Trucking 2.0: how modular tech is reshaping the trucking industry

Trucking 2.0: How Modular Tech is Reshaping the Industry

Reading Time: 9 minutes

he history of trucking technology has been a history of monoliths: systems that have been unwieldy, inflexible, and often a hefty financial weight to the fleets using them.

From the early days, driver workflow and communication were munged together with telematics, to create a best-of-no-worlds “all-in-one solution”—mobilecomm. Its user experience is slow and clunky compared to the slick interfaces of modern consumer mobile phones—yet mobilecomm devices are more expensive to purchase, and more disruptive to change or upgrade.

Mobilecomm devices lack much of the functionality that drivers want—and what they do offer is often very basic.

Once mobilecomm became established as the de facto way of doing things, innovation only occurred within the limitations of this paradigm. And so the functionality and user experience available to drivers using mobilecomm has not significantly advanced.

Mobilecomm devices lack much of the functionality that drivers want—and what they do offer is often very basic. That functionality is also broken into a “dashboard” of apps that drivers must jump between in order to see messages, routes, load info and so on. This means your drivers spend unnecessary time context switching, instead of using a single interface that ties together the various functions they need—a clumsy and frustrating user experience. The upshot is lost productivity and greater driver turnover.

Systems like this are bad for fleets too because it means you are dependent on a single vendor for all the functionality you need—regardless of how well their implementation works for you. Mixing and matching various solutions is not possible, and customizing your existing solution is often very difficult too. Most critically, a single-sourced technology vendor exposes you to fleet-wide problems, because there is a single point of failure.

None of this is actually necessary. There is absolutely zero technical reason that telematics has to be integrated with a workflow product from the same vendor. And there is absolutely zero technical reason why this in turn must be built into a particular hardware device that the driver uses in his cab. The tasks a driver needs to take care of each day are often connected to telematics, but they are not the same thing.

Trucking has a lot of catching up to do. For most modern industries, sprawling all-in-one solutions cannot keep pace with agile modular tools that focus on doing one thing well. Rapid innovation is driven by a curious mix of strong competition and healthy cooperation between solution providers who provide one tool that excels at one job, and plays nicely with others. Customers identify the best solutions for their needs, and create modular technology stacks: agile systems comprised of high-quality components, which are perfectly tailored to their own use cases.

What would this modular approach look like applied to trucking?

This is not a theoretical question. Such systems do exist. Things change drastically when you simply separate telematics from driver workflow…

Separation of telematics from driver workflow & in-cab devices

Workflow and telematics can, and should, be separate applications running on separate devices—devices that talk to each other.

When you separate workflow from telematics, you are able to create self-contained tools that do one thing well. This means you can use a mix of best-of-breed technologies that suit your fleet’s operational needs.

Again, this is not mere theory. Platforms like Eleos do exactly this, and with the new OpenCab standard, workflow and ELD apps on the same Android device integrate easily with one another. This is real technology that exists right now, and has real benefits for the fleets using them.

More flexible, agile, customizable, affordable

The benefits of modular workflow platforms over traditional mobilecomm are extensive, offering far more efficiency and control to fleets.

Traditional mobilecomm Modular workflow platforms
Workflow is bundled into telematics and must function within that context, regardless of the compromises this leads to. Workflow is a first-class citizen that runs separately from telematics and integrates with it seamlessly.
Runs on “blessed devices” that the vendor can manage through a walled-garden approach, which paradoxically uses antiquated last-generation technology, while being more expensive to buy than modern consumer devices. Runs on any consumer mobile device (iOS or Android), so fleets can choose inexpensive current-generation technology—plus, drivers have the option to install the app on their personal phones for maximum flexibility and freedom.
Maintenance and upgrades involve significant downtime and lost productivity—often as much as half a day just to replace an in-cab device. System-wide upgrades are likely to break custom functionality or integrations, and can take weeks or months to test and deploy. Switching to a new system is almost unthinkable: the units would be prohibitively expensive, trucks would be down during installation, and there are likely to be all kinds of unexpected problems. Maintenance and upgrades involve minimal interruption. In-cab devices can be swapped out in less than an hour, and system upgrades can be deployed seamlessly in a few minutes, just like upgrading an app on your phone. Even switching to a new workflow platform can be done in a matter of days, with relatively minor interruption to service.
Integration with other systems or devices is difficult and expensive. If a fleet wants a specific camera vendor, for instance, and their mobilecomm does not support it, they either have to choose another option, or find the time and money to build the integration. Integration with other systems and tools is baked into the model. If a solution supports the OpenCab standard, it can easily be integrated. If OpenCab is not supported, the integration is still much easier because modular systems are designed for it. Systems like DriveWyze are supported out of the box, along with many other major platforms, with more being added all the time because it is native to the modular approach.
Fleets are at the mercy of a single vendor for a single point of failure. Many vendors have a reputation for glacial technical support. If one system goes down, others can stay running. Vendors are more likely to be responsive, as they are working in a more competitive market and using agile coding methodologies.

