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The Crucial Role of Drivers in Enabling a Connected Supply Chain: A Q&A with Trimble’s James Langley

This September, the annual National Truck Driver Appreciation Week put a renewed focus on the importance of drivers for the industry, the economy and in all of our lives. And, while it is important to recognize and celebrate the work of these individuals, it is also imperative to find ways to support them on the job and help them maximize their productivity, safety and efficiency.

Empowering drivers through technology is an essential part of Trimble’s focus and central to our connected supply chain strategy. We recently sat down with Trimble Transportation President James Langley to highlight this strategy in more detail and examine the essential role of drivers in the connected supply chain.

 

First off, how would you explain Trimble's connected supply chain strategy to customers?

Trimble Transportation is integrating systems and data in order to connect and optimize workflows for key stakeholders in the transportation continuum: shippers & 3PLs, as well as carriers, brokers and drivers.

What is the role of the driver in this connected supply chain?

Without a driver, freight simply doesn’t get moved. That’s pretty easy for everyone to understand.  However, it’s much more than that.
 
Drivers are not only the arms and legs, but also the eyes and ears of transportation. They know where the inefficiencies are. They know which shipper will waste their time, which terminal will have an empty trailer, which truckstop will be the safest place to park, what the local road and traffic conditions are. They are the heartbeat of the connected supply chain.
 

Driver retention continues to be a big industry issue. How does technology (and Trimble’s strategy) fit into improving the lives of drivers?

The number one issue for carrier’s right now is the driver shortage. As an industry, we often get hung up on trying to solve this problem through better recruiting and retention efforts. Yes, that’s important, but there’s so much more we can do to improve the quality of life for drivers by focusing on driving friction out of their jobs.
 
It’s not just about pay scales and signing bonuses. If you want to create a better job for drivers, you have to streamline the workflows and remove the frustrations in procurement, planning and execution. Remove the irritants. Wasting a driver’s time is downright sinful. Things like not being able to find an empty trailer, having bad appointments or waiting on drop numbers, wasted dwell time and in-transit delays. These are all incredibly frustrating for drivers and often only addressable somewhere else in the connected supply chain, through better integrated systems and data, through optimized workflows.
 
We believe that a connected supply chain that better integrates data and optimizes procurement, planning, and execution workflows does more than just connect a driver to carriers and shipper customers, it gets to the heart of driving friction out of the job. If the transportation industry could truly work together with all stakeholders to better utilize just one more hour per day of a driver's time, it would be the same as adding hundreds of thousands of drivers back to the pool. We estimate that it could increase a driver’s earnings by more than 14 percent.
 
Trimble being a neutral third party with vested interest in both the carrier and shipper’s success creates an opportunity to highlight high impact friction in the supply chain.Through willful data sharing, a participant can take ownership of the tangible efforts their organization has achieved creating differentiation in the supply chain. We know the future of transportation will not be defined on rate alone, rather increasingly valued on differentiators each player brings.
 

Is there one thing you would like carriers to know about our connected supply chain strategy?

It’s not about digital freight brokerage. That’s what a lot of people think. It’s about connecting data and stakeholders in a meaningful way in order to drive waste out of the supply chain. If you do that, shippers optimize freight coverage, carriers make more money through better utilization, and drivers have better jobs with fewer points of friction.

So much of the friction in a driver’s job comes from bad data and ineffective coordination between shippers and carriers. You can have the best communication device in the world and do little to make a driver’s life better if it’s just garbage in and garbage out every day. When we say it’s Trimble’s mission to maximize resource utilization, we have the driver’s interest in mind. They want accurate dispatch information, timely plans and to find that trailer, loaded or empty, on the first try. They want to spend as much productive windshield time as they can with that left door shut earning money for their hard work.

The average driver effectively uses around 7 hours of their clock per day. A better connected supply chain means: 

  • more accurate order or load information such as drop numbers, gates of entry, hours of operation, customer requirements, equipment specifications, empty trailer locations and more

  • dynamic scheduling with shippers and receivers to better optimize wasted driver hours

  • better routing and navigation using site-specific information, real-time traffic and weather intelligence to provide safe and efficient trip management all the way to the last mile

  • finding parking and safe harbors, clean showers and healthy food options

What makes Trimble’s position in the transportation technology space unique?

We provide solutions to many of the key stakeholders critical to optimizing transportation in the connected supply chain. We have technology solutions for shippers, intermediaries, carriers, and drivers. We’re not just a telematics provider or a TMS company. We’re all of that and more.
 
In addition to the breadth of our technology offerings, we are also dedicated to enhancing our solutions for our customers that rely on them. One recent example is a change for our ELD platform that will make it easier for carriers to account for yard moves - a special driving category authorized but not required under the U.S. ELD regulation. This forthcoming change will give carriers the ability to geofence yards so that when drivers enter an approved yard the “yard move” option is available to them. Since yard moves are electronically recorded as on-duty, not driving time, this means more drive time for the driver and improved utilization for the carrier.
 

Trimble recently announced a collaboration with Procter & Gamble to enhance transportation procurement. What does that collaboration entail and how does an enhanced transportation procurement process benefit carriers and drivers?

This initiative will shape the development of an agile transportation procurement collaboration platform from Trimble that will complement our existing set of supply chain-focused solutions. Procter & Gamble will inform the creation of this dynamic platform which will focus on optimizing the procurement of transportation capacity, creating closer shipper and carrier relationships and helping each find the right partners.
 
The platform will also expedite the contracting and onboarding process to increase the velocity of business transactions while enabling more cost-effective movement of freight - which will ultimately benefit all stakeholders. For carriers, an improved procurement process means they can more easily obtain the right freight to increase their fleet's utilization, ultimately resulting in more paid miles for drivers.
 

Between operating on the front lines during a pandemic and keeping pace in an increasingly demanding supply chain, drivers have operated under extreme conditions for more than 18 months. What trends do you anticipate - both for drivers and carriers but also for the broader industry - in the next year?

Global supply chains will be continually constrained due to a combination of demand and COVID-related effects on workers. This should continue to bolster freight demand and buoy freight rates. Carriers will continue investing in ways to attract and retain more drivers in order to seize the hot market.  With continued disruptions in the supply chain at major ports, future risk of manufacturing delays in China, and a maxed out rail network; shippers are rethinking their supply chains in the name of resiliency. New opportunities are being built for carriers and drivers creating a shift away from traditional thinking. Stay close to your shippers and be ready to explore new configurations or they will do it without you. This is a time to strengthen business relationships!
 
If unemployment benefits continue to be extended, the driver, technician and warehouse worker shortages will likely continue, driving up wages. All of these worker and capacity shortages will put pressure on the connected supply chain to better digitize and optimize. Partnering with a technology provider ready to be there for the long haul becomes a critical strategy for your success. Trimble’s investment into transportation is not swayed by further rounds of VC funding or the whims of a SPAC-backed technology. Trimble is here to solve the Connected Supply Chain making our carriers, shippers and, most importantly, our drivers the best they can be.
 

Thanks, James!

Interested in learning more about Trimble’s connected supply chain strategy and how our solutions are designed to improve productivity and collaboration for all stakeholders? Whether you’re a carrier, shipper or intermediary, contact us today to discover how our wide range of technologies can help streamline efficiencies in your operations.