Topics from the 2016 Client Summit

Greenville Skyline

The 2016 Eleos Technologies Client Summit was recently held in Greenville, SC. We have fantastic clients, and the time together was both fun and productive. Because our mobile platform is so flexible, our clients can devise creative solutions and deploy them in their drivers’ app without even telling us. So it was great to hear some of the things they’ve been doing to increase driver happiness and improve efficiency. Here are some of the key topics we covered at the summit:

  1. Using the app during the recruiting process to decrease time and effort of onboarding new drivers.
  2. Using video to deliver more personable messages to drivers instead of mobilecomm text messages.
  3. Provide safety training directly in the app for drivers instead of routing them into a terminal.
  4. Achieving a zero defect rate for scanned documents.
  5. Using the app to help driver find assigned trailers and/or available empty trailers.
  6. Using the app to dramatically reducing the cost of HR compliance – updated CDLs, physicals, etc.
  7. Using the app as a better alternative to driver guidebooks (fuel book, CAT scales, company terminal locations, etc.)
  8. Using the app to reduce future mobilecomm/telematics cost.
  9. Using the app to increase utilization rates.
  10. Using the app for more efficient DVIR reporting.
  11. Using the app to help drivers plan trips.
  12. Using the app to for truck maintenance-related communication.
  13. How the app is eliminating the need for a web-based driver portal.

Quick Start Integration Package

Eleos now provides a Quick Start Integration Package that allows clients to leverage Eleos technical personnel to rapidly launch a driver-facing mobile app without impacting other important IT project timelines.

Clients who purchase the Quick Start Package will see the initial version of their Eleos-powered app launched in the app store with minimal involvement from in-house IT staff. The package includes setup of the dispatch/mobilecomm integration points necessary for the core functions of the client’s driver-facing mobile app.

While many clients may still prefer to handle their own integration using the superb Eleos Integration Toolkit, those with more limited IT resources can use the Quick Start Integration Package to quickly deploy a driver-facing app loaded with powerful features that fleet truck drivers love – dispatch information, mobilecomm-integrated messaging, news feed, video libraries, and much more.

After the new app is launched, our clients retain the source code for the integration modules and enjoy the full dynamic power of the Eleos Mobile Platform that gives fleets full control over their driver’s mobile experience without the need for Eleos participation.

For more information contact Eleos here.

Why I’m celebrating business freedoms on this Independence Day.

Tomorrow is Independence Day and I’m reflecting, with some amazement, on the freedoms we enjoy as we conduct business here in the USA:

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  • Freedom of travel and movement around our vast country.
  • Freedom to start a brand new business – anytime, anywhere in the country.
  • Freedom to operate within a legal system that (in principle anyway) provides a level playing field.
  • Freedom to own property.
  • Freedom to live in a democratic republic where every citizen – and business – can participate in electing (and un-electing) their leaders.

Our country is far from perfect, and it seems that many of these freedoms are being threatened. Yet, I still feel incredibly blessed to live in this great country and to do business with hard-working business leaders like you.

Happy Independence Day! Here’s wishing you all the best as you work to grow your business.

Are hybrid mobile apps the best choice for trucking companies?

Fourth in a series, this article offers a perspective on hybrid mobile apps for trucking companies. Previously, I provided an overview of mobile development options and a closer look at mobile web apps and native apps.

Frogerine

For some trucking company IT leaders, hybrid mobile apps seem to be an attractive option. Understanding the benefits and drawbacks of hybrids is important when considering either in-house mobile development or hiring a 3rd party to develop your apps.

What is a hybrid mobile app?

There are currently two primary types of hybrid apps:

  1. Web views in a native wrapper: Web pages deployed in a native wrapper with a “bridge” that allows native calls from JavaScript on the web page. This is the model used by PhoneGap/Cordova.

  2. JavaScript → Native: Apps written entirely in JavaScript which are interpreted at runtime and make native calls through a JavaScript=>native API. Titanium utilizes this approach.

On a side note, cross-platform frameworks are an interesting alternative even though they aren’t hybrid at all. For example, Xamarin apps are written in C#, then compiled to native code for Android, iOS, and Windows Phone (as well as OS X and Windows).

Advantages of hybrid mobile apps

  1. Web developers are easier to find than native mobile developers. Mobile development is both complex and relatively new. This means the pool of available mobile developers is smaller than the pool of web developers. Furthermore, some larger trucking companies already have in-house web developers who are eager to get involved in development mobile apps.

