Trucking company expects quick ROI from handhelds

Old Dominion Freight Line Inc. said this week that it expects a return on investment within two years of its US$3 million rollout of Symbol Technologies Inc. wireless handheld computers and bar code scanners to its 1,700 drivers.

The Thomasville, N.C.-based trucking company loads route information onto the Windows CE 3.0-based Symbol handhelds before drivers leave on their routes, said Barry Craver, Old Dominion’s senior application development manager. Once en route, drivers transmit pickup and delivery information over a nationwide wireless packet data network operated by Motient Corp. in Reston, Va. Craver said the new handhelds from Holtsville, N.Y.-based Symbol reduce errors, increase productivity and make it easier for customers to track their shipments by feeding information into the company’s Web-based tracking system.

Old Dominion piloted the technology in August 2001 and started to roll out the system — which wasn’t announced until last week — in February, Craver said. The company has so far deployed 600 handhelds and expects to equip the rest of its drivers next year.

Improved Productivity

Craver said Old Dominion expects a 19- to 20-month ROI on the project. One unexpected benefit, he said, is that drivers have become more productive, going directly from one stop to another, probably because the system provides greater visibility into their movements.

Old Dominion developed the driver application in-house using Embedded Visual Basic, Craver said, noting that the project took six months. The company uses mobile systems middleware from Aether Systems Inc. in Owings Mills, Md., as an interface between the drivers’ wireless systems and Old Dominion’s host systems, said Craver.

FedEx Corp. and United Parcel Service of America Inc. have long used such wireless systems and handheld computers to manage their operations. Now, smaller operations such as Old Dominion have started to embrace the technology because costs for such systems are decreasing, said Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn.