Adding low-cost services to single-purpose electronic logs will give small carriers the edge they need to remain competitive.

Adding low-cost services to single-purpose electronic logs will give small carriers the edge they need to remain competitive.

The pending mandate for electronic logging could pave the way for more mobile productivity systems in smaller fleets, said Norm Ellis, vice president of sales and marketing for Qualcomm’s Omnitracs.

Ellis, on hand at an ALK Transportation Technology Summit in Princeton, N.J., last week, said in an interview that adding low-cost services to single-purpose electronic logs will give small carriers the edge they need to remain competitive.

The proposed logging mandate is in the works at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and should be published in November. When it is final, probably in 2015, it will require all trucks covered by the hours of service rules to use electronic logs.

While many carriers already have integrated electronic logging into their onboard management systems, some small carriers have resisted the devices, arguing that they cannot afford them. For these carriers, FMCSA is likely to require a low-cost, single-function logging device.

Ellis, whose company makes electronic logging systems among numerous other products, said the mandate will put all carriers on equal footing in terms of compliance with the hours of service rules.

If the mandate lowers a carrier’s productivity by making logs more accurate and transparent, then that loss must be offset.

“The answer to the dilemma is how do we put enough capability and services into a low-cost device that gives them some of the things they need to remain competitive,” he said.

Ellis suggested that simple fuel optimization or tax tracking systems could make a difference, as could joining a fuel-buying consortium.

“Someone will figure that out, and when they do that’s how you start to unpick that lock,” he said. “Otherwise, it’s too much of a hit.”

In his presentation to the ALK session, Ellis said the next step in technology is to integrate the many services now available into a seamless whole.

Carriers are looking to tie a driver’s trip plan into on-board and back-office navigation systems, so that the driver can get his route and stops by punching just one button, even as changes occur en route.

For expedited carriers, where the last mile accounts for 80% of failures to be on time, a reduction of even 1% of out-of-route miles easily pays the cost of the system, he said.

Longer term, he sees the possibility of carriers adopting a “bring-your-own-device” approach to technology. Drivers, for example, may use their own mobile phones in an integrated way with onboard systems.

“I think you’ll see more of that, but some carriers don’t want the device to leave the truck.”

It may be, though, that as costs come down and the power of the devices goes up this will be less of an issue, he added.

He said he can foresee two devices in the truck, one tethered for compliance activities such as hours of service, and another portable for other uses – all for less than, say, $1,000.

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