Long-haul truckers and others involved in the transport industry have for a while packed GPS navigation systems, text-messaging cell phones and wireless terminals right along with the requisite coffee thermos and jumpstarting energy drink.
These high-tech tools have proven effective in finding the shortest route and avoiding a traffic jam or two. However, they fall short when it comes to navigating the maze of regulatory red tape and restrictions that exist as truckers wend their way across U.S. roadways and routinely hop from state-to-state.
Regulatory challenges have also increased as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) moves in the name of national security to keep better track of the transportation industry and the cargo that crosses state borders. As a result, truckers have to juggle a range of applications and data flows to maintain an accurate picture of current activities and generate detailed reports that are used to meet state and federal compliance regulations.
"Businesses want to aggregate a number of applications and allow that workflow on a mobile device," says Doug Marinaro, VP of marketing and business development at Gearworks, a company that specializes in mobile resource management (MRM) solutions and location-based applications for mobile workers. Such solutions "allow these companies to write applications that take advantage of multiple applications and back-office connections that can be used to create contextual pictures."
As Marinaro sees it, a single well-constructed contextual picture and the detailed reports generated from it ease the burden of regulatory requirements that swirl in the wake of a trans-state trip.
Skyrocketing concerns for safety and security are fueling demand for vehicle telematics in North America, says market researcher Frost & Sullivan, noting that revenues will rise from $1.48 billion in 2007 to $6.47 billion in 2013.
Adding to the market combustion are the myriad non-governmental rules and regulations that are common to different businesses and play a significant role in how government regulatory data is formatted and packaged. Rules established by the various transportation and labor unions, for example, have a direct impact on regulatory issues and differ dramatically from state to state.
On Track with MRM
MRM tools and applications that go well beyond Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking to keep pace with regulatory requirements are fast becoming indispensable as these transportation demands increase across the country.
These tools are typically closely integrated with Internet services and over-the-air (OTA) applications to provide enhanced dispatch capabilities, real-time employee and asset tracking, extensive reporting features, and other fleet management and transaction processing tools that help reduce operating costs, improve customer relationships and streamline the entire supply chain.
MRM applications are closely synchronized with server-based applications and client-resident software to deliver highly targeted information that can be packaged for a variety of internal and external uses.
The total market revenues for these MRM applications and services is expected to grow from a little more than $723 million in 2005 to more than $1.4 billion by 2010, according to Frost & Sullivan. Supporting this growth is an ever-expanding body of mobile users, estimated to be more than 70 million today, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, of which roughly 2.5 million are users of MRM tools and applications, notes Frost & Sullivan.
The transportation industry is obviously one of the most prolific users of MRM tools and compliance applications. Business and consumer spending on transportation accounted for nearly 10% of U.S. gross domestic product in 2006, or about $1.3 trillion, according to a 2008 study commissioned by the Americans for Transportation Mobility Coalition and conducted by Cambridge Systematics and Boston Logistics Group, Inc. This included shuttling people and goods via trucks, railroads, public transportation, aviation, and ships and barges.
The demand for freight transportation is expected to nearly double by 2035. This will be driven by a continued shift toward on-demand supply chains and technologies such as RFID tagging, which will impact how consumers select and purchase products.
Some of the more common applications include: Tracking, control and monitoring; mapping and navigation; time shift recording and reporting; and work order capture. However, more and more emphasis is being placed on location, route accounting, and scheduling and event confirmation as these relate to the regulatory and security issues of each state.
From an operational perspective, "it's all about extending the enterprise and scaling more efficiently to capture data about customers and improve key performance indicators," explains Gearworks' Marinaro. But, the trend is to squeeze out more information about location and when a mobile worker enters and leaves that location across multiple time zones and state borders.
Slicing and Dicing Data
The push for more granularity has created an opportunity for third-party service suppliers like ADP, which uses MRM tools to collect raw data from truckers and others in the field and then crunch and massage that data into compliance reports, says Ananth Rani, SVP of products at Xora, Inc.
The company's GPS TimeTrack for Vehicles can not only be used to pinpoint a truck's current location and issue speeding or stop time alerts, but can also generate a location history and indicate when a truck has entered or exited a specific area.
Since these reports can be quite detailed, Xora works with partners such as ADP and the cellular carriers to slice and dice the raw data and build reports that can be used for regulatory compliance and other requirements. Most users of the company's tools are small businesses, which prefer to buy services a la carte rather than take an enterprise approach and invest in enterprise resource management or customer relationship management extensions, says Rani.
One of the more popular Xora applications, for example, is XRoutes, that can be used to map to the fastest and most energy-efficient route, and allow dispatchers to continuously keep an eye on route compliance throughout the day.
Small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) may be positioned to benefit most from automated MRM and compliance reporting tools as government regulations and compliance issues increase over time. Nearly 90% of the small business owners and managers in the U.S. are finding it more difficult and time-consuming to keep up with government regulations and reporting than it was two years ago, according to a survey conducted last year by the Small Business Research Board (SBRB) and International Profit Associates (IPA).
The study was released last August to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the signing of the Small Business Paperwork Relief Act of 2002 (SBPRA), which aims to ease the burden of Federal paperwork on small businesses.
Years of Tears
Despite rising regulatory red tape and reporting requirements, it is often difficult to convince companies that MRM applications and the information they provide are a viable solution. For many, mobile solutions begin and end at tracking and forms input, and fall short when it comes to reporting and compliance information.
"We still see people who are extremely distrustful and frightened by the long trail of tears that is mobility," says Mike Loos, CTO and co-founder of @hand Corp., a maker of field mobility solutions. Many companies rushed to adopt early mobile solutions that offered little functionality and were pretty much designed to shuttle chunks of information from one place to another, without any business or operational context. "Data is just a means to an end," he adds, pointing out that 80% of the work in developing useful applications is spent on defining and understanding each customer's process and what needs to be accomplished with the data.
One of the best ways to define an operational process and consequently improve the effectiveness of final reports is to work backwards. Start by creating the necessary input forms that can be used to collect the information necessary for generating complete compliance reports.
Not surprisingly, many solution developers skimp on the forms creation side since it may demand more customization and customer handholding. In this case, forms contain fields that are associated with specific jobs rather than functions that are a part of that job.
One of the big trends this year in forms creation is to take a more vertical approach, not only targeting different industries and usage within those industries but to support U.S. Department of Transportation logging requirements, notes Sal Dhanani, co-founder and director of marketing at TeleNav, Inc.
The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company was reportedly the first to launch a GPS application on a mobile phone in North America, and has since evolved into a leading provider of location-based MRM solutions.
TeleNav provides a "wireless forms" capability that offers 200 or more field alternatives, which can be matched to job, function, worker responsibility and regulatory compliance issues.
"We work with customers to design customized forms, but we're finding with this capability that more and more people are choosing to do it themselves," Dhanani says.