Truckload carrier Werner Enterprises is rolling out a new technology platform that will make the carrier even more driver-centric, and offer improvements in shipment visibility to shipper customers as well.
Called Werner Edge, the platform is an attempt to apply technology more ‘holistically’ to gain greater benefits across its business, Danny Lilley, Werner’s vice president of fleet systems and technology, told JOC.com.
The carrier is calling Werner Edge not just a platform, but its ‘innovation arm’ where it will test new technologies, ideas, and processes. Development of the platform tracks the often-identified need to replace data 'silos' within companies and between partners across enterprises with more ‘circular’ data-sharing.
The sixth-largest US truckload carrier has focused on technology for years, “but we’re stepping back and trying to figure out holistically how we modernize as an organization to deliver the capabilities needed by our drivers, shippers, and carriers”, Lilley said. The end result, he said, will be a more integrated system that streamlines processes, rather than just digitizes them.
Initial efforts are focused on truck drivers, who are receiving Samsung tablets designed to withstand wear and tear, but Werner Edge eventually will be extended to shippers through links to their transportation management systems, with certain data moving between customers, the carrier, and drivers, or brokered carriers. The system will include shipment visibility and tracking and final-mile features for businesses and consumers.
For shippers, Werner Edge will provide greater information on the location and estimated time of arrival of shipments, and also allow shippers to provide drivers, through Werner, with information that can help make pickups and deliveries easier, Lilley said. “We’re also realizing different shippers, depending on their size, have different technological needs.”
For example, a larger customer may share data with Werner via electronic data interchange or an application programming interface, but small- to mid-sized customers may want to use a portal on the Internet to track shipments, he said. “We need to build out that fluidity where shippers can tender shipments and track loads in a variety of ways.”
One common driver problem highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic is detention at a shipper or consignee’s dock. Werner Edge can help resolve detention problems more quickly, Lilley said. “If the driver is at a dock and there’s a problem, he can inform our customer relations team using an event queue in the application,” he said. “That gives us real-time visibility.”
Automating workflow for drivers
Drivers at Werner began receiving the new tablets in early March, just as the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread in the United States, Lilley said. The system will be rolled out throughout the year, and expanded with applications and data shared with shipper customers and third-party carriers as well. “We’re continually fine-tuning the system,” he said.
Many existing applications for drivers duplicate manual processes, essentially turning paper documents into macro forms or digital documents such as PDFs, Lilley said. “A driver may have to scroll through 60 macros to find the ‘arrived at shipper’ form, and then it’s basically a PDF, without information on their specific equipment or load,” he said. “That requires a lot of manual data entry.”
Data in Werner Edge will flow throughout processes from initial entry to the completion of a transaction, automating more of the processes, and creating a “more focused workflow” than provided by a series of standalone macros, Lilley said. “We require drivers to do so much data entry that’s not necessary,” he said. Drivers will be freed to focus on more critical tasks.
“As we move forward the need for paperwork goes away,” Lilley said. “This is one of the areas the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted for us. We don’t like handling things like delivery receipts to people anymore. The tablet has a built-in stylus for signature capture. Shipper acceptance of this type of technology has increased with the pandemic.”
Werner’s communications with its truck drivers is already robust. For years, drivers have had a direct line of communications to CEO and president Derek Leathers. The company began using electronic logs in 1998 — the first truckload carrier to do so — and has telematics installed in the cab of each of its trucks. But current systems are aging, and vertical in their design.
“Our current solution hasn’t changed in six years,” Lilley said. “It’s stable, but it’s not a great solution for us. The new solution allows us to address the drivers more quickly. We’ve brought our separate mobile application for drivers and embedded that in that solution as well.”
The supply chain disruption caused by COVID-19 is accelerating the development technologies across transportation modes, and reducing resistance to ‘bleeding edge’ technologies. But more than technology itself is in play, Lilley said. “It’s simple changes in how we operate and thought processes that are important for us.”