The proliferation of smart phones has profoundly changed the way organizations work. People plan and live their lives according to them and expect their work environment to be equally accessible and efficient. The Frost & Sullivan report estimates by 2018 that there will be 6.2bn mobile users worldwide and 80 billion connected devices by 2020.
Mobile technology has affected fleet management systems significantly. The newest trend among mobile technology is to develop “total mobile solutions” that cover the entire logistics and supply chain operation. Utilizing mobile technology to its fullest, DriverTech is a leading supplier of mobile computer solutions to the commercial trucking industry. With a comprehensive fleet management system that includes an installed computer and software that supports a wide range of services and state-of-the-art applications for the transportation industry, DriverTech drives on-board intelligence and provides access to key information that improves driver’s quality of life and trucking efficiency metrics.
After stints as a product manager for companies like Norton Abrasives Corporation and Elkem Corp, Mark Haslam, President and CEO started DriverTech in 1993. Initially DriverTech was a provider of driver interface devices for OEMs and system integrators. “Our initial market was the mass transit market where city transit bus drivers needed easy-to-use terminals to communicate with sign systems, announcement systems and GPS positioning systems on board the buses,” according to Mr. Haslam. However, in 1997 the US Army partnered with DriverTech to create a device and software for 1) over the horizon communications, 2) power train diagnostics and 3) GPS land navigation. “Our TruckPC evolved from this partnership in 2000 and enabled DriverTech to install our first commercial project in support of the Salt Lake Winter Olympics. The FBI required in those early months after 9/11 that each food delivery truck taking product to Olympic venues had to be tracked and monitored,” Mark adds.
Championed New Ideas to the Market Only to Lead Later
Back in the early 2000s, the market was underserved by technology, and the satellite communication systems were very narrowly defined by text messaging systems that were neither programmable nor upgradable. Nonetheless the assignment came with the US Army which showed Mark that DriverTech could add workflow messaging, and could help the drivers navigate to their stops using land navigation like what DriverTech worked on for the Army. Realizing what the future would demand, DriverTech was able to see that diagnostics could be more than monitoring a few elements from the engine data bus—it could in fact eventually be interactive between the vehicle and the technician. In Mark’s word, they could not help themselves from championing these new ideas to this industry. Like they say, luck works for those people who work hard to live their dreams, DriverTech ran into some forward-looking fleet owners and executives, guys like Max Fuller of USXpress, Rick Roehl from Roehl Transport, Jeff England from Pride Transport and George Payne from Interstate Distributors. Their visions meshed together and DriverTech was off to the races.
Innovating and Staying Ahead of the Value/Innovation Curve
When DriverTech entered the market, they were met with a lot of interest from the large carriers, and nearly universal willingness to pilot their TruckPC and Fleetwatcher software. By the time 2008 came around, the company had won over several large fleets and had over 25 active pilots with large carriers in process. However, the Great Recession soon emerged and the truckload market shrunk by nearly 25% in freight. As the market slowly returned to its original health between 2008 and 2012, their key competitors had time to emulate their concept of a programmable computer in the cab of the truck. To be ahead of the competition, DriverTech has had to keep innovating and staying ahead of the Value/Innovation curve, which they have done in conjunction with a sales channel strategy that kept their technology flowing into fleets (over 500 fleets to date plus many owner operators).
Innovation as a Competitive Positioning Tool
DriverTech has always used innovation as a competitive positioning tool, and has put their efforts into features and capabilities that create opportunities for productivity enhancement. Sometimes this means focusing on the driver as in their turn-by-turn navigation product and their exceptional ELD software. Other times it means focusing on the truck to make sure the fleet operations and maintenance people are getting the right data to make operational corrections and schedule maintenance appointments. Amongst DriverTech’s two most recent additions; first is safety cameras that record video to include visual context for all the data the company records in a hard braking event, and second is its diagnostic partnerships with powertrain component makers, like Cummins, which help them diagnose truck problems and plan maintenance windows.
Continuing to Support and Upgrade While Moving Forward
The industry and its critical mechanical system providers are now in agreement that systems like DriverTech’s can be used to communicate powertrain faults and for corroborating data back to the component maker. The team has seen with some early adopters that the ROI on this capability is through the roof. DriverTech will continue to support and upgrade this capability and move to the next steps in this process. There are some amazing capabilities in the area of powertrains the Drivertech engineering team isdeveloping that will be released in the near future.
The Trailblazer who Lead from the Front
Mark learned from prior experience as a product manager for industrial products that it is incredibly important to listen to customers, especially those who are passionate about their industry. These are the people who help a product developer move to a deeper understanding of not only requirements and specifications, but of the human factors elements, and also the true cost of mistakes. This has served DriverTech and their devotion to reliability both in their on board systems, but also in their data management structure at their data centers where the fleets’ logistics data resides.