When it comes to trucking and technology, it seems like every month there is a new development that points to a more efficient and better way to conduct business. Back in the day we nothing beyond paper and pencil. Even as close as 2009 all we had were rudimentary spreadsheets. The idea of a “connected fleet” was as far off as flying cars.
Fleet managers and dispatchers were building routes manually. Job orders were either filed into a metal cabinet or saved into a basic spreadsheet. Not much innovation there. At the end of the day truck drivers returned with a handful of papers for operations to sort through.
The lack of real-time visibility was extremely problematic for truckers, especially when rush orders came in. As fleets grew, having to manually pinpoint what is in which truck and where they are became too cumbersome. But that was then, and this is now. There are three main technological advances in fleet connectivity that we will cover today.
By 2013 the explosion of mobile devices was beginning to change the landscape. Now we have integrated applications that can automatically build optimal routes for the numerous job orders that pop into the system on a daily basis.
Imagine integrating your digital systems to both receive the order and then create the route. The route plans can then be dispatched to the drivers electronically, giving dispatchers real-time visibility as the truck drivers complete their route.
Software can also be used to analyze route costs and conduct what-if scenarios for short- and long-term planning sessions. By utilizing technology, route planning becomes seamless.
There’s a race on among big technology companies. Businesses are looking for full suites of connectivity options and as a result the sprint has turned into a marathon. Several technologies are coming together to form ready-made platforms and full-suite software solutions.
Newer entrants can run seamlessly over multiple mobile devices. Truck drivers can get route and delivery sequence information, along with details about their order, sent straight to the palm of their hand. Some apps now provide automated routing, dispatching, telematics, analytics and in-depth customer notifications under the umbrella of one a single application or software package.
Final Mile Routing
Once job orders and loads have been optimally routed through the system, then wirelessly dispatched through an app, the next stop in total connectivity is in the area of navigation. New systems collect trucking data from hundreds of thousands of customers using proprietary computing systems.
The customer data is then combined with real-time traffic and weather data to provide instant updates in regards to how the final miles will be driven. These solutions correct a longstanding problem in trucking navigation: Old data. Gone are the days when outdated weather reports result in lost time and efficiency. Some systems now combine up-to-the-minute route planning, dispatch messages, hours of service, and other information in one location.
Developing the Ecosystem
There were two ways this could go:
- Fleets supply a dedicated terminal in the cab of the truck. This terminal would serve as the hub, with a limited set of apps.
- Fleets rely on the abilities of the Android and Apple platforms to give their truck drivers nearly unlimited access to a wealth of third-party tools.
As mobile devices have taken over, fleets are increasingly choosing option two. Truck drivers themselves can use their own devices to supplement route planning, whether it be checking on fuel prices or locating fuel stops, almost anything is possible.
One drawback is that truckers may now be swimming in a sea of new apps and tools. It can be hard to centralize these functions in one spot. But as the future of trucking continues to be thrust upon us, no doubt somebody will figure out how to address these technological growing pains.