Mobile devices could become profit centers for carriers, according to Laura Lohrke, product manager for mobile, Omnitracs. During a session on how to increase driver productivity when outside the cab using mobile devices at the company’s user conference in Dallas Feb. 9, Lohrke reviewed projects the company is currently working on that will be available over the next year and a half.

She said that mobile devices can solve a number of challenges: locating a truck, determining delivery status, updating drivers when they are outside of the cab, capturing proof-of-delivery information and sending that data back to the office and tracking routes. She said mobile devices with the ability to capture POD information, such as signatures can reduce the need for back office staff to process paperwork brought in each day. The first step in in gaining these efficiencies is having the driver’s mobile device connected with the in-cab device.

Data captured by the driver on his handheld device is sent via a Bluetooth connection to the in-cab device and from there transmitted to the back office via the vehicle’s in-cab device.

The benefits of connecting the mobile device with the in-cab device means the carrier only needs a single data plan for the in-cab device  (or just a limited data plan for the mobile device).

The combination allows for driver tracking both from the in-cab device when the driver is driving and via the mobile device when the driver is out of the vehicle. The driver can also receive updates on deliveries or other information when out-of-the cab. Plus many mobile devices, such as those from Motorola are able to capture signatures, scan barcodes, capture photos and run mobile workflow applications.

In Omnitracs’ case, these functions are supported on its MCP50, MCP110 and MCP200 in-cab devices using a small Bluetooth add-on that can communicate with any Android device.

And while Bluetooth range is limited to 100 feet, the mobile devices record the data captured and then automatically sync with the in-cab device once the driver is within 100 feet of the vehicle. The system also automatically logs the driver into the mobile device once he logs into his MCP unit.

Lohrke said this simplifies the driver’s workload because he doesn’t have to remember to log into the mobile device or download information from that device to the in-cab unit.

The company also has a customizable workflow application that allows fleets to design forms that guide drivers through their task at each stop.

These forms can also be used to gather information for their customers, such as the delivery locations look – which is an important element for dedicated or private fleets serving retail and food establishments.

The devices can also be used to keep track of overages, shortages and damages, if they occur. All of that information can be recorded on the mobile device and transmitted to the back office, freeing the driver from having to scan, fax or bring the form in.

Another key advantage is that getting this information to the back end system speeds up the order to payment process. The applications will also keep track of vehicle location and time spent at each stop and report exceptions when a driver spends too much time at one stop or is out of route.

The back office systems for capturing the data will include Omnitracs’ web portal and the Roadnet Anywhere planning application.