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April 20, 2018 2:00 PM, EDT

Information Age Arrives for Small Carriers

Uber Freight app Tech developers such as Uber Freight are leveraging drivers' mobile devices to make technology more available and more affordable for small carriers. (Uber Technologies Inc.)

The use of technology is no longer a novelty but a necessity in the trucking business — for carriers of all sizes. While the biggest fleets have been using onboard tracking systems and fleet-management software for decades, these types of tools are increasingly available and affordable for small and midsize carriers, who continue to haul the lion’s share of the nation’s freight in the highly fragmented trucking industry.

Transport Topics Seth Clevenger

 Clevenger

This expansion of technology geared toward smaller carriers has been enabled in large part by the smartphone revolution. Drivers are using their phones and tablets not only as their personal devices, but also to run a variety of applications to help them improve their businesses. These apps can help drivers check reviews of truck stops, locate available truck parking, automate driver logs, conduct vehicle inspection reports and book loads that match their requirements and preferences.

Much of this driver-oriented technology has been developed by an influx of new tech firms that have targeted trucking — especially small-business trucking — as an industry underserved by technology.

This was particularly apparent at last month’s Mid-America Trucking Show, where digital freight brokers such as Convoy, Transfix and Uber Freight demonstrated their apps and signed up new drivers and owner-operators to their freight platforms.

These recent entrants to the industry have set out to streamline the load-booking process and help small carriers find freight so they can reduce empty miles and improve profitability.

Meanwhile, the federal mandate of electronic logging devices also has drawn many new technology firms into the trucking industry.

Many of these new ELD providers are using drivers’ mobile devices as a core component of their products to make them less expensive and easier to install for small carriers.

The ELD mandate also means that the cab of nearly every longhaul truck will be equipped with an onboard technology platform.

This landmark regulation, which went into effect in December, only requires carriers to use ELDs to record drivers’ hours-of-service information, but these devices also are serving as a foundation for further technology use, and the data collected by ELDs can help support better business decisions.

Of course, this type of technology is nothing new to most large fleets, which generally have been using fleet tracking systems, mobile communications and back-office management software for many years and now are implementing onboard video and beginning to use predictive analytics to improve planning.

Another example of the expansion of technology for fleets of all sizes is the emergence of comprehensive freight visibility platforms from vendors such as FourKites, MacroPoint and 10-4 Systems, which help shippers and freight brokers track shipment locations regardless of what onboard tracking systems their various carriers are using.

These tracking capabilities are becoming essential as shippers continue to demand more and more information about the status of their freight.

And, with hours-of-service enforcement tightening under ELDs, it will be more important than ever for carriers to make the most of their limited driving time.

Fortunately, the technology tools needed to meet these demands are now available to the little guy as well as for the large fleets.

To survive and thrive in the modern trucking business, smaller carriers will need to take the advantage of these capabilities.