Tracking apps: why they’re not the same, and do you really know where that driver is?

A Load Track screen from Trucker Tools


It would seem that with all the progress being made in location technologies through GPS, satellites and other tools that keeping track of where a truck or some other asset is wouldn’t be a big deal.

Diana Bullington is the IT director at Syfan Logistics, a 40-year old transportation management company with extensive freight brokerage services located near Atlanta. She has found that what most technology suppliers were offering her was location services based on geofencing, which is a service that provides location data based on proximity to cell towers or other key points. But Bullington said such location data could be off by a significant difference – as much as a 30-mile radius – and that would have an impact on Syfan’s ability to tell a customer with accuracy when the truck was going to arrive.

“Most customers want to know where the truck is at all times, so they require us to report back to them,” Bullington said in an interview with FreightWaves. The fact that the truck is not owned by Syfan is irrelevant; as Bullington said, her company is viewed by customers as a trusted capacity resource, one that essentially owns the truck, so it’s almost as if they have their own driver behind the wheel.

Geofencing had its limitations. As Bullington said, if you’re hauling freight inside a traffic-choked metropolitan area like Atlanta, a geofencing-based app that shows location within a 30-mile radius could mean the difference between being on the south side of Atlanta and the north side. Trying to get from one to the other could take an hour or more, too imprecise for the demands of customers.

When Bullington met Trucker Tools CEO and founder Prasad Gollapalli at a conference a few years ago, she said she laid out what the company was looking for. The Trucker Tools Load Track application, part of the company’s suite of offerings, provides a customer the ability to track a load through GPS software on the driver’s smart phone, rather than geofencing or using cell-phone tower data. As a result, it’s significantly more precise in telling a broker like Syfan where a truck is located – and understanding with more accuracy when it will arrive.

“With geofencing, they see that a cell phone is within a certain radius of where the destination or the next pickup is,” she said. If it’s close enough, the system considers the truck to have reached its destination. But that isn’t always the case.

“Trucker Tools is one of the few apps that do an accurate finding based on [the driver’s smart-phone] GPS,” Bullington said. The demo they did internally allowed her boss, who was in another location, to see that she was sitting in their building, “exactly where I was. That is how accurate it is. That is a selling point.”

Bullington said Syfan had been committed to giving customers updates every hour on the location of their freight. But with the data they’re now getting from Load Track, they can ramp that notification up to 15 minutes, though not all customers necessarily want that steady stream.

There’s another group that gets a break from the use of Load Track: the drivers. They had been required to call into Syfan — or other brokerages — at regular intervals, making “check calls” maybe as much as every 15 to 20 minutes. But now with Load Track automatically giving precise data real-time about a truck’s whereabouts, “check calls” are no longer necessary, removing an often-annoying burden from the driver.

The always vexing problem of detention has not been alleviated by such knowledge, noted Trucker Tools’ Gollapalli.  Drivers are still at the mercy of the shipment’s recipient, who must have staff on hand at the dock to offload the truck. Detention occurs when the driver needs to wait. “Downtime waiting for an unload is wasted time for the driver – and time is money. A truck at rest is a truck not generating revenue,” Gollapalli said.

But with the more precise accuracy of Load Track’s smart-phone, GPS-based location tracking, the consignee knows with a greater degree of reliability where that truck is and its actual ETA – allowing dock labor to be planned in advance, on hand and ready when the truck arrives. The trucker also knows with more certainty how much detention time to account for, and more importantly, how fast he can be available for the next load.

The Load Track application doesn’t sit by itself on the phone. As both Bullington and Gollapalli pointed out, truckers can be overwhelmed by the sheer number of offerings that can be on their phone. The Trucker Tools app has built into it different features and functions that show everything from closest and cheapest fuel stops, the most optimal routes with turn by turn directions, warnings of traffic problems, rest stops, and location of nearby parking, wash or maintenance facilities. Load Track is just one of 16 features on the mobile app which provide the driver with tools to communicate with and update their customers, and manage many aspects involved in the business of operating a truck on the road.

The mobile app also is integrated with Trucker Tools’ Smart Capacity freight-matching platform that helps carriers with better reloads. The platform uses predictive market analysis to optimize the best use of assets. Trucker Tools says its mobile driver app, launched in 2013, has been downloaded by more than 500,000 drivers, and today is used by some 100,000 small fleet operators.

The use of the mobile app and its tools is free for the driver. Logistics and brokerage customers like Syfan are the ones who pay the bills.

Bullington also noted that information coming off the Load Track application can be fed into their TMS and in turn can be delivered to the end customer. The passing of information on where the truck is–down to a city block because of GPS tracking–can be done as part of all the information flowing through a TMS. So phone calls out to the drivers–“Where are you?”–and back to the broker or end-user customers–“Here’s where I am”–can disappear entirely.

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John Kingston

John has an almost 40-year career covering commodities, most of the time at S&P Global Platts. He created the Dated Brent benchmark, now the world’s most important crude oil marker. He was Director of Oil, Director of News, the editor in chief of Platts Oilgram News and the “talking head” for Platts on numerous media outlets, including CNBC, Fox Business and Canada’s BNN. He covered metals before joining Platts and then spent a year running Platts’ metals business as well. He was awarded the International Association of Energy Economics Award for Excellence in Written Journalism in 2015. In 2010, he won two Corporate Achievement Awards from McGraw-Hill, an extremely rare accomplishment, one for steering coverage of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster and the other for the launch of a public affairs television show, Platts Energy Week.