Fleets using mobile tracking solutions for how they bill customers and pay drivers should see a roughly 8% reduction in cost due to improved reporting accuracy, SOTI says. (Photo by Sean Kilcarr/Fleet Owner)

Q&A: What the future holds for mobile technology and trucking

June 23, 2016
Mapping out safer and more efficient routes while generating higher rates are just some of the benefits trucking can gain from mobile technology, this executive says.

Better navigation is clearly one benefit gain by trucking via the wider use of mobile technology solutions. But how about getting higher freight rates? Is that possible as well?

Fleet Owner recently conducted an email question and answer session with Ron Hassanwalia, COO of Mississauga, Ontario-based enterprise management firm SOTI, Inc. to delve into those and other opportunities presented by mobile technology in the trucking and logistics spheres.

How can trucking companies drive more benefit from their mobile technology solutions?

The trucking and logistics industries are already changing and improving thanks to mobile technologies. Take, for example, the common problem of properly billing and pricing jobs without accurate information. Some companies calculate miles from city center to city center, but what if the customer is located in a different area of the city or an area difficult to navigate? Not every vehicle can travel on every road. Whether the problem is heavy traffic, cargo restrictions or low bridges and other obstructions, the most logical route might not be the most cost effective.

Mobile solutions help with these issues by determining the optimal route for the current day’s traffic conditions, detours and other issues; intelligently choosing the ideal route for each shipment while logging the exact distance traveled so the customer is charged a price based on actual miles rather than estimates.

In fact, companies that use mobile tracking solutions for how they bill their customers and pay their drivers will see approximately an 8% reduction in cost, due to improved reporting accuracy. That’s quite significant when you think about the cost of fuel, labor, time and more. And when billing and routing is accurate, a company’s bottom line is not the only thing that benefits – these savings are also reflected in the return on investment (ROI) for their customer base.

Is such transport “accuracy” more critical for the e-commerce sector?

Ron Hassanwalia, COO, SOTI, Inc.

For companies moving lots of products, such as Amazon, tracking shipments is critical for their records, but this visibility also gives their customers peace of mind.  With accurate tracking, companies can provide up-to-the-minute information to their customers while also utilizing proof of delivery technology to confirm that each shipment ended up at its final, and accurate, destination.

Such mobility solutions can also help maintain proper accountability and compliance with taxation. For example, in the U.S. and Canada, commercial interjurisdictional carriers leverage International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA) to pay fuel taxes based on the jurisdictions they travel to. Mobile technology can track where the company vehicle has traveled, and the exact number of miles logged in each state, and whether you are on a toll or non-toll road. This allows organizations to stay in compliance with IFTA. 

Direct store delivery is also seeing benefits through the use of mobile solutions. When companies send sales reps to visit and sell goods to a store for later delivery, the right mobility solutions can allow a driver to take new orders while delivering existing ones. This saves companies from having separate sales teams and drivers, real-time accounting of inventory on hand, along with further efficiencies and improving customer service.

What are some new mobile applications coming to the fore in the trucking market?

Mobile solutions have, in various forms, been in existence within the transportation industry for many years. For example, couriers might use mobility to provide proof of delivery by scanning a package and having the customer sign electronically. That same courier can be alerted via the mobile device for pick-ups en-route, saving fuel by not making separate trips, while also improving customer service and convenience.

As in every industry, transportation companies are striving to improve business operations, and many are consistently trying to modify and update their technology for better efficiencies on the road.

Delivery fleet drivers, for instance, might shave an hour off their drive by providing better mapping software that utilizes real-time road conditions, which may leave time for an extra pickup. At the end of the week, it could mean five extra stops, and at the end of the year, the driver could have made 260 additional stops.

When you multiply these productivity gains across a global fleet operation, the return on investment is incredible, considering no extra vehicles or labor costs were added.

Can only large transportation companies achieve such benefits?

There are many benefits around mobility that do not depend on the size of the organization. Viability can be seen even on the first vehicle. Many of our customers end up deploying mobility solutions due to the fact that their non-mobile solutions and processes didn’t allow them to scale. My advice to small and large fleets alike is to start leveraging mobility on day one, and then as you add more vehicles/endpoints, your return will increase due to the economies of scale.

Of course, nothing in the real world is perfect. What are some of the things that can go wrong with mobile technology and how can transportation companies cope when they do?

While mobile technologies are beneficial in nearly every area where they are deployed, there can be bumps along the way. New applications run the risk of breaking or slowing down a device, or drivers might be uncomfortable with new applications, particularly those who are uneasy about implementing new technologies.

 Furthermore, if a fleet driver isn’t comfortable with the technology being implemented by their organization, they may be tempted to fiddle with it while driving; opening the door for corporate liability and other legal problems if, for instance, an accident occurs while the driver is distracted by their device.

Alternatively, drivers also run the risk of becoming totally reliant upon technology, which can impact business operations if systems go down or are temporarily out of service.

In the real world, drivers might drop a tablet on a loading dock, or a device might fail from sitting on a hot dashboard. Because drivers are often not trained in repairing devices, it’s important that the technology is dependable and the right option for the type of transportation it is supporting.

The key to successful mobile solutions is making sure you’ve thought of everything so you can avoid service disruption issues.

Whether the driver needs real-time training and support without leaving the truck, or options to switch devices into navigation-only mode, the use cases are endless. Popular options to effectively remove liability issues around mobile devices being involved in vehicle crashes, including disabling apps like reporting, texting or UPC [universal product code] scanning, while the vehicle is in motion, and switching device modes once the vehicle stops to safely access information. We also automatically push software and system updates remotely during off-peak times, so the driver doesn’t have to worry about device downtime during their work day.

Mobility management also allows mobile devices to work together seamlessly, empowering fleets to centrally manage their technology with solutions. When you change apps or add additional functionality, having a system that has a good understanding of the mobile devices in place and how to control them is very important.

Is maintenance and support a “nightmare” with mobile devices? Why or why not?

Without the proper tools and management systems in place, maintaining a high-functioning mobile strategy for transportation is difficult at best.

 A driver’s job is to drive, and great mobile solutions become the control center to that driver’s job every day. If a trucking company is using mobility solutions for efficiencies, the last thing they want is the device becoming inoperable causing downtime.

Mobility management can offer safeguards to ensure the mobile device is always up and running, but also allows for a small team (about two full time employees per 2,000 mobile devices) to manage many users centrally. This best practice allows companies to scale quickly and efficiently, while keeping their drivers focused on their drive versus their technology.

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