Mobile communications have revolutionized the way many companies do business, and this is just as true for the transportation industry as any other. Fleets began to use mobile communications to provide a way for vehicles to communicate with the back office many years ago. The potential for mobile devices to change the game for fleets is especially large when they are paired with telematics and advanced fleet management systems.
Yet, without reliable, secure transfer of information, the mobile revolution in trucking would not be possible. Fleets must turn to vendors that can provide a redundant, sturdy system backed by a solid data transfer system, otherwise they may see their investments get caught in an endless feedback loop. The question for many operators, however, is how to quantify what a mobile platform is.
What is a Mobile Platform?
In the most basic sense, mobile platforms represent hardware and software linked up through a common interface or operating system. In most cases, the hardware used is represented by a smartphone, tablet or laptop computer. Whatever form the hardware takes, this is a critical part of the system. For trucking companies, this platform should allow vehicles and truck drivers to be connected to fleet managers through the mobile device.
Mobile platforms, when connected to telematics and fleet management systems, provide an end-do-end enterprise solution for trucking companies. Truly effective mobile platforms help truckers and fleet managers get the job done without even knowing they are there. They generally run in the background and do not require a heavy level of involvement. These devices can be installed in-cab or can be carried around by the truck driver.
It is important to note here that a mobile platform is not necessarily just a smartphone or tablet. They are quite different from mobile devices. A standalone mobile device is a multi-purpose tool with many capabilities, whereas a mobile platform is loaded up with pieces of software and apps designed for industry-related tasks. Such tasks might include performing vehicle inspections and filling out reports, scanning documents, or recording where a piece of equipment is and how it is performing.
Mobile platforms come in where data analysis is required. A fleet cannot do much without a platform that allows them to sift through and analyze the data available to them. This is where the difference between mobile platform and mobile devices come in. Mobile devices use the platform to serve the required purpose. Mobile devices collect data through various methods, but how this data is used is governed by the mobile platform.
Data governing such aspects as truck driver safety, vehicle health and status, operational efficiency, back-office communications, task management, vehicle routing, and more, can all be effectively managed on a mobile device through a mobile platform. Mobile platforms can also be integrated with training and coaching mechanisms.
Banking on an Effective System
Mobile communication platforms have been used by fleets for many years. Essentially, mobile communication platforms provide a link between the fleet and those working in the back-office. Many years ago, these devices would need to be physically installed onto a vehicle’s on-board computer. Now, the same chipsets that would be physically installed into a vehicle are integrated into the mobile platform. Whether fleets employ their use to allow truck drivers to capture signatures, handle inspections, or transmit maintenance data, their value cannot be understated. Effective mobile platforms allow truckers to extend their capability to perform tasks, with much of this innovation being driven by the ELD mandate.
The ELD mandate ushered in a new era of technological innovation in trucking. ELDs now serve as the backbone for their own mobile platform integrations. Motor carriers and owner-operators have been forced to adopt a more technology-forward mindset to meet the requirement set forth by the rule. Yet, the most important aspect of the mobile platform is not the platform itself, but its ability to integrate with all the other systems in use by the fleet.
Trucking-specific mobile platforms should be able to integrate with whatever current systems the fleet uses. Interoperability can be a real problem if fleets don’t properly plan for it. A fleet would be wise not to implement a mobile platform that cannot properly communicate with their other fleet management systems or properly transmit or analyze data.
In-cab mobile platforms should provide a gateway between the truck driver and the back-office while also innovating on how the driver gets their job done. If the platform does not ease a driver’s workload while also providing solutions for the company, it might not be worth the investment.
How to Integrate the Systems
Mobile communications providers who have been in the game for a long time know how to integrate their products with fleet management systems already in existence. Take platforms base don GPS navigation as one example. For years, fleets have been using GPS data for dispatch purposes and to assign loads to vehicles. And while fleets still utilize systems this way, the data flow has evolved beyond simple location data.
Fleets have uncovered new ways to solve old problems through integration. These systems provide value to the truck driver and capture data, but they also automate some of the functions that clog up a driver’s day, such as entering data into a device. Effective mobile platforms can push data back to drivers just when they need it, which makes data entry far easier.
Using mobile platforms in this way provides an innovative way to help the truck driver with their workload. Instead of manually entering data into a system, which can be a painstaking process, all the operator needs to do is validate the data that is already there. This creates a far better situation for both the truck driver and the entire fleet.
If the data coming in through the mobile platform is routed through an existing telematics platform, fleets can use the data and transmit it across other systems within the organization. Consider how much information travels between the various systems used by the fleet. It all needs to be connected to the back-office in some way. Companies can push the data through each system to optimize routes, calculate the cost per mile, help with generating payroll data, track maintenance needs, and enhance equipment utilization.
When each disparate system used by the fleet is connected through a mobile platform, the data generated by the vehicle and the driver enhances monitoring efficiency, navigation, and other critical details. Proper integration also improves retention by enhancing the overall work experience and communication effectiveness between drivers, fleet managers, and the back office. An integrated mobile platform should assist in everything from collecting field data to dispatching vehicles along predetermined routes.
It is also important to remember that not all data needs to be integrated into the system. Integrating data in real-time could provide some logistical challenged for the back-office. Still, some systems do require real-time integration, such as ELD data devices, routing applications, mobile and inspection forms, and vehicle location and status data.
The data can be optional when the fleet chooses it to be. If a motor carrier is working with a mobile platform that provides feedback on a truck driver’s speed, while that information can be transmitted to a field supervisor or fleet manager through an alert, it does not necessarily need to be integrated into the back-office system, that is unless the fleet wants to integrate that data into a broader company safety initiative.
Once a mobile platform has been integrated into a fleet’s management system, it can be used in many ways. Fleet management solution providers integrate data into their systems for a specific purpose. The mobile data provided by these systems gives fleets the ability to tackle new problems as their businesses grow. It allows them to scale in ways that they could not before.
When data is being managed effectively, fleet managers are provided with a comprehensive look into what truck drivers and other fleet operators are doing. Even better, the data can be integrated into fleet systems for a non-telematics need. As one example, second-order analytics provides invaluable insights into acceptable levels of risk for the fleet. It can provide a correlation of events between telematics data and other systems.
Such data, whether it be for maintenance, coaching, retention or other needs, can be used to enhance fleet operations in many ways. Trucking companies must work with third-party providers to incorporate existing data from their mobile platforms into their current systems. They must focus on interoperability and ensure that they are getting the most out of their investment.
Mobile platforms provide a window into the future of trucking. In combination with other advances systems, they can truly provide a one-stop-shop solution to create a new paradigm for fleets who want to evolve beyond a simple matter of vehicles moving freight.