Women in IoT: Trucking Tech Transforms Flatbed Freight

By Cynthia S. Artin January 22, 2018

What happens when the virtual world of managing network traffic intersects with the physical world of managing highway traffic, and the movement of the most massive shipments of all?

We caught up with two women working in what have been traditionally male-dominated industries (trucking and technology) to find out how they are planning to continue the growth and momentum of their online “Airbnb” style exchange platform by adding more and more value through sensor-based tracking technologies.

FR8Star is disrupting the way the heavy haul freight industry is organizing the buying and selling of services, connecting companies who need to move difficult to manage flatbed, oversize, and overweight loads with expert carriers, “guaranteeing fair rates to shippers and carriers moving open deck freight with 100% transparent pricing and tailored tools for OS/OW and open deck transport.”

As the world moves into one exchange model after the other, in an exploding panoply of shared rides, shared rooms, and shared services, identifying ways to improve any industry and supply chain has become something of a “digital gold rush.”

The product design team at FR8Star have tapped into a very particular vein, providing online, web-based and mobile friendly tools shippers use to source carriers who are registered on their exchange to get access to shipping requests, and to conduct business more easily with fast and reliable payments, and growing business insights into their line haul costs.

Everybody wins when an exchange is well made, and as more and more “members” participate on both the buy and sell side, new innovations begin surfacing – for example, there is now enough critical mass using FR8Star to impact the market specializing in open deck loads.

Jessica Toy, Chief Product Officer at the company, along with Roslynn Tellvik, UX Designer, are two of the many talented women at the company, which has an unusual 50/50 ratio of women to men on its technology team. Jessica brings her experiences at other disruptive tech companies including YouTube and Airbnb, and Roslynn provides the “human experience” sensibility with interface design to the project.

“The trucking industry has used technology to help grow and improve their businesses for decades,” Toy said, “but only now are we seeing innovations emerging that more and more people are using. Whether it’s the carrier, the broker, the driver or people in the office, being able to understand where trucks are, where they are going to be, what kind of loads they are carrying, and what kinds of loads they could carry as they cross the country is incredibly valuable.”

Exchanges like have long made many businesses function more optimally, whether the exchange of money, goods or services, from the more traditional stock exchanges, to the disruptive online ecommerce exchanges (eBay) and shared services exchanges (Uber, Airbnb, and too many more to list).

So where does the IoT come in?

A mandate went into effect at the end of last year, requiring trucks to be outfitted with electronic logging devices, or ELDs. This major regulatory move has established the requirement for a connected network for trucks.

ELD devices record real-time location data to enhance transparency of truckers’ driving hours. While ELD’s are meant to enforce the hours-of-service rule that limits the hours truckers spend behind the wheel, they have also set a foundation for the next layer of digital services to be implemented by freight companies. “The ELD mandate is a great thing for us as it is pushing every driver and every fleet to get online,” Toy said.

“We’ve earned the trust of the market we serve, because we’ve listened and learned about what our particular slice of the trucking market really needs. We started with a different platform than we have today, initially focused on how the truckers could better manage their small fleets and optimize business with fewer empty miles. What we learned is what they really needed was easier access to new loads, and an ability to plan their loads with better, faster, more immediate information about market demand.”

Longer term, Toy and her team see sensors fitting in to the optimization offering.  “Predictive maintenance is another big opportunity we are studying,” Toy said. “With sensors, we can help drivers and their back-office teams understand everything from tire pressure and oil levels to fuel efficiency. Pulling weight information from the engine could be a big help in the requirement for precise permit specifications, avoiding expensive fines and onerous paperwork. There’s no end to what we can do now.”

Another woman in IoT, Roslynn Tellvik, works with Toy, specializing in User Experience (UX) for Tellvik joined the company less than a year ago, and immediately went about engaging directly with their market. “We met with dozens of trucking companies, and spent time listening and learning, to truly understand what kinds of technology and features would be useful – to carriers, brokers, drivers and their support teams,” Tellvik said, “and we learned so much!”

