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July 28, 2014 2:14 AM, EDT

PeopleNet to Offer Cloud Gateway to Meet Fleets’ Data Needs Faster

Neil Abt/Transport Topics
By Neil Abt, Editorial Director

This story appears in the July 28 print edition of Transport Topics.

MINNETONKA, Minn. — PeopleNet Communications Corp. said it will soon offer a cloud-based communications gateway to provide more information to more devices at a faster pace than ever before.

President Brian McLaughlin said many fleets desire a more thorough analysis of data, as well as faster distribution through the supply chain. Additionally, a greater need for a “hybrid” communications approach is developing, as “smart phones and tablets become a mainstay in trucking,” McLaughlin said.

PeopleNet provided Transport Topics a preview of its latest communications system, which uses the LTE wireless network, during a tour of its headquarters here.July 16.

Executives said they will demonstrate the product next month and outline other new offerings, including Android-supported apps, at its user conference Aug. 18-20 in Hollywood, Florida.

While PeopleNet will continue to run its existing communications devices over 3G networks, “it is extremely important to us and customers that we speed up the process,” said Rick Ochsendorf, senior vice president of operations and product management. He said pricing between the systems will “be very similar.”

Besides increasing the velocity of data delivery, new systems are required because “the traditional way of storing data is insufficient,” said Mark Botticelli, chief technology officer.

PeopleNet executives called the system more than “just a computer” because other devices can subscribe or link into the system to receive specific information. For example, a driver at a truck stop can be automatically alerted on his or her phone when a message is sent to the in-cab communications devices.

Tapping into the cloud and wireless networks plays a role in driver retention, as many carriers move to a model of “corporate-owned, personally enabled” devices, executives said, noting that drivers can use company-owned smart phones and tablets for Skype, Netflix and other entertainment apps when off-duty. For PeopleNet, this new “gateway” comes on the heels of its 20th anniversary.

PeopleNet was founded by Ron Konezny. Trimble Navigation purchased PeopleNet in 2011, and Konezny is now Trimble’s vice president of transportation and logistics, focusing on expansion in North American and many global markets.

“Twenty years is a point of reflection for us,” McLaughlin said. “We now are looking at ‘how do we grow for another 20 years?’ ”

A significant piece of that plan, McLaughlin indicated, was positioning PeopleNet not just as a telematics or electronic-logging provider — as it has been categorized in the past — but rather as a “broader, more complete enterprise solutions provider.”

Greater integration with sister companies TMW Systems and ALK Technologies is part of the plan, too, McLaughlin said, as is working with firms such as McLeod Software.

Ochsendorf, who has been with PeopleNet more than a decade and was among the company’s first customers earlier in his trucking career, steered the conversation back to making better use of “the tremendous amount of data available.”

He said the new gateway will provide more functionality and “value to that data.” The improved ability of vehicle-to-vehicle communications will lead to further advancements throughout 2015, executives said.

McLaughlin noted the entire technology market is benefiting from federal regulations, with some studies suggesting telematics could penetrate as much as 40% of the trucking industry in the coming years, about double where it stands today.

“CSA has helped drive demand. The ELD discussion is also driving demand,” he said.

Despite some fleets inquiring about “simple, stand-alone” e-logging devices to meet the pending federal mandate, PeopleNet will focus more on larger fleets seeking “enterprise solutions,” McLaughlin said.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is reviewing public comments on the proposal.

“ELDs are just one of about 25 things we can offer,” citing remote diagnostics assistance, cargo monitoring and driver-fatigue and lane-departure monitoring systems, McLaughlin said.

As the emphasis on data increases, PeopleNet is boosting the profile of its Vusion analytics group. Based within PeopleNet’s headquarters, Vusion President Thomas Fansler and sales and marketing manager Carl Robinson shared some of the methods used to provide fleets with what they believe is a more accurate financial picture.

Rather than just compiling miles per gallon by truck or drivers, Vusion incorporates variables such as load size and road conditions. This can lead to better vehicle or personnel decisions, and alert fleets to potential mechanical problems more quickly if mpg figures suddenly change, Fansler said.

Similar methods are being utilized to ensure hours-of-service compliance, he said. Fleets can set their own parameters for minimal times doing a pre- or post-trip inspection or fueling stop as a way to crack down on any on-duty cheating.