ERP: When “P” is for people

June 6, 2012
Managing people as enterprise resources

It may seem ironic that enterprise resource planning (ERP)—that ultimate, comprehensive approach to automated business management—has suddenly taken a turn toward the human, but there it is. Out of the blue, ERP is feeling the tug of humanity on the other end of its IT rope. Enterprise resource planning is becoming enterprise resource people, and for good reason. There is just no limit to how people can impact a business.

This is especially true for fleets that depend upon the skills of far-flung, usually solitary, mobile workers (drivers) to serve customers, safeguard physical assets, and even protect the company’s ability to operate. Today, technology is not only transforming driver management but the fleet enterprise itself. It is beginning to expand and change, to become more complex, more organic in its operation—in other words, more human.

Mobile communications have made drivers less isolated and safer, according to Randy Seals, customer advocate for McLeod Software. “No matter what happens, a driver is not alone anymore,” Seals says. “His company and his family can reach him and he can reach them.

“The difference with technology today is that it is real-time; you don’t have to wait to make decisions about anything,” he adds, “and that allows you to become much more efficient. It also allows you to see costs and revenue in new ways. You can see them by the hour, for instance, and that is [a more valuable metric for the enterprise than cost per mile].

“Now fleet owners can see what fatigue does to drivers, what loading and unloading does, what pay rates and routes do, and they can make changes to make things better for drivers and for the business,” Seals notes. “Driver scorecards, for example, let drivers become a more active part of the operation as a whole. They can see for themselves how their work impacts the company.”

Seals says that he likes to think of drivers as football players, as the people out there on the line of scrimmage. “You have to have a ‘playbook’ that drivers can refer to,” he explains, “and they have to be able to see the score—to see how they are doing and how the company is doing against its goals. They need to be able to say, ‘It was a tough day, but that’s okay, because we are winning—I’m winning.’”

He says he is also a believer in the value of using technology to get input from drivers. “Drivers have to be empowered; they have to feel like the part of the solution that they really are,” he says. “We need to be always asking them, ‘What could we have done to make this better?’

“Drivers see customers every day,” Seals adds. “Technology lets us tap into that—to get more good information from them as well as to them.”

The team at Qualcomm’s Fleet Risk Advisor business is also approaching the process of managing fleet enterprises from a fresh, people-centered perspective, and using advanced technologies and sophisticated analytics to facilitate the changeover.

“We started to realize that this industry is more about people and psychology than it is about technology,” says Vikas Jain, vice president of business development. “We believe we are pioneering a new way of thinking about what causes accidents, workers’ compensation claims, driver turnover and so on. [The trucking industry] has tended to look at all these things as carelessness or as a random event.

“Instead, think of these events as the effect of something else happening in the work background, something personal, something health-related, a financial worry, a professional or family concern,” Jain says. “We have come to believe [that these background stresses] are the cause of most driving problems. They cause changes in behavior that result, in 40 to 50% of the time, in an accident. For most of us, stress might show up as eating too much, or tardiness or forgetfulness, but for truck drivers that stress shows up as careless driving.

“Today,” Jain notes, “we can build models that look at historical data versus what really happened. We can know what a baseline safe driving behavior looks like and then we can spot even subtle changes—higher speeds, poor shift timing, hard-braking—the things that lead to accidents. We are looking for patterns, not for meaningless events,” he adds. “We want to see who is apt to have an accident and why, and we want to see that in time to intervene.”

Drivers are people, too

Technology, in other words, is making it easier to react appropriately and helpfully to drivers as people—in all their complexity. Who would have thought?

“At this point, we have gathered more than one million driver ‘scores,’” Jain continues, adding that drivers are scored every 28 days. “Now we can even tell you what sort of issues are probably going on [in the background] based upon the changes taking place in a driver’s behavior,” he says. “The good news is that, often in just a 10-minute conversation with a troubled driver, we can uncover what is going on and provide help and support to reduce stress and reduce the likelihood of an accident.

“Unfortunately, our industry sometimes tends to look at drivers as resources [like equipment], not as people,” Jain adds. “We’ve been adding more and more gadgets and controls to the truck cab to force the driver to work within tighter and tighter parameters, to try to make them more like machines. Good drivers don’t need all that; they know what to do [and we can help them do it efficiently and safely.]”

Dean Newell, vice president of safety and training at Maverick Transportation, was one of the early users of Fleet Risk Advisor and he has seen the kind of enterprise-wide shift it can make. “We are a very safety-oriented fleet,” Newell says. “We use a lot of safety technologies; this program is in addition to those. It helps us to get to the root of who is apt to have an accident. It helps us identify those guys who we normally wouldn’t be worrying about. Ninety percent of our problems have nothing to do with trucking; they have to do with something going on in the drivers’ private lives.

