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Birth of the DIAD

A lot was happening in 1991. The beginnings of the Gulf War, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the closing of Eastern Air Lines to name just a few. Less well known was the birth of the DIAD.

What is the DIAD? The name stands for Delivery Information Acquisition Device and it is the handheld data collector UPS drivers use to record and transmit delivery information across a mobile cellular network. It also helps UPS save 59 million sheets of paper each year. This may seem very commonplace now in the age of iPhones and Blackberries, but think back to 20 years ago. This was the very infancy of cellular phones.

In the 1980s, now retired UPSer Roy Lancraft was part of the UPS research and development team tasked with looking into automation for UPS. He gave me some insight into how the DIAD came to be and the team members he worked with. A UPSer named Clay Lafferty first came up with the idea to give UPS drivers a handheld device in the late 1970s.

Looking out 15 to 20 years and at the importance of automation, Roy knew that UPS wouldn’t be successful as a company if it failed at the DIAD. Many people had to be convinced, including drivers and management and customers.

Here was the thinking behind the need for the DIAD: how can we make our drivers’ jobs better? How can we automate and ultimately offer better and more defined services to our customers? How can we be more efficient 20 years from now?

The original device, DIAD I, needed to capture signatures, be reliable, simple to use and ultimately trustworthy in order for 60,000 drivers to accept this very new process. So the original DIAD was designed to resemble a clipboard, be reliable through any weather and have enough power to last all day. Once this transition device could be accepted, Roy knew drivers and others would ultimately see the value in future DIADs. And he was right.


The original purpose of the DIAD I was to remove paperwork on the delivery side and improve delivery tracking. Roy knew the drivers needed to carry one device—not multiple devices and/or paper forms which they would need to keep track of. An initial meeting involved UPS function heads who were shown the DIAD and skeptically responded to questions—how can this improve your function? This was a significant change in the way UPS operated and many got it immediately, but some were slower to accept. The transition device was built by a Japanese company which was given all of the specifications and the processes drivers must follow. However, UPS decided it needed to control the software and took responsibility for software in-house.

Although commonplace today, the DIAD was the first device to collect digital signatures on a broad scale, and Roy also had to meet with federal agencies to convince them privacy issues weren’t a concern with data capture of signatures via the DIAD.

Another hurdle involved the barcode scanner—the scanner had to be small enough to fit into the device and it had to be easy to use. Early prototypes included scanners that only worked if the device was held just so, and that was unacceptable. UPS worked with Symbol Technologies to make a new laser scanner.

Also, at the time private data networks were the common approach for communications. These worked well for small, well-defined areas, but didn’t scale well to a nationwide level due to the large infrastructure costs. Although it had never been done before, UPS made the wise choice to use a public data network for nationwide coverage. In fact, to even use a public data network for nationwide coverage, UPS needed to pull together a coalition of about 100 companies to make this happen, saving big bucks versus the private data network route in the process.

The time savings and reduction of human errors from paperwork was enormous. UPS drivers became even more efficient, and back-end automation in the delivery information area could be realized.

In 1991, UPS rolled out about 60,000 DIADs connected to a holder in each vehicle using an analog cellular modem that transmitted real-time tracking information. Features of DIAD I:

  • Electronically captured delivery information, including signatures
  • Delivery information uploaded at end-of-day upon return to UPS
  • Scanned bar codes
  • Programmed route details
  • Documented timecard information
  • Tallied CODs
  • 0.75 megabytes of memory

Since that initial roll-out, the DIAD’s capabilities and features have grown:

  • First device in the industry to use personal area (Bluetooth), local area (WiFi) and wide area (GPRS or CDMA) wireless connectivity options
  • Introduced Global Positioning System technology to the handheld computer market
  • A color screen which is easier to read and can facilitate color-coded messages to drivers
  • Expanded memory (128 megabytes) positions for future services
  • Continued ergonomic improvement with driver input, e.g., lighter curved design

What’s next? Will customers be able to quickly look and see real-time location of their driver and contact them directly?

Read more about the DIAD’s evolution and get details about the latest version, the DIAD IV.

Category: Business Insights
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    Comments [3]

  1. Pretty nice blog you’ve got here. Thank you for it. I like such topics and anything that is connected to them. I would like to read a bit more soon.

    Best regards

  2. very impressive way of providing excellent services to UPS customers..Even how UPS
    drivers’ time and motion in making right turn over left turn for productivity
    measurement is impressive.

  3. Many people had to be convinced, including drivers and management and customers.

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