Mobile computing is quickly becoming the platform of choice. Tablets and smartphones are far outselling laptop or desktop computers in the consumer market, and a growing number of trucking operations are deploying these devices.
Trucking firms have used handheld mobile devices for some time, especially in package delivery or food service. What is different is that the technology and performance of current consumer-grade smartphones and tablets make them capable of similar tasks as traditional, commercial-grade devices at a much lower cost. Combined with cloud-based fleet management software choices, fleets of all sizes have more options available to automate their operations.
XRS Corp. made the switch to a cloud-based mobile platform last year designed to run on a variety of mobile devices. This has led to a lot of conversation within the industry over the BYOD (bring your own device) concept.
Odell Tuttle, chief technology officer with XRS, explains that the company’s previous platform was a hard-wired, bolted-to-the-truck, single-purpose application. It was proprietary, locked in, inflexible and hosted on aging infrastructure.
“Our objective was to have a system that was easy to operate for the driver and dispatcher, simple to install without a technician, and capable of over-the-air updates, among other things,” he says.
The result was a cloud-based infrastructure and mobile device connected in a network.
As for using a smartphone to run the applications, he notes that the “phone” was the least used feature of smart devices. “We are all carrying a personal computer in our pocket.”
This fact has led many smaller carriers to opt for mobile devices and the BYOD model.
“The fleets that are adopting it quickly are the ones that have no technology,” notes Stu Sutton, president of Sylectus. “Considering that many of the drivers already have a smartphone, it makes it very inexpensive.” Sutton says he has seen carriers that subsidize the driver for use of their device.
Newth Morris, president of Telogis Route and Navigation, notes that while some customers still use traditional commercial devices, “the bulk of our new deployments are moving toward next-generation devices.”
Ben Wiesen, vice president of products and support with Carrier Logistics, says that with the mobile devices available today, “it’s not necessary for a software provider to spec and build a one-off piece of proprietary hardware, because these off-the-shelf devices will do and meet all of the trucking company’s needs.”
Ken Weinberg, vice president with Carrier Logistics, echoes those observations. “We’ve seen a major acceptance for the tablets,” he says.
Smartphones were too small for many tasks, he says, but the tablet fills a void for a lower-priced, large-screen unit. It really depends on what works best in your operation, he says. “There isn’t good and bad with these units. There are pluses and minuses. It’s about what works best for you.”
In a panel discussion at a recent industry meeting, Mason Meadows, vice president transportation products at Rand McNally, also pointed out that BYOD is not for everyone.
“For those applications where the device never leaves the truck, company-owned, fixed-mount devices may be best,” Meadows said. He noted that smartphones and tablets “are not going away.” On the other hand, for fleets that already deploy fixed in-cab devices, there is likely to be little change. “I don’t see a lot of fleets ripping out their onboard computers and replacing them with smart phones.”
At the same panel, Christian Schenk, senior vice president of XRS, agreed there was no right or wrong way. “It’s about options. For us it’s about leveraging these mobile technologies that are out there.”
Mike Stapleton, senior director strategic accounts with Omnitracs, says customers were asking for options, so it has just announced the ability to use an Android mobile device that works with its system. “Some of our customers don’t want the tethered product leaving the truck.”
Mark Kessler, PeopleNet’s senior vice president sales and strategic development, says its customers are also looking for flexibility. “Some fleets want a tablet, some want fix-mounted, some want a handheld.” Other fleets are looking for a smaller form factor, he says. All drivers have handhelds,” he notes, but if fleets are opting for that route, they need to make sure the system is protected.
Problems with BYOD
There are concerns with the BYOD model.
“BYOD isn’t going to be quite as much as of a slam dunk as people think,” says David Wangler, president of TMW Systems. While acknowledging that the leading edge says BYOD, he says, questions remain: “How do you make sure it’s secure? How do you know it can do logs? There isn’t a one-size fits all answer.”
In a white paper released earlier this year, PeopleNet argued that relying on drivers to provide their own devices was a risky endeavor. Brian McLaughlin, president of PeopleNet, said his company was concerned that some within the industry might think BYOD meant you could use any type of mobile device for fleet management, mobile communications and other tasks, or that drivers could use their personal mobile devices for these tasks.