“Today,” Newell continues, “if I see a pattern that is a potential problem, I know how to focus our efforts on what needs to be done for that person. It helps me understand. We have changed some things in our recruiting and orientation, for instance.

“I can’t assign a value to this because it has become a part of our whole culture,” he adds. “It works—it is a piece of what works for us. We just came off our best year ever safety-wise and we have about 60% driver turnover, a very good number for a truckload carrier.”


Fleets with more worrisome turnover figures also have unique analytical tools available to help them discover why drivers (and other employees they want to keep) are leaving. Last fall, for example, Compli introduced Turnover Analytics, a software tool that provides reports and graphs to help managers identify trends in turnover rates, and the causes behind them. It provides a variety of metrics, including information on the turnover percentage for each termination reason, location, group and supervisor. Like other new analytical tools, the goal is to enable companies to be proactive— to find and fix potential employee problems before they occur. After all, it is tough to build a cohesive, collaborative business team if you can’t hang on to your best players.

As the role of drivers becomes more important and their visibility throughout an enterprise increases, it can also trigger changes in driver hiring, screening and perhaps even payment practices. Christian Schenk, vice president of market development and product marketing for Xata, is convinced that will be the case. The company has recently introduced its Xata Passport tool to allow fleets to use data about a truck operator’s driving practices and fuel economy to help guide the hiring process.

“Factoring actual driver performance data into the candidate screening and hiring process can help companies identify the safest and most efficient drivers, not just the ones with a clean record,” Schenk says. “Some companies and drivers will probably hate this, but good fleets and drivers will embrace it as a way to do better.”

As driver performance rating takes off, Schenk sees it eventually impacting not only which drivers get hired, but also the incentives they receive and perhaps even how they are paid. “In 24 months or so, you will see big changes in how drivers are paid,” he predicts. “Some may even be on salary.”

Monica Truelsch, director of marketing for TMW, agrees. “There is a lot of concern on the part of some drivers about driver performance monitoring, especially since CSA,” she observes. “However, anything we can do to help protect the safety ratings of good drivers through technology and training is a plus.

“We may be coming into an era where there is more experimentation with driver compensation,” she adds. “It is very easy to see that if we can’t find a way to bring more young drivers into the business, we’ll have fewer and fewer people available in the future to handle more and more freight.”

The new focus on people also has a way of blurring traditional business boundaries, first within a company, and eventually between the enterprise and those who interact with it. According to Schenk, this trend away from more rigid and ordered enterprises to more open, organic and changing organizations is not something to be feared. Instead, it is something to be harnessed as a source of energy and vitality. Welcome to the enterprise as community.

“Today, the moment you have a company that filters information, that puts too many processes around things, people start to leave,” he says. “Social media is out there now. Companies can be a part of it or they can stick their heads in the sand and hope it will go away, but it won’t. It will only get bigger. What will be said, will be, so you might as well know it and act on it.”

And Xata, says Schenk, is getting ready to do just that. The company is preparing to launch a new, “relatively ungoverned” online site called Xata Nation. It is intended to become a comprehensive community incorporating all sorts of educational and business content and tools for all sorts of industry people to share —from drivers, to customers, to suppliers, to members of the media, he notes.


The company is also developing some “aggressive analytic tools” to help it mine the information that will be flowing through Xata Nation in order to better “see what we are seeing,” Schenk says. “We believe that you can get a much better sense of how people will react to something by getting feedback from lots and lots of individuals not just from a focus group few.

“In the future, we believe a real sense of community will drive things,” he notes. “Our next generation fleet management product will tie back into all this—for management and compliance.”

Thanks to mobile communications, drivers will not be left on the outside of the community looking in, either.

“Nearly 90% of drivers are running a mobile device of their own like a smartphone, perhaps right alongside the in-cab device the company is providing,” Schenk says, “but the company is getting no benefit. At Xata, we’ve chosen to embrace [the use of handheld communication devices as a given and as an opportunity.]”

“In the motor carrier industry, you have the original mobile workforce, if you will,” observes TMW’s Truelsch. “Today, interacting with those workers has become much easier than it used to be because of the Internet and mobile and handheld devices.

“Mobile devices of all kinds are the portals that deliver content in both directions,” she adds. “All this ties back into the safety, efficiency and productivity of the enterprise as a whole and that is all for the good.”

About the Author

Wendy Leavitt

Wendy Leavitt joined Fleet Owner in 1998 after serving as editor-in-chief of Trucking Technology magazine for four years.

She began her career in the trucking industry at Kenworth Truck Company in Kirkland, WA where she spent 16 years—the first five years as safety and compliance manager in the engineering department and more than a decade as the company’s manager of advertising and public relations. She has also worked as a book editor, guided authors through the self-publishing process and operated her own marketing and public relations business.

Wendy has a Masters Degree in English and Art History from Western Washington University, where, as a graduate student, she also taught writing.  

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