By Stephen Bennett, Contributing Writer
A thief walks through a truck stop with a driver’s smart phone in hand when he crosses an invisible boundary. Suddenly the phone announces loudly and repeatedly, “This phone has been stolen!”
Or, more discreetly, the owner of the phone can activate it to take a picture of the unauthorized user or to activate ambient audio recording while the device is being used illicitly.
These security features and others available from companies that cater to consumers are becoming increasingly important to over-the-road truck drivers because of a trend that has been described as the “consumerization” of business technology or “BYOD” — tech-talk for “bring your own device.”
That trend includes trucking companies such as Boyd Bros. Transportation, in Clayton, Ala., and J.B. Hunt Transport Services, based in Lowell, Ark., which are allowing or encouraging drivers, as well as countless independent contractors, to use their personal mobile devices for work purposes. For those drivers, ensuring the physical security of their smart phones or tablets — and recovering them if they are lost or stolen — is critical, according to companies that offer mobile device management services or applications designed to find lost or stolen devices.
For example, Boyd Bros. is find¬ing that many of its drivers are turn¬ing in company-issued scanners used for proof-of-delivery and other documents, because they’re using their own smart phones to capture and transmit document images, said Elaine Maund, vice president of information systems.
Pat Wheeley, document processing manager for J.B. Hunt, also said the carrier is encouraging drivers to use their smart phones, noting “almost everyone” has one.
And many have lost them or they’ve been stolen, according to Avast Software, a company based in Prague, Czech Republic, with U.S. offices in Redwood City, Calif. Avast offers locating applications for 25 million Android devices as well as protection from malware, said Juraj Chrappa, a senior product manager. A survey of users of those devices, conducted by the company in June, indicated that 25%, or more than 6 million, had lost their devices or they’ve been stolen, Chrappa said. The average cost of a smart phone is $372, he added.
Chrappa said truck drivers are among those whose devices have been lost or stolen, but he said Avast did not have data on how many.
Some of the locating and theft-deterring features that Avast offers are included in free applications, available at the Google Play store, Chrappa said. For example, a user can lock the device and also locate it on a map. The former can be done by sending an SMS message from another phone, Chrappa said. To do that, the user must be able to get onto a personal computer and access the website myavast.com, log in and click on a “locate” function, Chrappa said. This method relies on the Global Positioning System chip in the smart phone. For certain recently added features, such as the picture-taking of an unauthorized user and the ambient audio-recording, there is a fee of $1.99 per month or $14.99 per year, Chrappa said. Although Avast is looking into the small busi¬ness market, it is a consumer-focused company, Chrappa said.
Among truck stop chains, Travel¬Centers of America, which is based in Westlake, Ohio, and also operates Petro Stopping Centers, is an official Verizon retailer operating cellphone stores at 37 of its facilities and offering a program called “ProtectCell,” Tom Liutkus, vice president of markeing and public relations, said in an e-mail.
“In essence, if the phone is lost, stolen or damaged, then we replace the phone within 24 hours — 48 hours in about 5% of the cases — and that [replacement] phone is sent to the TA/Petro location the driver anticipates being at within that timeframe,” Liutkus said. “This way, the driver isn’t inconvenienced by having to go to a shopping cen¬ter or strip mall for service.” He added that at “many of those areas, a driver can’t get a big rig onto the lot anyway.”
Purple Cow Trucking, which is issuing Android tablets to all of its drivers, includes protective cases because the tablets aren’t mounted in the truck. The drivers take them into the shippers’ and receivers’ premises, said Frank DeCicco, owner of Purple Cow, which is based in Margate, Fla.
If a tablet is damaged, stolen or lost, DeCicco said, then “the driver just bought himself a tablet.” But he noted that a warranty from Sprint covers the tablets “if, through wear and tear, they go down.”
DeCicco said he had bought two types of protective cases and was monitoring how they performed. One is a hard-shell case with a front that snaps into place; the other is a gel case. Although neither had been in use long enough for him to judge which performed better, DeCicco said the gel case, being pliable and “pretty thick,” seemed capable of absorbing “some of the shock of a drop.”
Don Payseur, chief executive officer of Progressive Transport, a truckload carrier with a fleet of 17 tractors and 36 dry van trailers based in Denver, N.C., said, “Most of our trucks have Lenovo 7-inch Android pads in them.” Payseur said he purchased the devices for $110 apiece.
To protect them, “We put them in hard-shell encasements for [$30 or $40]. The drivers seem to be taking very good care of them,” Payseur said, adding that was because the devices are important to the drivers’ ability to do their jobs.