Big wheels meet big data
Like most trucking companies today, Estes Express Lines is navigating an industry-wide driver shortage. These hard-working professionals, crucial to our supply chain, are in short supply. That’s largely due to pandemic forces: Consumers, stuck at home and shopping via e-commerce sites, have put a massive strain on the delivery industry’s speed and capacity. Shipping, after all, is a very people-heavy industry.
But Estes, the largest privately owned freight shipping company in North America, tackles this operational challenge by putting efficiency, as well as worker satisfaction, into the driver’s hands. Using low-code technology, Estes has created a mobile application that helps its 6,000 city drivers coordinate home and industrial pickups, as well as freight yard drop offs – all with balletic precision.
"When you start addressing issues like capacity challenges and driver shortages, you have to take a look at the technology you’re providing your team and what they need to be successful," says Todd Florence, chief information officer of the 91-year-old, family-owned shipping outfit. "Do they see these tools as an asset or a liability to both their performance and overall job satisfaction? The right applications, especially those tailored to specific roles and needs, can make a big difference to the men and women driving our trucks.
"You have to take a look at the technology you’re providing your team and what they need to be successful."
Estes’ app is just one way automation and digitization are changing supply chain logistics and improving resilience. In fact, some 31% of business and tech leaders queried in Pega’s “The future of operations” survey say automating and digitizing supply chains will be among their top tech priorities in the next three to five years. This will lead to changes in workforce and workflows.
For example, Estes’ handheld and tablet applications not only manage pickups, but they also help drivers navigate Estes’ terminals and truck yards more efficiently.
“It allows us to quote and price our freight movement based on things like, if you’re moving ping pong balls or treadmills, or getting pickup at a home or an industrial setting,” says Florence.
"It allows us to quote and price our freight movement based on things like, if you’re moving ping pong balls or treadmills."
Estes’ citizen developers have also used low code to build new workflows for processing customers’ bills, ensuring their accuracy, and processing customer claims or disputes. All of these automation and digitization efforts, says Florence, are driven by the company’s six values that it created around its technology – spelled out in the acronym TRUCKS: transparency, responsiveness, understanding, continuous improvement, knowledge sharing, and simplicity.
“To have a customer-centric operation space, it ultimately comes down to data,” says Florence. “How do you democratize that data? How do you put it in people’s hands in near real time?”
Delivering uncompromised service to its customers has always been a cornerstone of Estes’ mission, which is fully apparent in the company’s use of technology to elevate the customer experience. Estes shares this data with its customers via industry-leading APIs to give them as much visibility into their shipments as possible. This has become critical as supply chain issues left many shelves empty during the early months of the pandemic, and companies had to stop relying on just-in-time manufacturing and operations.
Estes’ TRUCKS values also improve satisfaction among its other key stakeholders: its drivers. They once relied on cab-mounted devices and phone calls to receive and manage their daily workloads. The newer, easy-to-use apps are likely one reason Estes continues to grow and maintain a solid workforce. “Drivers are not data entry clerks,” says Florence. “They drive because they want to drive. We want to make their experience as frictionless as possible.”