The term “social distancing” was used sparingly before a real-world application came in 2020. Likewise, the transportation and logistics industry seldom heard of a “contactless” or “touchless” freight transaction before now.
In March 2020, when governments began issuing social distancing and shelter-in-place requirements to limit the spread of COVID-19, eliminating paper documents in order entry, billing, payroll and other processes became imperative.
The industry needed to safeguard drivers at shipping and receiving locations as well as move seamlessly to virtual work environments. Improving operational efficiency has also been critical.
Polaris Transportation Group (PTG), based in Mississauga, Ontario, has been reducing paperwork and progressing toward a contactless freight environment. The company has accelerated its digital strategy during the COVID-19 crisis by taking four steps forward.
Step 1: Robotic Automation
PTG provides full supply chain solutions that include transport, logistics, warehousing, distribution and technology with a niche of next-day pickup-and-delivery service between the greater Toronto area and select areas in the United States.
The company moves more than 300,000 orders across the border annually with its fleet of 120 power units and 280 trailers that operate from C-TPAT certified facilities.
Some customers of PTG send shipping documents via electronic data interchange (EDI) and APIs yet most are using paper. In both instances, orders may lack the details that PTG needs for the shipments to clear customs such as freight descriptions, weights and dimensions.
The company’s digital transformation began with robotic process automation (RPA) technology that created a touchless process from order entry through customs clearance for documents and information.
“Overall, about 80% of the back-office work for order entry and customs has now been automated,” said Dave Brajkovich, chief technology officer. “For transactions that are not straight-through processing, our RPA system instantly identifies exceptions to manage,” he added.
Step 2: Remote Image Capture
From the outset of the COVID-19 crisis, governments have given shippers and consignees a mandate not to require drivers to capture signatures for proof-of-delivery in an effort to limit person-to-person contact.
This procedural change has been an opportunity for PTG to accelerate deployment of technology for no-touch freight transactions.
At present, city drivers pick up shipments with the accompanying paperwork such as bills of lading. They are using mobile devices to capture images of the documents in the field and scanners at the company’s cross-dock facilities when they return.
PTG uses the D2Link mobile data solution from Trimble Transportation. Drivers update the status of orders from smartphones, and the D2Link-enabled devices are synchronized with its ELD and mobility platform, also from Trimble, to automatically update order status in the TruckMate enterprise software system.
The captured images go through Synergize, a document imaging platform with intelligent document processing that is integrated with TruckMate. PTG is looking to use a new application within the D2Link platform to further streamline the remote capture of documents and speed its load planning, dispatch and back-office functions.
With real-time image capture, PTG will no longer wait for city drivers to return and scan documents at its terminals, said Brajkovich.
Step 3: Connecting the Dock
Central to PTG’s digital strategy is a technology the company tested extensively and began rolling out at the end of May 2020.
Using the ConnectedDock mobile application from Trimble Transportation, dock workers scan barcodes and QR codes on freight to give PTG real-time insights into order status.
According to Brajkovich, with the technology, once the orders are planned in the system and received on the cross dock, “everything gets pushed onto a label and onto the freight and it carries its itinerary on that barcode to the final destination,” he said.
With the D2Link and ConnectedDock applications, the office is able to complete the necessary customs paperwork and begin planning loads and collecting PODs for billing faster than before.
Step 4: Blockchain Communities
PTG is planning for a future of contactless freight transactions by working with IBM to develop a blockchain platform for transportation. The platform uses a distributed ledger on a centralized hosted environment that eliminates paperwork including emails.
“When a customer types an order in their own system, data and documentation is automatically created,” he explained.
For blockchain to grow in the transportation industry will require supply chain partners to collaborate at a deeper level than before.
“You really need people to pony up on the ability to connect systems. We can do it and we are completely capable of helping others connect through that API and hyper ledger,” he said.
For leading a digital transformation in the transportation industry, PTG received the Commercial Carrier Journal 2020 Innovator of the Year award. Its digital strategy was in place before the COVID-19 crisis, but the momentum has only increased along with the benefits of being on the forefront of the movement toward contactless freight transactions.
Harnessing Technology, Both During COVID-19 and Beyond
As PTG shows, the benefits of implementing technology in your organization can benefit your efficiency and performance outside of just the pandemic but in more “normal” operating conditions.
Curious to hear how Trimble can help you accelerate your performance with the right mix of solutions? Contact us today to discover how we are enabling fleets just like yours to maximize their technology ROI.