- Photo: Jim Park

Photo: Jim Park

As trucking companies across the country deal with shelter-in-place orders during the coronavirus pandemic, one key strategy has been to have as many people as possible work from home. Company executives, dispatchers, and driver managers at fleets big and small are making use of existing technological tools in their offices and vehicles to adapt, with loads continuing to be booked and trucks dispatched.

Many products are web-based solutions, according to Jenna Dobrovolny, director of product management mobility at Trimble Transportation, noting that the ability to work remotely has always been a part of this trend.

At Werner Enterprises, about 60% of the staff locations are working remotely, and while the percentages vary, many transportation companies are following suit, including brokers.

EKA Solutions is seeing a number of its customers using its freight management software remotely.

Playing a Key Role

Telematics systems also play a key role in allowing office workers to work remotely, by automating dispatching, driver/vehicle monitoring, GPS, and hours-of-service compliance. Fleets gain even more benefit when these are coupled with safety devices such as in-cab cameras, lane departure control, collision avoidance systems, and cargo monitors.

“Telematics solutions are vital in the current situation,” said Jonathan Bates, head of global market at MiX Telematics. “A fleet can only take care of safety if it knows what is happening every second of every day with its drivers and vehicles.”

Many of the safety systems fleets use can also be accessed remotely. For example, Nauto’s in-cab camera system allows safety personnel to work from home, allowing them to give feedback using the apps web portal, according to Nauto CEO Stefan Heck.

Analyzing the vast amount of data telematics systems collect is perhaps more essential now than ever, according to Ray Greer, CEO of Omnitracs.

“This unprecedented disruption means that drivers and fleets need to be much more reliant on real-time data from all tiers of the distribution model,” said Greer in a recent statement. “Real-time routing and rerouting will be crucial in ensuring timely delivery of anything from basic goods to protective gear.”

For Those Not Working Remotely

Not all trucking personnel can work from home, though, and technology can help in these situations, as well.

“What we have found, when it comes to dispatch systems, [is that] IT teams have been able to get this done easily so those people can work from home,” said Brian Belcher, chief operation officer at Vector, which provides automated document digitization software. “But there is a lot of discussion about how to keep drivers safe, and it’s super challenging for the billing people. These are critical roles to keep a business running.”

As are shop personnel, and you can’t service a truck from home. But digitized paperwork and automated workflows can support these teams, and many technology vendors have long offered products that do just that.

“We started distancing years ago when we rolled out our DVIR,” said Fred Fakkema, vice president of safety and compliance at Zonar Systems.

Automated digital vehicle inspection reports and their related apps do not require technicians to interact with drivers regarding noted problems or defects, or directly report whether or not any problems have been fixed. All the DVIR information is automatically uploaded to the shop’s management system, which can automatically generate parts lists and work orders to eliminate even more paper.

Of course, the initial goal of these products was to help fleets become more efficient and reduce the time to invoice.

“All of a sudden we are seeing new benefits,” Belcher said. “No one would have thought we would see this when we started.”

New Apps in a Trying Time

Other technology providers have introduced new apps specifically tailored to the current crisis. Trimble Maps’ Safe Havens app allows drivers to check their planned route, the weather along the way, and which rest locations have truck parking, amenities, and other services. The app also gives users the option to layer in traffic, weather, and COVID-19 cases in a given geographic area – providing further context to help drivers stay safe and efficient on the road, said Glenn Williams, vice president of product management at Trimble Transportation.

Williams also highlighted applications provided by the company's technology partners that are helping drivers by reducing face-to-face interactions. For example, the Drivewyze scale bypass system allows the electronic transfer of log information and scale bypass clearance in many states, eliminating face-to-face contact between the driver and commercial enforcement officers.

Verizon Connect continues to update its Navigation mobile app with information on open truck stops and hours of operation to help the long-haul truck drivers who encounter rest stop closures. The team checks for updates at the state level, as well as with the departments of transportation and chains like Pilot and TA. This information is added to the system every night to help drivers find open stations and stops where they can rest and fill up their gas tanks.

Transflow also recently introduced a suite of free digital tools to provide drivers and fleets information on how to safeguard driver health and keep supply chains moving during situations like the COVID-19 pandemic. These include an information repository, a driver sharing app, and an app that includes information about how to integrate document scanning, truck stop locators, and CAT scale applications on a driver’s mobile device.

Trucker Tools, which provides applications for brokers, recently waived overage fees for its visibility platform. The fee waiver will be in effect for 60 days. The company also announced a mobile driver app that provides a clearinghouse for information and resources.

These are just a few of the examples of how technology can help fleets operate safely and efficiently through the COVID-19 pandemic – and beyond.

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