Using data effectively and getting the most from your employees were the dominant topics at a roundtable discussion featuring HDT's 2017 Truck Fleet Innovators honorees held May 9 at the Heavy Duty Trucking eXchange fleet networking conference in Phoenix.
The session, moderated by HDT Editor in Chief Deborah Lockridge and Rob Myers, vice president, sales for Phillips Industries, honored four fleet executives from around the country for their forward thinking and leadership in the trucking industry.
This year’s HDT Truck Fleet Innovators and their citations are:
- Kirk Altrichter, vice president of fleet services, The Kenan Advantage Group, North Canton, OH, for his work in helping the industry at large deal with the massive amounts of data flowing into fleet operations today as well as his passion for training and motivating employees.
- Ralph Lo Priore, director of fleet assets and processes, Stoneway Concrete and Gary Merlino Construction, Seattle, WA, for his new approach to spec'ing mixer trucks with an eye toward improving efficiency, productivity, maneuverability, and driver comfort
- Randy Obermeyer, terminal manager, Batesville, Logistics, Batesville, IN, for pioneering the use of lean management principles in a shop environment.
- Randy Swart, chief operating officer, A. Duie Pyle, West Chester, PA, for his work on the fleet's Leadership Development Program, which rotates recent college graduates in positions within the company to prepare them for careers in transportation operations.
During the roundtable discussion, which followed the awards presentation, the four fleet executives remarked on a variety of subjects concerning trucking operations today.
When asked about leveraging data effectively, Altrichter said that not all data was "actionable," and stressed that a first step in using incoming information correctly is to concentrate on relevant data only, and ignore -- or completely halt the flow of -- additional data that does not support that effort.
Building on that theme, Swart emphasized identifying the issues you're trying to resolve and then building your data-collection efforts around them to eliminate distractions.
All four honorees noted that although truck-generated data is coming in at "firehose" volumes today, there is a distinct lack of information being generated by trailers, an issue all of them would like to see resolved in the near future.
Altrichter said he would like to see basic data, such as unit mileage transmitted to truck electronic control modules for simplified maintenance, while Lo Priore said a simple wheel-lock system that deployed in the event of a theft would be a huge benefit for fleets.
On the topic of motivation, all four honorees felt it is crucial to engage with employees at all levels to encourage active participation and buy-in on procedures and efficiency.
Obermeyer said his primary goal is to build an "Army of problem solvers" in his shops who can tackle any challenge that comes their way. And while management programs are helpful, Altrichter said too many fleets today incorrectly assume a "one size fits all" management solution will work. Instead, he emphasized talking to, and listening to, employees and understanding that sometimes, solutions specifically tailored to meet a group of employees or a unique circumstance or location is the better approach.
On a related front, Swart noted that A. Duie Pyle recently addressed the on-going driver shortage by down-spec'ing to Class 6 and 7 trucks and hiring non-CDL drivers to run them. "We realized that we could get about 20 separate, 500-pound loads on these trucks," he explained. "And we've hired young drivers -- usually around 21 years old -- to operate them. Using these trucks, we've been able to increase our early-morning urban deliveries. But we can also identify promising drivers. And after a year or so of running non-CDL trucks, we can invest in CDL training for them and move them up into Class 8 trucks. So, we're really solving three different problems with on downsized spec change."
Obermeyer said he has learned that the easiest way to attract drivers to his fleet is by treating his current drivers well. "Drivers talk to other drivers," he said. "And if you treat them well, they will become the most powerful recruiting tool at your disposal when it comes to bringing in new talent."
Lo Priore said he refuses to get caught up in "nickel-and-diming" his truck specs. Instead, he believes in using specs to his advantage. "My basic chassis cost today is around $185,000 -- before I put a mixer drum on," he said. "Given that, it doesn't make any since to try and save money on smaller-ticket specs like air disc brakes or tilt steering wheels -- things that make drivers safer and happy.
“It's important to control costs,” he continued. “But you can't control costs to your own detriment. I can save money in the short term if I outsource my oil changes. But then, I'm no long intimate with my equipment -- which drives costs up in the long term. Everything is a balancing act. And cost control and spec'ing are no exceptions."