New products and services simplify and expand integration between office and mobile devices
The basics of onboard computers haven’t changed since Jerry Bartholomew began driving for Schneider National in 1997. While Bartholomew still communicates electronically with the office, what has changed is how structured and accessible the information has become.
In 2010, Schneider National converted its fleet to Qualcomm’s MCP200 fleet management system, which included the technology provider’s Workflow platform. Schneider’s back office systems are integrated with the driver’s in-cab interface; drivers are prompted with specific questions for work assignments, and the data entry is verified instantly for completeness and accuracy.
“If I made a mistake before, I had no way of knowing until something was sent back,” says Bartholomew, who both drives and trains drivers for the Green Bay, Wis.-based carrier.
The Workflow application gives step-by-step instructions, including navigation and fuel plans. “When you start a load, it goes from start to finish,” he says. “You have to do it in order. It is much more structured.”
Another major difference is access to corporate information and training videos. When Bartholomew stops at company facilities equipped with Wi-Fi, he can use the MCP200 to log in to Schneider’s Crossroads driver portal to see payroll information and performance metrics such as safety, compliance, fuel and idle time, and access his personal e-mail account and other approved Websites.
“The data a driver looks at in the cab is the same information a business leader has,” says Tom DiSalvi, Schneider’s director of loss prevention. “That level of access to data provides a greater connection. There are no surprises on either side.”
Office-cab integration once was limited to satellite positioning and messaging. As Bartholomew and Schneider can attest, recent technologies have opened up the floodgates of opportunity. These five integration trends can help increase the value of management systems for any business in short order.
All onboard computing platforms include a Web portal for customers to access their data using various applications. Many fleets, especially smaller ones, log in to Web portals frequently to monitor driver compliance and performance, track assets, send messages and create alerts and reports, among many other tasks.
Fleets also can use optional products and services to integrate data with their native dispatch, routing, maintenance, safety, accounting and other back-office systems. These products have reduced the time and expense associated with integration projects.
Rand McNally, which offers the TruckPC and TND 760 onboard computing systems, recently created a software platform called Connect designed to shorten the development cycle for integration between its FleetWatcher Web portal and third-party applications such as dispatch and enterprise software systems.
Connect is located within a fleet’s IT environment and can interface with multiple third-party applications simultaneously, says Mason Meadows, director of product management.
To integrate third-party applications with PeopleNet’s mobile communications and onboard computing platform, software companies use PeopleNet’s Open Interface, which enables third-party applications to send and receive data such as location, messages, driver logs and vehicle data collected by the onboard system.
Fleets that have custom applications they wish to integrate with PeopleNet can use PeopleNet Link, a tool that extracts information from the Open Interface into a database that resides in customers’ IT systems; this allows fleets to integrate applications internally at the database level using familiar tools such as SQL.
Blue Tree Systems, which offers the R:Com fleet management system, also gives customers the option to host a database at their locations, allowing them to use SQL to create custom applications, alerts and reports, says Steve Katz, director of sales.
Open hardware and software platforms such as Android also are helping speed the integration between the office and cab. Fleets looking to deploy an integrated in-cab scanning system can have drivers download a mobile app from Pegasus TransTech or ACS TripPak Services to their personal smartphones.
Other mobile apps on the Android platform include turn-by-turn navigation and proof-of-delivery systems with signature capture and barcode scanning. ACS TripPak Services partnered with uFollowit to produce TripPak Mobile, an integrated freight tracking and document management solution for smartphones.
More than 14,000 applications for transportation now are available, and 86 percent of drivers are using some sort of smart device, says Christian Schenk, vice president of product marketing for Xata Corp.
“As long as the platform is conducive, the opportunities are endless,” Schenk says.
Some mobile computing platforms now include a browser and Internet connectivity. This feature requires no integration to deploy applications such as Schneider’s Crossroads driver Web portal in the cab.
Rand McNally’s TruckPC platform includes an Internet browser. Companies can use the browser to give drivers access to the Fleet Watcher portal, the same Website that management would use to view driver performance. Drivers can view metrics on fuel, safety and other areas and how they rank in comparison to their peers, Meadows says.
Another integration trend is to include URLs within mobile applications, such as including a link to a training video about pretrip checks within the application that drivers use when making their inspections.
Smartphones and tablets built for the latest cellular networks such as 4G LTE are equipped to run applications with streaming video content. Rugged devices also are making the migration; Panasonic recently launched two 4G-capable devices, the Toughbook 53 and Toughbook 31mk2.
“As long as the platform is conducive, the opportunities are endless.”
– Christian Schenk, vice president of product
marketing, Xata Corp.
“As the world migrates to mobile apps, there is not a lot of software on the device,” Schenk says. “The app communicates to a hosted database, which produces the majority of data and logic.”
Most in-cab platforms in the market today use the EVDO 1X network; this first-generation digital network is not designed to handle browser communications, which is why more providers are adding a Wi-Fi option.
PeopleNet plans to add Web browsing capability via Wi-Fi later this year. CarrierWeb plans to add Wi-Fi capability to its latest devices but doesn’t have immediate plans to add a Web browser.
Hours of service
Fleets have adopted electronic onboard recorders at a feverish pace in recent years, and integration has provided fleet managers with the same hours-of-service visibility that drivers have in the cab.
Gordon Sevig Trucking Co., a 140-truck carrier based in Wolford, Iowa, uses the eDriver Logs application from its PeopleNet onboard computing system; HOS information also is displayed in its dispatch software, TMW Suite.
