More than 70 percent of truck drivers today own smartphones, tablets and wireless subscriptions. This widespread connectivity among drivers as well as office employees creates many opportunities for transportation companies to mobilize their information systems.
In 2011, U.S. Xpress (CCJ Top 250, No. 12) started development of a mobile app for drivers. Today, more than 5,400 of its drivers and owner operators, including those who work for its affiliate companies, are using their personal devices to connect with time-sensitive dispatch information and perform other routine work functions.
Drivers are introduced to Xpress Mobile during new driver orientation training classes. U.S. Xpress also promotes the app internally with posters and with the Xpress Mobile charging stations that drivers use inside company facilities.
Drivers can download the app to their Android and iOS devices from the Google Play and the Apple App Store. After a quick registration process to verify the driver is active in U.S. Xpress’ host system, the mobile app is synced up and ready for use.
With Xpress Mobile, drivers can view current load information and upcoming assignments, accept load offerings, and perform all other routine communications. New information comes through as notification alerts to capture their attention.
U.S. Xpress continues to add new features to improve the lifestyle of drivers.
“Everything is being designed to give drivers access to more information to make their lives easier,” says Ken Crane, director of information technology for the Chattanooga, Tenn.-based carrier.
The benefits go both ways. More than 19,000 messages a week go through Xpress Mobile. This is traffic that would otherwise go through the company’s in-cab mobile platform, Crane says. When using the mobile app, drivers respond to critical dispatch messages faster by virtue of staying connected inside and outside the cab.
By getting information from drivers earlier, such as load acceptances from owner operators, the company can more efficiently execute load planning and other processes.
With a few exceptions, the app has all of the same features as the company’s in-cab computing platform for drivers to manage the lifecycle of orders from pickup through delivery. The only difference, in terms of functionality, is the in-cab platform has electronic hours of service and turn-by-turn navigation applications.
Just like the onboard platform, Xpress Mobile restricts drivers from using it when in motion, thereby complying with federal and state regulations that prohibit the use of mobile devices while driving.
Like any software developer, U.S. Xpress gathers input from its customers — in this case its drivers — to shape its future product roadmap. One idea that came from a recent roundtable discussion with drivers is for Xpress Mobile to deliver push notifications for vehicle maintenance events.
The company is presently working to bring this functionality to Xpress Mobile. Currently, when drivers take trucks in for maintenance, they have to ask the service writer for a status update. In the near future, drivers will be automatically notified when their trucks are ready.
Another feature in the works will help fleet managers contact drivers by phone at the most appropriate time. The ideal time to contact drivers is when they are not driving, not in the sleeper berth, and actively using the Xpress Mobile app. This information triage will take place automatically in the company’s back office fleet management platform called XPM.
The status will be made visible to fleet managers by way of an indicator light in XPM’s planning grid, says Jeff Seibenhener, chief information officer.
One of the most recent additions to Xpress Mobile is helping to improve drivers’ work lifestyle by providing visibility to the status of load “repower” events. Drivers use this feature when they are scheduled to meet another driver at a pre-arranged location to swap trailers.
The app will show each of the drivers involved in the exchange where the other truck is in relation to the designated location, Seibenhener says. The remaining miles, estimated time of arrival and location of the other driver is visible on a digital map. Previously, drivers had to get these tracking updates from their fleet managers in order to coordinate their schedules, he says.
Besides the planning and communications tools for drivers, Xpress Mobile gives drivers mobile access to the most recent company newsletter and to training videos.
The mobile office
U.S. Xpress is currently working to create a mobile app called Xpress Office to give its office workers the same real-time connectivity that drivers have to important corporate communications. Seibenhener believes the office version will be a much more effective platform for communication than e-mail. Push notifications will serve as a reminder to people of what news is important to their work lifestyle.
“This is the new normal for communicating. Push notifications have become the standard for information and awareness,” he says.
Xpress Office is being designed to be an interactive newsletter that uses video and other visual tools to present information. For instance, when the company holds a quarterly town hall meeting, the meeting could be broadcast on video in real time for office employees to view from their mobile devices, he says.
With more than 70 remote sites, the ability to get information to people in real time will help to prevent incidents where misinformation creeps into the pipeline, he says.
Aside from Xpress Office, employees are able to stay connected with the full functionality of their desktop applications using any mobile device. Fleet managers, for instance, can access the full functionality of the company’s XPM fleet management software to dispatch drivers and have visibility of assets.
U.S. Xpress has extended all of XPM’s on-site desktop applications for planning, scheduling and fleet management into a seamlessly integrated HTML-5 web interface. Through this web interface, users do not have to go from one application, or location in XPM, to the next to lookup orders, track shipments, check load confirmations, etc. The web interface makes everything that is relevant to their jobs available on one screen.
Users do not need to manually refresh the information displayed on the webpage or click “enter” to send information back to the server. All two-way communications take place automatically, in real time, regardless of the browser or version used on a device.
Besides making workers more productive inside and outside of the office with its unified web platform, U.S. Xpress has reduced its software training time by more than half. When the company hires a new fleet manager, it no longer has to spend weeks training them how to use its core legacy systems.
All of its fleet managers and executives also have access to the company’s business intelligence platform to monitor key performance metrics from their desktops or mobile devices in a real-time environment.
By using technology to stay connected with drivers and with employees at every level in the company, U.S. Xpress has been able to make big strides for improving work lifestyles while enjoying the benefits of higher productivity.
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