“One of the reasons I was excited to start with FR8Star last Spring, was their understanding of the importance of designing everything we do around what the market really wants. It’s one thing to have a great technology, but unless people embrace our solution and share it with other people in their community, we won’t be successful. Reaching out to carriers and shippers at every stage is key to the successes we've had so far."

Tellvik spent weeks sitting with carriers and shippers, doing deep research on both the buy and sell side, to understand how to create an online platform that reduces friction in all transactions.

"Through our research we learned how to evolve the platform to add value. For example, by offering carriers more context about each load, they can easily estimate how much they'll need to transport it. Which in turn gives more accurate pricing to our shippers. One of the things we also saw is that carriers often rely on their mobile phone to conduct business. So, we prioritized our driver app and mobile responsive versions of key flows on the web."

Tellvik shared one story where several of the individuals they spent time with hugged them at the end of an in-depth user interview and concept test session. “We knew we were really onto something when carriers understood the idea and saw the value – and couldn't wait to work with us.”

The members of the FR8Star exchange are now more strategic in planning their loads and business, less reactive and more able to plan their pick-ups, drop-offs and routes in between more efficiently – and more safely.

“Right now we're focused on adding value to our customers' businesses and building trust,” Tellvik said. “In the future, we will be able to add more and more data – about traffic conditions, frequent lane information, and so much more.” A real differentiator for us is our Load Scanner where carriers can cut out the tedious process of searching for loads by telling us about their needs once, and then only when they change, to see load matches instantly.”

FR8Star has a rich roadmap and shared a few sneak previews with us. “Alerts and notifications have been hugely popular,” Tellvik said, “and with ELD regulations underway, we see tremendous opportunities to integrate new data streams and features into our experience – creating a single, simple, and strategic unified platform helping all our members operate more efficiently.”

“Many of these businesses are family run – with five or ten rigs in operation – and often passed down from one generation to the next,” Tellvik said. “Knowing we are making a difference in real individual and family and company lives is incredibly motivating,” Toy agreed. “If our platform – our innovation – can make a trip safer, more productive…if our solution adds a few hours back into somebody’s day – we’ve won.”

The inter-generational aspect of the business is also accelerating the adoption of FR8Star’s and similar companies’ platforms. “Digital literacy among our customers will only increase with time as people who grew up using mobile phones and software become the majority of carriers and drivers,” Tellvik said. “We’ve been awestruck by the love of our product, by the adoption rate, among the current generation of women and men leading the heavy load industry, and have enjoyed on so many occasions seeing how the up and coming generation is even more attracted to continuing the family business legacy, armed with technology that makes it easier to run a profitable, enjoyable business.”

As two women driving innovation in IoT, a technology category that is starting to attract more and more women, Toy and Tellvik said they will keep listening and developing sensor-based solutions, for example, to enhance their initial platform. “While we will invent valuable services and features, one thing will always be constant – we will build whatever we build for our customers, not getting caught up in the IoT hype. None of us has truly lived in an IoT world,” Tellvik said, “so it is incumbent on us to stay close to our market, remain transparent, focus on positive gains, and collaborate with the many women and men who are finding ways to simply do business better. It’s a great way to build not only the technology itself, but to develop a shared vision for the future of trucking with our customers.”

There has been a lot of coverage how $726 billion freight industry is undergoing a technology transition (for example, the replacement of traditional phone, fax and paper operations with cloud-based, over-the top communications and data-driven tools bringing automation, efficiencies, and reduced costs for shippers and carriers and the companies they serve together).

FR8Star went after the most specialized segment of the freight transportation industry – flatbed fleets - which is a $50 billion revenue market annually, with a ton of regulation often requiring special permits and escort services – and from there, who knows how they will “land and expand” simply by building the right innovations for all the right reasons.

If you want to join in on the discussion of Women in IoT, or you’d like to suggest a company or person to feature, reach out to Ken Briodagh, editorial director, IoT Evolution.  Also, join us at the Women in IoT summit at the IoT Evolution Expo.

Continue to follow us as we track down even more talented women in IoT – this first feature is just the beginning of a series that is deeply important to us here at IoT Evolution World.

Edited by Maurice Nagle
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Contributing Writer

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