Smart devices and fleet desires

Dec. 9, 2013
Mobile computing and the futUre of your fleet

Go to any public place, from a bus stop to a shopping mall, hospital or restaurant and you will probably find the assembled populace with heads bowed, eyes intent, fingers endlessly moving over the small communications/computing devices each carries in his or her hand.  Computing, untethered from the private confines of the office, is making millions of converts on the street.  This phenomenon has been commonly referred to as the “consumerization” of computing devices.

A Gartner report puts it this way: “Walk down the typical crowded street and half the people you see will be looking at or talking on their mobile phones. Mobile devices are the constant gateway of attention. And it is personal. Many users would give up other essentials rather than give up their handheld companion.  It is their constant point of inter­action to their social world, where their most trusted personal and business relationships are maintained…”

“Now people are using personal [computing] devices in their own life—games, movies, applications,” observes Igor Glubochansky, executive director of product management for AT&T Advanced Mobility Solution.  “It is the consumerization of mobile devices.”

Interestingly, the 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 a 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 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 already use in their personal lives has been dubbed “bring your own device,” or BYOD.  Some analysts and researchers, such as Gartner, consider BYOD to be the inevitable choice for companies. “The rapid proliferation of consumer mobile devices is changing the traditional IT environment in enterprises, as 90% of enterprises have already deployed mobile devices, with smartphones being most widely deployed,” the company noted in a 2012 survey report.

There are numerous reasons why some fleets are indeed finding this model to be a good fit.  For starters, it can give fleets almost instant access to function-rich communications and computing technology at a relatively low upfront 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 rapid changes  in the mobile device marketplace, where new solutions are released about every nine months or so.

“The thing about this technology is that you think what you have works perfectly and then someone else comes up with something better, smaller, cheaper,” says Glubochansky.  “We are still in the very middle of a technology revolution.”

“With today’s mobile and cloud-based technology, fleets no longer need to bolt expensive hardware to their new trucks,” observes XRS in a 2013 white paper titled “Convergence: Mobility in trucking is now anywhere, anything, anytime, anyone.”

“Consumer mobile devices are putting powerful computers directly into a driver’s hands,” notes XRS, which has transitioned entirely to a mobile application company.  “These mobile devices are powered through an invisible cloud structure, constantly transmitting large amounts of data in real time. Drivers, dispatchers, safety managers and trucking fleet owners are connected while being spread across the country.  And it’s affordable for everyone, not just the lonely few that [sic] could afford yesterday’s technology.”

Using consumer computing/communication devices may also reduce training requirements, since drivers or other users are apt to have had plenty of personal use with the device or something similar.  Learning can then be focused on 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.”

While Gartner sees BYOD as inevitable, in the same 2012 survey, the company also raises the most often-voiced concern about BYOD and that is enterprise security.  “With the proliferation of BYOD, there are many security issues for enterprises to consider before they invest in mobile computing,” Gartner notes.  “Enterprises should focus on mobile data protection, network access control, and mobile device management tools to support their BYOD and new enterprise mobile platform efforts.”


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.  PeopleNet lays out the advantages of a COPE policy in a recent Blue Paper titled  “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,” states the report.  “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.

“Customer liability due to loss or improper use of personally identifiable information found in e-mail documents, phone calls or text messages” is another factor PeopleNet cites as a reason to go with a COPE model, as are human resources issues arising from inappropriate use of personal computing devices within the enterprise environment.
According to PeopleNet and others, additional benefits of the COPE model include the generally longer life­span for commercial-grade devices, potentially lower total cost of ownership, access to a managed network, improved levels of technical support, and enhanced ability to restrict the functionality of fixed mounted communication devices while the vehicle is in motion.

Truck makers have also wrestled for years with the best way to bring the considerable benefits of mobile computing to their customers.  After all, the truck has its own mission-critical information to share—about location, health of equipment systems, cargo, fueling, speed, hard-braking, loss of stability, idling, and much more.  And the sooner it can get that information to those who need it the better.

In 2011, Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) announced that all 2012 Freightliners equipped with Detroit Diesel engines would include DTNA’s Virtual Technician as standard equipment.  Virtual Technician, developed with  Zonar Systems, transmits real-time engine diagnostics with performance indicators to the Detroit Diesel Customer Support Center.  The center then communicates with fleets and vehicle owners any potential performance issues and service scheduling based on the data.

