Smartphone apps are increasingly being used in areas such as track-and-trace, damage reporting and claims, as well as compliance issues

With the growth of e-commerce, customers are increasingly accustomed to using their smartphones not only to buy products, but also track delivery right to their door. The ubiquitous rise of Uber, meanwhile, has made transport another commodity to be shared and tracked, again from a mobile device. With Uber itself moving into logistics, there has even been talk of an eventual ‘Uber-isation’ of the supply chain.

For the business-to-business space of the automotive sector, a growing number of companies are using smartphone and mobile ‘apps’ to manage a wide range of activities, including track-and-trace and damage reporting, as well as compliance monitoring in such areas as driver hours.

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Cathy Roberson, senior analyst at consultancy Transport Intelligence, points to a number of transport management system (TMS) companies, such as MercuryGate, that offer apps to help users track loads and capture signatures, as well as provide information on rates. “XRS Corporation’s app provides functions such as electronic hours-of-service logs, speed management and CSA risk scorecards, as well as fuel savings and driver productivity data,” she says.

KeepTruckin is another app that provides users with a mobile and web-based electronic log and fleet management platform. Here, drivers track their progress via the electronic logs and receive alerts if the logs have HOS (hours of service) violations. The app also tracks vehicle inspection activities, allowing drivers to select defects, mark them as corrected and get a mechanic’s sign-off on corrections.

In the US, Ceva Logistics is now using a mobile platform that allows customers to track air freight, ocean freight and import brokerage shipments in real time, and obtain signatures on delivery. According to Vittorio Aronica, executive vice-president for IT at Ceva Logistics, the app incorporates elements such as dynamic route planning, pickup and delivery, and route changes.  

Customers in the automotive logistics supply chain can also use the app to track spare parts distribution and time-sensitive shipments, such as when a vehicle is in a garage awaiting parts for repair.  “Where vehicles are awaiting repair, it’s very important to track each single shipment, give the right priority to the right shipment and also give the right information,” says Aronica. “Stock replenishment is critical, albeit not as urgent as replacement parts, but still requires close monitoring and apps and technology help with this.”

He also points to the advantage of GPS-enabled apps that can trigger real-time response and changes to inbound milkrun or crossdock services. “These allow you to change rapidly throughout the day, sometimes with a very limited lead time.”

Handheld outbound logistics

Vehicle logistics is another area that increasingly lends itself to apps for various functions, particularly around electronic proof of delivery (ePOD). Car Delivery Network’s (CDN) vinDELIVER, for example, allows drivers to carry out a paperless vehicle inspection and damage report throughout the supply chain. The app links the CDN platform directly to existing transport management and planning systems and enables carriers to collect real-time electronic data from drivers and other staff in the field.


This data can then be transmitted through the mobile network and made available to carriers, carmakers and dealers. It enables carriers to eliminate paperwork in the vehicle delivery process by capturing signatures electronically and providing ePOD delivery receipts, as well as capturing damage information with photos.  

According to Greg May, CDN president and chief executive officer, around 150 carriers across the US and Canada currently use vinDELIVER on smartphones – and increasingly tablets – to report vehicle deliveries via ePOD to the dealers of four large carmakers.

An early user of the app is vehicle damage and claims company Fenkell Automotive Systems, which has paired the vinDELIVER app to its proprietary damage claims management system (known as VTC) to communicate real time VIN, carrier and damage data to carmakers, notably Chrysler. The new reporting method allows Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) to view damage codes as well as photographic evidence of damage stored within Fenkell’s damage claims management system.

Fenkell is currently developing a mobile application for its own in-transit repairs, called Vehi-Trac Mobile. Mary Taranto, director of global claims and Systems at Fenkell, says the app will be used to track down all units in the supply chain in need of repair to components such as glass, tyres and batteries. A wide range of Fenkell personnel, including railhead and ramp staff, technicians, auditors and claims analysts, will use it.

“The purpose of this mobile application is to allow the ramps to scan a VIN, take photos and report the damage or vehicle in need of repair while standing in front of the car. It also allows any carrier to scan the VIN and review all the history relating to repairs and inspections on this vehicle,” she adds.

For Taranto, such apps are useful because they allow users to have this information at their fingertips. She predicts that more manufacturers will begin using mobile applications across the supply chain. “Any application that can provide real-time data with vehicle movement will be the most useful,” she says. “I don’t see any disadvantages at this time, other than areas where you cannot obtain a signal which happens at some yard locations.”

ePOD on your iPad

Another early adopter of mobile technology in vehicle logistics is Motor Car Auto Carriers (MCAC), a contract carrier for FCA, which recently tested and rolled-out the vinDELIVER app throughout its operations. According to Patrick Newell, the company’s senior vice-president for logistics, FCA had been evaluating ePOD processes for some time and made the decision to formally require carriers to adopt the technology in 2014. As CDN was already an approved FCA vendor, MCAC chose to partner with it to help in managing its ePOD transition and compliance process.  

