by Jon M. Van Winkle, Vice President of Product Management, Omnitracs, LLC

omnitracs logoUsing Mobile Devices in the Supply Chain The use of smartphones, tablets, and rugged handheld computers has grown exponentially within the logistics industry, leading the way with innovative use cases and deployments. While many companies have already built up their wireless infrastructure within their offices, fleet operators and logistics professionals are now looking for ways to utilize mobile devices and applications to improve operations while out in the field.

As companies look to understand how mobile technology can be used throughout the supply fleet, it’s common for managers to ask the following questions: 

  • How can I use mobile devices better?
  • What applications will have the biggest impact on my business?
  • How can I leverage current mobile technology investments?

The key to answering these questions—and getting your mobile fleet off to a running start—rests in understanding the different ways mobile devices can improve fleet management and learning the many different roles they play.

Satisfying Government Mandates with Mobile Mobile technology has long been a critical tool for two-way communication with truck cabs. With the adoption of smartphones and tablets, the technology that was previously only available to the largest fleets who could afford it, is now in the hands of every driver, as costs and investment is much lower.

When the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) mandate goes into effect (now expected in October 2015; visit for new and resources), all drivers will be required to document Hours of Service (HOS) compliance in an electronic log by the end of 2017.  In order to ensure compliance with the upcoming ruling, fleets are now looking for innovative and cost effective ways to meet the needs of the mandate, while at the same time maximizing the efficiency of their drivers. 

Smartphones or data-enabled tablets are solutions that can help meet the needs of the mandate, as long as the device is connected to the engine of a truck. When implemented, most fleets will realize that mobile devices go far beyond complying with the mandate, and contribute to other areas of safety and profitable operational efficiency, such as collecting insights on driving behavior, fuel usage, idle times, truck fault codes, and customer interactions. Furthermore, mobile devices give drivers the opportunity to go out and kick the tires while documenting fuel tax filings, driver inspection reports or what needs to be fixed in the truck to keep it on the road.

Structured Communication and Customer Interaction With the integration of smart devices, automated and streamlined communication with drivers becomes much easier. Workflow and form building tools are now part of many fleet applications available in both on-board computers and smartphone or tablet-based applications.

Today, fleets are using workflow to:

  • Dispatch route and stop information to drivers
  • Generate automated arrival and departure status
  • Collect proof-of-delivery information with signature capture and photos
  • Notify customers when shipments have occurred or if they have deviated from a planned, scheduled time
  • Automatically collect information, including date and time, location, HOS status, driver information or fuel levels that can be sent based on geo-fenced locations • Generate clean invoices while in the field, leading to decreased payment times

These structured communications examples remove time-intensive steps from the driver, while improving the collection of critical information on the health of the fleet and more accurate and timely information on progress and status. 

Increasing Profitability through Performance Monitoring and Route Optimization Mobile technology has also enabled fleets to gain insight into driving and productivity behavior while on the road.  The job of a truck driver is a largely autonomous career, absent of a physical office and boss down the hall. Fleet managers don’t always have the level of insight into performance and what happens out on the road.

Fleets looking to improve efficiency and productivity can look toward mobile technology to collect vehicle and driver information, with a focus on metrics that can identify inefficiencies such as wasted fuel from out-of-route miles, idle times, aggressive driving, speeding, and hard braking. Fuel expenses are still one of the largest operating costs for fleets, along with driver labor. Understanding what leads to an increase in fuel costs and labor is critical for fleet operations. Other costly activities includes time spent waiting while detained on customer docks and trips that are dispatched that are not full loads or have limited backhaul opportunity. Mobile devices can capture all of this and enable the manager to identify prime areas of improvement to reverse such time and money wasting activities.

Familiar Devices that can be put to work Currently, the majority of society interacts with mobile technology for personal needs. Leveraging this familiarity to a business purpose enables fleets to capitalize on less time spent on installing new technology equipment, training, and adoption. The power of mobile devices gives drivers touch screen interfaces, WiFi or cellular networks, barcode scanning, high-resolution pictures, expandable storage, and processing power that meets the most demanding applications. With the ability to leverage the newest and fastest networks, such as 4G LTE speeds, business applications become ingrained and even more essential to every day operations.

Fleets that look to mobile devices to solve their logistics challenges will soon find that these devices also provide a number of cost-saving solutions that facilitate more efficient communication, improve operational efficiency, and ensure compliance. 

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