Fleets exploring data to improve truck drivers’ lives

BRAMPTON, Ont. – Technology has allowed fleets to greatly improve drivers’ lives by digitizing their workflow and taking onerous paperwork off their plates.

During the Truckload Carriers Association’s Bridging Border Barriers conference Nov. 20, Damiano Coniglio, chief financial officer with Bison Transport, described how the company built a driver app to simplify things like border crossings.

“It simplifies some of the administrative tasks they have in their day,” he said. “We call it digitization of driver workflow.”

The Herd to Go app was built in-house, taking advantage of the proliferation of smartphones within the driver population. Use of the app wasn’t mandated, and other forms of communication were kept available.

“We found providing a more open, voluntary approach to it drove adoption and commitment to that app,” said Coniglio. Among its features are: trip planning; fuel purchasing suggestions; and border crossing information. All documents related to border crossings are available through the app. More than 80% of Bison’s drivers are using the app.

Trevor Kurtz, general manager of Brian Kurtz Trucking, said his company also has been taking advantage of technology to improve operations.

“Twelve to 14 years ago, data for us was a year-end meeting,” he said. “We have so much data now, you can get completely buried watching all the small stuff. You have to pick and choose where you want to go.”

The reliance on data has also created some challenges, Kurtz said. Calls to customers are much less frequent.

Technology has also improved how fleets measure and charge for detention time.

“We are using detention data off the electronic logs,” said Bison’s Coniglio. “We’re tracking trailer productivity…The more data we share with the shipper, specifically by location or the type of freight we’re handling, the higher up in the organization you get in the logistics department, the better. They do start turning their minds to, ‘Okay, we do have an obvious issue here, what do we need to do?’”

Kurtz tracks revenue per mile, “up to the minute.” Weekly meetings are held to go over financials, and wait times are also tracked and measured.

“We are keeping track of who is holding us up and for how long,” Kurtz said.

The company is also taking a more sophisticated approach to pricing, as a result of the data it collects. So called “ugly freight” that’s complicated to move, and shippers with narrow delivery windows are charged accordingly, Kurtz said.

Asked how the companies are faring this year, after a banner year in 2018, both admitted conditions have deteriorated. Bison has seen growth in intermodal, but at the expense of some of its truckload business. The expedited business remains strong due to growth in e-commerce, and retail is doing well, too.

“2018, for some carriers, was the best times they’ve had,” said Coniglio. He added Bison has had to rely more on spot market freight this year than in the past, because some customers are going that route to take advantage of excess capacity and reduce costs.

Kurtz said the fleets that are suffering the most this year, are those that added too much capacity.

“Those that grew to chase the dollar are feeling it today,” he said. “Things have slowed down. My phone’s ringing off the hook because customers are getting better prices. There were too many people riding the 2018 wave. It’s not there. We are seeing a lot of quantities drop. Shippers that would ship X number of product — that is falling.”


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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