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Exploring Zero-Contact Supply Chain Connectivity

Fully digital freight transactions are a holy grail in the transportation and logistics industry. Only recently have they become attainable.

A growing number of shippers, third-party logistics (3PL) providers and motor carriers are using technology to eliminate the touch points between drivers and essential supply chain workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Drivers are still moving bills of lading (BOLs) and other shipping documents between shippers and receivers with every load. What has changed is they no longer need paper documents or close proximity for obtaining signatures on proof of delivery (POD) receipts. The technology has been around for years; the pandemic pushed companies that were lagging behind to adapt.

New developments in mobile and back-office technology give all parties a means to digitally capture, transmit and exchange electronic BOLs and PODs. The digital tools can now be scaled out within an integrated order-to-cash solution that connects all parties for end-to-end visibility and automation.


Going Paperless

Zero-contact freight transactions have some minimum requirements for mobile and back-office applications to meet, which are outlined below: 

  1. The eBOL

Shippers typically print BOLs for drivers to accompany loads. Some also send BOLs electronically to the carrier in advance with the EDI “211” transaction or by attaching them to emails.

Mobile apps that drivers use need to capture and transmit images of the paper BOLs and be integrated with a carrier’s TMS so that images are indexed to the correct order and available to drivers as an eBOL.


  1. The ePOD

When a driver arrives at a delivery location, the mobile app they use needs to present an option to enter the email or phone number of the signee who will receive the eBOL. The digital document is then sent via text or email with a link to access a web-based form that allows the signee to use a separate device to type or scrawl a signature.

When a signature is captured for an ePOD, the signee needs to receive confirmation via email  or text. The driver also needs to be notified within the app to be cleared for departure.


  1. Digital Forms

Freight transactions rarely go exactly according to plan. When making a delivery, the receiver or driver may notice freight that has been damaged or spoiled, and have the ability to annotate an eBOL. Likewise, a driver may need to record a detention event.

Just as parties would annotate a paper document, they need to use an electronic form to annotate fields in the eBOL or attach pictures to record exceptions. Arrival and departure times can be automatically recorded with a mobile app on an eBOL for the shipper or receiver to sign off on to acknowledge a detention event.


Expanded Capabilities for Supply Chain Connectivity

Rather than use applications that only meet the minimum requirements for zero-contact transactions, motor carriers have the option to expand their mobile connectivity for drivers, dispatchers and customers to have end-to-end workflow automation and visibility.

To make freight transactions as seamless as possible, transportation companies also will need mobile and back-office systems that are aligned to have a single order-to-cash system, explained Trimble Transportation Product Portfolio Manager Jay Delaney.

D2Link from Trimble Transportation is a mobile data solution that combines the reliability of in-cab platforms with the flexibility and convenience of Android or iOS smartphones. D2Link comes out of the box with eBOL, ePOD and other mobile imaging tools for drivers to use for no-touch documents and digital signatures.



Fleets can add custom digital forms and workflows in D2Link to address unique business needs, he said, and “get the most efficiency out of their drivers” by connecting and communicating in ways “that their competitors are challenged to do.”

As a mobile app, D2Link helps drivers and fleets expedite the workflow when loading, trip planning and unloading by having connectivity with Trimble enterprise TMS and mobile fleet management systems.

When drivers arrive and cross pre-defined geofences at receiver locations, for example, ePODs can be automatically sent to the emails or phone numbers on file for the customer. While this option exists with D2Link, its use depends on acceptance by shippers and receivers, and so far “we haven’t had a lot of traction with [fleet] customers doing that,” Delaney said.

Once the ePOD is completed, Delaney says an integrated order-to-cash solution from Trimble can use optical character recognition (OCR) to extract information and validate document types as well as identify exceptions and correct errors. The Trimble enterprise TMS system a fleet uses can then complete error-free payroll, billing and other parts of the freight transaction.


Assisting with Trip Planning

D2Link includes all of the connectivity features in the TMWGo, DASH and InMotion driver companion apps for the TMW.Suite, TruckMate and Innovative enterprise platforms. Additionally, it comes with real-time shipment visibility and trip planning tools for drivers and dispatchers.

When a driver receives a load assignment in D2Link, drivers can use a built-in TrueETA feature for trip planning that shows where and when the user will run out of hours to effectively plan their breaks.

TrueETA calculates the best route and drive time using current ELD, traffic and weather data. With this data and map intelligence, drivers may decide to extend their break times according to personal preferences or to weather and traffic patterns.

A map view shows the current route with traffic and weather overlays. A driver that is in Wisconsin, for example, may have a trip that goes through Chicago and can see how adjustments to time and locations for breaks impact his ETA, such as planning to stop before Chicago to avoid rush-hour traffic.

Drivers can update a trip itinerary at any time by using a timeline view to extend the duration of hours-of-service breaks at any location. A driver may want to take an 11-hour rest break instead of the minimum 10-hours, for instance.

TrueETA recalculates the driver’s ETAs for the remainder of the itinerary to show the effect of those changes, Delaney said, as well as any changes to ETAs from making additional stops.

The dispatcher is provided with the current ETA in the TMS and alerted if the system projects a late delivery. With TrueETA as part of an integrated order-to-cash system, drivers, dispatchers and customers get “one version of the truth” for shipment visibility, Delaney said. “It is all one system, whereas if you work with a third party, they have their own ETA agent for the mobile device and back office.”


Going Full Circle

Zero-contact freight transactions do not have paper and human touch points, but this by itself holds little value if loads fail due to preventable errors. In addition to capturing driver intent in the trip planning process, fleets can use D2Link to stay connected with drivers for other important details in freight transactions.

Drivers can use D2Link to report any equipment defects they find during pre- and post-trip vehicle inspections. The reports can include pictures before they are sent to a fleet maintenance system, which Trimble also offers, for ordering parts and scheduling repairs to minimize downtime.

“You have to think about the entire day to help the driver out,” Delaney said, adding, “we have done a lot of things with customization to help companies personalize the driver experience and to enable them to be more self-sufficient.”

One of the greatest technology advantages that a transportation company can have in today’s market is to have all of these connections and integrations in a single system that can be scaled out quickly, Delaney concluded.

The integrations between D2Link and the mobile and back-office systems of Trimble enable zero-contact freight transactions with expanded connectivity and functionality in a single platform, he said.


Improve Your Supply Chain Connectivity with Trimble

From in-cab technology to a wide range of back office solutions, each day Trimble is helping transportation organizations just like yours improve their supply chain connectivity to improve efficiencies and enhance their bottom lines.

Contact us today to find out more about our innovative approach to transportation technology and how you can start taking advantage of a more connected supply chain with Trimble.