“Our key concern is supportability,” McLaughlin wrote. “There are a myriad of devices, and the ability to support these devices becomes much more difficult.” Noting how often new mobile devices are introduced into the marketplace, he wrote, a fleet might have 20 or more different devices to support over a two- or three-year period. “How do you make sure each and every device is up and running?” he asked.
Support does become a question, Carrier Logistics’ Wiesen says. “The question a company rolling out a mobile application needs to ask is: ‘How am I going to support the users of this application?’ the users in this case being the drivers.”
Just as transportation companies come up with policies and procedures to service and maintain their rolling stock or forklifts, they need to develop policies for supporting the various mobile devices they have deployed.
Telogis’ Morris says concerns over security on these devices are really no greater than with other devices. “Most of our customers use a mobile device management application to deal with the security issues,” he says.
Related to that is, how do you keep personal and business data separate? A recent partnership between XRS and Samsung addresses this. Fleets can establish “dual personas” within a single Samsung device by using separate containers for business applications/data and personal data.
“You can take all of the work apps and put it in a container,” explains Dave Lowe, executive vice president enterprise sales, Samsung. “All the personal stuff, such as a driver’s pictures, personal emails or other data, is in another ‘container’ that the company’s IT department can’t touch. When a driver leaves a job, the work container is deleted, while his personal information is retained.”
Another criticism of consumer-grade devices is that they are not rugged enough for duty in a trucking environment. In some applications, that is undoubtedly true. But Morris says his company has seen breakage actually going down because drivers tend to protect the device more.
Another issue with BYOD involves defining the line between personal and company as far as the data plan goes. If the driver provides the device, is he reimbursed for the data plan? Does the company pay it? What kinds of applications is the driver allowed to install?
Another option is where the fleet owns the device, but the driver is allowed some personal use on the device.
“We think this is an emerging model that deserves some consideration,” McLaughlin says. The dominant model in the marketplace now is fleet-managed – the company owns the device and controls how the device is used. “I don’t see that changing in the near term.”
Regardless of concerns, many companies are moving ahead with BYOD products, often as an alternative to or in conjunction with more traditional devices. For instance, PeopleNet Mobile runs on many devices. “We’re not saying any device, but many,” McLaughlin says. “We want to give our customers more choices.”
Recent mobile products
Regardless of the BYOD debate, a number of vendors have been rolling out mobile applications and products.
J.J. Keller: The Compliance Tablet is a Samsung Tab 2 tablet pre-loaded with J.J. Keller Mobile applications, including electronic logs, through Verizon’s 4G network. The tablet prevents drivers from loading non-approved applications and becomes inoperable when the vehicle is moving. Or, the company offers a BYOD option that allows users to install Keller’s software on any Android-compatible smartphone or tablet.
Motorola: A handheld mobile device capable of running PeopleNet software can handle multiple users with separate mobile profiles. That way a driver can come in and just grab a device, log in and he’s got his info there. The devices also are capable of multiple modes: Bluetooth, WiFi or cellular.
Omnitracs: An extended productivity suite for the Android operating system includes a new point of delivery application and supports activities that take place outside of the truck cab using a smart device such as signature capture, barcode scanning and document imaging.
The proof of delivery application automatically syncs with the Omnitracs mobile computing inside the cab to transmit data via the same service plan.
PeopleNet: PeopleNet’s new Precision Mobility Platform combines its fleet management technologies with analytics designed to enable fleets to better utilize their assets. The company continues to expand the types of devices on which its fleet management software can run, including fixed-mount displays, tablets and handheld computers. The in-cab hub will be able to support 4G wireless technology and remote WiFi hotspots.
Pro-Tread: Customers now can access Pro-Tread training materials on smartphone and tablet browsers. Rather than having to develop and support apps specific to different operating systems, it uses a mobile browser-based experience, which also will improve the experience for users on EOBR web browsers.
XRS: Verizon was named the official wireless provider for the company’s collaboration with Samsung Mobile to offer a new product that includes a Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7-inch tablet and a subscription to XRS’s fleet management software.