Electric vehicles. Driverless trucks. Platooning. Drones. Bicycles. You may think, to paraphrase the show Sesame Street, that one of these things is not like the others. Yet for parcel and logistics giant UPS, using regular and electric bicycles for delivery in some congested urban areas is just as much a part of its innovative thinking as its order of Tesla Semi heavy-duty electric tractors.
Last month’s annual meeting of the American Trucking Associations’ Technology & Maintenance Council was themed “Driving Excellence Through Expertise.” Yet some fleets may feel overwhelmed by all the new technology coming at them because they don’t have the expertise. Let’s face it, at the rate new technology is rolling in, no one really has the expertise yet. We’re all making it up as we go along.
But sitting still and worrying about it is not an option, said Carlton Rose, UPS president, global fleet maintenance and engineering, speaking during the kickoff breakfast. “You cannot be a linear thinker in an exponential world,” said Rose, who worked his way up through the UPS ranks after serving as a driver and technician.
Excellence, he noted, evolves, pointing to some of the earliest mobile phones as an example. “Today’s excellence is tomorrow’s mediocrity,” he said.
The first step to seeing what the excellence of tomorrow looks like, he said, is to grasp what mediocrity looks like today, citing polluted air and vehicle crashes as examples. “Today’s mediocrity is standing still, watching and worrying, as technology moves ahead faster than ever before.
“It’s understandable to be afraid of all this change,” Rose said. “In fact, it’s smart. But fear of the unknown discourages investment.”
When you know it’s the right thing to do, but you’re waiting around for the technology to be better proven, don’t sacrifice the good for the perfect. Sometimes, we need to take a cue from Nike’s slogan “Just Do It.”
So how do we break though that fear? “It’s as simple as ABC: Adaptability, bravery, and commitment,” Rose said.
That adaptability was definitely seen in another session, where UPS’ Duane Lippincott spoke on a panel on last-mile delivery. Lippincott, who oversees training for UPS’ maintenance personnel at more than 1,400 shops in the U.S., spoke about how the company’s adoption of everything from bicycles to natural gas and electric trucks has changed things on the maintenance side, from stocking bicycle tire tubes to figuring out charging and training strategies.
It may even mean thinking about different ways of training techs and running shops. Maybe you’d want to outsource the maintenance work on bicycles or drones, for instance.
“It’s going to be very difficult to hire enough technicians and have highly technical people” in all your tech positions, he said. Perhaps we’ll need a hierarchy, with an entry-level tech handling basic jobs like oil changes and tires on one end, and a highly skilled, trained, and technical expert on the other end of the scale.
“Maybe we would develop a call-in number where less-skilled techs call in and the highly skilled ones help diagnose the problem by phone,” he suggested. “We don’t need virtual reality glasses for that; we can do that today, every one of us, with an iPhone, just using Facetime, so you can show him the problem you’ve got.”
UPS, for one, is practicing what it preaches. “We must be willing to change as technology changes,” Rose said. “Far too often we’re mentally enslaved to the familiar. Freeing ourselves may allow us to take the first step.” And who knows where all those first steps may lead.