Drivers keep on truckin

Canada’s trucking industry might not yet be associated closely with burgeoning technology, but Palm Inc. and a Canadian mobile service provider are demonstrating that drivers and devices may go hand in hand.

Dartmouth, N.S.-based Seimac Ltd. recently introduced its FleetMessenger tool, an Internet-based transportation management application that enables truckers to respond to dispatchers via a removable Palm handheld mounted on the dashboard. Handhelds are fast becoming a useful tool in the deadline-driven trucking industry, the companies said.

Drivers can receive messages, store customer information, track inventory and communicate directly with their head offices via Palm and a truck-mounted GPS satellite terminal, said Seimac business development manager Kelly Lunn.

Lunn noted that FleetMessenger enables transport companies to locate, track and dispatch trucks using Palm OS ruggedized terminals, and added that while Seimac is currently using Palm IIIc and Palm V handhelds, the application runs on any Palm OS-based device.

“Our system is really very encompassing from the point of view that the company can track and manage their assets.…Also, the dispatchers can communicate in real time to their drivers, therefore the dispatcher can be more proactive with clients,” Lunn said.

Seimac hopes to replace older technology within the trucking industry, which incorporates satellite communication with rugged dumb terminals, Lunn said, adding that this previously meant drivers had to pull over and manually process information.

“[FleetMessenger] is more of a business tool, because now they can get signature capture which allows them to send real-time (messages) back to head office that they’ve delivered the load. Now the information can be put into their accounting system and bills can be shipped out immediately,” Lunn said.

So far, Seimac has deployed 720 Palm handhelds, with plans to deploy a total of 4,500 this year, the company said.

Matthew Hickey, director of partner and enterprise for Palm Canada in Mississauga, Ont., noted that Palm is working with companies to create a framework for the mobile-enabled enterprise. The company’s Palm@Enterprise solution is designed to empower the growing mobile workforce by using third-party products to gain economies of scale, Hickey said.

Since Palm’s spin-off from 3Com in 2000, the company has had some success in developing the functionality of Palm devices and devices that run on the Palm OS, noted research director Mark Quigley of Kanata, Ont.-based The Yankee Group in Canada.

“When you take a look at any kind of technology company over the past three years, a great deal of the success tends to be measured by the rather fickle nature of the financial market.” Quigley said. “I think that Palm has been very successful since they’ve spun off from 3Com and the marketplace is still, in many respects, ripe for continued growth from Palm…there is tremendous room in the marketplace to integrate that kind of mobile functionality into your workforce.”

There are now significantly more applications for handheld computing, such as tools that offer increased database functionality and integrated supply chain management through the Palm device, Quigley said. He noted, however, that adoption is still in its infancy.

“A lot of the use for a Palm Pilot right now tends to be fairly simple: the storage of phone numbers, e-mail addresses, calendering functions and maybe some expense work. But the flexibility provided by the Palm OS gives the enterprise the ability of extend itself in a much more in-depth way across the workforce,” Quigley said.

This is particularly true, Quigley added, “when you start going down the road of looking at [handhelds] as being not only a device that you can plug into your docking station to link up with your desktop, but one that also gives you the ability to leverage a wireless network and to access that corporate desktop from wherever you happen to be on the network.”

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