Mobile IT boosts haulier's productivity

Mobile applications have helped Old Dominion Freight Line, a delivery service, deliver real-time services to customers while boosting driver productivity.

Mobility and the use of mobile IT applications is nothing new to Old Dominion Freight Line, a US-based freight hauler. The company has used mobile devices and mobile applications for years.

In the past, though, service was spotty. Devices would lose connectivity and drop off the network when in the field. Old Dominion was looking for a way to keep connectivity, boost productivity and ease device management.

Old Dominion, which provides freight delivery services in 44 states, recently updated its mobile IT applications to ensure network coverage throughout the entire area it covers. Old Dominion is classified as a "less than truckload" carrier, meaning it doesn't haul full truckloads but carries more than simple packages. The company rolled out a fleet of Symbol MC 9000s, which run Windows CE, and coupled that deployment with software from Odyssey Software Inc.

Barry Craver, Old Dominion's director of freight processing applications, said the company is using Odyssey Software's ViaXML2, NetManager and Athena to build, deploy and manage applications across the fleet of 3,500 drivers and devices. The deployment is designed to provide customers with real-time tracking and shipping information while also ensuring driver productivity. In turn, the deployment of mobility solutions is saving the company money.

"Delivering accurate data and routing information to our drivers in the field is imperative to our business," Craver said, adding that using Odyssey Software allows Old Dominion to "effectively build and deploy an application that meets all of our device data management needs, integrates seamlessly with the Windows Mobile platform, and carries timely information to and from our drivers and other remote workers."

Craver summed it up like this: "We developed an application to capture real-time information and give customers up-to-date, real-time tracking capabilities." That sounds simple on the surface, but other facets of the deployment make it a little more interesting.

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Running applications on the Symbol devices, which run on the Windows Mobile operating system, also allows Craver to offer the fleet of deployed devices real-time support and data connectivity whether the drivers are in the field or in a service center. The devices themselves have the ability to switch between radios, meaning that when a driver is in a center, the device uses the WLAN; when he's on the road, it uses the WWAN, typically the cellular network.

Now, when drivers show up for work, they get a download of the shipments they have to pick up and drop off that day. If at some point throughout the day another pickup comes in, dispatchers can send a notification wirelessly right to the devices. Before, drivers would have to carry phones or call in from customer sites for updates.

Using Odyssey's Athena software, Craver can tap into any of the deployed devices for troubleshooting or to check up on what applications they're running and what is installed on them, he said. Other capabilities allow him to view the screen of a driver's device or take control of the device if necessary.

"What used to happen is they had to send the device back to us so we could troubleshoot it," Craver said.

On the security side, Old Dominion uses compression and encryption to ensure that data sent over the WWAN is kept locked up.

Another bonus to being able to switch dynamically between radios is that Old Dominion can also control the amount of power a device uses. When the device is on the WLAN, it uses less power. Once the device is out of range for the WLAN, it automatically switches to the WWAN. NetManager manages the network connection and battery life and lets Old Dominion select either a WLAN or WWAN connection and disable the unused network adapter. That capability, Craver said, saves device battery life in the field.

Old Dominion also uses Odyssey's ViaXML2, a wireless application infrastructure solution, to integrate with its existing back-end system to allow queued, stored and forwarded Web services on the device. The tool allows undisrupted application availability and delivery of transactions. It also enables the use of several WWAN carriers on a single application and real-time communication with drivers about changes and updates.

"We've been able to implement Web services on the device and host systems," Craver said. This allows direct communication between the host and the handhelds, eliminating the middleman. "We've eliminated steps. We've streamlined sending updates."

Using the applications and software has helped Old Dominion see a quick return.

"We've really seen an improvement in all of the numbers we measure," Craver said. For drivers, Old Dominion measures stops per hour, stops per driver, how long each stop takes and other factors. The improvement in times has translated to a boost of productivity that leads to increased revenue.

The company also saw a reduction in the number of miles between stops, Craver said. Though he can't attribute that reduction to software, he said it may have something to do with the "Big Brother effect" – the fact that the devices and their software allow administrators to keep track of the devices and determine the driver's route and time spent on it.

"We weren't so much trying to keep track of the driver," he said. "We want to keep track of the freight."

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