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The Human Element: Where the Driver Experience Fits in the Connected Supply Chain

If we’ve learned anything from the recent and very considerable disruption to the North American supply chain it’s that every link matters.

Pandemic-driven reductions in raw materials availability, production shutdowns, warehouse capacity issues, shipping backlogs across all modes of cargo transportation, and changing business and consumer buying habits have put previously unseen and unforeseen kinks in the chain on a global scale.

Announcing a new cloud analytics solution for its supply chain and manufacturing customers, Oracle Corporation noted that significant disruptions to global supply chains over the last 18 months have highlighted the critical impact processes have on the bottom line.

“Supply chains are under immense scrutiny as organizations face new and unexpected disruptions,” said T.K. Anand, senior vice president, Oracle Analytics. “Now more than ever, organizations need real-time insights into every element of their supply chain to help them make the right decisions and get ahead of disruptive events and changing customer expectations.”

The reference in that statement to “every element” should not go unnoticed because it drives home that a connected supply chain has many links. And one of those, a link in the chain that may very well be the most crucial, is not what you might expect. It is not hardware or software, cloud platforms or data analytics. It is, instead, the human element, and in particular, the truck drivers without whom the entire supply chain could not function.

How do drivers fit into a fully connected and increasingly automated supply chain? How can you facilitate a smooth flow of information across the many points where drivers intersect with supply chain processes?

The answer can actually be summed up easily—direct connections or what we refer to as “technological touchpoints” are the means of better connecting the supply chain’s shippers, carriers, intermediaries and customers. Across all those connections are drivers, a key supply chain link that is critical to your company’s success.

Drivers: Transportation’s Boots on the Ground

“Understanding how to use technology to benefit drivers is one of our largest opportunities to satisfy and balance the needs of carriers, shippers and customers across many different market
segments,” said Peter Covach, industry solutions director at Trimble. “Drivers interact with your operations, maintenance, safety, financial and other activities, and perhaps most importantly they interface with your customers daily. Technology facilitates those connections.”

The technology builds valuable connections, and in transportation operations that puts drivers at the center of connected supply chain activities and processes, noted Sales Engineer for Trimble’s Mobility division, Matthew Carter, who understands that firsthand. Prior to joining Trimble, he was a full-time, regional truck driver. Today, on weekends, he still drives regional dedicated, regional Spot Market as well as tractor and trailer repositioning routes for a private fleet.

“At one time, technology in trucks was a novelty,” Carter said. “Now it’s a part of how we do business. The more we see the massive efficiencies it can generate, the more we ask ourselves ‘how we ever did this job without it?’”

“The supply chain is driver-centric,” Carter continued. “Drivers are involved throughout the entire process. There are many connection points from operations, dispatch, routing and fuel stops to Hours of Service (HOS) compliance, documentation and interaction with shippers and consignees where drivers need access to information.

“Technology is what enables that to happen,” Carter added. “Successful companies across the supply chain understand that drivers are the critical link, that they are likely the one piece that, if removed, the entire supply chain collapses.”

Technology: Enabling and Automating Driver Choice

Peter Covach, who spent 13 years working at a carrier before joining Trimble, is focused on how technology can not only enhance the decision-making process for drivers but help improve performance and productivity to benefit carriers as well. He recently discussed that subject with Jeremy Reymer, founder and CEO of DriverReach, a recruiting and retention management software provider for the trucking industry as part of the Taking The Hire Road podcast series hosted by Reymer on FreightWaves.

Successful driver-focused strategies consider a wide set of variables that impact their experience, but an important consideration as well is allowing driver choice, Covach noted.

“Whether it’s in-cab solutions that ensure driver connectivity or back-office transportation management and other systems that improve routing efficiency, equipment utilization and freight carrying capacity, carriers can utilize a range of technologies to make a positive impact,” he related.

“Trucking companies have to be profitable,” Covach added. “Collaboration with drivers helps ensure profitability. How you use technology for drivers to enhance their experience, from onboarding to daily activities, empowers them to operate at a higher level. Technology can’t replace people but it can make them feel like they are an important part of your organization.”

The breadth of transportation technology available today spans the driver experience. Linked through a range of mobility solutions, drivers are connected to dispatching information and have access to trip-planning tools that detail routes, shipper and receiver facility details, fuel stops and more.

Technology also allows for the ability to provide choices for drivers about rest and food stops that coincide with their preferences and Hours of Service availability. Recent developments, such as electronic Bill of Lading and signature capture capabilities, connect drivers to back-office operations for streamlining daily duties.

Frictionless Work Environment for Drivers

Beyond more than just devices or software, it’s the flow of information that eliminates points of friction across a better-connected supply chain. Much of that friction in a driver’s job comes from inaccurate and untimely information, and ineffective coordination between shippers and carriers.

Effective communication and coordination with drivers facilitate more accurate order and load information, such as gates of entry details, hours of operation and shipper and consignee requirements. Dynamic scheduling with shippers and receivers better optimizes driver hours. Improved routing and navigation using site- and truck-specific information, and real-time traffic and weather intelligence, provides for safe and efficient trip management from the first to the last mile.

If maximizing resource utilization is a carrier’s goal, they are well-advised to have their driver’s interests in mind as well. With accurate information and real-time planning, drivers can spend more productive time behind the wheel, earning the money they deserve for their hard work and helping boost their employer’s profitability.

With the effective use of technologies that promote the flow of actionable information for drivers, a connected supply chain runs smoothly. Driven by data that optimizes planning and execution workflows, it also does more than just connect drivers to carriers and shippers; it reduces tension on the job.

Imagine an industry-wide push to use one hour of each driver's time more productively. Such a move would have results similar to recruiting a small army of new drivers. Even small improvements in removing issues that create wasted time could do more to help alleviate challenges that fuel the ongoing driver shortage.

Connectivity is not just about keeping the supply chain moving. It’s about creating a unified experience by using technologies to create a frictionless environment, one in which collaboration maximizes the productivity of both processes and people. 

In trucking and transportation especially, drivers are what make a world of difference because they are what truly connects the connected supply chain.

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