“In order for this project to succeed, our team needed to be open minded to changing their behaviour by using the [mobile] application [in place of] the traditional paper based process,” he adds.

Dashboard - Vehi-Trac Claims
After a short trial period, Newell says MCAC became one of the first FCA carriers to be approved as ePOD compliant last April. MCAC drivers currently use the app via smartphone or tablet as a routine part of their daily load management, including individual vehicle inspections and damage assessments at the pickup location and the delivery location. Once the vehicles have been received at the delivery location, an electronic stamp or receipt is also sent to FCA confirming proof of delivery.

For Newell, one advantage of the new process is that it reduces cycle time for payments, claims processing, and proof of delivery requests. It also helps MCAC to provide hard evidence relating to claims and responsible parties.

On the downside, he admits that some drivers may struggle to adapt to such new systems, mainly because the learning curve and capacity for change varies from individual to individual. “Some drivers may [also] disable the app on their smartphone, resulting in delays of time-sensitive data being transmitted to the OEM,” he adds.

Will there be an app for that?

In the future, Transport Intelligence’s Cathy Roberson predicts that smartphone apps will be used to connect the entire supply chain – including supplier, manufacturer, distributor and customer – in real time. In her view, this will help speed up reverse logistics, warranty and recall management, as well as improving collaboration and order management.

She also foresees an increase in customisation, customer interaction and marketing, as well as an increase in the use of payment by phone using a variety of options such as AliPay, Paypal, Google Wallet and Apple Pay.

Others are less sure about the development of such software without a deeper use of data in the supply chain. Ceva’s Vittoria Aronica thinks the mobile logistics app sector has reached a plateau until the industry reaches a more universal adoption, regardless of location, size of company, or carrier. “The most recent innovations incorporate advanced GPS tracking and notifications, but the real challenge is to use the information intelligently; not viewing devices in isolation, but creating smart networks that provide you useful information – that gives you the ability to track volumes, capacity and other variables, remotely,” he says.

For vehicle logistics, the ambitions may not need to be a universally linked network, after all. Greg May is confident of the utility of what he calls ‘basic app functionality,’ such as capturing event data and reporting vehicle condition, at all points in the finished vehicle supply chain. “The mobile app enables data to be captured and transmitted to interested parties in real-time, without the inefficiencies of paperwork and redundant data entry steps,” he says. “We believe eventually you will see this technology used at assembly centres, rail ramps and ports.”

Towards an uber-ised supply chain?

Following the news that Uber has moved into the logistics sector with its UberCargo app in Hong Kong, some industry observers believe it is only a matter of time before the influence of the company’s disruptive business model is felt in the automotive logistics sector.

“I believe the automotive logistics sector is undergoing a lot of change and Uber-isation is certainly a part of it,” observes Transport Intelligence’s Cathy Roberson. “In terms of express delivery, I believe it will continue to grow in large cities and will benefit automotive logistics in terms of spare parts delivery and management.”

Michael Clover, logistics briefing editor at Transport Intelligence, agrees that the service parts logistics market is “ideally suited” to Uber-isation and he expects to see it become widespread in the sector. For him, this is because service parts logistics is always time-critical, often requires the transport of individual parts to very specific locations, and demands high visibility of parts in both inventory and in transit. “The capabilities of the technology employed by apps like Uber match these characteristics perfectly,” he says.

That said, he also says that Uber’s technology requires critical mass to function efficiently, which he believes could take time to develop for service parts logistics. However, the technology’s flexibility means that the necessary network saturation could be borrowed from the wider express market. “The technology is therefore in a position to be introduced into the market quite rapidly and should engender greater efficiency and speed of delivery,” he says.

On the flipside, Motor Car Auto Carriers’ Patrick Newell is more sceptical about the prospects of such disruptive technology gaining traction for vehicle logistics. Instead, he sees app functionality expanding to allow customers to track and trace their new vehicle order, including production, transport and dealer delivery. He also thinks that customers are looking for real-time answers and that OEM-customer-centric apps could deliver that information.

“With the evolution of smart watches, we may see app functionality on a driver’s wrist for convenience,” he says. “Some OEMs use ‘head-up displays’ on windshields, noting vehicle performance metrics. I would anticipate future ePOD functionality to use the windshield as a smart shield or smart board.”

However, because the vehicle logistics sector is both specialised and fragmented, he does not anticipate Uber-isation, at least not yet. “The technology is available, but I don’t see a ‘disrupter’ taking the lead as of today,” he reckons.