Although technology has been able to reduce the trucking industry's reliance on paper, it hasn't been able to completely cut it out. Paperwork still has to be signed and submitted before a carrier or driver can get paid.
Carriers have been working with document management firms for some time to speed up the process, including using truckstop drop boxes and scanning kiosks.
“We got our start handling paper and that's what we still do,” says Steve Sichterman, vice president capture and submission business at Trip-Pak, Brentwood, Tenn. “Speed keeps getting more and more important in terms of moving paper, because in trucking, anything you can do to shave some time off of the billing process means something. And while you still need those documents, the one thing that has changed is the technology.”
For in-cab scanning, a driver uses a portable scanner that is plugged into a laptop or a scanner that plugs into the vehicle's mobile communications unit to scan documents. With mobile scanning, a driver uses the camera on a smartphone or tablet to take a picture of the document.
“Using in-cab or mobile scanning solutions reduces the time in the billing cycle,” says Mason Meadows, director of product management for mobile communications, Rand McNally, Skokie, 111. “You get proof of delivery back from the truck so the company can bill for that freight more quickly.”
Meadows says Rand McNally has customers who can cut a day or two out of their typical billing cycle.
“The number one reason that carriers want to use mobile scanning is to get paid faster,” says Kevin Survance, Eleos Technologies, Greenville, S.C. “Being able to get that proof of delivery within a few minutes of delivery instead of having to wait for the driver to mail it in is a big benefit.”
Drivers also benefit.
“Most customers were looking at back office capability, but found that drivers really like the convenience of scanning from their truck,” says Jim Sassen, senior manager product marketing, Qualcomm Enterprise Services, San Diego, Calif. “They don't have to find a truckstop or other location to scan documents.”
Slow to catch on
Despite these benefits, most fleets have been slow to adopt the technologies.
“Market penetration is still low — probably single digit penetration,” Meadows says. Some niches use it more than others — fuel delivery or fleets doing cross-border work, for instance.
Survance says he feels in-cab scanners were a real solution to help fleets improve document management. “But as we began to research it, we found that people aren't buying in-cab scanners. The penetration rate is extremely low.”
Some of the reasons for lack of interest among fleets include cost, although those are coming down.
“Customers that use it a lot will get an ROI faster than customers that don't scan that many documents,” Meadows says. “There's a strong value proposition behind it, but adoption is still emerging.”
Survance says he found when talking with fleets there were two issues. First, the driver has to be in the cab to use the scanner, which may or may not be an inconvenience. And the fleet has to buy the scanner.
However, Karen Blanchard, director of marketing at Pegasus Trans-Tech, says she does not think price has been a barrier to quicker adoption. Instead, she feels fleets were still evaluating these technologies.
There is a growing interest in the technologies. TripPak's Sichterman says in-cab scanning is the fastest growing of their scanning options, which also includes a mobile application. “Part of that is our relationship with PeopleNet,” he says, noting their scanners integrate with all three of PeopleNet's in-cab display units. “It started slow because many fleet managers didn't realize how many of their drivers carried laptops. Now they are showing more interest.”
Management perception also presents a challenge with mobile scanning as well, he adds. “The challenge with mobile technology has been within the fleets themselves. The management teams have not realized how many of their drivers use mobile technologies. From survey after survey, we see that a growing number of drivers are using mobile devices. For instance, well over 70% have smart phones. Some in trucking management don't think their drivers are really up on technology. I think it's the exact opposite. Drivers tend to adopt technologies sooner because they are looking for better ways to communicate with their families.”
Whether a carrier chooses to pursue in-cab or mobile scanning, there are a number of options.
Any driver with a laptop can find a relatively inexpensive scanner at most box stores and he is ready to go with in-cab scanning. Likewise with smart-phones: there are dozens of scanning applications available online for the newest Android or Apple devices.
Many of these options won't be suitable for trucking, but others can be. These off-the-shelf options don't offer indexing or validation services, which other providers offer.
Fleets that already use mobile communications devices from vendors such as Qualcomm and PeopleNet can add scanning capabilities rather easily. You just purchase a scanner and plug it into the in-cab display, sign up for the scanning option and you are in business.
Qualcomm's Sassen says its scanning application integrates with enterprise management systems such as TMW, McLeod and others, making those documents readily accessible to the systems.
Qualcomm also can post the scanned documents to a Web portal where they can be viewed. “Each customer comes at it differently, depending on what they are doing with their enterprise management system provider.”
