PeopleNet President Brian McLaughlin

PeopleNet President Brian McLaughlin

Heavy Duty Trucking recently chatted with PeopleNet President Brian McLaughlin about changes in the marketplace, the company’s 20 years in business and being part of the Trimble group of companies.

The Minnesota-based mobile computing/telematics provider celebrated 20 years in business this year with the announcement that Frost & Sullivan named in the 2014 Company of the Year in the medium and heavy commercial vehicle telematics market.

HDT: How have things changed since PeopleNet was acquired by Trimble in fall 2011?

McLaughlin: The way that Trimble operates (they’ve acquired 80 business in recent years) is that they buy companies and they put you into a vertical. For us it was transportation logistics. Strategically, they really leave you alone to devise your strategy for marketing, which allows for our marketing to be closer to our customers.

I’m pleased to say it’s been good. Our entire management team is still here. We are really able to operate autonomously and do the same as we did before. The upside is that Trimble has a significant portfolio of technologies and we can leverage that into our verticals. They also have a very strong balance sheet and with the acquisition of TMW Systems in 2012 and ALK Technologies last year, that is really coming together to provide a good value proposition for the market. We operate separately, but we do collaborate and our focus it to integrate the offerings as much as possible. But we’ll continue our partnerships with other companies that we’ve established partnerships with over the years.

HDT: How about OEMs getting into the telematics business -- what kind of impact does or will that have on telematics/mobile communications providers?

McLaughlin: I think it continues to evolve. We have had relationships with OEMS to integrate our systems into their trucks, whether that’s a pre-wire, or put a display in the dash. We partner with all the OEMs to do that.

Aftermarket telematics products integrating with OEMs, has been good for customers. OEMs have experimented with their own telematics solutions through the years, but what they have concluded is that most customers don’t buy just one make of truck. A fleet of 100 trucks will be a mix of brands and I think the OEMs understand that won’t change. That’s where having a truck-based full blown telematics system kind of breaks down. You have to integrate the data and you have to have systems that work across all kinds of trucks.

And that’s one of the key reasons aftermarket telematics systems are probably the best approach – the integration of the data is where people are seeing good value. It really brings together the expertise of both parties. That won’t change unless fleets in the market stop buying from multiple truck OEMs.”

HDT: Some industry experts predict we will see more change in the transportation technology space over the next five years than has occurred in the previous 20 years. Do you agree with that assessment?

McLaughlin: I see that continuing, but it really depends upon a few things. One is the rate of innovation and technological change. “There is an explosion of data – wireless networks are capable of transmitting 100 times more than five years ago and we now have the ability to exchange data much more rapidly. Second, the ability to process and manage data with big data tools such as analytics and diagnostics, those capabilities allow for the technology to advance.

There is an explosion of different types of displays and computers, whether we are talking about tablets, fixed displays, smart phones or other Android devices. It’s really an exciting time for the industry.

The key is still focusing on the fundamentals – can I get a return on investment by investing in these technologies.

We are also seeing, a fourth piece that will drive future developments and that is the ability to deliver apps to drivers and the fleets. That has become faster and cheaper. With new deployment methods and tools, modern software languages, it’s all very exciting.”

HDT: There was an article recently on the Journal of Commerce’s Website warning of the "uberization" of trucking – meaning that shippers could order trucks on apps like uber, which people use to call a taxi or town car from their smart phones, or truckers could use such services to find freight, by-passing brokers or even carriers. Do you see those kinds of service on demand services making headway in trucking?

McLaughlin: I do see those kinds of services. What's capable? Setting aside penetration rates and adoption rates, we could very easily use a load weight application or optical camera in a trailer to determine how full a truck is. We can look at planned routes and determine where the truck is located. You can factor in where the truck is located, its destination, the route plan and the load plan. You could go on a network and ask who’s got freight in this area you can send to me?

The reality is that you could begin to allow for trucks to be dispatched by using just the web and apps. There are tools that can do many of these things. You put all of those together you remove the need for the manual intervention that has been there in the past. Classical examples are eBay or Amazon where layers have been removed from the distribution chain.

I think the tools will be there. I don’t know how long that will be. The technology won’t limit it, business conditions will limit it. The good lanes, the good freight, the good loads usually go first and what you end up with are the less desirable loads. There will be a pecking order. You will have to have a network in which those with capacity will have to submit capacity and those with freight will have to submit their freight.

HDT: What kinds of things might we see in the next five years?

McLaughlin: We have a concept we call the "Internet of Things." That includes a couple of core technologies founded on having a data hub on the truck, high speed networks and access points for a web server on the truck. The system is wide open and allows for connectivity to many devices and many processes. The gateway concept starts to bring together these things. You now can connect to many devices or many other systems and what that will lead to is greater integration of these systems, whether that’s cameras, active safety systems, or whatever. The pieces need to fit together from a physical standpoint on the trucks.

Big data has become a cliché, but huge data is going to be important. There’s a lot of talk about analytics, but not many people are actually doing it. Telling you when a component is going to reach its end, telling you when a driver is going to have an accident, I think the predictive part, rather than reacting to it, is going take off.

There will be drive toward more rugged devices – consumer devices are not really the right device – but I think there will be a lot more of rugged devise available.”

HDT: Frost & Sullivan recognized PeopleNet for taking advantage of opportunities created by regulations mandating certain technologies in the transportation market, introducing an array of market expansion measures, such as the launch of the company’s Precision Mobility Platform and expanding its market into the energy sector. What do you think made you stand out this year?

McLaughlin: One is our growth: the ability to continue to grow year in and year out. There are a lot of people that come and go in this industry and the ability to grow stands out.

The second is the ability to deliver a value package with our services, the ability to drive integrated value. Another thing is our ability to enter new markets. Our entry into the energy services sector will end up being about 20% of our units. And finally, there is our ability to keep our marque customers and our OEM relationships.

About the author
Jim Beach

Jim Beach

Technology Contributing Editor

Covering the information technology beat for Heavy Duty Trucking, Jim Beach stays on top of computer technology trends from the cab to the back office to the shop, whether it’s in the hand, on the desk or in the cloud. Covering trucking since 1988.

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