  2. iOS developers don’t want to write Java for Android and vice versa Writing apps in Objective-C for iOS is quite different than writing them in Java for Android. Even a master multi-language developer will be much more efficient (and happier) if allowed to stay “in the zone” working on a single mobile platform with a carefully chosen set of development tools.

  3. Code reuse across multiple platforms Clearly, there’s a benefit when a single body of code can be deployed across multiple platforms. Evidence of this benefit is seen in the long history of cross-platform development tools that have attracted billions in investment. Unfortunately, none of these tools have proven to offer enduring value. Will the current generation of cross-platform development frameworks break this trend? I sincerely doubt it, but perhaps it’s too early to tell.

  4. Lower cost With web developers more readily available and the promise of code reuse, it seems to follow that a hybrid approach to mobile development would be the cheapest possible option for trucking companies or the software vendors who serve them. More on this later.

  5. Content management Because they tend to be web apps at their core, content displayed in hybrid mobile apps can be readily changed. This can shorten development cycles and reduce overall cost.

Disadvantages of hybrid mobile apps

  1. Ease of Use Ease of use is imperative when developing apps — especially when your target users are truck drivers with an average age in the low 50s. The easiest to use apps are those that provide an experience that is consistent with the operating system itself and look and feel like the majority of apps available on the target platform. Hybrids can provide a decent experience, but cannot match native apps for ease of use – a critical factor for trucking companies.

  2. Performance Without question, any of the web/native hybrids noted above are going to suffer performance degradation when compared to native apps. In 2012 Mark Zuckerberg famously said that Facebook’s biggest business mistake was betting on hybrid rather than native mobile apps.

  3. Access to device features Hybrids are certainly much better than web apps when it comes to accessing features like the GPS, accelerometer, camera and advanced gestures. The primary concerns here are that the hybrid frameworks won’t provide the low-level device control needed and that the framework vendors won’t move fast enough when adapting to device changes.

In the next article we’ll wrap up this series with some reflections, conclusions and opinionated recommendations for trucking companies.


Photo Credit: “Orange Peel Frog” by TimTheFastHouse

Are native mobile apps best for your trucking company?

This article looks at the benefits and drawbacks of developing native mobile apps for your trucking company. In previous articles I provided an overview of mobile development options and a closer look at mobile web apps.

Wildflowers in Ice Lakes Basin

If you’re a CIO in a trucking company, you may quake at the thought of developing native mobile apps. “After all,” you say, “how can I make significant investments in custom software that requires skills that are utterly absent in my team of application and web developers?”

Let’s take a look at some reasons why you might actually consider the native option.

Reasons to consider developing native apps

  1. Android and iOS are stable development targets. Android and iOS are going to be the dominant mobile platforms for a while. With RIM/Blackberry dead and Microsoft struggling to get anyone’s attention in mobile, you’re making a safe bet if you decide to go with the current big players. It’s true that hybrid mobile frameworks will also let you compile apps for those fringe platforms, but 3rd-party plugins will be less plentiful and your developers will spend (much) more time than you think trying to get your app really humming on those platforms. I simply don’t think it makes sense to invest in anything but Android and iOS at this point.

  2. Going native ensures that you’ll be a leader rather than a laggard. As drivers become more comfortable with their smartphones, they’ll become more demanding and expect your app to take advantage of emerging capabilities that may not yet be available in the hybrid frameworks. Going native will ensure that you’re never stuck waiting for your hybrid framework to support the features you really need or left high and dry when the vendor abandons support for the framework.

  3. Cross-platform solutions are risky. Yes, you heard me right. Take a moment to reflect on the history of cross-platform solutions. Can you name a single cross-platform solution that has actually delivered high-quality apps that were great? Apps that were embraced and loved by users? (Think Swing and Mono.) Choosing web or hybrid mobile apps carries the risk that you’ll box your drivers into a blah, uninspiring experience while your competitors move faster with native apps that aren’t constrained by the assumptions of your hybrid framework.

The most common reasons for NOT developing native mobile apps

I find that the most common reasons trucking IT leaders don’t go the native route is that they don’t have the resources to support dedicated Java/Android and Objective-C developers and they don’t have a trusted outsource partner to help them ramp up their mobile platform. For these CIOs, web or hybrid mobile apps feel safer, and their decision to avoid native is quite understandable.

