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Nearly 90% of professional drivers have their own smartphone or tablet. Does this make on-board computers redundant?

By: James Menzies (Truck News)
2013-09-01
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An interesting debate is percolating about the viability of driver-owned smartphones and tablets to serve as on-board computers, performing critical functions such as dispatch and the electronic logging of hours-of-service.

XRS Corp. has led the so-called Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement, with its platform approved for use across more than 50 mobile devices. Nearly 90% of professional drivers already have a personal mobile device, rendering traditional on-board computers redundant and unnecessary, according to Christian Schenk, senior vice-president, product strategy and market growth with XRS Corp.

“Just under 90% of truckers already have these devices,” he said of smartphones and tablets. “They use them every single day. Adding technology beside that device is nothing more than adding cost.”

A BYOD platform allows carriers to eliminate the hardware costs associated with conventional in-cab computers such as those provided by industry leaders Qualcomm and PeopleNet. And according to Schenk, drivers prefer using their own devices anyways, and in turn, treat them better than company-owned computers.

One of the most high profile converts to a BYOD platform is Tampa, Fla.-based Quality Distribution, which now uses personally-owned mobile devices for HoS and dispatch across its fleet of more than 3,000 vehicles.

Despite all the talk of BYOD in the trucking industry, Brian McLaughlin, president of PeopleNet, recently told Truck News there are many potential pitfalls to consider. PeopleNet released a white paper this summer that outlined the myriad risks involved, many of which revolve around security. Despite publication of the white paper, McLaughlin said there hasn’t been a noticeable, industry-wide shift towards BYOD, yet he felt compelled to get involved in the discussion.

“I think there has been a lot of hype around BYOD,” he told Truck News. “The practical implementation is much slower than the hype curve.”

So, why publish the white paper?

“Any time you get a hype curve, as an industry leader you want to make sure you get your point of view heard,” he explained. “We felt we’d been quiet on this topic for some time. The competition was pitching us into a position that was untrue and we felt we needed to present to our customers and to the marketplace, a more educated view that was less marketing and more of an educational view on the topic.”

McLaughlin said one myth is that going with a traditional on-board computing provider restricts functionality for drivers. He touts what’s being dubbed a Corporate Owned, Personally Enabled (COPE) model, in which the fleet installs the computer, yet enables personal e-mail, Web surfing or other functionality for drivers. This marks a shift away from the traditional Corporate Owned, Corporate Enabled (COCE) platform, which provided drivers with few, if any, personal options.

“The industry was 100% fleet-managed up until a couple years ago,” McLaughlin said. “At that time, fleets started to say ‘I want to give my drivers e-mail, I want to give my drivers Web access.’ Really, over the last couple years, we’ve started to see a lot of discussion around what model is proper. I think there is probably room for all three (COCE, COPE and BYOD). I don’t see fleet-managed going away any time in the near future. I think the larger fleets in particular that have fought for years to make sure they have high-reliability, timely data delivered to drivers aren’t going to be giving up that control anytime in the near future, but I do think they’ll demand more options for drivers and for their customers.”

McLaughlin admitted some small fleets may benefit from a BYOD platform, in which drivers - particularly owner/operators - show up for work with their own device.

“When you get into the larger fleets, we hear a lot of fear,” he added of BYOD. “We hear a lot of concern about BYOD, but they do want to offer more choices and that’s where COPE comes into play.”

 Is it secure?

One of the biggest concerns fleets have about a BYOD platform is data security, McLaughlin pointed out. After all, a driver can misplace a cell phone and potentially have the data fall into the wrong hands.

“You’ve got your company information and all of your customers on there,” he pointed out. He also added “Each of these phones has an off button. You can turn it off and drive three hours and then turn it back on. That can be tracked, but at the same time, is that tamper-proof? Will these devices meet the requirements set forth in the US by the FMCSA and eventually in Canada as well?”

The security argument rankles XRS Corp.’s Schenk.

“If you want to argue security, I’ll bet all day long that a smartphone built by Samsung running XRS on it is 100% more secure than any PeopleNet box that somebody in Minnetonka, Minn. built and personally deemed secure,” he said.

When choosing a device to use in a BYOD environment, Schenk said customers should look for the SAFE logo, which indicates Samsung for Enterprise, and assures the device has been designed with maximum security. Similarly, the other major device manufacturers have their own security systems in place. Schenk pointed out even the FBI and US Secret Service trust the security that’s been built into the latest mobile devices. (While XRS is approved on more than 50 devices, nearly all of them run one of three operating systems: Android, Apple and Blackberry).

“You may not even know you have it, but you have it,” he said of the latest security systems. “You could buy a really inexpensive device or a free device that may not have those features, but you have to remember, security is the responsibility of the app and not necessarily the device. If you look at XRS, our permissions don’t allow other apps to look at our data or to sniff our data. You can’t send it out - it’s completely encrypted. From a security perspective, I would go head to head against PeopleNet or Qualcomm all day long.”

And as for drivers turning off their phones and slipping below the radar for periods of time?

“We track everything, 100% of the time,” he said. “We have a small relay that sits in the dash and is attached to the ECM and it tracks all the movements, even when the device isn’t connected.”

He noted XRS’s call centre finds less than 1.5% of the calls it receives are related to device power.

Call IT

Another pitfall PeopleNet outlined in its white paper involved administration of a BYOD platform, which can be frustrating and onerous for IT departments.

