First of Three Parts

Transformative Technology: Laying the Foundation for High Tech Tools in Today’s Modern Hauler

Today’s technology solutions available can have a very profound effect on waste haulers. It can completely transform them into a leaner, more competitive operation fully capable of meeting the challenges of modern-day trash hauling.

Steven Kaufman

Imagine you’re interviewing for a job. The person sitting across the table tells you that the position carries with it prestige, a good salary and great importance for the company. As your interest mounts, the interviewer says, “Oh, there are just a few caveats. You’ll be in charge of a large group of employees, each of which will be using a company asset worth about $200,000 to $250,000. These employees will be scattered around town, but you’ll have no definitive way of knowing what they’re doing during the day or how they’re treating the asset.”

Before you can say anything, the interviewer adds, “And we expect you to hit your revenue and expense targets while delivering exceptional customer service, comply with all government-mandated regulations and maintain a near-perfect safety record.” Would you take the job?

Most people utter a polite thank you and quickly say no. However, the scenario outlined is exactly what today’s waste hauler faces every day. With technology now a fundamental part of our personal and professional lives, most haulers are still flying blind when it comes to managing their three most important assets: vehicles, drivers and routes.

In this series of articles, we will explore the various technologies available for the waste industry. From the cab to the office, we will review the products and services that can automate nearly all of the manual tasks associated with waste hauling—and pay for themselves through a defendable, provable return on investment. The goal is to show that technology is not only available, it can completely transform the hauler into a leaner, more competitive operation fully capable of meeting the challenges of modern-day trash hauling.

Challenges that Technology Must Tackle

A hauler is essentially in the transportation business, responsible for the collection, transference and delivery of a commodity—in this case, waste. The workflow and logistics associated with this activity are both complex and specific. They also vary by geographic region and company. Hence, a residential route serviced by Company A in California may have an entirely different workflow than a residential route serviced by Company B in Connecticut.

Many of these differences come from the operational exceptions—those workflow steps required to fully complete the route that is non-normative. These may be mandated by regulatory or franchise rules, by limitations of the fleet or the driver or dictated by the physical circumstances of the route itself. Whatever the case, these operational exceptions can erode company profits by detracting from route efficiency and creating extra and costly expense. The first challenge is determining how to reduce these exceptions.

Getting the driver through his route in the shortest amount of time possible is a goal to which some haulers aspire. Conversely, increasing route density so that more trash is collected within the same service time may be the target. Either way, efficiency improvements cannot come at the cost of safety. Rushing to finish the route or cramming in 30 more stops, thereby putting more pressure on the driver to work faster won’t help profits if safety becomes a casualty. As such, technology must enhance the safety footing of the hauler as it helps the organization become more efficient.

Another challenge technology must address is to create a reliable, effective way to get the route (and any changes as they unfold) to the driver. Similarly, the vehicle must be able to report back the progress it’s making on the route. This pipeline must take place in real-time and must be completely paperless.

Finally, technology must integrate the various products currently in use in today’s hauling operation. This integration begins with the route management software (“RMS”), tying its data with that which the on-board computer (OBC) collects. The integration must then extend itself to other products, including route optimization, payroll, time clock and fleet maintenance, to name a few. If properly executed, a fully-integrated system gives haulers critical tools for internal route management (e.g., between field and back office) as well as external customer service tools (between back office and the hauler’s customer base).

The Methodology: Key Aspects of the Hauler Technology Solution

There are technology tools existing today that can accomplish all of the challenges outlined above. To manage the driver in the field, an OBC is a key device. It replaces the paper route sheets that many haulers give to their drivers each day. The OBC presents the route electronically, indicating the order in which the stops are to be made, any extra trash that was collected and any exceptions to the service that was (or was not) rendered. The OBC also tracks all offline time, including driver breaks, landfill events and unanticipated route downtime and includes integrated GPS data for full breadcrumb trail tracking.

The core route pickup data collected by the OBC can be augmented by other easy-to-operate technology add-ons such as digital cameras, RFID readers, on-board scales and turn-by-turn directions. The route data sent to the OBC generally originates from the RMS. Integrating the RMS with the on-board computer creates a seamless flow of route data between the truck and the back office. An ROI can be easily realized through accurate extras collection and billing and elimination of service to non-paying customers.

