There’s no question that the trucking industry has been dramatically changed by new technology, but not all new technology is right for every instance.
In a recent article in HDT, truck and transportation expert and economist Noel Perry discussed how automation technology will change the industry over the next decade to an extent not seen since President Eisenhower established the Interstate Highway System. That earlier event transformed the transportation industry by significantly cutting the amount of time it took to deliver product to its final destination. This resulted in greater productivity and profitability for shippers and carriers and, ultimately, greater satisfaction from customers.
Today’s disrupting and transforming event is the constantly evolving technology. According to Perry, “the explosion of digital calculating tools and automating tools will have an equally large effect on our business 10 years from now.” He sees a number of changes that will result from this tech explosion and expansion, including a reduction in the driver shortage, which would seem to be a positive benefit. But he also sees automation technology creating a situation which would reduce and possibly eliminate the current advantage China holds now in labor costs and economies of scale. He envisions a smaller, more efficient and productive manufacturing sector which might have facilities closer to the final product destination. This would reduce the amount of transportation needed and, to some extent, possible reduce the current and alarming driver shortage.
So the technology that makes the country more efficient has both an upside and downside for the trucking industry. If fewer drivers are needed, that’s a positive benefit enabling fleets to accept loads without fear of not having the drivers necessary. As Perry says, “When you take waste and length of haul out, it’s very likely we’ll be moving fewer ton miles of freight than we do today. That’s great for the economy, very efficient; it’s not so good for us in transportation.”
But with that in mind, Perry also stipulated that the “demand will change from a volume issue to a quality issue.” And that’s a very important point. Many companies are always looking for the next “big” thing; the shiny object that they need to have to make their business and their fleet competitive. But what’s new and notable may not be needed for a specific use. We see this very often when it comes to the issue of big data. Everyone feels they need it to push business forward, but eventually many find that they are simply buried in terabytes of data, much of it useless for the purposes needed. If the technology doesn’t move the needle substantially for your company, it may not be the right technology for you.
At NationaLease, we confront this issue often. Our customers want to make sure that the assets they lease from us, as well as any software applications, are the right ones for them. A customer may be enthralled with a new truck feature (which might be quite costly) which might seem appropriate. We will help them not just find the right truck and digital technology; we will also help them use it appropriately – not just to optimize that asset, but also to train and manage their techs and drivers. In fact, new technology is a definite “selling point” when it comes to recruiting drivers; but again, it needs to be the right technology.
From navigation systems to electronic logging devices to collision avoidance systems; technology is already plays a large role in today’s trucking industry. We just want to ensure that we offer our customers the best advice and guidance possible. As Perry says about the industry going into the future, “the only way we’re going to make money…is to emphasize quality.” We couldn’t agree more.
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