Ask Lance Velasquez what the future holds for truckstops, and he'll point to a fire-engine red machine that looks vaguely like an ATM at all of Flying J's 170 truckstops across the U.S. But it's no ATM — it's a document management system (DMS) that takes paper documents such as bills of lading and converts them to electronic files.

Those files get stored on secure servers at Ogden, UT-based Flying J's headquarters to be retrieved by trucking companies. All it takes to retrieve the documents or send others to a driver is a personal computer and an Internet connection.

“It's all about speeding up a carrier's business process,” according to Velasquez, head of imaging and WiFi services at Flying J Communications, a subsidiary of Flying J. “Once a driver makes a delivery and then stops for fuel on his return leg, he can send all the signed load documents back to his company instantly, vastly reducing the carrier's freight billing cycle.”

“And we're not just talking about freight bills here — we're also talking about the ability to send driver settlements [weekly paychecks] and any other document a carrier needs or uses,” he says. “It's about making the truckstop more like a business center for drivers and carriers.”

In fact, several carriers like the DMS device so much they've had it installed in their own terminals; 28 to date, Velasquez says.

There are some 1,600 truck stops nationwide, according to industry sources, and they are becoming more integral to the daily operations of carriers and drivers alike. For example, approximately 40% of all drivers use laptop computers on the road, says Velasquez. That statistic prompted Flying J to build wireless Internet access (WiFi) portals at all 170 of its locations, as well as at 130 other non-truckstop locations as well.

Additionally, Flying J is working on a deal with the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) to provide digital TV and pay-per-view movies via its wireless connection.