Open platforms opening up a world of opportunity for tech developers

Platform Science

Technology providers are hyperfocused on developing solutions and providing great user experiences for customers. What many of them are not as interested in is developing the hardware to support their software.

There are exceptions, of course, but many tech providers simply partner with a third party to develop the hardware so they can focus on their core mission. So, when a partner comes along that opens up that base hardware to any and all developers, the options for the end customer grow infinitely and the cost for developers drops.  

In the case of Platform Science, its connected vehicle platform offers the best of both worlds. It allows fleets to benefit from the company’s fleet management apps, such as navigation, driver safety and performance tools, electronic logs, driver workflow tools, driver vehicle inspection reports, and a host of communication and tracking tools. But it also opens its platform up to outside developers to rapidly deploy their own solutions on the MDM platform.

Chad Kosterman, vice president of customer success and operations for LinkeDrive, told FreightWaves the option to add its product to the Platform Science system speeds deployment, reduces cost, and helps it provide a quicker return on investment (ROI) for customers without the associated vehicle downtime.

“We’re a software and analytics company, so we don’t want to be spending time on physical deployments if we don’t have to, which in many cases and historically, has been a necessity,” he said.  “Open platforms like Platform Science, allow us to focus our time on what is most important, providing value to our customers, and the quickest path to ROI.”

LinkeDrive buys hardware from a third party for access to the needed engine control module (ECM) data, and it will continue to do that for fleets that don’t use Platform Science or another provider’s open-platform technology. The speed at which the Platform Science solution is able to process information, though, is nearly unmatched in the market, and something that LinkeDrive’s PedalCoach product requires.

PedalCoach, which monitors and coaches driver behavior real-time, requires rapid data pull from the truck’s ECM, and direct delivery of that data to the PedalCoach application. “What we’ve found over the years is that many of the telematics providers simply can’t provide access to the data at the frequency in which we need it, at best maybe they can provide it minute by minute,” Kosterman said. “Our application requires ECM data at least every second.  I do expect others will get there, but [Platform Science] is a bit ahead of the curve in being able to not only provide us the access easily, but also at the level of granularity needed.”

As the industry seeks to declutter vehicles of unnecessary hardware and wires, developers are seeking partnerships with companies that can unify technology on as few devices as possible.

“Whether it’s for trucking or other types of service fleets, the idea of an open platform and easy integration of multiple apps is gaining steam,” according to Clem Driscoll, founder and principal at consulting firm C.J. Driscoll & Associates. “If you are a telematics service provider, you have to put a piece of hardware on the truck, but for other apps, they can be integrated directly into the Platform Science [technology].”

Platform Science recently announced an agreement with Daimler Trucks North America to have its platform installed at the factory level on Freightliner models. Doing so, experts say, will increase the flexibility third-party developers have to quickly deploy solutions to fleets and scale their businesses.

“One of the distinct advantages of going with a platform-based approach is lower cost of development,” Charles Buffone, director of product management for Drivewyze, told FreightWaves. “We’ve partnered with Platform Science and other [electronic logging device] providers. The Platform Science approach was a natural fit. They have a particularly robust on-vehicle platform, and when you connect our platforms together, you have a powerful combination of technologies that really drives value. It allows applications to get to market quicker and [for us] to respond to customer demands around affordability.”

Drivewyze offers a weigh station bypass service and has partnered with dozens of leading telematics providers in trucking. Speaking to those partnerships in general, Buffone noted the benefits to the end customer.

“When applications are developed and you have these cross-platform integrations, the investments customers have made in these platforms allow them to take advantage of those applications quicker,” he said. “As customers attempt to optimize their operations, particularly as the size of the operation grows, you have distinct characteristics and … investing in platforms allows you to leverage [and target] vehicles.”

That point resonates with Driscoll.

“Historically, if you look at Omnitracs, Peoplenet, Trimble and others, it was a closed system. And in some cases, still is,” Driscoll said. “If you want certain types of apps, you have to use their app, but that’s changing. And if you want to use a navigation app, you no longer need to use the telematics vendor’s navigation app.

“I think it is moving in that direction [of open platforms],” he added. “There appears to be demand for opening things up so you can use the truck for what you want to use it for, and from what I hear from Platform Science, they’re targeting initially the largest trucking fleets, but I don’t think they will stop there as they work their way down in fleet size.”

Buffone said a solution like Platform Science’s benefits developers like Drivewyze because the customer invests once in the base platform, and then has options for additional app installations that didn’t exist before without additional hardware installation. It also aids larger enterprises that may not need a particular app to be used in all segments of its business, and potentially smaller businesses that don’t have the funds to invest in multiple platforms.

“In our case we started with weigh station bypass. A lot of big fleets, like Schneider National (NYSE: SNDR), have parts of their business that don’t utilize weigh station bypass but they have other parts of their operation that use our safety applications. They can take advantage of those applications that benefit them. That’s the power of a platform. [It’s] a one-time investment in the platform pieces that serve you with common value, and then you are able to target investment in optimizing operations for discrete parts of your business.”

Buffone noted the cost savings for fleets when switching technologies, pointing out that some fleets may stick with a poorly running ELD because the cost and time required to switch a fleet over is a financial impediment. Conversely, the ease of switching apps that is made possible by Platform Science puts a greater emphasis on suppliers to focus on the end user.

Kosterman goes on to share, “open platforms like Platform Science, are promoting the right competition, ultimately driving increased value to the end customer, and in turn better experiences for our essential workers out there every day.  With much of the market either heading down this path, or beginning to make the transition, as a technology provider, it speaks right to our core value of delivering the best-in-class solutions to our customers year over year.

Ultimately, for third-party developers, the ability to easily integrate their products with an open platform means more time can be spent developing productive solutions for the customer. It also allows fleets to use those products where they make the most sense, and for the drivers who will benefit the most.

“They want that flexibility [of turning off apps], so what you do is provide that robust platform underneath which is what they are looking for,” Buffone said. “It’s the framework you are providing for them [to get access to the data they want]. We sell a platform, we sell applications built on that platform, and it’s exactly the approach Platform Science and others [are taking]. It’s what the industry wants.”