Truck drivers are the cogs that make the supply chain work. They move containers and trailers of goods out of ports, within railyards, to and from shippers’ facilities, across the country, to store shelves and even the final mile to consumers. And while they’re moving the goods, they’re often caught in the middle of navigating communications between shippers and receivers, and even their own company if they work for a big carrier. That can create an influx of information and make a driver’s job more complicated.
So, it’s easy to see how communication and collaboration with truck drivers remains a key challenge in the industry. It’s also no mystery that the proliferation of technology within the supply chain has played a role in that. Today, truck drivers have more technology in their cabs than ever, from GPS navigation systems to dashcams and to electronic logging devices to help them perform their jobs more efficiently. However, some fleets have overrun drivers with various apps and technology. Many of these apps are complicated and do not cater to the different kinds of drivers in the trucking industry.
Drivers are often tasked with sifting through alerts coming from shippers, carriers and receivers about any updates to their routes or further directions in real time. It can be overwhelming for drivers to receive multiple messages at any given time, especially when they don’t understand the technology or see it as a hindrance. Or, take into account the different generations of truck drivers that prefer different methods of communication, such as a phone call to a text or using an app, because maybe older drivers can’t get used to using newer technologies. This can lead to slowed processes, driver distractions and dissatisfaction.
The logistics industry is in no place to overlook drivers’ needs. An estimated 80,000 drivers are needed to keep the supply chain moving, according to a 2021 report from the American Trucking Association. Transportation players do see this and are looking at potential solutions which primarily involve implementing technology into their fleets. Simplifying the driver's job is critical, and technology can assist with that, but can too much of a good thing actually increase driver turnover and cause more challenges?
The supply chain consists of many different parties moving goods from origination to the endpoint. At any given time, drivers need to be attuned to traffic delays, reroutes and inclement weather, among other obstacles that impact their delivery. Drivers need to know when to change plans as well as directions for taking the safest and most efficient route possible. Getting the right messages delivered is essential, but too many messages can overwhelm the driver.
Multiple phone calls, messages and notifications are coming in daily from the driver's fleet manager and other shippers and carriers that need to stay in contact. While receiving these notifications is essential to keeping the drivers updated — it can also be super distracting to drivers and result in inefficiency, safety issues and driver fatigue.
Consider the major generational differences between truck drivers on the road today. Truck drivers range anywhere from their early 20s to mid-70s. Older drivers are used to phones and paperwork that they physically have to hand off, and they might get overwhelmed by apps that someone in their 20s or 30s navigates easily. Older drivers might find it easiest to communicate by phone. The middle-agers might be more adept than their older colleagues and can learn new processes. However, the technology should remain relatively simple to avoid the risk of driver app fatigue.
It's imperative to understand these generational differences, especially when implementing processes to simplify communication. If technology is that solution, it should account for each generation's communication preferences and simplify how it is used as much as possible, and companies need to ensure all drivers are properly trained in its use. By simplifying drivers’ communication and technology tasks, it enables them to focus on driving and complete deliveries both faster and more efficiently, boosting their job satisfaction and saving the company money by not over complicating things.
Companies across the supply chain have typically been reluctant to update manual, paper-based processes, thinking that implementing technology will cause more stress. And when either a shipper, carrier or receiver has implemented a tech solution, it often is either outdated or does not talk to other systems along the supply chain — creating silos and more challenges. Systems need to communicate with each other to create a unified experience that enables drivers to get in and out of facilities quicker.
If technology is the answer, it must be able to reach any driver, anywhere and at any time. Moreover, it should enable collaboration amongst shippers, carriers, and receivers to simplify things further.
Logistics technology companies are working hard to solve this challenge by developing tools that enable a simplified user experience with access for shippers, carriers and receivers. It has to be easy enough to use so that drivers don’t have to go through extensive training to navigate the app. A driver can connect to an SMS platform from any medium and receive important messages promptly and communicate seamlessly in a manner that suits their preference.
While transportation technology is not new in the industry, tools being developed now are taking communication challenges into account and being built to address them. Every type of device is accounted for, leading to excellent driver satisfaction and a revitalized supply chain.
Creating a unified technology that connects everyone will not only make drivers' lives easier, but it can decrease dwell time, increase driver productivity, eliminate the paper trail, lessen the workload on the back office and return higher profits for all parties. Technology is a beneficial tool that will change the supply chain for the better, but only if it can reach any driver, at any time and anywhere they are located, building a harmonious communication channel where the whole supply chain wins.
Will Chu is co-founder and CEO Vector, a contactless pickup and delivery platform.
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