THE CONSUMERIZATION OF THE TRUCK

Cory D.Staheli, CIO, Trans-System
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Cory D.Staheli, CIO, Trans-System

I remember getting my first smartphone, a Palm Treo. It didn’t take long to realize how life altering it was. No more walking into the office in the morning with a pile of problems sitting in my inbox. Now I could check those e-mails and be ahead of the challenges, and I could do it from anywhere whenever I wanted. Then came the games. But that’s a whole other story.

All of us can recall similar experiences, where having information at our fingertips on our terms has altered our lives. Mostly for the good. The phenomenon we refer to as the consumerization of IT disrupted our work/life balance, how we manage IT systems, how we feel about instant notifications, the user experience with software, and how fast we expect change in technology.

The fast and rapid tsunami of the consumerization of IT hit us in the corporate offices, but that wave never seemed to make it to our trucks. But the tide is about to change. The proliferation of consumer devices is coming to the truck and companies that are able to catch the wave early will be the big winners.

Why is consumerization coming to the truck? Because the same factors that disrupted the old model of corporate IT, are still in place for carriers that deploy mobile communications (Mobilecom) for their drivers. There are 3 reasons consumerization of the truck is imminent.

First, historically Mobilecom technology advanced in decades instead of yearly. Trucks today are still being outfitted with closed systems that are purpose built by and for the vendor. Integration with other vendors is scarce. I’ve had 8 different generations of smartphones since 2002, out of the hundreds to choose from. Each one came with better, faster processors and hundreds of new apps. Phones come out so furiously that after a year, a phone seems old and ready for replacement. In that same time period, Mobilecom vendors making closed devices delivered 1 or 2 generations, depending on the vendor.

Think back in the history of computing, and you’ll be hard pressed to name a single closed system that remained viable when competing with an open system. I can’t. The technologies that win the battle for dollars have been ones that foster easier ways to exchange data and simplify integration with other systems. Most Mobilecom technology still sits within closed systems. That will give way to more open platforms. The driving force is getting younger, and this generation has a much different demand for technology refreshes. They’ve grown up with a two year refresh cycle, and come to expect annual game changing improvements. We need to attract new drivers to the profession, and to do so requires the delivery of technology in much faster cycles.

Second, the time to market for new ideas is far too slow with current Mobilecom technology. On my smartphone, I have hundreds of apps that I’ve downloaded. And I’ve been able to choose from tens of thousands. If I need something, there is an app for that. Since 2002, the Mobilecom providers developed only a handful of applications. It takes years to develop new applications, and the backlog on their roadmaps is large.

"When Mobilecom providers move to consumer grade devices that become the display, it becomes a powerful catalyst"

I’ve participated in many discussions and advisory board meetings with the major Mobilecom providers. Some of them have hundreds of requests from their customer base for new ideas. Many of them are good ideas that could bring value to their products. But limited development resources, means most good ideas get sacrificed. A move to open systems will free up their development staff from ancillary work, and let them focus on their core product. Their applications will become richer and deeper and they will increase their speed to market.

Because open systems allow others to play nicely in the same space, vendors won’t be paralyzed by the need to be everything to everyone. Allowing other app developers to build apps and sell them on the open market may cause them to adapt their revenue streams, but doing so will be the only way they can survive. Today there are apps for truck specific maps and directions, proper placarding of freight, selecting truck stops along routes, scanning documents to e-mail, paying for scales, finding repair shops, and hundreds more. Open systems have already surpassed current Mobilecom solutions in the velocity and depth of offerings.

Third, the economics of building proprietary hardware isn’t sustainable. The price of a premier tablet is almost a quarter of the cost of a current Mobilecom device. Because the big manufacturers produce in such large numbers, the proprietary devices will never be able to be produced at the same price/performance point.

When Mobilecom providers move to consumer grade devices that become the display, it becomes a powerful catalyst. Vendors will develop a black box that does the GPS, ECM data collection, and provides a cellular data planto be shared with other vendor’s in cab technologies. Then the display becomes less critical. A smartphone or tablet becomes the display that connects wirelessly to the black box. If the display is broken or lost, the black box continues to collect and transmit critical data. Some think they need to harden the display or tether it to the truck. I think giving a driver a smartphone or tablet and tell them it’s theirs if they stay for year is a great recruiting tool, which will minimize abuse and loss. The replacement cost still puts the economics way ahead of where they are today.

This separation frees the driver to communicate away from the cab. It can be used for signature capture, documenting repairs, and cargo claims. Perhaps even get their dispatches while watching their kids soccer games. Most of all, it will let drivers communicate and work on their terms. Much like smartphones do for us.

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