Drivers are happier, more productive

When the workflow app is a first-class citizen in every cab, each respective vendor can put their all into producing top-tier solutions. This means rapid innovation that reduces driver downtime, eliminates frustrating annoyances, and increases efficiency.

Traditional mobilecomm Modular workflow platforms
Sends all information to drivers in a fire-hose of text messages, so they have to scroll through multiple screens to find critical items and action steps. Uses appropriate interfaces for different functions: chats appear as chats, route info goes straight to navigation, workflow procedures are associated with loads and stops.
Requires extra apps for functionality that isn’t built into the system. Seamlessly integrates with other systems, so apps communicate with each other, while the driver uses one app that unifies them all.
Routes are usually delivered as text, or not at all. Drivers must purchase their own GPS units and/or apps, which seldom offer truck-safe routing. When the vendor does offer an app, it is provided at additional cost, with extra fees for modern features like turn-by-turn voice nav, and dynamic route updates in response to road conditions. Includes a custom trip planner that overlays prospective routes on maps, displays real-time traffic conditions, shows where HOS will expire along the driver’s route and where truck stops are located, and provides the driver with dynamic, turn-by-turn, truck-safe navigation.
Requires drivers to communicate via text message, even to advise dispatch of things like “I’ve arrived.” Allows drivers to tap a button when the next step in a workflow is completed, records multiple steps in a single event that updates the TMS in real-time.
Can take up to 15 minutes to deliver load information and updates to drivers.  Relays load information and updates in real time.
Offers no functionality for scanning documents. Drivers must use a third-party scanning app, or stand in line at a truck stop to use the Transflo kiosk. Sometimes they even snail mail documents, or physically drop them off at the office. Enables a driver to instantly scan and upload documents to the office on his phone. They are automatically tagged with a doc-type, and the BOL numbers are automatically populated, which minimizes back office admin (and human error), while allowing for downstream automation.
Seldom has support for critical safety checklists or training videos that drivers can access on the fly. Enables fleets to programmatically create to-do tasks based on critical events when they are registered by safety equipment or automated learning management systems, and even provide media libraries so drivers can get the information they need on the road in an emergency.
Comes bundled with an expensive hardware device that a driver must use in his truck, offering a clunky user experience that is well below modern consumer standards. Comes with a beautiful modern interface that runs on any consumer hardware device, so the driver can use it on his phone, and you can install it on a tablet of your choice in his cab.

Essentially, by removing the “comm” from the mobilecomm device, and turning it into a separate modular commodity, fleets can ensure their drivers get more done faster. With modular workflow solutions, drivers can execute and document their work more quickly, they find themselves making and receiving fewer phone calls, and they end up doing less data entry. That all equates to less stress and more time on the road. 

Fleets say they’ve been able to reduce driver turnover by more than 30%

Moreover, because the system works on any iOS or Android device, drivers can work on their smartphones when they can’t be in the cab. This lets them reclaim what was previously dead time, and enjoy far greater flexibility. Fleets credit this kind of freedom with vastly increased driver morale and job satisfaction, and some say it has reduced turnover by more than 30%.

You should be able to intermix whatever technologies you want, with little to no disruption—and without having to change every other component along with it. That would be considered a no-brainer in the IT departments of most other industries. Yet trucking has been very slowly catching up. 

When fleets can choose and combine best-in-class components, they can build solutions that fit their own businesses, and not rely on a “one size fits all” approach.

What’s the catch?

There really isn’t one, aside from the psychological hurdle of changing from the accepted, “standard” way of doing things. But with many fleets now successfully using a modular approach—and getting far better results than their competitors who are still relying on the “received wisdom” of last century—fear of the unknown is no longer a reason to hold back. The tech is proven.

The answer for all but the most determined hold-outs is a no-brainer.

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