Commentary | IT Matters: Logistics & Supply Chain Technology

Getting Fleets Mobile Ready

Tags: Logistics I.T., Transportation, Logistics

Jon M. Van Winkle is Vice President of Product Management, Omnitracs, 469-801-6385

Many transportation fleets are now embracing mobile technologies, and there are clear reasons why.

Today’s smartphones and tablet computers put more computing power in the palm of a driver’s hand than what was available in the earliest NASA computers that put man on the moon. Furthermore, the ongoing R&D investments by chip and device makers indicate that the evolution of mobile technology will continue well into the future.

Beyond providing enormous raw computing power, mobile devices offer enormous flexibility in enabling drivers and fleet managers to more efficiently complete their daily tasks. Today’s smartphones and tablets provide more open application development platforms and marketplaces that readily allow fleets to quickly assemble the application components that are optimized to meet the unique challenges of their fleet workflows, driver tasks, and customer expectations.

Innovations geared for the enterprise have brought about improved proof of delivery applications with real-time data connections that enable accelerated billing and quicker payments, while modern touchscreens provide improved driver experience and ease of use.

Broader network accessibility and the ability to select a fleet’s preferred device on a preferred wireless carrier network, coupled with Wi-Fi connectivity, provide expanded data connectivity and reliability. Best-in-class mobile applications also allow drivers to have a single sign-on for two mobile applications, or to share duty status information with a proof of delivery or routing application.

Enabled with Bluetooth technology, a smart device can quickly pair with onboard telematics hardware (e.g. the vehicle black box or ECM), reducing installation time. A tablet or smartphone can ease compliance tasks such as submitting electronic logs and driver vehicle inspection reports.

Before equipping your fleet with mobile devices, it is important to answer these questions:

  • Will the devices be corporately owned and personally enabled (COPE)? Or will drivers be expected to bring their own devices (BYOD)? To date, it seems that the majority of fleets are electing to select, purchase, manage, and own the mobile devices they put into the hands of their drivers. While that entails greater cost and effort up front, there is greater control, continuity, and reliability with respect to how devices and applications are enabled and used.
  • What device and mobile application platform is right for my fleet? Smartphones, tablets, and rugged handheld devices each have their advantages and limitations. The Android-based platform is probably the most open, with the broadest availability of device types and applications, while the iOS platform provides fewer device options and seems to have a narrower commercial focus at the moment. The Windows Mobile platform has a longer history with transportation applications, especially point-of-delivery applications and rugged devices, but without an extensive open marketplace like Android or iOS. These are all things to consider, in combination with current back-office operations and infrastructure, before selecting the right mobile application.
  • What set of daily application and workflow requirements must be addressed? The power of today’s mobile devices and data networks is highly advanced so that a single device and data plan can enable multiple applications to simultaneously meet the various specialized needs of each fleet. Whether it is vehicle tracking, dispatch, electronic hours of service, vehicle inspection, navigation, proof of delivery or others, it is wise to ensure that your device will be able to meet your fleet’s daily requirements before making your investment.
  • What will be the data consumption requirements, and what carrier network and service will be most effective? Decisions on application requirements will drive data needs and therefore the required monthly data plan and fees. Cellular coverage across all carriers has improved greatly in recent years, but coverage still varies geographically from one carrier to the next. Assessing the fleet’s geographic footprint and comparing carrier coverage is important before selecting a network provider to ensure that your drivers are covered from urban areas to the most remote locations.
  • What are the requirements for mobile device management (MDM)? Modern devices offer enormous flexibility and power, however, fleets need to make the important decision on how broadly they will allow drivers to use company-provided devices and data plans. Where one fleet may want to allow long-haul drivers to watch Netflix movies in the sleeper berth, another fleet may not want to pay for gigabytes of data for driver entertainment. Using a mobile device management platform enables a fleet to manage application updates, control access to non-essential business applications, and build additional levels of security.
  • Are the application providers experts in fleet operations? While there are plenty of apps in the marketplace, fleet managers must be diligent in researching which vendors have proven expertise in working with fleets. Taking the time to read customer reviews and scheduling time to speak with a sales representative can help ensure that you select the best solution provider for your fleet’s needs.
  • What other accessories will the field team need? Purchasing accessories depends on how devices are mounted and charged while in the vehicle. There are many options for mounting, including locking cradles and quick release chargers. If using a smartphone or tablet, consider cases that offer more protection.
  • How can we prevent distracted driving? The FMCSA and DOT have regulations limiting the use of mobile devices while driving. Companies interested in preventing distracted driving should develop a mobile device policy that clearly articulates the proper use of a device. This would include terms of use and agreements for drivers to sign. To avoid the temptation of use when operating the truck, fleets may also want to consider applications that prohibit interaction while the vehicle is in motion. As with related regulations for non-commercial vehicles, safeguards must be in place to protect the driver and occupants of all vehicles on the road.
  • What additional training will my drivers need? While smartphone adoption is at more than 70 percent in the United States, not all drivers will feel totally comfortable with new applications on day one. To ensure that your employees recognize and embrace the value that mobile devices deliver, it is important to train drivers and set aside time for device familiarization. Including tutorials for using new applications will also help adoption rates increase.

The productivity, efficiency, and compliance benefits that mobile devices deliver are well worth the journey outlined above. Asking the right questions as you begin the evaluation and purchase process is a step in the right direction to help get your fleet mobile ready.






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