Custom vs. Configurable Driver Apps: Which is Best for Your Fleet?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Professional truck drivers are your most important asset. Will there ever be enough? The industry-wide shortage of qualified labor makes recruiting and retention a never-ending challenge. Are you winning?

A fast-growing number of motor carriers have stacked their decks by giving drivers a unique work experience — one where they can access all the tools for the job, inside and outside the cab.

To do this, many fleets are deploying custom mobile apps by choosing one of three options:

  1. Buying configurable, off-the-shelf solutions
  2. Developing custom apps with in-house resources
  3. Contracting with third-party software developers

Finding your best-fit option will require a careful evaluation of the pros and cons. In the end, the answer will become clear, just as it already has, for many of the nation’s top fleets.

What’s the Difference?

When considering the options for a custom app, many fleets will start looking for a viable off-the-shelf solution. Most commercial driver apps already have common features and functions, such as basic workflow and dispatch-driver messaging.

You can expect an off-the-shelf app to have some level of configurability. You might be able to turn certain features on or off, choose screen colors, or move objects around. However, configurable is not the same as custom, which, in the case of app development, allows fleets to build an app that meets their unique requirements, as well as those of their customers.

Generally, less customization means faster deployment. However, an off-the-shelf driver app can slow adoption by making it difficult to provide a single sign-on user experience. A fleet may need to run multiple apps on an in-cab platform and ask drivers to download multiple apps on their personal mobile devices. This approach frustrates drivers as they navigate an environment that has been cobbled together rather than one built to simplify their experience.

In addition, not having control of app development also makes it difficult to meet evolving business and user needs, which increases the total cost of ownership and end-user frustration.

Buy vs. Build

When considering a custom app, fleets may first need to decide whether they should develop it with internal programming resources or contract with a third party. Due to the cost and complexity involved, the first option may only be available to large fleets. However, even those with in-house resources often decide to contract with a third party for development and ongoing support.

Large fleets with IT staff resources who contract with an experienced developer can sidestep unpredictable costs, time commitments, and risks associated with mobile coding and system integrations.

Once your app is deployed, ongoing support and maintenance are other important considerations. Custom apps need to adapt to changing business needs and technology. And your internal IT staff may have competing priorities that pull them in many directions and contribute to project delays and mounting frustrations.  Working with a third party developer helps mitigate this conflict and allows your internal team to focus on other projects, while leaving the custom app to the experts.

The Platform Advantage

For fleets that do not have in-house programming resources, contracting with a software firm is the best option for developing a custom app. Choosing an experienced developer in the trucking industry with a platform that has pre-built components and integrations can speed deployment and lower the total cost of ownership.

For example, a custom app platform with a list of pre-built components like shipment tracking and integrations with transportation management systems (TMS) gives fleets the ability to customize each component to their unique specifications. A software developer that is new to trucking will not have a platform with pre-built components and may take a considerable amount of time to understand the intricacies of the tech stack and all the integrations involved in a successful mobile app.

Comparing Your Options

In the final analysis, your best option to transform the driver experience will depend on four primary factors:

Cost: Off-the-shelf apps typically have the lowest upfront cost. By contrast, in-house developed apps or contracting with third-party developers may have high upfront costs. Budgeting for ongoing support and maintenance associated with a custom app you build yourself can also be difficult.

An experienced provider in the trucking industry with a SaaS platform can develop a custom app with little up-front costs. Once the system is deployed fleets only pay a predictable per-truck subscription fee. These factors will allow you to budget for ongoing expenses without surprises and may contribute to achieving the lowest total cost of ownership (TCO). As well, fleets can make ongoing changes and add new capabilities without incurring additional development charges.

Flexibility: Whether you build in-house or with a vendor, a custom driver app will need to be flexible and adaptable to meet your evolving needs. A configurable app built for the masses can leave you and your drivers wanting more. Similarly, an in-house project will require dedicated resources for ongoing support and maintenance.

By choosing a developer with a custom app platform, fleets have the flexibility to make changes to their app by using a web-based app editing tool and benefit from ongoing developments to meet the needs of a user community of advanced fleets.

Integration: A custom driver app will need to integrate seamlessly with your TMS, in-cab ELD and telematics systems, dispatch tools, payroll systems, and more. When selecting a third-party vendor to design a custom app, you can leverage pre-built integrations with trucking systems to speed deployment and gain greater driver visibility and workflow automation.

Driver experience: A custom driver app with an intuitive, user-friendly experience will speed adoption and increase engagement. By contrast, an off-the-shelf configurable app may have a more cookie-cutter approach that is neither unique nor fully adaptable to meet the needs of your fleet and its drivers.

Making the Right Choice for Your Fleet

After carefully weighing these options, you may wonder what many of the nation’s top fleets have already chosen and what results they have seen. Check out this article to see where they placed their bets. Many of the same features they have in their custom apps are available to fleets of all sizes to customize and make their own.

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