By far, the most important asset a fleet manager must manage is the drivers. Which leads to the trillion-dollar question: "How do we get the most out of drivers?"
Trucking is a business of pennies. You have to know your costs, keep them as low as possible, and make a little margin. An organized fleet manager does this through a daily workflow of:
- Knowing the drivers and their qualifications
- Tracking the location of every truck
- Managing each truck's maintenance intervals
- Knowing the freight
- Minimizing risk exposure
- Anticipating and capitalizing on opportunities
At this time, the human element both holds back the freight industry and moves it forward. Many technological innovations are coming to the logistics industry that solve or hope to remove human error entirely from day-to-day operations.
In the worst case, driver-related human error can result in accidents and front-page news. But minor examples of human error can plague an organization as well. Small acts of inefficiency that are ingrained in driver workflows can accumulate.
Systems Thinking and Telematics
It's true that each driver and all of us have our foibles and moments of inefficiency. But what if the bottlenecks are a system-related issue?
If there's one thing tech is doing to business in general and logistics specifically, it's challenging the belief that "the costs of doing business" need to remain "business as usual."
Today we'll take a look at four ways tech and telematics can help fleet managers get the most out of drivers. We'll focus on these areas:
- Route optimization and smart fuel
- Truck maintenance
- Risk mitigation and electronic logging devices (ELDs)
- Automated billing
Before we dive in, it's worth noting that most of the categories mentioned above can be tracked by, or relate to, telematics software. Other articles have been written about the ways you can keep drivers happy. Those articles might suggest ideas like gift cards, incentives, or gamification tactics that reward safe driving or other KPIs (key performance indicators).
But as stated earlier, this article takes a more systems-wide approach to behavior and KPI improvement—and that means telematics.
Tech and Telematics
Here's how tech and telematics come into play with driver performance.
In general, telematics is a term for software that provides real-time tracking information about a truck and/or trailer. Telematics is "an interdisciplinary field that encompasses telecommunications, vehicular technology, road transport, road safety, electrical engineering, and computer science."
Let's translate that definition for the logistics industry. Telematics provides a wide range of information on KPIs regarding:
- Fuel efficiency
- Hours of service
- Total miles
- Maintenance requirements
- Tire pressure/blowouts
- Late departures/early arrivals
- Excessive speeding
Put another way, in the eyes of telematics software, the driver is one and the same as their truck—and their driving behavior.
This relationship can irk some drivers. But as we live and work with telematics, more drivers are coming around to the upside of efficiency. Everyone likes a bigger paycheck, and telematics can help drivers notice and correct some bad habits.
Let's take a closer look at some tools and tactics for how to get the most out of drivers!
1. Fuel Optimization
GPS in one form or another has been around for a long time. Most TMS platforms have a route optimization tool that takes GPS to the next level. It's a no-brainer that using the best route for every delivery reduces mileage and reduces fuel costs. But you can ratchet things up a notch by incorporating a smart fuel system.
There's a way to be smart about fuel use and efficient routing. The concept of smart fuel systems is to optimize a driver's route based on destination and fuel stops. Some trucking companies have negotiated fuel rates with certain truck stops.
In theory, a driver can save money by stopping only at fuel partner trucks stops on the ideal route. That kills two birds with one stone. In addition, find a fuel partner like Pilot/Flying J, with a fuel app that allows your driver to automate their fill-up.
Fuel cards not only help with cost tracking but also discourage fuel theft. Fuel theft typically results from drivers filling up personal vehicles or using fuel cards to buy personal items.
Truck aerodynamics is another area that focuses on reducing fuel consumption. You get increased aerodynamics when you reduce the gap between truck and trailer, add trailer skirts, and add a trailer tail. These three features can reduce drag significantly. These simple physical solutions can result in notable fuel savings.
Key ideas promoting fuel optimization include:
- Route efficiency
- Smart fuel routing
- Partnered fueling
- Avoiding fuel theft
- Paperwork reduction
In essence, you can streamline fuel efficiency with tech improvements, process improvements, and even physical improvements. It's understood that trucks average six miles per gallon. If each process improvement on our list results in one extra mile per gallon, you can double your fuel efficiency.
