Converging consumer and business technologies are changing the way motor carriers connect with truck drivers and customers at an increasingly rapid pace.
Wireless mobile devices designed for consumers such as smart phones are being adapted in the workplace and they’re changing the design of “industrial” products.
Rising operating costs and government mandates are also spurring deployment of technology, said speakers at the ALK Transportation Technology Summit.
“We are winning the battle of optimization every day,” said Derek Leathers, president of $2 billion trucking operator Werner Enterprises in Omaha, Neb., who described a slew of challenges pushing up trucking costs and shipper rates.
“Technology can address each of these obstacles, make the driver’s life easier and helping us get better utilization” from existing truck capacity, said Leathers.
Transportation technology is increasingly important for carriers as well as shippers and intermediaries as capacity tightens and supply chains get leaner, he said.
Leathers urged shippers to remember 2010, when an early round of inventory restocking “locked up” transport networks. “Freight didn’t move and rates spiked.”
“We're right on the razor’s edge right now in terms of supply and demand,” he said.
The eighth annual summit in Princeton, N.J., May 16-18 drew nearly 250 carriers, brokers and logistics professionals, shippers and technology suppliers.
That was a 56 percent increase in attendance from last year’s summit, a sign transport operators and shippers are turning to technology for help.
The impact on transportation technology of mobile personal computing and communications devices running on nearly ubiquitous wireless networks was clear.
More and more companies using smart phones and tablet computers to deploy systems once run solely on proprietary in-cab devices or office computers.
“It's because, predominantly, of apps,” said Christian Schenk, vice president of product marketing for Xata, a fleet management system company.
“It's because of how many people are interacting with apps on a daily basis” on smart phones and tablets, whether on Apple IOS or Android devices, he said.
Xata offers an enterprise-wide fleet management solution called XataNet and Xata Turnpike, a mobile system that runs on more than 85 devices, including phones.
Carriers will continue to buy “traditional” onboard computers, Schenk said. “There’s still a major need for rugged enterprise hardware in transportation.”
But a vast number of truck drivers — 86 percent, according to one study — already use personal mobile devices, mostly Android-driven smart phones.
“Drivers are consumers,” said Schenk. “They're going to buy devices and apps just like you are. They’re going to want to leverage the technology they have.”
Trucking companies are already designing mobile apps not just for customers but for their drivers, said John White, president of $1.5 billion carrier U.S. Xpress.
The usxpressmobile app provides drivers with out-of-the-cab functionality, allowing them to review dispatch schedules and customer information by smart phone.
“With mobile apps, drivers no longer need to be tethered to the truck to do their work,” White said. “They can be dispatched straight from the mobile phone.”