Volvo Trucks announced agreements this spring with Telogis and Trimble to design fleet management and location intelligence services to extend the OEM’s telematics capabilities.  These agreements are intended to give customers the “option to select a fleet management service that leverages Volvo’s integrated connected vehicle platform.”

This fall, Navistar International Corp. diverged from the proprietary telematics model when the company announced that it will be providing engine diagnostic telematics information that fleets can access via a portal with any type of computing or smart device.

Many communication/fleet management service providers were quick to embrace this latest open-access model. “We are very excited [about Navistar’s announcement],” says Norm Ellis, vice president of sales and marketing for Omni­tracs.  This technology agnostic approach, at least theoretically, allows fleets to stay with the fleet management solutions and devices they prefer or are already using.

While the industry’s focus has been primarily on handhelds and the interface between people and their machines, a business world operating without human intervention has been evolving just off-stage from the frenzied environment of human-to-machine interaction.

Orbcomm, for example, recently announced the commercial launch of its GT 1100 solar-powered trailer tracking solution.

“This truly is an autonomous device, a game-changer,” Craig Montgomery, senior vice president of marketing for Orbcomm, told Fleet Owner.  It is designed to stay in operation for the life of the trailer.  The ruggedized solution (built to military specifications) utilizes solar recharging technology for low power consumption, efficient messaging, and long service life in the field. 

According to Montgomery,  the device is so efficient that it can operate for five years in total darkness and still do one to two reports per day.  Give it just an hour of sunlight, and it adds the ability to handle 50 more messages per day. 

Tetherless and tireless, the M2M arena may be the most transformative part of the technology evolution today.  Who knows?  Think about driverless vehicles, “platooning,” vehicle-to-vehicle communications, vehicle-to-infrastructure communications and you capture a glimpse of trucking’s tomorrow.  Maybe all the current debate about handhelds is about to be taken out of human hands.

Terminology at a glance

BYOD, or bring your own device: Refers to the personal smartphones, tablets, laptops and other devices that employees bring to the workplace and use for business tasks as well as personal computing and communications.

Cloud computing: If you want the official definition, look no further than the Computer Security Division, Information Technology Laboratory, National Institute of Standards and Technology publication published in 2011 (NIST Special Publication 800-145).

More basically, “The Cloud” refers to the practice of hosting data, applications and other services on the Internet where they can be accessed remotely on an as-needed basis, either by approved users only (a so-called private cloud) or by groups of users or even the general public.  When users pay a provider to access and use their cloud-based applications, it is referred to as software-as-a-service, or SaaS.

The use of the Internet to make applications available via mobile devices is what really opened the App Store for business and occasioned the explosion in the use of mobile devices.

Commercial grade devices: Portable communications/computing devices like tablet computers that have been designed especially for business applications with unique features and functionality—such as a more rugged casing to protect again damage during field usage, waterproofing, special keypads, device-installed capabilities.

Consumer grade devices: Various portable communications, computing devices such as smartphones and tablets that are made for general public use with no special design provisions for business usage.

COPE, or corporate owned, personally enabled: Refers to operations where the company manages a network system and purchases and owns the devices permitted to access that network but also provides for some personal use of those devices such as for personal e-mail, voice communications or entertainment.

Hybrid system: According to PeopleNet and others, this term is gaining usage to describe a blending of both BYOD and COPE choices in which employees are allowed to use their own devices for some carefully selected and defined business functions, but where mission-critical applications remain on a company-owned, secure device.

Making the right decision

It is all well and good to say that the right solution will vary from fleet to fleet, but how do you find it? Tom Flies of Cadec and others have shared tips for making the best decision concerning mobile computing/communication solutions:

  • Start with clear business goals, which might include regulatory compliance, optimizing asset utilization, managing operating costs, improving customer service or reducing driver turnover.
  • Determine 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?  
  • 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?  
  • Once you’ve made a tentative solution decision, double-check to be sure you can get the installation, training and ongoing support you require. Do you have good reason to believe that support promises will be met?  
  • 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 investments aligned to their 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?  
  • 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?  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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