“Basically, it’s bring your own device, support your own device,” McLaughlin said. “Just because an app can run (on a device), doesn’t mean they’re going to fully support it. You, as a fleet, have to support that. You, as an IT shop, have to work with the network provider and maybe the hardware provider and with the app provider, and now you have people pointing fingers at each other.”

McLaughlin said there were 26 new personal devices launched in the first quarter alone, and that smartphone models quickly become obsolete and no longer supported. The same challenge holds true for new models.

“Say a driver has a phone for two years and then it breaks, and they go out and buy another one and you haven’t certified that yet as an EOBR provider,” McLaughlin said. “What do you tell your driver? You can’t use that? You have to go back to paper logs? There are lots of issues to wrangle with and larger fleets have too many other systems issues. They like fleet-managed or COPE, where they can give some personal enablement but own (the device).”

This is not so, according to XRS Corp.’s Schenk, again noting the vast majority of devices incorporate one of three operating systems so being an expert on every device out there is not required.

“Regardless of the look and feel or the real estate of the device, whether it’s a tablet or smartphone, Samsung or HTC, the operating system is the same,” he stressed. “The menu structure is the same, the settings are the same, the policies are the same. It’s super easy for an IT manager to manage the device as long as they stick to what is really only the two devices in North America that remain marketable (Apple and Android). We never get pushback on that.”

And because drivers own their phone or tablet and use it for communication with family and for entertainment, they tend to take better care of the device, Schenk added.

“One customer who delivers beer swapped out rugged handsets and put in iPads,” he said. “The rationale was that drivers were going to take better care of it, and absolutely that is what they’ve seen.”

Managing turnover

The trucking industry, particularly in the US, has been notoriously bad at managing driver turnover. Does BYOD or COPE work better in a high turnover environment? Schenk said the XRS platform allows the fleet owner to instantly disable the system on a departed driver’s device, and what can be easier than that?

“The old way, with a single-purpose device, it takes two to three hours to put it into (an owner/operator’s) truck,” Schenk said. “In an owner/operator world, you’re going to take that device in and out of the truck two-and-a-half times a year, at a $200-$300 cost. You can pay for our entire subscription for a year (for that cost). If you have an owner/operator fleet with high turnover, do BYOD, because it’s simple, they’re going to take care of it and then when they quit - which is inevitable - all you have to do is disable their logins and the device rolls down the road and you don’t care.”

On the flip side, driver turnover brings with it an ever-increasing range of devices to support, McLaughlin countered.

“Each of those drivers has their own different technology,” he said. “Sometimes it’s a Blackberry, an iPhone, maybe an Android. Maybe it’s a five-year-old Motorola phone. The ability to support all those devices in a combined platform in mission critical applications like EOBRs is not practical. It scares the dickens out of the larger fleets.”

Driven to distraction?

Another argument against BYOD is that fleets shouldn’t be encouraging the broader use of personal devices inside the cab, when federal regulations prohibit the use of handheld cell phones while driving. In its white paper, PeopleNet pointed out that through the first four months of 2013, carriers and drivers have been fined more than $10 million for using a handheld mobile device while operating a commercial vehicle and/or allowing drivers to do so. Forty-three carriers were charged in the first four months of the year, and 3,662 driver violations were issued.

In 2012, nearly 7,000 driver violations were doled out for the entire year, putting 2013 on pace for a marked increase in violations.

McLaughlin doesn’t blame a BYOD environment for contributing to the increase in violations, but does say it could create compliance issues.

“The other big trend we’re seeing on distracted driving is, they’re starting to go after the fleets,” McLaughlin noted. “If you provision them with a smartphone that is now to be used as their EOBR, if the driver gets pulled over he can say ‘My fleet made me do it,’ and you are now guilty by association. You’re giving your drivers a loaded weapon from a distracted driving perspective and creating more of a safety issue.”

At the end of the day, there are compelling advantages to all three platforms that are currently available. COCE offers the ultimate in fleet control, BYOD can eliminate hardware costs, providing savings and maximum versatility for drivers and COPE offers a happy medium between the two extremes.

In Canada, BYOD is still more of a curiosity than a trend, and Schenk said this is because Canadian carriers fear they or their drivers will incur hefty roaming charges if they use mobile devices in the US.

“There’s a fear around roaming and the ability for drivers to get a large bill when running in the US,” Schenk admitted. “But our device consumes very little data, and we have partnerships with Rogers in Canada as well as three major carriers in the US that have roaming fees included in the package.”

The XRS platform typically chews up about 10 MB of data per month, Schenk said, but he added discounted data plans are available for customers. In some cases, the savings realized through the negotiated discounts can cover the XRS subscription cost, Schenk added.

PeopleNet’s McLaughlin acknowledged some small fleets could find a BYOD platform suits their needs, particularly for “non-mission critical functions.” However, he added for hours-of-service logging, dispatch and other “mission critical” functions, “I think you need a mission critical system that’s either fleet-managed or something the company provisions you with.”

Schenk, not surprisingly, disagrees. “Companies have bought corporate devices and drivers have said ‘I want to use my own device.’ The driver consolidates technology, too. They don’t have to carry two devices. If you think about how ridiculous it sounds that our competitors are producing features like sending personal e-mail when the driver is carrying around a smartphone that can do video calls with his kids, it doesn’t make any sense.”

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