January 7, 2008 4:20 PM, EST

Year In Review: IT Firms Court Smaller Fleets, Continue Consolidation

By Dan Leone, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the Jan. 7 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

Information technology vendors took aim at smaller fleets in 2007, offering software and tracking options that don’t require carriers to invest in full onboard computer systems.

Software company TMW Systems in March unveiled a new software offering known as OnRoute, which allows dispatch operations between carrier offices and drivers to be handled via cell phone.

Also in March, wireless provider Qualcomm partnered with Sprint Nextel to offer truckers access to transportation software via cell phones equipped with global positioning technology.

McLeod Software, Birmingham, Ala., in October introduced its mPhone application, which allows drivers to use a mobile version of the company’s fleet management software on their cell phones.

Manufacturers said that cell phone-based systems are more limited in scope than traditional onboard computers — they cannot provide data about engine performance, for example — but that they offer carriers that could not otherwise afford tracking or fleet management software the opportunity to sample the technology before making a large investment in more expensive IT systems.

In addition to creating viable IT systems for smaller-scale trucking operations, software providers in 2007 continued the trend of making their applications available on multiple onboard computing platforms.

Software companies said that providing ubiquitous compatibility with hardware would ease difficulties that sometimes arise following mergers and acquisitions, when two carriers with different IT systems need to consolidate their operations.

IT firms also pushed out updates for systems and applications designed to help carriers organize their drivers’ logbooks electronically, but an official with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said in August that no final rule regarding electronic onboard recorders was imminent.

Meanwhile, consolidation among companies offering transportation-based IT systems continued this year.

In June, TMW Systems acquired TMT Software, a Durham, N.C., company provider of fleet management applications. In September, TMW bought Integrated Decision Support Corp., a Richardson, Texas, firm that focuses on “decision support” technology such as route optimization and fuel management systems.

TMW said both acquisitions will help the company “expand its reach” in the trucking software industry.

Also in 2007, Finnish mobile phone manufacturer Nokia bought Navteq, a provider of digital maps used in in-cab navigation systems for truckers.

In addition, large firms continued shopping for smaller companies that manufacture wireless data collection systems.

Honeywell International, Morristown, N.J., has offered $390 million to purchase Hand Held Products, a Skaneateles Falls, N.Y., firm that manufactures bar-code scanners, image collection devices and handheld computers — technology frequently used by less-than-truckload and parcel carriers.

Transportation firms and other groups continued with programs designed to test the viability of radio frequency identification tags, but the technology has not yet come into widespread use.

In one such program, Schneider Logistics, the logistics arm of truckload carrier Schneider National, is using RFID tags to track freight transported between Asia and North America.

In response to the rising importance of IT systems to motor carriers of all sizes, American Trucking Associations revived its Information Technology and Logistics Council, which held its inaugural meeting during ATA’s Management Conference & Exhibition in October.