There’s an app for just about everything. Whatever hobby, occupation, or interest, smartphone users are just taps away from connectivity and convenience. In trucking, it’s no different. Whether in the cab, in the yard, or in the shop, many fleets and owner-operations have embraced mobile apps.
Whether to improve communications or streamline dispatching and planning efforts, fleets across North America have introduced new apps to make their operations more successful.
Heavy Duty Trucking spoke to managers at a few fleets that have introduced, enhanced, or expanded their mobile app offerings within the past few years. From those conversations, trends emerged to help answer the question: What are the biggest benefits of mobile apps in trucking?
Improve driver communication
In 2019, Cargo Transporters set out to find an alternative way to communicate with drivers while they were out of the truck. At big distribution centers, for example, Cargo Transporters’ drivers may have to walk a half mile from their truck to the check-in office. The result was the driveCT app, which provided Cargo Transporters’ fleet with messaging and dispatch information capabilities for their drivers.
“Instantly, we got good feedback from our drivers and we’ve been adding new pieces or new functionality to that app ever since,” says Jerry Sigmon Jr., chief operating officer at the North Carolina-based regional and national truckload carrier.
In fact, in January, 85% of Cargo Transporters’ drivers logged into the optional app at least once.
The app, which is based on a platform from Eleos Technologies, connects with the fleets’ Omnitracs fleet management information and syncs communications. The app allows drivers to view accurate and updated dispatch information at any time, whether in or out of the truck. This eliminates calling in or going back to the truck when it’s not convenient.
“They have it right there at [their] fingertips,” Sigmon explains. “That’s what we wanted to do was to provide the information to them, so that they had it readily available.”
Cargo Transporters’ app also serves as a backup communication system because of its integration with the fleet’s Omnitracs system.
For instance, at one point this year the Omnitracs units were down. Cargo Transporters were pushing out dispatch information, but it was staying in the Omnitracs queue and not showing up in the in-cab units. Previously, this could have meant downtime as drivers struggled to view their dispatch information. But with the driveCT mobile app, the dispatch information was still showing up on mobile devices, and drivers were still able to send and receive messages. Communication continued despite the outage and pulled them out of a jam, Sigmon says.
Another example comes from New Way Trucking, a more than 500-truck fleet that hauls groceries, medications and other loads between the United States and Canada. New Way uses Samsara’s telematics platform, which includes an ELD component, a camera platform, and (you guessed it) an app. The app is driver-focused and has a host of features.
One of the top features New Way Trucking uses it for is to alert drivers about hours-of-service problems. The app tallies up driver hours regardless of whether the driver is in Canada or the U.S.
For New Way Trucking, drivers are traversing across three different time zones and through five terminals across Canada. That adds complexity for the driver, and the app alleviates some of that. There’s also a driver vehicle inspection report feature.
The app also allows Tim Margetts, New Way Trucking’s director of safety and compliance, to send safety messages to his drivers, and for his drivers to take pictures and documentation of issues on the road.
Keep dispatchers informed
For GLS Canada, the main goal in implementing a mobile app was to optimize routing and enable a better dispatching tool for drivers with proactive notifications.
That’s where the Maven Dispatch platform entered the picture. The platform integrates a driver app and a dispatching portal to simplify routing. Planners use the inbound planning tool to optimize routes based on that day’s volume to help them plan the most stops, in the most efficient routes possible, while reading traffic patterns. These routes are sent to the driver and the dispatch portal, where live updates are also provided to help drivers and dispatchers make better decisions. After introducing the app, the platform saved almost two hours in planning time and routing, says Nicholas De Sousa, senior director of operations.
Dispatchers can view trucks on the portal’s map as they move and complete their routes.
By monitoring stops per hour, De Sousa is able to better plan how many trucks need to be on the road at a time, and the proactive notifications allow him and his planners to see if a pickup or delivery is going to be missed in advance.
Last year, Schneider launched the FreightPower app, which allows dispatchers working with a carrier fleet or owner-operator to send a load order directly to the driver’s smart device.
“They no longer need to capture all of the information around the pickup, the delivery, the locations, the pickup numbers, all those things that used to be a very manual process between the dispatcher and their driver,” says Erin Van Zeeland, senior vice president and general manager of Schneider Logistics Services. “Now, they have all that information at their fingertips.”
The app allows Schneider to track the driver’s location using geofence technology. This gives the back end dispatcher — usually working on FreightPower through a web portal — automatic updates on when a truck arrives at a shipper, and when a load leaves a shipper. It often eliminates the necessity of calling in information manually.
Since launching in October 2020, Schneider has logged 10,000 downloads and recorded a 25% increase in its capability for tracking individual loads compared to before the launch of the app.
Schneider has been in the brokerage business for decades, and carriers have always been able to view their private load board. However, the FreightPower app enabled Schneider to make the user experience easier to use and more intuitive, Van Zeeland says.
“Really, it’s drivers that get the benefit out of the app,” Van Zeeland explains. “We can use the intelligence that’s embedded in their cell phone and we can send them recommendations based on where they’re at or where they’re going, or potentially what they’ve done before. So, we’re doing all of this decision-science load-matching.”
The app sends offer requests and instant pricing to either the dispatcher or the carrier, or whoever makes the decisions in an individual organization. Instant pricing means carriers don’t have to negotiate and can ‘buy it now’ at a price competitive in the marketplace, she says.
Since the app uses a smart device’s GPS location to track the load, it eliminated the necessity for application programming interface and electronic data interchange. APIs and EDI in the past were often available only for larger carriers. Now, smaller carriers, who may not have been equipped to move some of the more service-sensitive or higher value freight because they couldn’t be tracked or connected, can become a player.
“That really opened up the universe around what our smaller carriers or individual truck carriers can move, because we can have that same tracking capability now that we have the app,” Van Zeeland says.
Improve asset management
In February of 2019, Cargo Transporters rolled out a feature on its app that allows truck drivers to locate their trucks. Drivers simply tap ‘Find My Truck’ on their smart device, and it will show the driver the location. The feature proved useful for drivers who would park on the yard over the weekend and come back needing a memory jog.
Drivers began asking Sigmon for the same feature, but for specific trailers.
Now, when a dispatcher asks a driver to find trailer 278 on the yard, for example, the driver can type in that trailer number and it takes them directly to the trailer location. While it’s helpful on the yard (Cargo Transporters has a pretty big one), it also can be used at customer distribution centers that may have several hundred trailers on the yard. The feature gives you a relevantly good idea where the trailer is located, Sigmon says.
Provide a home base for training
Some fleets also use their apps to house resources and training materials. Cargo Transporters, for example, added remote safety training to its mobile app to give drivers more flexibility and convenience when taking required safety training.
“We’ve always required our drivers to have X-amount of days of safety training per year, and had been doing that in-house,” Sigmon says.
While the classroom atmosphere has a benefit, such as improved interaction, Sigmon says some drivers weren’t happy they had to be at the facility for class when they could have been out on a run.
“It was negatively affecting their earning potential, and that was not what we wanted to do,” he says. “So, we worked to see what online training was out there.” Then they integrated the training into the app and gave drivers the option to complete their mandatory safety training on their smart devices at their convenience.
Their app also houses other resources, such as exercise videos and company news.
Whatever the benefit a fleet is trying to achieve with the implementation of a mobile app, it’s important to keep the users in the loop and on board. (See sidebar for tips on how to introduce a new app to a trucking operation.) For fleets and drivers to truly reap the benefits of these apps, as with any technology, training is a must.