Developing mobile phone apps that could solve part of the productivity challenge facing drayage drivers was the topic of a dialog roundtable at the recent Intermodal Expo charged with recommending action steps for the Intermodal Association of North America (IANA) to take to help make this a reality sooner.
The session was led by Jerri Parks, director of intermodal & automotive systems for Norfolk Southern, who is responsible for developing the railroad’s ExpressNS mobile phone app for drivers. Expected to be implemented in all 52 NS terminals by the end of 2015, that program’s development has taken several years, progressing by fits and starts, she revealed.
(Parks said one lesson learned after wasting a year trying to reshape the wrong software package is: Don’t try to create an app by adapting freeware. “There is truth to the old cliché that you get what you pay for,” she observed.)
The intention of the new app is to make NS facilities more driver-friendly by sharply reducing or even eliminating wait times at gates. It also is expected to increase terminal productivity by gathering information from drivers, such as their ETA, and allow many gate functions to go paperless, including eliminating the need for computer printers, which cause delays when they break down and run out of paper.
NS isn’t the only railroad involved in developing this kind of app for drivers, and representatives of software developers already deep into similar initiatives were present to add suggestions. One was that IANA help develop a common application programming interface (API) standard so the drivers don’t need separate apps from different railroads and terminal operators.
Because some trucking companies have registered concern about competitors being able to gain access to their information, it was also suggested that IANA look at taking on the role of collecting that data for industry purposes, along with developing reporting capabilities for a variety of fleets.
Roundtable participants also said productivity could be significantly improved if IANA could work on persuading terminal operators to speed up access by allowing paperwork to be filled out in advance.
These suggestions may require a lot of extra work on the party of IANA—perhaps more than it can take on—but at least it is willing to take a close look at what it can do. As Parks put it, “At the end of the day we are trying to improve the drivers’ productivity and quality of life by increasing the number of turns at our facilities.”