PeopleNet's scanning solution uses TripPak's in-cab system, which features a Xerox scanner that connects via USB to the vehicles display unit. “We have a partnership with TripPak and they work with the customers on how they want to integrate the scans into their back office,” explains Rick Ochsendorf, senior vice president marketing.
Rand McNally offers a scanner/ printer as an option to its TPC 7600 onboard computer.
The scans go to Rand McNally's server and from there can be sent to an FTP site or image management system that can read certain fields in the document, such as McLeod Softwares document management module. The company also has an interface with TripPak for document management services.
Customers can view documents scanned by their drivers on Rand McNally's Web portal, where the scans are organized by day and type. Users can choose how they want the scans to get from the truck to Rand McNally's site, Meadows says.
“Customers can configure how they want the data to come to us. Some only want it when they are in Wi-Fi communication so they can get essentially free communication. Other customers want the documents as quickly as possible and are willing to pay additional data charges to get those sent by cellular connectivity.”
Pegasus TransTech offers three scanning options: Tranflo Express truckstop scanning, Transflo Now in-cab scanning and Transflo Mobile, which uses smartphones. The in-cab option allows drivers to use a portable scanner and laptop to scan documents. Both the in-cab and mobile options allow drivers to index and select document type for each scanned image.
Scans are prepared by being packaged and compressed for transmission to Pegasus TransTech's cloud-based servers.
TripPak's in-cab scanning system is “primarily for drivers who own their own laptop or the company provides a laptop,” Sichterman says.
Once the documents are scanned, they go to TripPak's servers where the scans are identified, indexed and verified. “We label every document what it is, bill-of-lading, fuel receipt, etc. We index them so a carrier has all of his bills-of-lading in one place and we verify the information. Some customers use the full service others just want the documents delivered.”
The documents can be transmitted to a carrier's enterprise management system or they can use TripPak's enterprise system. “We send the scanned images and the data that is in those scanned images,” Sichterman says.
The mobile application, which can be found on Android's Marketplace and Apple's iTunes store, uses the camera and the cell system the driver has. The driver takes pictures of the document, sends those pictures to TripPak and they convert the pictures into a document they can work with and then to the customer's system.
Eleos Technologies offers its Drive Axle mobile scanning solution free to drivers. Drive Axle's mobile scanning app is now included in Prophesy Dispatch fleet management software from Acellos. “We can produce a high-quality scan with an Android or an iPhone,” Survance says.
Once a document is scanned with the application, it is sent to Eleos’ cloud-based servers where it undergoes a proprietary image enhancement. “We use OCR to make the document searchable, and then we store it. Then and only then, do we send it on to its destination.”
UFollowit offers smartphone apps for iPhone and Android phones that can send instant notifications of pick-up or delivery, provide in-transit status and capture consignee signature and load-related documents.
The company uses the phone's touchscreen capability and built-in camera. This allows drivers to get signatures and scan and label load-related documents such as trip logs, fuel receipts, lumper fees and other documents such as driver logs and vehicle inspection reports.
UFollowit also developed the mobile app for TripPak Mobile and an app for Trucker Buddy, according to Dan Dever, vice president of sales. Those scans can then be integrated into a fleet's enterprise management system or they can be batched together as a pdf file and sent via email.
There are some concerns about quality with mobile scanning. Some vendors argue that in-cab scanning with an actual scanner produces better results than taking a picture of a document with a smartphone or tablet. Others say the most recent devices can produce top-quality scans.
Pegasus TransTech sets the following phone requirements: an iPhone 4 or above, an Android 2.2 or higher and a 5 megapixel camera or better with auto-focus. Still, the driver has to take the picture.
“An issue with mobile is you have to trust the driver to do the right thing,” in terms of getting a good scan, says Salem Elnahwy, director or development Pegasus TransTech. “When you scan with a scanner, you get a perfect image every time.”
To help drivers get the best scan possible with their smart phones, uFollowit offers the uScanit clipbox. “With document imaging, lighting is everything,” Dever says.
The clipboxopens up to create a box that positions the document the correct distance for iPhone and Android smart phones. It features a dark background for better edge detecting and three LED lights for proper lighting. The clipbox is powered by two 9-volt batteries and is also available from TripPak.
Since all scans made with uFollow-it's mobile app go to the company's server first, the scans are analyzed for quality and given a score which is sent back to the driver and the fleet. “The score gives drivers a feedback loop,” Dever says. The company found that low scores are more often the result of the driver using an older phone.
In-cab or mobile scanning can make document management an easier task.
“You are not completely eliminating paper, but you are minimizing the amount of time it takes the paper to be processed,” says Rand McNally's Meadows. And reducing the time it takes to get paid.