The business of transporting bulk grain, fertiliser and general freight from place to place has existed for centuries. These days, it’s a business carried out by companies with fleets of trucks and trailers. One such company is Rural Transport, which operates a fleet of 59 trucks over large distances in New Zealand’s South Island.
General Manager Jim Crouchley says accurate information is absolutely vital to the business.
“The old process of booking a job was to enter it in our Freight Management system and print out a paper docket with all the details the truck driver needed. Then drivers had to fill in more information once the job was completed, such as the actual volume of goods transported and any variances. This had to be returned to the office and updated in the system again so the job could be invoiced.”
However, Rural Transport’s drivers tend to be based in remote regions. Infrequent trips back to the company’s offices meant relying on phone calls to communicate vital information. It was inefficient and slow, with the potential for costly errors to creep in.
Faced with this information gap, the Rural Transport approached its software supplier, HHA Associates Ltd (HHA), and asked if there was a simple, smart way to get real-time information to and from drivers in the field via the tablets the company was installing in its trucks.
Transporting live data to the transport operators
Software Analyst Sarah Bennett saw the potential to integrate mobile forms into a web-based freight scheduling system in use at Rural Transport. Key to this was the API provided by the AMS mobile app platform.
“The biggest benefit to us was that we didn’t need to have any mobile development expertise,” Sarah says. “The AMS API enabled us to integrate mobile forms into our existing freight scheduling software. We can make available any fields our customers might need.”
There was another critical benefit: device neutrality.
“AMS supports iOS and Android, so we can be sure the app will work on a huge range of devices,” Sarah says. “It’s also very intuitive, so drivers need very little training.”
Rural Transport rolled out the mobile app to drivers and was immediately impressed by the gains in efficiency.
“Accuracy is the big thing,” says GM Jim Crouchley. “We can be confident the information that goes to the driver is the same data the dispatcher entered. Everyone is operating off the same information.”
Jim also appreciates the way cameras on tablets can be used in conjunction with the AMS mobile app to verify facts on the ground and enable instant decisions.
“For instance, when transporting livestock we’re required to monitor the state of the animals we pick up. If a farmer wants to load cows that are in a poorer condition than we expected, the driver can take a photo on the spot and send it to the dispatcher, who can make a decision whether the animals should be loaded. It beats a phone call.
“You can describe a situation all you like but no-one argues with a photo.”
Harvesting information for better decisions and faster invoicing.
Truck drivers using the AMS app are now feeding data into Rural Transport’s freight scheduling system throughout the day. Even when mobile devices are out of coverage – a common event in the rural expanses of New Zealand – data is stored and automatically transmitted when the tablet comes into mobile coverage again.
Feeding in live data enables the business to streamline its admin processes, says Jim Crouchley
“On a typical bulk cartage job we might dispatch a truck to a farm to pick up 30 tonnes of grain. Because the farmer doesn’t have a weighbridge we rely on the driver to load the truck to his best estimate.
The driver will then transport the grain to the flour mill and drive onto the weighbridge there. The truck will be weighed when full and empty, to get the accurate nett weight of the load, and the driver can then enter the actual weight, or alternatively upload photos of the weighbridge printouts via the AMS app. The dispatcher receives timely information of the actual weight of grain transported so the farmer can be invoiced without delay.”
An app that’s easy and intuitive for truck drivers
Feedback from users has been positive according to Jim. Instead of requiring drivers to fill in paperwork or phone the office, each job is logged using fields that are customised to the company’s business processes. It’s simple, smart and user-friendly – even for old hands who are not the keenest adopters of technology.
“Legibility has been an issue in the past,” says Jim. “But now our drivers have tablets mounted in their cabs they can quickly update the status of jobs via the app. Everything is tied to the job, with no need for back-office staff to check things or key in data a second time.”
Sarah Bennett of HHA agrees that simplicity is a big benefit. “We have drivers who have never used a smartphone and never sent a text. They picked it up immediately.”
• Rural Transport is a trucking company with 59 heavy trucks and trailers serving the needs of farmers throughout New Zealand’s South Island.
• Each job is managed by a dispatcher at Rural Transport’s head office. Historically, a paper docket was sent to drivers or instructions were delivered over the phone.
• Relying on paper-based processes and phone calls meant multiple data entry points and the risk of mistakes. It was also slow and inefficient.
• Software integrator HHA Associates used the AMS API to quickly and cost-effectively add a mobile app to HHA’s web-based freight scheduling system. Because AMS is easily customised, app development costs were minimal.
• Jobs are now dispatched to mobile tablets in truck drivers’ cabs. Drivers update each job’s status in real time via the app, and can also add photos to certify delivery and stock welfare issues.
• If the device is out of mobile coverage, the app simply stores the data and automatically sends it as soon as coverage is restored.
• The user-friendly interface and robust nature of the AMS app facilitated uptake by truck drivers – many of who are reluctant users of technology.
• Rural Transport benefits from increased accuracy with one-time data entry and constantly updated job information. This facilitates speedy invoicing and minimises errors.