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Making more mobile connections in trucking

Sept. 29, 2016
How mobile technology is changing trucking and the world

It’s certainly no secret that mobile technology is basically upending how we conduct almost every daily task in modern life – from how we work to how we communicate with one another, even how we shop and buy stuff.

[And it’s not necessarily all for the better, as this story illustrates.]

Take for example Mobile Commerce: A Global Perspective; an in-depth survey of mobile technology users from 19 countries around the world compiled by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and released at the recent IAB MIXX Conference.

Some 75% of smartphone and tablet users polled by IAB said they have purchased a product or service on their smart phone or tablet computer in the past six months, with nearly a quarter (23%) buying goods via mobile devices on a weekly basis.

And get this: mobile technology users in Turkey and China report the greatest percentage of their total monthly purchases on smart phones or tablets (44% and 42%, respectively) with mobile technology users in the United Kingdom, Singapore, and Australia making a third or more of their purchases via “mobile screens.”

Overall, 57% of the mobile technology users in this survey said they’ve been buying goods via their mobile devices for over a year, with more than a quarter (28%) making their first mobile purchase in the last six months.

So what’s attracting people to this “mobile shopping experience” anyway? According to IAB’s research, it’s a combination of convenience, time saving, and price cited by the majority (80%) of the mobile users participating in the survey, with 62% planning to purchase more products and services via their smartphone or tablet in the next six months.

Here’s another factoid to consider as well: Social media apparently plays an important role in the “mobile purchasing” realm as 60% of those polled said they often discover products and services to buy on social platforms. On top of that, more than one-third (36%) of mobile purchasers participating in IAB’s survey said they leverage social media to “share” their mobile purchase experience with others.

“Pressing the ‘buy’ button on mobile devices is now a regular occurrence the world over,” noted Anna Bager, IAB’s senior vice president for mobile and video.

OK, fine; it’s well and good that mobile technology is increasingly becoming a more “normative” platform for shopping. How does this affect trucking?

One example I’ll point to is a new mobile communication system recently implemented by regional LTL carrier Holland for its 3,000 drivers; a system designed by Honeywell Safety & Productivity Solutions to make a driver’s work day easier, while improving system management for the LTL carrier.

The Android-based logistics software, running on Honeywell's Dolphin CT50 mobile computer, allows drivers to more easily navigate through the data-heavy requirements of their workday, communicate with dispatch, and update shipment status in real time, noted Scott Ware, Holland’s president, in statement.

[However, there are security concerns to be mindful of, too, regarding mobile technology and connected vehicles, as this story explains.]

Honeywell’s system also allows Holland’s drivers to scan labels and take pictures of shipments as needed on an app-driven device familiar to anyone who has ever used a smart phone, he stressed.

"Customers will benefit from heightened shipment visibility and driver communication [while] best-in-class efficiency based on real-time data will support the old-fashioned quality and hard work customers already expect from Holland drivers," Ware explained.

Great: just like the findings from IAB’s study, Honeywell’s system is hailed as a way to bring more convenience and speed to everyday trucking tasks.

But will truck drivers really be accepting of such new technology – especially rookie drivers, unused to the needs of the freight business?

For some further insight on that topic, I traded emails with Sherri Gansen, Honeywell’s product manager, about how such mobile technology offerings now coming to the market may change the truck driver’s work environment for the better – and perhaps help ease recruiting and retention issues as well.

Here’s what she had to say:

Broadly talk about how ‘mobile technology’ can benefit truck drivers old and young – how does it improve their work environment?

If you look at life before mobile technology, motor carriers had a lot of paperwork bogging them down. It was time intensive for the dispatcher to make calls to drivers and schedule additional pick-ups and deliveries throughout the day.

Now mobile technologies allow carriers to eliminate paper and streamline interactions with dispatchers.

I recently heard from a driver that his favorite part of our system is that he doesn’t have to talk to the dispatcher anymore.

