truck fleet involves more than going with paperless documents alone. The underlying telematics data and available artificial intelligence make it possible to truly transform every business process.

Those who embrace such technologies can better plan and optimize routes, dispatch and track deliveries, and seamlessly inform everyone from customers to sales teams, explained Chris Jones, Descartes executive vice-president – solutions and services, during an online presentation for Geotab Extend.

(Illustration: istock)

“It’s not just about using the latest and greatest technologies. It’s also not just about automating a business process and removing paper. [If] the only thing we’re really doing is taking the paper out, we’re not taking advantage of really what could be done – especially with today’s technology.”

Today’s route management tools can develop strategic route plans, track shipments, and send delivery notifications. Mobile apps linked to the data can support navigation and point-of-delivery notices as well as industry-specific needs. And fleet managers can gain insights into driver behavior, fuel management, in-cab coaching, and Hours of Service along the way.

“A lot of fleet operations are run almost as an art form,” Jones says, referring to route planners who make many decisions.

“The goal is to have your worst planners operating like your best planners.”

Digitizing the fleet

That will clearly involve some level of artificial intelligence and machine learning. It’s not unusual for fleets to generate billions of data points a year, Jones observes.

The Descartes executive identifies three key steps to digitizing a truck fleet:

  • Streamline the data – “We need to be able to collect data quickly and accurately, reduce data loss and errors, and then take this data and distribute it very quickly and equally accurately,” Jones says. But many of today’s digital processes still include plenty of human intervention.
  • Automate processes – “We can also do things like script planning and execution to truly automate those processes and change the role of our organization,” he says. When such changes are made, fleets can focus on managing exceptions rather than building routes by hand.
  • Redefine service – The truly digitized processes also make it possible to redefine customer interactions. “We now have the ability to do things like increase delivery precision,” Jones says as an example.

When it all comes together, load-related data can be fed into systems while trucks are in motion, rather than limiting route planners to focusing on batches of data before a truck is dispatched.

Using GPS coordinates, it’s then possible to make dynamic changes along a route, accounting for factors such as congestion, breakdowns, and weather.

A better customer experience

“It’s a great opportunity to build a better customer experience,” he says.

“A lot of things we do, we do because we don’t have real-time data.”

The details can even lead to added revenue.

An Australian company that ships sand to landscapers is now able to offer specific delivery windows – and customers pay a premium for such deliveries rather than paying for idle work crews. A mobile tire business in the U.K. gives each two-hour delivery window a unique price, based on demand. Another company is charging for “eco deliveries”, as long as customers commit to times when trucks are already going to be in a neighborhood.

“People think they’re doing something good for the environment,” he says, referring to the lower carbon footprints that are realized by reducing the number of return trips to an area.

“They’re getting options they never had.”

John G Smith

John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking, trucknews.com, TruckTech, Transport Routier, Inside Logistics, Solid Waste & Recycling, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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