In the next post we’ll examine the benefits and drawbacks of hybrid mobile development frameworks.


Photo Credit: Wild Flowers in Ice Lake Basin by Rian Houston

Are web apps the best mobile development option for trucking companies?

This is the second in a series of articles on mobile app development options for trucking companies. Previously, I provided an overview of paths that trucking companies might take in developing mobile apps. In this article we’ll consider the benefits and drawbacks of mobile web apps.

Lake Isabelle

For clarity, note that mobile web apps aren’t really mobile apps at
all, but simply web sites that are optimized for mobile browsers. For
certain applications, they may be a good fit for trucking companies.

Benefits

There are several alluring benefits of writing web apps rather than
native or hybrid apps.

  1. Write-once, run-anywhere – Web apps run in any web browser on
    Android, iOS, and yes, even the desperate-looking Windows Phone and
    Blackberry (RIP).
  2. Leverage existing skills – Development of web apps requires
    skill in “browser languages”: HTML, JavaScript, and CSS. Most
    trucking companies already have these skills in-house.
  3. Fast deployment cycle – No need to wait on Apple to approve app
    updates. Minor changes can be coded, tested, and deployed in
    minutes.
  4. Leverage driver/customer portal platforms and content – In some
    cases a decent mobile experience can be created by applying responsive
    styling to the existing driver or customer portals.

Drawbacks

Mobile web apps have some obvious limitations, and there are some
pitfalls that may not be immediately obvious.

  1. Cross-browser issues remain – Although the trend toward consistent compliance with web standards like HMTL5 is a positive one, mobile web developers must still deal with exceptions and idiosyncrasies of different browsers on different platforms.
  2. Limited access to device resources and features – Web apps aren’t an option if you need access to the camera, accelerometer, push notifications, etc.
  3. Suboptimal user experience – Web apps still fall short of the smooth, elegant experience provided by native apps.
  4. Not optimal for frequent use – If they are accessed frequently, web apps are less convenient than native apps that are installed on the phone. Yes, I know users can create shortcuts to any web site, but it’s easier to install an app that keeps users logged in and offers one-tap access to its functionality.

Additional Considerations

No free lunch. Web apps are attractive to IT groups in trucking
because they are comfortable for web developers. But “comfortable”
doesn’t equal “free”. Launching mobile apps for your drivers and
customers means you’re adding a new software platform that, like any
business software, will require enhancement and maintenance over time.
This will require effort and money – even if you choose to deploy
only web apps.

Developing a web app might be the best choice if any of the following
are true about your application:

  1. Used infrequently by most users.
  2. Accessed primarily through links from search engines, emails, and
    other websites.
  3. No need to access device hardware such as the accelerometer, camera, or use advanced features like push notifications.

In the next article we’ll consider the benefits and drawbacks of
native mobile apps for trucking companies.

Photo Credit: Lake Isabelle by Rian Houston

Should trucking companies build web, native, or hybrid mobile apps?

Transportation companies are beginning to make significant investments in mobile apps for both drivers and customers. CIOs in these companies are now tasked with choosing whether to deploy web, native, or hybrid mobile apps.  This is the first in a series of posts explaining each app type and exploring the benefits and drawbacks for developing mobile apps for truck drivers and customers.

Dune Patterns

There are three (OK, maybe four) types of mobile apps:

  1. Web Apps run in the browser and are often nothing more than a mobile-friendly version of the company web portal.
  2. Native Apps are written in the native language for the target platform – Java for Android and Objective-C for iOS.
  3. Hybrid Apps combine web views with native code and allow much of the coding to be done in HTML/CSS/JavaScript with access to native code when needed.
  4. Native Cross-platform Apps Creating its own category, Microsoft’s Xamarin framework allows for cross-platform development of native apps written in C#.

In the next few posts, I’ll address each of these options and explain the benefits and drawbacks of each for the development of mobile apps for drivers and customers.

Photo Credit: Dune Patterns by Rian Houston

Should you lock your driver’s mobile app while the truck is in motion?