Thanks to significant reductions in cellular data plans, it is now possible for the truck and the office to communicate with one another in real-time. This means changes to the route can be sent to the driver, and confirmation of all route activity can be returned to the office, painting an up-to-the-minute profile of collection activity.

The integration can be augmented by tying in other software assets available to haulers: route optimization software to improve route efficiency, payroll and time clock tools for accurate driver, route, and vehicle costing, and fleet maintenance software that directly ties truck field use to preventative maintenance activity.

Finally, the technology solution includes alerts and dashboards that track a set of critical operational statistics across the organization, from route costs out of their normative range to drivers with excessive engine idle time. These dashboards can be used in the office or in the field, available down to tablet PCs and Blackberry devices so every stakeholder can stay apprised of their piece of the route puzzle.

Benefits of the Technology Solution

There are so many benefits to a technology that one article cannot fully articulate them. That said, several can be identified that have the highest benefit for the organization and that carry the strongest ROI. The first benefit is the maximization of route revenue. If technology paints a detailed profile of all route activity, it follows that price increases or payment for the actual service rendered is fully justifiable and no longer subject to interpretation or speculative guesswork. Objective data, not anecdotal information, becomes the basis for accurate customer pricing.

Technology can also drive down the real operating costs associated with waste collection, transportation and disposal. Using the data collected, haulers will gain a window on the micro-metrics of the route never before seen—statistics like time at customer, landfill dwell time or off-route versus on-route analytics. Real-time alerts keep the fleet productive, reducing hourly truck and driver rates, and preventative maintenance alerts prevent field breakdowns, putting the proverbial fence at the top of the cliff instead of the ambulance at the bottom.

Technology also brings important safety advantages to the hauling operation. By monitoring the driver and his activities, mandated driver activities can now be fully enforced. Additionally, haulers can now see if vehicles are being handled in accordance with company safety policies. Real-time dashboards can alert management to excessive speeding, acceleration and deceleration infractions, and improper PTO and hydraulic arm use (e.g., alerts when the vehicle is moving while the arms are up).

Finally, technology plays a central role in bettering customer service. With real-time information on the route, customer service agents now have the information they need to effortlessly answer customer inquiries about service levels and billing. Shorter call times, coupled with more accurate call information, combine to provide an ROI in this area.

Standardization Across the Organization

When these benefits are viewed as a whole, the technology solution outlined creates a verifiable audit trail for all activity in the organization. From the route supervisor to the CEO, everyone will know exactly what actions were taken by the driver and back office personnel in service of the customer. This information forms the foundation of route analytics crucial to understand the operating metrics of the hauler, including revenue and actual cost of service on a customer-by-customer basis.

These benefits can also lead to standardization across the organization. With an objective, seamless technology solution in place, haulers will have the metrics they need to evenly evaluate performance. Operational procedures, be they fleet- or office-based, can now be developed, implemented and measured. The result: the minimization of the operational exceptions that impact profitability and efficiency.

With standardization in place, the goal of automatic service verification is now a reality. Technology not only gives the hauler the absolute proof that that they were at the customer site, it provides a full explanation of the driver’s actions. If he could not render the service because the container was not out or blocked, technology will bring that forward. Similarly, if the driver provided service, technology can clearly document all aspects of the event, be it normal pickups or any exceptions such as extra trash. Finally, technology can expose drivers who may be collecting illicit revenue from previously-untrackable phantom lifts, thereby increasing disposal expense.

Each of the benefits outlined have ROI measurements that can be benchmarked so the system’s payback period can be objectively tracked. Depending on the scope of the technology solution, payback periods can be realized in as short as 12 to 15 months. Future articles will explore each technology in more detail, including the discussion of specific ROI metrics.

Today’s technology solutions available can have a very transformative effect on the waste hauler. By providing a clear picture of field activity, haulers can now track the status of their vehicles, drivers and routes as never before. The resultant increase in productivity and customer service can not only change a hauler’s competitive posture, it can make them a powerful, lean competitor—a skill set critically needed in today’s challenging business environment.

Steven Kaufman is the founder and Senior Vice President of Routeware, Inc. (Beaverton, OR).He has more than 25 years of experience in product development, manufacturing and operations, half of which have been spent in the solid waste industry. He has worked for Intel and Wang Laboratories in the U.S. and Europe, as well as other technology and engineering firms.He can be reached at (503) 906-8588 or visit the Web site at