Mine your ELD data for productivity gains

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Canadian traffic congestion
Historic ELD data can identify sources of recurring congestion, and be used for trip planning.

TORONTO, Ont. — Those who believe that electronic logging devices (ELDs) are productivity killers have yet to exploit the technology’s full potential. When combined with a transportation management system, the devices can provide insights and planning possibilities that reduce or eliminate the need for, well, let’s call it an “elastic” approach to time management.

Consider a situation where traffic congestion adds 45 minutes to a trip. Prior to electronic logging, drivers would continue the journey and then make the necessary adjustments to the paper logbook. While ELDs do not allow that sort of flexibility, the underlying systems can alert a driver or trip planner to the bottleneck and reroute the truck. Historic congestion-related data can even be used to plan a completely different trip.

These devices, now required by law in the U.S., generate data that is pure gold for fleet managers. It’s gold for drivers as well, once drivers accept that the devices can help them earn more money, and as long as their fleet takes advantage of all the information the ELD provides.

There are so many elements contributing to a trip’s success that it’s impossible to manage it all with a pencil and paper. Automated business processes offer vast new insights that just weren’t previously possible. And the best thing is, all this visibility and potential for oversight is readily available to fleets of any size.

“The true definition of capacity in this industry is available driver hours.” – Mark Cubine

“A lot of carriers are coming to realize the true definition of capacity in this industry is available driver hours,” says Mark Cubine, vice-president of marketing and enterprise systems at McLeod Software. “Better planning leads to greater productivity, and that goes straight to the bottom lines of the fleet and the driver.”

Cubine believes detention time is the biggest productivity thief in the trucking industry right now. Reports and studies suggest it’s getting worse. Data collected by carriers can help reduce losses due to detention, or at least steer fleets out of harm’s way. If detention is inevitable, he asks, can you effectively negotiate and collect money for it?

“Shippers put up a lot of barriers and hoops you have to jump through in order to collect, so have you done everything possible — such as proving the driver arrived on time, and warning the customer before the charges begin to kick in?”

If that doesn’t work, customers with poor track records can be avoided or face surcharges because of the poor performance.

“One of our refrigerated carrier customers now has what they call the ‘Dirty 30’ list of particularly egregious detention offenders. They just won’t go in there anymore, or they charge extra for the load upfront,” Cubine says. “We have also heard from some carriers with strong records for [detention-related] billing that customers will unload them first because they don’t want to be charged for detention. The ability to successfully fight detention is dependent on having good data from your ELD or some other mobile communication device integrated with a management system.”

Driver retention

Driver retention has become a leading priority at every fleet, which means they can’t even afford to lose under-performing personnel. However, these drivers can be coached into shape using data from their logging devices.

Andrew Page, a logistics specialist at Turk Enterprises — a 45-truck reefer fleet based in St. Andrews, Man. — notes wryly that you couldn’t learn much by scrutinizing paper log sheets because they all looked the same.

“For years we tried to figure out why some drivers were so much more productive than others, and of course try to improve the weaker performers,” says Page. “Once you have their ELD data, it’s very easy to see the differences.”

How does this driver structure his day versus the other guy? Where and when does he or she take breaks? Does he leave enough time to get through cities without getting caught up in traffic? “You can see how much more time some drivers take to do the same job,” he notes. “Obviously these are coaching opportunities that will help those drivers earn more by making them more productive. Once you frame it that context, they are much more willing to embrace change.”

Information that flows from the ELD through the management software touches nearly every part of the operation — from “quote to cash”, as Cubine says. Load and trip planning can be improved using records from previous trips that establish things like travel time, dwell times, and opportunities for backhauls. Planners’ jobs have been greatly simplified by automation that can at the press of a button reveal exactly what a trip will cost in terms of fuel, wages and repositioning possibilities.

And with accurate and up-to-the-minute hours of service information, planners will know in advance whether a particular load is good for a particular driver or not. There’s nothing more irritating to a driver than having to take a reset on the road when they could have been home. Wanna improve retention? Pay more attention to drivers’ available hours and upcoming scheduled downtime.