Here at Eleos, when we launch a new mobile app for a trucking fleet, one of the first questions we must address is whether to lock the app while the truck is in motion. The answer to this question is not always immediately obvious and involves balancing the risk of driver distraction with efficiency, privacy concerns, and ease of use. There is no single correct answer to the question, so you won’t find that answer in this article. Instead, I’ll try to lay out some principles that will help you determine the best approach for your fleet.

The Problem: Latency in Communication

Traditional, hard-mounted EOBR units have a locking feature that fully or partially locks the unit interface while the truck is moving. This works well because the status of the truck is constantly monitored in real time by the EOBR unit. Unfortunately, it’s usually not practical to maintain a similar real time connection between the driver’s smartphone and the truck. Instead, most fleets choose to have their app retrieve the truck status from the fleet management servers in the home office.

It’s tempting to use the GPS on the smartphone to determine whether the driver is in motion. While this approach would certainly satisfy the need to retrieve the movement status of the driver in real time, drivers tend to resist using apps that track their movements – especially when the app is running on their personal smart phone. Retrieving status information from the fleet management system allows you to obtain the driver’s movement status without making your app too intrusive.

Most fleet management systems receive status information from their trucks in 5-15 minute intervals, which brings us to the heart of the problem. Having up to 15 minutes of communication latency between each status update means that we run the risk of locking the app for 15 minutes after the truck is actually parked. This can be extremely frustrating for the driver, who may have parked his rig for the express purpose of unlocking and using the fleet mobile app.

The Goal: Immediate Accessibility with No Distraction

While all fleet executives agree that safety is the top priority, it’s also clear that in order to be useful the fleet’s mobile app must be immediately accessible when the drivers need it. There’s no question that drivers will embrace a fleet mobile app as long as they find it convenient – but make it cumbersome, and drivers will avoid the app and fall back to costly phone calls and faxes.

The Key to a Balanced Approach

The key to striking a balance is to consider the features that will be offered in the app and their relative likelihood to cause distraction. Mobile document scanning and freight damage reporting (with photos and scanned labels) are activities that are less likely to be attempted while driving. For these features, it may make sense to apply no locking scheme at all. On the other hand, sending and receiving Qualcomm/Omnitracs messages on the smartphone may have more distraction potential and merit the investment in locking.

Multiple Locking Schemes

We’ve implemented several locking schemes for our clients, the most advanced being socket-based realtime locking. Other options include polling, per-feature, and global locking. In other cases, we’ve chosen not to lock the app at all, but to limit the use of push notifications when the truck is moving. In every case, the locking scheme was chosen after careful consideration of the fleet’s existing systems, desired app features, and risk tolerance.

Summary

Identifying the correct locking scheme for your fleet’s mobile app is a process that must take into consideration communication latency, system capabilities, privacy concerns, features being deployed, and your tolerance for risk. My grandmother used to say, “There are many ways to skin a cat,” and if you have the right people on your team you’ll find the scheme that makes sense for your fleet. Hopefully, this article will help you know what questions to ask and how to approach the problem.

Top 3 reasons trucking fleets are deploying mobile apps for drivers

With 80% of truck drivers carrying smartphones, trucking fleets are moving rapidly to develop their own branded mobile apps for drivers. Here are the top three reasons for developing these apps.

1. Gain an edge in the driver recruiting war.

Drivers love the convenience of using their smartphones to submit trip documents, communicate with Dispatch, look up fuel stops, access payroll information, etc. Having your own branded app tells the driver community that you really care about making their lives more convenient.

2. Eliminate wasted HOS in truck stops.

Sure, it only takes an extra 10-15 minutes for your drivers to transmit documents at the truck stop fuel desk. But do the math:

10 minutes x 500 drivers x 10 loads/mo = 833 non-revenue hours/year.

Things get worse if your drivers are making special stops or driving out-of-route miles just to find a truck stop scanner. And that 10 minutes could be the difference that allows your driver to make the delivery commitment without violating HOS regs.

3. Speed billing and reduce back-office labor cost

Integrating a mobile app with your back office speeds and automates document image processing, freight damage reporting, accident reporting, and more. Billing and payroll staff can spend more time managing exceptions and less time doing menial, repetitive tasks.

Here at Eleos, we specialize in developing custom, branded mobile apps for trucking companies. With pre-built software components, powerful cloud-based services, and extensive experience building apps for drivers, we can help you launch your own branded mobile app with manageable cost and minimal development risk.

Contact us today to arrange a phone consultation.