In January, PeopleNet announced it was implementing four newly developed business lines: Trucking, Energy Services, Video Intelligence and Channels/OEMs. Mark Kessler, who joined PeopleNet in 2000 in charge of sales and business development, was named general manager of the largest division, Trucking.

We caught up with him at the recent Truckload Carriers Association annual conference.

Q: So what's the news here at the show?

A: [Hands me a press release outlining an upgrade to PeopleNet's web-based interface mapping technology in partnership with sister company ALK. With the new interface, featuring the ALK Maps interactive mapping platform, fleet managers will gain access to new mapping features designed specifically for the transportation industry. Interfaces, such as weather radar and traffic level overlays, will allow fleets to better visualize routes to efficiently plan routes and schedule activities.]

In the past you've written about thinks like the Internet of Transportation Things, being the hub and linking different sensors in the cab of the truck. We have incredibly smart people, we have the best innovators in transportation within our four walls. Those people have a great platform they can innovate on. So one of the things we wanted to do to enhance the platform was mapping.

In the past we were using Google Maps as our platform, but we didn't have control over the development of mapping technology. We have lot of big ambitions for what we're going to develop on this mapping program. It includes hours of service, real-time weather and traffic, and allows him to get back home on time for little Johnny's football game.

Making fleets more efficient is about making that driveline more efficient but also keeping the driver turnover down.

Q: Any more on what you're working on to help with driver turnover?

A: I can't disclose any details but I will tell you that everything will be to enhance that fleet and enhance that work life balance of the driver behind the wheel.

Q: So tell me about this realignment. What does it mean to your customers?

A: I think this gives us a deeper alignment of innovation and tackling the big issues in the marketplace. Trucking's doing well but we've got really challenging headwinds ahead of us. If you believe the America Trucking Associations, which states we'll lose 960,000 drivers over next 10 years, if you believe regulations like hair follicle testing and the ELD mandate are going to take X amount of capacity out of the marketplace, collecting ones and zeros together to solve these big industry challenges is what our company is all about. I think you'll see us tackle large industry issues like that through innovation.

Q: What's your role in this?

A: As GM of the Trucking Division, it's my role to align the needs in the marketplace with the innovations that are taking place.

Q: For about three years now Peoplenet has owned by Trimble, the same company that also has purchased ALK, TMW and other companies. How does that work? Are there benefits to the customer?

A: Trimble's a great partner; they're a large corporation with a lot of resources. They've got over a thousand patents for GPS-enabled technologies. They partner with a lot of innovative companies, Google included. They bring to us a lot of depth in innovation and a lot of experience in innovation that has enhanced what we're trying to do now. A lot of what we're trying to do now is because of that partnership.

I give them a lot of credit; they acquired us and they have let us run our business. So they've done a great job of that. We provide them with visibility and innovation which is what they want to see, they want us to see us continue to innovate and tackle big industry challenges.

Q: So the idea is you're not just pursuing innovation for sake of innovation.

A: The transportation business we're in is a great industry and it is a massive industry. We're in an industry that touches everybody arguably on the plant. So we're trying to help solve these problems and you can't do that unless you have the finger on the pulse and you're talking to customers, to fleets, to drivers.

Q: What do you see as the biggest challenges for your customers today when it comes to technology?

A: The biggest challenge right now that's staring everyone in the face is the ELD mandate, conceivably in September. I think our industry has a lot of innovative companies that adopted that technology early on. We're going to have a lot of companies that are going to have to adopt the technology in the next 2.5 years. Those fleets are going to need to choose a partner that is innovative. My fear is that fleets will choose the technology that is cheap, easy, 'just get me compliant,' and lose sight of all the innovation and ROI they could get.

Q: What do you see as the biggest opportunities?

A: I'm going to go back to drivers; the one thing everyone has in common here. I haven't run into anyone that's not saying they'd love to have more drivers. As companies are looking for an innovation partner, what are those things they are doing to enhance the life of that driver? Make life safer, better, behind the wheel, less waiting time at the dock, get him home more often -- the things that all happen with better utilization of ones and zeros.

Q: What do you see for trucking technology looking into your crystal ball?

A: In the '90s we saw driver shortages come and go. This one's different, this one's sustainable, this one's got regulatory headwinds. Looking in a crystal ball, I think as an industry we're going to have to figure out where we're going to get the next generation of drivers. Are we going to get younger drivers approved to drive, are we going to get drivers from other pools?

You've got the drivers retiring, then you've also got the capacity crunch because of hair follicle testing, the ELD mandate, all those things from a regulatory standpoint. So again the companies that I think adopt technologies and fully integrate technologies that help make life better for the driver behind he wheel are going to win the day. I think we're going to see a lot of consolidation in the business, and the companies that don't address those issues are going to become the acquiree rather than the acquirer.

Those companies that are more forward thinking are going to win the day.