Many fleets have already complied with the federal electronic logging device (ELD) mandate, requiring drivers’ hours of service to be captured with ELDs instead of paper logs. However, some early adopters of older e-log systems have been allowed to continue using their automatic onboard recording devices (AOBRDs) during a two-year grandfather exemption. They must transition to an ELD platform prior to the exemption expiration on December 16, 2019.
C.J. Driscoll & Associates’ 2019-20 U.S. Mobile Resource Management Systems Market Study estimates the number of AOBRDs and ELDs currently in service as about equal. The report finds that the largest telematics suppliers to the trucking sector still have mostly AOBRDs in the field.
Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as turning a switch to transition from AOBRDs to ELDs. For some carriers, the move is providing an incredible opportunity to upgrade and migrate to a system that will increase productivity, operational excellence, safety, and security. For others, a smooth transition is being thwarted, primarily because their incumbent provider has not developed advanced ELD technology or a platform that can seamlessly integrate with their existing infrastructure.
Here are five best practices for AOBRD users to consider during the challenging transition to ELDs.
Clearly identify project champions. Congratulations on being early adopters! As industry leaders who embraced AOBRDs, you have helped pave the way for improved fleet operations and efficiencies in our industry.
While internet of things (IoT) technology has improved vehicle efficiency and reduced vehicle wear and tear, downtime and fuel waste, many companies still have scars from their AOBRD deployment. Understandably, many are dreading another time-consuming, disruptive change to their organizations.
The good news is that the technology stack is much better and more flexible than when companies made the decision to deploy AOBRDs. You may be surprised to see just how much has changed in the last eight, five, or even three years.
Second, the barrier for entry has dropped considerably since AOBRD implementations. Expense, installation time and training have greatly been reduced. ELD solutions are truly plug and play, with no wiring required, except to the vehicle’s engine control module (ECM). Hardware is inexpensive, or companies can rely on tablets and smartphones that drivers are already using.
Assemble a committee with representatives from operations, I.T. and executive areas of the business. Each department needs to be involved in executing the ELD implementation strategy and maintaining company policies. Designate a leader to be held responsible for this important project.
Survey every part of your business. Drill down to find out which features of your existing system are most important to each department. This process includes discovering the different type of reports being run, how often, and who is receiving them. It is helpful to develop a flow chart for each report.
The most common mistake is corporate infrastructure not taking the time to precisely understand the reports that are needed at the terminals. Developing comprehensive requirements will alleviate challenges post-deployment.
An important follow up, especially for large fleet operations, is to treat each terminal, distribution center, and region as a separate business. Even though there is interplay between them, segmentation is necessary. Rather than a company-wide “big bang” approach, undertake an incremental rollout, with each segment having its own designated start and end dates. This strategy allows companies to learn from the first few sites and improve the implementation process as it’s extended throughout the organization, saving time and money.
Evaluate providers and ELDs. Fleet companies should carefully research the vast array of providers in the market. It’s naive to assume that the incumbent AOBRD provider has a modern ELD technology stack, or that it will seamlessly integrate with existing infrastructure.
Not all ELDs available today meet the detailed requirements set forth in the mandate. Misinformation and confusion result when providers claim to have an ELD solution although their technology stack is obsolete, or worse, simply doesn’t work.
A major concern when evaluating providers is the capability for data output file transfers. With the ELD mandate, drivers must be able to transfer driver logs to enforcement officials by sending data via the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP). In other words, drivers must be able to initiate a transfer of log data from their tablet to the FMCSA website, so that the inspector can view the critical information from a web browser.
Insist on seeing a demo of this file transfer process. It’s also a good idea to speak with the vendors’ existing ELD customers (not AOBRD users) to find out about their experiences with data transfers and the overall solution.
FMCSA has released a checklist of key ELD features and functions. Vendors should be required to demonstrate and verify that their ELD devices meet all of the specifications contained in the rule.
Evaluate customer support and training. Does your ELD provider’s 24/7 customer-support staff? Call the support help lines of the vendors you are evaluating. Do they have a live person ready to assist? What was your wait time? A fun experiment is to call back and try the sales option — it may be surprising how fast that call is answered in comparison.
During the vendor evaluation, ask to speak with the professional services team that would be overseeing the AOBRD-to-ELD implementation. You’ll be collaborating with them for several months, so make sure you’re comfortable forming a technology partnership.
Understand integration and APIs. The technology backbone of an ELD system is a complex rules and regulations engine. It’s important to have a clear understanding of how each vendor platform under review collects and shares data. What is the interface method? Does the system have an application programming interface (API) hub that will allow for easy integration to existing operations?
It’s imperative to find out which existing integrations will work with the new ELD system. Some features might not be compatible, such as availability, driver workflow, personal conveyance, yard move, and driver edits.
Check to see if the system is cloud hosted. Downtime should not be an accepted part of your business. If it is, you should take this opportunity to install an updated technology stack.
An ELD solution should be as user-friendly for drivers as any application that can be downloaded onto a smart phone. Intuitive user interfaces eliminate the need for lengthy user guides and days of training. Take a test drive with a variety of prospective ELD solutions. You’ll likely see an immediate and welcome difference in comparison to your current AOBRD solution.
Transitioning technologies can be a challenging project for any fleet operator. With thoughtful preparation and a diligent review of ELD providers and solutions, you can successfully execute the transition from AOBRDs to ELDs, and achieve full compliance well in advance of the coming deadline.
David Blackwell is product manager at Coretex, a provider of ELDs and enterprise fleet management solutions.
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