Automated tasks

Productivity is obviously a big deal for drivers, but there’s so much more you can do now with ELDs, telematics and management systems. Proof of delivery can instantly pass from the cab to the billing department and right through to the customer. The invoice for a load can now be on the customer’s desk before the driver has even left the parking lot. That won’t render the billing department redundant, but it will leave more time to pursue problem accounts and shake down more customers for detention time.

Even optimized routing and fuel purchases can be automated, with the additional benefit of live weather and traffic updates for both the driver and the planners.

It’s a small feature, but Isaac Instruments’ fleet management solution can create temporary geofences based on address details. This data can be used to automatically alert dispatchers and the customer when the truck breaks into fenced location, or when it breaks out of the fence when leaving the customer’s location. Alerts are sent to designated parties and it’s all done with messages.

“That’s just one less button to press for the driver,” says Isaac Instrument’s vice-president of marketing, Jean-Sebastien Bouchard. “That doesn’t sound like much, but Isaac worked hard to minimize the potential for driver distraction when designing their system. The driver, of course, can still send alerts as to when the unload begins and ends.”

There are, sadly, no silver bullets when it comes to improving productivity. Just a multitude of small elements that can now be successfully managed because they are much more visible. The ELD set it all into motion for the smaller fleets that did not want to be burdened with complex and expensive satellite-based fleet management systems. Even fleets of five or 10 trucks can now enjoy the benefits of the data that was there all along but remained stubbornly elusive. Embrace your ELD and improve productivity.

Productivity à la Carte

Electronic logging devices (ELDs) serve two simple tasks. They provide precise vehicle location through their GPS functionality, and track on-duty and driving time. At any moment you can reach out through a telematic interface and see exactly where a driver is and how far along the weekly timeline he or she might be.

Transport management software can couple that information to real-time weather and traffic reports, predicting a driver’s arrival time within a few minutes. Armed with that information, the driver’s next move is much easier to assign, and there’s much less guess work and optimism involved. Historic data can also help predict dwell times at customer locations, so the likelihood of additional delays can be factored into the next business decision.

A decade ago, operations staff would need to look up this information. Now it’s all instantly available, can lead to better decision making, and can free up staff time for other functions.

Here are a few examples of actionable data that’s now available to fleets thanks to the integration of ELDs, telematics, and transportation management software:

  • Built-in analytics provide the insight to make better decisions. Planners and dispatchers no longer need rely on phone calls and guesses.
  • Trip planning can be based on historic and live traffic conditions, road conditions and forecasted weather. This offers opportunities for rerouting or declining certain loads that could put drivers at a disadvantage.
  • Timely alerts make it easier to be proactive rather than reactive. Customers can be notified of potential early or late arrivals, so appointments can be rescheduled in advance.
  • Accurate dwell time data provides carriers indisputable evidence of unreasonable delays. Carriers can take historic delays into account in trip planning, or use the data to segregate poor customers — or maybe even blacklist intransigent shippers and consignees.
  • Use hours of service data to keep drivers happier by maximizing their productivity and minimizing the potential for delays and inopportune downtime. Or track poor performing drivers and coach them to better manage their time.
  • Fuel tax data collection and even billing can be completely automated using features such as time-stamped proof of deliveries and image/document transfers.
  • Continuous and automatic trip monitoring checks truck positions against planned routes, helping to reduce unapproved miles.
  • When integrated with electronic driver vehicle inspection reports, some aspects of vehicle maintenance management can be automated. Follow-ups and alerts can be distributed to various departments using the press of a button.


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Jim Park was a CDL driver and owner-operator from 1978 until 1998, when he began his second career as a trucking journalist. During that career transition, he hosted an overnight radio show on a Hamilton, Ontario radio station and later went on to anchor the trucking news in SiriusXM's Road Dog Trucking channel. Jim is a regular contributor to Today's Trucking and Trucknews.com, and produces Focus On and On the Spot test drive videos.

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