Tom Schmidt, GSTC vice president and general manager, says managers do not use the added visibility to micromanage drivers and make decisions for them. “(EOBRs) have made drivers better managers as far as time is concerned,” Schmidt says. If drivers say they cannot make a delivery due to their remaining hours, GSTC will arrange for a relay. “We expect them to tell us if they can deliver,” he says. “They are the ones that know.”
Fleet managers see drivers’ remaining hours in the screens they use to make load assignments and monitor load status. With these consolidated planning tools, they also can compare time requirements for loads two or three days in advance with the hours drivers will have available.
“(HOS) is a good landing spot within the traditional dispatch function,” says Adam Kahn, director of product marketing for Qualcomm Enterprise Services. “All systems have very good planning modules for available hours.”
Fleets that pay drivers an hourly wage also are able to automate their payroll systems by integrating duty status changes and time records from EOBRs.
Another trend is to use mobile-to-mobile integration of HOS. Mobile applications that are designed for managing pickup-and-delivery activities traditionally have not included HOS compliance as a feature.
Xata designed its Compliance Connect product to integrate fleets’ existing driver productivity applications that run on cell phones, smartphones and tablet computers with Xata Turnpike, an app that includes electronic logs, driver vehicle inspection reports, messaging and performance and safety monitoring.
Because Compliance Connect allows another mobile application to control its use, numerous software providers that specialize in proof-of-delivery applications are using Compliance Connect to provide their customers with an integrated electronic logs application. When a driver logs into his company’s mobile app, the app will prompt the driver to complete a DVIR and capture HOS information automatically; the driver does not have to log in to Xata Turnpike separately.
“The data a driver looks at in the cab is the same information a business leader has. That level of access to data provides a greater connection. There are no surprises on either side.”
– Tom DiSalvi, director
of loss prevention, Schneider National
“The velocity in which you can roll out compliance on an existing mobile solution is really fast,” Schenk says.
J.J. Keller’s Web-based Encompass fleet management system combines an onboard computer with a mobile app for Windows Mobile and Android devices. The app allows drivers to capture logs, vehicle inspections and fuel receipts electronically.
Dispatch and mobile computing systems have been exchanging messages and position information for years. The trend toward even more efficient operations is to deepen the level of integration to a highly structured routine for drivers.
When a Schneider National driver uses Qualcomm’s Workflow, an integrated app prompts him to enter only the information necessary to initiate the next step in the dispatch process. When he is given a load assignment, the application prompts him to enter his fuel level; the amount is fed into an application that calculates a route and fuel plan, which the driver receives.
“The integration helps drivers in the day-to-day,” DiSalvi says. “If drivers are on a load that takes them across the border, (Workflow) will tell them in advance and send a reminder of the information they will need in preparation for border crossing.”
Through PeopleNet’s Pacos automated communications feature, the onboard computer receives a stream of XML information from the dispatch software system that contains detailed route plans such as the location of each stop, the sequence of the stops and what information drivers should be prompted to read or enter at each stop.
For each stop, the XML stream also includes up to three geofences – imaginary perimeters around the location. When a truck “hits” a geofence, the computer sends a notification to the dispatch system. Common uses for Pacos are to update a dispatch system automatically when a vehicle is approaching a location, when it arrives and when it departs.
PeopleNet’s BluLink software development kit allows customers to create customized workflow applications that can reside on the mobile computer and integrate with dispatch systems. The company has several “canned” BluLink applications for fleets in specialty markets such as crude oil fields and foodservice.
Integrating data from mobile computing systems with safety and risk management systems is another growing trend. When it comes to managing safety and compliance, the more communication a fleet has with the driver, the better.
Through integration, information needed to assess and mitigate driver risk can be received and processed immediately. Through workflow tools, targeted intervention and training can be triggered automatically as specific alerts and exceptions from the vehicle arrive in the office.
This integration between onboard computing and risk management systems is being done with a number of data points. A real-time alert for a hard-braking or speeding incident can be used to trigger an application to assign a driver manager to complete a specific task, such as contacting the driver through an in-cab message or a phone call.
A more automated approach is to send a violation letter to the driver or require the driver to complete a training module before he can receive the next load assignment.
J.J. Keller’s Encompass Compliance Edition adds an expanded set of compliance tools for vehicle maintenance, a Compliance Safety Accountability dashboard and BASICs management. The Encompass Premium Edition adds a performance dashboard with fuel usage, GPS location tracking and other driver metrics.
Qualcomm’s Media Manager Service is an application that fleets can use to push content such as PDFs or audio files to drivers in the cab; this application also keeps track of drivers’ activity for opening the files to monitor compliance. Schneider National is using Media Manager to send safety messages, both written and audio files, to the entire fleet and to various fleet segments such as intermodal. The company also uses its Crossroads portal to post quarterly safety training modules that drivers can access through the MCP200.
CarrierWeb enables customers to use hyperlinks to integrate a variety of alerts into their native software systems. When the system detects an exception such as a hard-braking event, it can send a hyperlink alert to a third-party software system. The software can include the hyperlink in a field on the screen as part of the daily workflow process for users.
The user would not have to log in to access the information. The hyperlink would take a user directly to a screen display with additional details such as the map location, the driver’s HOS status and direction of travel.
The opportunities for integrating systems in the office with mobile devices and applications in the field are becoming limitless. What is perhaps more impressive is the speed and ease with which it can be done.