2. Truck Maintenance
You have to take care of your nice things if you want them to stay nice. Reducing cost through preventive maintenance is another established way to get the most out of drivers.
When you suffer an equipment breakdown, the lost time of the truck and driver hurts your profit-and-loss statement. Put another way, a stationary truck doesn't make money. So one way to avoid breakdowns is with preventive and predictive maintenance.
Having on-board telematics provides predictive maintenance data. Fleet managers can use that information to make decisions about the ideal time to perform maintenance on equipment.
Telematics can also track the condition of your trucks' tires. Having properly inflated tires is great way to reduce risk of blowout and optimize gas mileage.
Predictive maintenance information empowers a fleet manager with the ability to schedule and perform routine maintenance at an ideal time, not after a breakdown occurs. The best way to keep a fleet moving is to stay ahead of the maintenance curve.
3. Risk Mitigation
Technology can aid a fleet manager with risk mitigation in several ways. Telematics can monitor dangerous driving habits, such as excessive speed.
Monitoring driving habits can allow a fleet manager to implement measures like additional driver training when needed. This can increase safer driving habits.
The ELD Mandate
The FMCSA has made logging hours of service (HOS) mandatory. These HOS e-logs are another example of how system-wide changes can increase safety. Do electronic logging devices help you get the most out of your drivers?
Some might play the devil's advocate and say the ELDs hurt their bottom line because they box in their ability to react to "special circumstances." But if we take a big-picture view of ELDs, we realize the roads should be safer now. And it's possible to avoid many of those "special circumstances" with better planning.
Risk mitigation doesn't always involve driver behavior. For example, telematics track the locations of drivers, trailers, and the contents of their freight. Certain telematics, such as on-board scales, track the weight of freight—and that can lessen the chance of theft. Another example is a feature that allows fleet managers to measure the temperature in refrigerated trailers.
Limit risky driving and limit the possibility of freight damage and theft. We'd all agree it's best to avoid costly issues as much as possible. And over the long run, doing so helps us get the most out of drivers.
4. Automated Billing
You can really see how tech helps get the most out of drivers with automated billing. New imaging software can streamline significant portions of driver workflow. It's typical for every delivery to involve five or six different pieces of paperwork. Next, multiply that by the number of loads a driver completes before returning to the office.
That's a ton of paperwork for each driver to organize. Not to mention, all that paperwork must also be managed by the back-office personnel and processed for billing.
With the software app developed by Vector, you can eliminate several of these time-consuming steps:
- Deliver: The driver (or onboard telematics!) launches the app.
- Scan paperwork: The driver scans delivery paperwork, such as PODs and BOLs, and clicks Send.
- Automate billing: All paperwork synchs with your TMS, which then automatically invoices based on customer preferences.
Essentially, instead of scanning and filing reams of paperwork, the back-office role evolves into setting up customers in the TMS for automated invoicing.
In essence, that means the driver sends the invoice, saving days or weeks of time. How's that for getting the most out of drivers?
Using All Our Gifts
In summary, drivers are truly where the rubber meets the road in the freight industry. Our human capital is our most precious resource. How do we keep our people motivated and moving in the same direction toward success?
As has been noted, in logistics the trend is toward more tech in order to mitigate the risks of human nature. Gift cards are great. By all means, as long as we have human drivers, keep the gift cards flowing! But fleet managers also need to invest in the right tech. We looked at four areas today.
- Route optimization and smart fuel
- Truck maintenance
- Risk mitigation
- Automated billing
Invest time in any of these areas, and you'll see results.
To sum up, how can you get the most out of drivers? Make improvements systematic—and automatic.
This post was written by Brian Deines. Brian believes that every day is a referendum on a brand’s relevance, and he’s excited to bring that kind of thinking to the world of modern manufacturing and logistics. He deploys a full-stack of business development, sales, and marketing tools built through years of work in the logistics, packaging, and tier-1 part supply industries serving a customer base comprised of Fortune 1000 OEMs.