Technology and its adoption have come a long way in the trucking industry. - Photo: Canva/HDT Illustration

Technology and its adoption have come a long way in the trucking industry.

Photo: Canva/HDT Illustration

Looking to make a Genius Bar appointment recently, I learned about the new Apple Vision Pro, a goggles-like headset that lets you view and interface with digital content projected in a way that makes it seem to float in front of you. Seriously futuristic stuff.

Senior Editor Jack Roberts came away from the CES electronics show with a glimpse of more seriously futuristic tech, including a company that can show information on the windows to vehicle occupants or to those outside the vehicle.

I grew up on science fiction, and this kind of tech sometimes makes me feel like I’ve traveled forward in time.

Of course, I felt the same way when I first got to see a color weather map on my computer screen. When I got my first iPhone and was able to find a great restaurant and navigate there and back on foot in Manhattan. When I had my first ride in the passenger seat of a truck using autonomous technology.

We write a lot about the ever-accelerating pace of technology in trucking. But implementing it in the real world can be more challenging.

Don’t Be Complacent About Technology

This is an industry that varies enormously in its level of tech adoption. Some small fleets, especially, may still be using paper and whiteboards. Maybe an Excel spreadsheet. Even some large fleets are still relying on mainframes and monochrome green-screen computers that were the latest thing in the 1980s.

It’s no secret that trucking is a low-margin business. Freight rates are subject to the ups and downs of the economy, and in general, costs mostly go up rather than down. It’s hard to have much control over either of those factors.

But what you can work on is making your business more efficient. And using technology and data, to automate processes, to identify areas where you can cut waste, is probably the best way to do that.

On top of that, customers are increasingly demanding real-time transparency into their loads and the ability to interact with their carriers electronically and automatically.

If you think the way your dad or granddad did things when they owned the company is still just fine, you may be setting yourself up for failure.

View Technology Investment as Part of a Whole

At the same time, technology does not exist in a vacuum. When Nathaniel Klein started digging into his father-in-law’s operations at Sun Logistics, he reported that the company had good people, but the processes were “archaic” and the computer systems were worse.

Klein worked with the Sun Logistics leadership team and developed a plan to transform the company’s systems to new, cloud-based, integrated IT. The goal was to make those good people more efficient, to give them tools to do their jobs better.

For instance, Sun Logistics has improved its accuracy of dock check (its inventory of what freight it has) to virtually 100%.

“Part of that is technology,” Klein told me. “But it’s the people behind it, that the technology enables you to get there.”

Vin McLoughlin of Cardinal Logistics, a 2011 HDT Truck Fleet Innovator, had a similar message. Ryder just bought Cardinal, sending me to our archives to find the story. Reading it nearly 13 years later, it struck me how ahead of the curve Cardinal was at the time. Dynamic route monitoring, tracking refrigerated trailer temperatures, giving customers real-time status of their loads, a dynamic workflow system for drivers to use on a handheld device, were all cutting-edge at the time.

Yet McLoughlin told HDT in an interview that while technology may have been the key to Cardinal's edge in the market, “This is a people business. This business has absolutely nothing to do with trucks. Who you hire is the most important decision you’re ever going to make.”

These takeaways point to a longtime change-management strategy in business, the people-process-technology framework. (Klein called it people-process-systems, but same idea.) Like a three-legged stool, this framework says all three elements need to work together for a business to succeed. If you’re not sure where to begin in deciding where to go with technology adoption, this PPT approach is a great starting point.

About the author
Deborah Lockridge

Deborah Lockridge

Editor and Associate Publisher

Reporting on trucking since 1990, Deborah is known for her award-winning magazine editorials and in-depth features on diverse issues, from the driver shortage to maintenance to rapidly changing technology.

View Bio