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Adapting to a mobile world

Nov. 13, 2013
Mobile computing is quickly taking the world by storm. Companies such as XRS, PeopleNet and Omnitracs as well as a host of other firms are working to provide the solutions carriers are looking for, whether they are based on legacy platforms or new mobile platforms. The result is a quick-moving transition to the future of computing and fleet managers are facing decisions on how to proceed.

Mobile computing is quickly taking the world by storm. Companies such as XRS, PeopleNet and Omnitracs as well as a host of other firms are working to provide the solutions carriers are looking for, whether they are based on legacy platforms or new mobile platforms. The result is a quick-moving transition to the future of computing and fleet managers are facing decisions on how to proceed. Some of the change, according to experts, is a result of the “consumerization” of computing devices.

“Now people are using personal [computing] devices in their own life—games, movies, applications,’ observed Igor Glubochansky, executive director of product management for AT&T Advanced Mobility Solution. “It is the consumerization of mobile devices.”

Interestingly, transportation industries are also witnessing a sort of “boomerang effect” from this consumerization of computing, where that transformed business tool, the old desktop computer, is spinning back to the business environment again as small, mobile device bursting with new functionality, improved ease of use and access to near-constant connectivity.

For fleets, it opens up a world of opportunity and a world of tough decisions about what technologies to deploy and how to manage them. Do you embrace and incorporate the use of personal computing devices into your daily business operations? Or do you segregate business tools from those for personal use? Which is the best, most-efficient and most cost-effective choice?  Which is the safest? And how can you tell?

As it is the case with so many things in trucking, one size does not fit all. “There will be different solutions for different fleets,” says Tom Flies, COO of Cadec. “Fleets should start with what their requirements are—data that they want to be collected by the driver and data that needs to be collected by the vehicle. Then they should determine the work environment form factor. Do I need a rugged device or do I need a consumer device? Should it be fixed to the dash or work outside of the cab?”

Taking business advantage of the smartphones and tablets that many people are already using in their personal lives has been dubbed “Bring your Own Device” or BYOD. 

There are numerous reasons why some fleets are indeed finding this model to be a good fit. For starters, it can give them almost instant access to function-rich communications and computing technology at a relatively low up-front cost. In some cases, employees themselves bear some or all of the device purchase burden. The lower cost of entry can also make it easier for fleets to keep up with the rapid pace of change in the mobile device marketplace, where new solutions are released about every nine months or so.

Using consumer computing/communication devices may also reduce training requirements so learning can focus on the particular business applications and procedures versus new  technical skills. “Driver training goes down tremendously [with the BYOD model],” says John Freund, president and CEO of Jump Technologies, “because they are already familiar with the device.”

However, concerns about security are one of the main reasons why some fleets are choosing the Corporate Owned, Personally Enabled (COPE) approach to mobile computing versus BYOD. As PeopleNet explains in a recent Blue Paper: COPE or BYOD? Mobile communication device ownership options for fleets, “Instead of making corporate functions work on personal devices, COPE sets up a framework to support and allow personal use of company devices. The company selects preferred devices, buys and owns them, but the employee is allowed, within reason, to install the applications they [sic] want on the device. The company also establishes usage and cost thresholds for employees.

“Most important, in a COPE environment, the company reserves the right to disconnect devices on the corporate network when necessary (as in the case of a security breach) to keep their networks and information secure…” the PeopleNet report continues.

It is all well and good to say that the right solution will vary fleet to fleet, but how do you find it? Cadec’s Flies as well as others have shared tips for making the best decision for your operation concerning mobile computing/communication solutions. These include:

  • Start with clear business goals, which might include assuring regulatory compliance, optimizing asset utilization, managing operating costs, improving customer service, reducing driver turnover.
  • Determine your data requirements. In other words, what do you need to know in real time, daily, weekly, monthly to drive mission-critical operations and who in your organization needs that information?  What visibility to longer-term trends would help you set company policies and strategies?
  • Decide what data needs to be sent to and collected by your drivers and what needs to be pulled from the vehicle itself.
  • Determine the work environment and form factor requirements. Do you need devices to be “ruggedized” to withstand the likelihood of drops, vibration, dampness, dust or other environmental factors? Can consumer-targeted devices deliver reliably in your specific working environment or would it be money well-spent to get work-hardened, more task-specific mobile tools? 
  • Identify your technology requirements. Do you need to monitor additional factors beyond location?  How often do you need to “ping” assets? Will cellular reach every location or do you also require satellite coverage? Do your customers need specific sensor-dependent data concerning factors such as temperature, vibration or tampering? Will this solution deliver?
  • Once you’ve made a tentative solution decision, double-check to be sure you can get the installation, training and on-going support you require. Do you have good reason to believe that support promises will be met?  Are installation and training requirements within your tolerances in terms of time and cost?
  • Pencil out the numbers. Will this choice work for you in the short-term and in the long-term?
  • Look ahead. Can the system you are considering grow as you grow? How are upgrades handled? What happens to any installed equipment when you trade out the truck?
  • Ask your customers about their future plans. Are your mobile computing/communications investments aligned to their future needs?
  • Think about your drivers and others who will interface with the system(s) you select. How will your choice impact driver satisfaction/loyalty? How will it affect maintenance, the back office?  Is this a choice that will be considered a benefit by employees or something they have to put up with?
  • Don’t forget about federal and state regulations. Is there any requirement, current or pending, that you may not be able to address utilizing the mobile computing choice you are favoring?  There are some devices out there right now, for example, that claim to be electronic log/hours-of-service (HOS) compliant but are not. Don’t get caught.
  • Remember to consider the potential revenue growth opportunities for your various options. It is often easier to tally cost savings up-front than it is to total potential upside opportunities. Try to factor in both sides of the equation. If you deploy this technology, will it help you grow your business? How? What is the value to you and how soon could you realize it?
About the Author

Wendy Leavitt

Wendy Leavitt joined Fleet Owner in 1998 after serving as editor-in-chief of Trucking Technology magazine for four years.

She began her career in the trucking industry at Kenworth Truck Company in Kirkland, WA where she spent 16 years—the first five years as safety and compliance manager in the engineering department and more than a decade as the company’s manager of advertising and public relations. She has also worked as a book editor, guided authors through the self-publishing process and operated her own marketing and public relations business.

Wendy has a Masters Degree in English and Art History from Western Washington University, where, as a graduate student, she also taught writing.  

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