PeopleNet chose its annual User Conference in Boca Raton, FL last week to give customers a first look at two new products: the “Tablet” handheld computer and an updated version of its Fleet Manager web-based fleet management system.

The Tablet uses the Windows 7 operating platform and can be locked into its onboard docking station or unlocked for portable applications.

The new onboard computing platform is designed to capture critical vehicle and driver management information that can integrate with the back office. It combines traditional in-cab functionality such as In-Cab Navigation, Vehicle Management (engine diagnostics), eDriver Logs, in-cab training, driver email and messaging, geofencing and more with portable options like a camera, barcode scanner, signature capture, and Wi-Fi to speed up workflow, improve customer service and enable drivers to be more efficient.

The handheld features a 7 in. screen and a rugged design for durability. In addition to a docking station for in-cab use and an option for hard mounting, Tablet comes with both soft and hard keyboard options. It will be commercially available in the first quarter of 2011.

“Fleet owners and managers who want to improve performance and cash flow will see this optionally portable onboard computer system with exceptional built-in capabilities as a way to enable drivers to work in virtually any environment while combining the traditional fix mount systems and handheld computing systems,” said PeopleNet CEO, Ron Konezny. “Drivers themselves will appreciate having more drive time behind the wheel instead of handling administrative activities in the cab. Tablet gives them the flexibility to handle non-driving tasks, outside of the cab, from any location.

“We think that Tablet, with its optional portability, is a first in the industry,” he told Fleet Owner. “It is not just for new customers. Existing customers can use it, too.”

Tablet does not replace the other PeopleNet platforms.

PeopleNet also introduced the latest version of its Fleet Manager system. The new Fleet Manager is intended to be highly configurable to adapt to each user’s needs, simplifying and expediting their experience with the system. It also provides more complete, customized data access utilizing a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) for flexible back-office data integration that helps management identify opportunities for lowering operating costs. In addition, more frequent communications are intended to provide greater visibility into fleet activities for improving customer service and management decisions

To help prevent potentially costly service interruptions that can undermine on-time performance as well as availability of accurate data, PeopleNet’s redundant data centers will run concurrently for the new PeopleNet Fleet Manager.

“Both our data centers will also be active at once,” Konezny told Fleet Owner, “which we believe is another industry first. Customers have to know they can count on you. Priority number one is system reliability.”

PeopleNet also plans to introduce new releases more frequently than in the past and to provide broader access to mobile devices, browsers, Internet-connected devices and applications. The new PeopleNet Fleet Manager also offers multi-lingual support and an alert function to help mobile users stay in touch with their fleets.

“There has been an explosion of technology,” Konezny said during his opening presentation at last week’s User Group Conference, and the company is always seeking opportunities for real, integrated partnerships that can help bring new capabilities to customers.

There has also been an explosion of growth at PeopleNet. According to COO Brian McLaughlin, the company is approaching 100,000 customers and 100 new customers have already signed on in 2010, with the strongest growth among refrigerated and tank fleets.

One of the company’s latest new customers is Heartland Express. The Iowa-based provider of dry-van truckload transport will replace its current mobile communications systems and move its total vehicle fleet to the PeopleNet onboard computing platform, according to PeopleNet. Heartland’s plans include the utilization of Vusion, PeopleNet’'s new predictive data analytics capabilities to drive more effective decisions from the onboard data.

“Integrated mobile communications has become a vital part to being branded as one of the best service providers in trucking,” said president of Heartland Express, Michael Gerdin. “As our industry is ever challenged to respond to the increasing demands of regulation and service needs of our customers and drivers, we have never faltered in fighting to find ways to hold on to the service we provide and the low 80’s operating ratio we pursue. We viewed the newer communications platforms as a means to help meet the challenges ahead.”

“We are very excited to be partnering with one of the most respected fleets in the transportation industry,” McLaughlin said. “Heartland Express is known for consistently reporting the best operating ratio in the industry. Heartland has seen the value of being able to leverage a more advance onboard system, and will do so with a full suite of services from PeopleNet.”