Makers of rival push e-mail systems, like Seven or Good tend to label BlackBerrys as status symbol for senior executives, but 450 independent truckers have bought them to communicate with a wireless notification system, run by CSX Corporation of Jacksonville, Florida.

For its part, one year after spending US$400,000 on the wireless project, designed to speed up communications with independent truck drivers, CSX reckons it has hit a bonanza.

Wireless notification makes happy truckers
The wireless notification application from Air2Web in Atlanta has cut the number of phone calls truckers make to the CSX Intermodal call centre from 20,000 a week to 11,000, said John Dugan, technical director for Intermodal applications at CSX Technology, of Jacksonville, Florida.

And because drivers can now send short text messages and e-mail via Research In Motion (RIM's) BlackBerry devices, they each save about an hour per day that they once spent waiting for a dispatcher, Dugan said. That alone improved driver productivity by 400 hours per day - a major reason why driver turnover dropped from 80 percent to 50 percent in the past year, he said.

"Fifty percent turnover is still terrible but a big improvement," Dugan said.

Investment covered in one year
Dugan said he believes these productivity gains have helped CSX cover its initial investment "and then some" in just one year. "This technology has exceeded our expectations in terms of payback, new revenue and productivity," he said. "It's definitely helping our business . . . since drivers are not answering phone calls and can do more jobs."

CSX's achievement is noteworthy, given that a 15 percent to 20 percent return on investment is considered very good for such projects, said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates in Massachusetts. Deployments of wireless systems for use by field personnel can be highly effective because they usually replace paper processes or a middleman, such as a call center operator.

CSX call center operators who suddenly saw a reduction in the volume of calls they handled have been moved to other jobs, Dugan said.

Drivers bought their own BlackBerrys
Intermodal truck drivers may make several trips a day of 40 to 80 miles each, carrying goods from a rail depot to a warehouse or store. With the wireless application, they can be notified instantly when leaving a location with no load and redirected to quickly find another load nearby.

Many of the drivers had cell phones, but they agreed to buy the BlackBerry hardware and pay for the monthly data service out of their own pockets, Dugan said. The drivers pay $49 per month for unlimited data service and $49 to $100 for the BlackBerry hardware.

CSX estimates that about 500,000 loads have been dispatched using the wireless system, which connects to an existing dispatch system called Pegasus. Early next year, CSX plans to add the ability to capture signatures digitally with a Bluetooth-enabled pen device so drivers can be paid faster. And it will add a Bluetooth-enabled bar code reader for scanning shipment documents easily.