Yet by streamlining and automating interaction between drivers and dispatchers, a single dispatcher can manage more drivers. Today, dispatchers are responsible for larger fleets, sometimes as many as 70 truck drivers, and having mobile technology allows them to automate the management process. Interactions that are now automated include:

  • Dispatching a pickup: A dispatcher can view his Dispatch Console to determine which drivers have the availability, remaining truck space and are located nearby to determine who is best suited to handle a pickup request.
  • In the past, this would have required a phone call, and then the driver would have to remember or pull over to write down instructions. With mobile computers and new software, the new pickup is automatically added to his list of scheduled stops.
  • Driver Progress: Automated driver updates allow the dispatcher to know a driver’s progress against planned trips in real time. Updates are sent to the dispatcher at key points during the trip, such as departing/arriving at a stop, taking a break, delays and more.

Holland plans to use its new mobile platform as a recruiting tactic for millennials. Why would millennials be attracted to such systems and the workplaces using them?

Millennials are tech-savvy smartphone users who take to new mobile applications and technologies quickly. However, many of the legacy cab systems for transportation companies are woefully behind advances in consumer technology; they are not stylish or user-friendly and they may be based on proprietary software and hardware.

The software we’ve deployed for Holland is based on the Android operating system that younger generations are familiar with. It has more of a consumer appeal and a better user experience than older technology systems. 

Furthermore, Holland was looking to use a mobile system with ease of use and alignment with the newest mobile technologies, since this is crucial for their driver recruitment and we were able to satisfy that need.

How do you see such technology helping not only recruit a new generation of truck drivers but keep them in the industry long term? How does mobile technology help do that?

Much of the feedback we’ve received from our existing user base has highlighted how its mobile technology is easier to use, more reliable and more intuitive, which is important for retaining new hires.

By implementing mobile technologies in the workplace from the start, the training process becomes easier and quicker to bring new hires up to speed, especially younger generations who are so accustomed to being able to do everything on their mobile devices.

Additionally, the more technology available to truck drivers, the easier it is for them to plan out their day. With this system, their workflow is automated so they no longer have to be responsible for remembering a large amount of pick-up and delivery information.

As a result, their workload becomes standardized and simplified, making their jobs easier.

This has been a major benefit for the carrier as the level of professionalism throughout the pickup and delivery process is raised to a higher standard. 

Well, everyone loves smart phone apps … until something goes wrong. Talk about troubleshooting in case an app or phone fails. How does a driver continue with their day? How does a trucking company adjust? Does it go back to paper to fill the gap?

A good mobile solution includes management features for troubleshooting and prevention of issues in the first place.

Many issues are related to improper configuration, therefore it’s important to provide a mobile solution that locks down the system and does not allow the user to accidentally change key configuration settings that affect operation. 

Troubleshooting features include the ability to remotely diagnose issues and make updates to the mobile computer. A robust mobile solution also includes a vehicle charging solution that allows for extended battery life while on the road making long trips. It occurs infrequently, but as a last resort, a driver will fall back to paper.

What other functions/capabilities can be added to such mobile systems package as time goes on? Is it capable of doing multiple things such as function as an electronic logging device (ELD) to record hours of service data?

Our mobile computer serves as the hub of vehicle communications – both in the cab and in the field – and coordinates many features.

In fact, we are soon launching a solution for ELDs and driver vehicle inspection reporting (DVIR) that can be easily integrated into our existing pickup and delivery solution system.

Can such mobile systems help improve relationships with shippers, the trucking company’s customers? Why does having such capability make it easier to win business and keep it long term?

Mobile systems enable a standardized business process, which raises the level of professionalism to the shipper. Carriers are also able to predict and communicate arrival times in advance to let shippers know when a driver is going to arrive and when someone needs to be ready at the dock.

This is especially important as the shipper doesn’t like to have delays or lag time, since this can impact the rate the carrier decides to charge the shipper.

In the e-commerce industry, there is a rise in next day deliveries due to increasing consumer demands. Mobile systems have been especially helpful in addressing this challenge of compressed delivery times by speeding up the flow of information. 

As soon as a shipment is picked up, the information can be transmitted to a planning system that will select the optimal route to get it delivered on time.

Mobile systems provide continual updates on shipment status so a carrier can give their customers visibility to their shipment progress.

That certainly gives one lots to chew over in terms of the changes mobile technology is bringing to trucking – and it certainly seems we’re still only at the start of this process.

About the Author

Sean Kilcarr 1 | Senior Editor

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