Custom driver apps have become must-have tech

Kevin Survance Headshot Headshot
Updated Mar 24, 2023

Transportation is no stranger to technology. The industry has embraced innovations for years to solve pain points in safety, over-the-road expenses, and equipment utilization. Yet trucking’s turnover rate remains among the highest of any industry in the United States.

No strategy — from pay increases to more home time and better equipment — has cracked the code to stop this revolving door. The reason? A CCJ survey found that 53% of fleet respondents feel they are struggling to find and keep team members because they are not doing enough to prioritize the driver experience.

Technology has taken on many of the industry’s challenges and has a role to play in confronting this problem. Next-generation ELDs and telematics systems have made it easier for fleets to run third-party apps and utilize tablet devices. Likewise, many products have a consumer-style user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) to help simplify work for drivers.

Yet no ELD and telematics product offers a one-size-fits-all solution. Pre-packaged features and functions are either too sparse or cookie-cutter to meet every fleet's unique specification. Even more rare are apps designed to elevate the driver experience as their top priority. For these reasons, many of the best fleets are deploying custom driver apps to support their most important resource: the person behind the wheel.

App adoption enters a new era

More than 90% of truck drivers use smartphones every day and all of them should expect technology to be part of their work experience. But they need technology to increase productivity, efficiency and improve life on the road. When fleets invest in a custom app to support these goals, they have a distinct advantage in helping drivers succeed.

Searching online information about the nation’s top 20 largest fleets shows that 14 are now using custom-built mobile apps. But small and mid-sized fleets are often behind the technology curve due to limited in-house development resources and the tremendous cost of building their own app. While off-the-shelf options exist for mobile apps, limited functionality tends to slow adoption and leaves fleets looking for more.

The emergence of new SaaS-based offerings for custom mobile apps level the playing field. Through these offerings, fleets use pre-built app components to design their own app based on the unique operational needs of their organization. The result means fleets of all sizes can deploy custom mobile apps quickly and affordably.

Assessing custom driver app ROI

Investing in strategies that help drivers improve productivity and put more pay in their pocket is entirely feasible. Research from MIT found that an additional 18 minutes of productivity per day for every professional driver would be enough to overcome the industry’s deficit of 80,000 drivers. Custom-built apps offer opportunities to regain those 18 minutes and more — including better driver retention, operating efficiency and safety compliance.

Motor carriers that deploy custom apps will often target the following three areas of greatest need:

1. Improving driver communication

Fleets historically considered 18-wheelers machines rather than mobile offices. Drivers grew accustomed to disjointed systems that kept them tethered to the cab for company communications. Custom solutions help unite disparate systems into a single app that is available on smart devices that are as mobile as the driver. With an app on a driver's personal mobile phone, messages and dispatch information become accessible from within truck stops, hotels and restaurants, giving drivers a better quality of life over the road.

Groendyke Transport (CCJ Top 250, no. 112), a tank carrier based in Enid, Oklahoma, created a mobile office with its custom app. The technology has reduced driver turnover and training costs by offering load specific, step-by-step workflows that help drivers navigate the unique complexities of tanker work. Non-completion of a task generates an automated alert — even including reminders to scan paperwork that can delay pay.

2. Better asset management

Cargo Transporters (No. 170), a general freight carrier headquartered in Claremont, N.C., uses a “Find the Trailer” feature in their custom app that saves drivers time with every load by entering a trailer number into the app to find the location of the unit in the carrier’s lot or customer’s location. Preliminary research from fleets using this feature has drivers saving about 20 minutes per dispatch at large distribution centers (DCs), giving the time back to the driver to get back on the road.

Using this technology, a 500-truck fleet averaging two deliveries per week at DCs could add more than 17,000 hours of drive time per year — all made possible with a custom app.

3. Streamlined training

According to a 2021 Gallup report, 71% of U.S. employees say training and development increases job satisfaction. Custom driver apps make training content consumable anywhere, anytime, with just a click.

TMC Transportation (No. 55), a flatbed carrier based in Des Moines, Iowa, uses their driver app to publish safety videos that drivers watch at their convenience. The remote approach saves time, fuel and equipment wear by not routing drivers to a physical classroom. No longer do mandatory safety training come at the expense of a driver’s earning potential. In addition, the mobile approach for training gets new hires on the road faster by complementing onsite onboarding with videos that drivers can watch from anywhere.

Prior to deploying a custom app, Paper Transport (No. 108), a general freight carrier based in De Pere, Wisconsin, provided driver scorecards with metrics calculated for the prior 30 days. The delay left drivers struggling to remember speeding offenses. Now the app automatically updates the scorecard every 24 hours with violations marked on a reference map. The company saw a 90% reduction in speed violations within six months of implementing the app-based scorecard.

The custom app advantage

Fleets zeroed in on improving the driver experience are running miles ahead of the competition. In fact, seven of the past 10 recipients of CCJ’s Innovator of the Year award have deployed custom apps to improve the driver experience.

The good news is that custom mobile apps are available to most fleets without the expensive IT resources and extended timeline that have traditionally kept them out of reach for most carriers. The time is right for fleets to move beyond wondering if they need a custom mobile app to considering the potential for benefiting drivers and taking their business to new levels.

Kevin Survance is chief executive officer of Eleos Technologies.

Kevin Survance is the chief executive officer of Eleos Technologies in Greenville, S.C.  Eleos helps trucking fleets create custom driver apps.