Editor’s note: Written by Gary Schmidt, vice president of business solutions at Zonar, a transportation telematics company. This is one in a series of periodic guest columns by industry thought leaders.
As the trucking industry starts a new decade, it faces technological transformation, economic pressures, and shifting workforce dynamics. While businesses of all sizes are feeling the ground shake from under them, instead of feeling uncertain about the future, they should grab the opportunities that arise with rapid evolution.
As the leader of Business Solutions at Zonar, I have a bird’s eye view of how the trucking world is changing. I hear from customers that oversee and manage multiple vehicles and equipment, operators and drivers, and new technologies about how their needs have changed along with market dynamics. Businesses share their challenges and successes, so I have a unique perspective regarding what seems to be working and what is potentially harming our industry.
Below are three resolutions for the trucking industry that every stakeholder should consider as we all enter the new decade.
WELCOME THE DISRUPTORS, LEARN FROM THE DISRUPTION
Each truck maker has its own manufacturing, maintenance, and repair model. Coordinating all of them can be time-consuming and expensive for customers. And let’s face it, companies will continue to (at least in the near term) disagree on standards for business reasons, leading to increased costs and steep learning curves for everyone involved. That said, this represents an opportunity for fleet owners to gain access to a greater range of truck original equipment manufacturer, or OEM, options. No single platform has ever created an all-in-one solution for every conceivable situation. It will also give fleet owners more buying power since alternatives are available.
For manufacturers, the future is modular. Customers will continue to purchase their solutions piecemeal, and will expect them to work together like LEGO blocks. Vendors that can come up with solutions to streamline operations and combine and consolidate the effort it takes to mine through data should be a welcomed disruptor in our world – and one we can all learn from to evolve.
FOCUS ON INSIGHTS, NOT UNITS
We’ve all seen an influx of new technology in the past few years. They automated driving, rideshare-like apps that link drivers and operators with jobs and regulations that have forced organizations to go digital. This inflow brings with access to a larger library of data. But sometimes that access to multiple types of data, creating confusion. The switch from purpose-built solutions to open-source systems has not been a smooth one. We’ve seen users of the latter expecting it to work on everything, and source developers of the former aren’t used to providing.
OEMs for example, have unique portals that only address OEM manufactured components, which are specified by the customer. If these components aren’t manufactured by a single OEM, a fleet manager will have to deal with vehicles that have multiple digital journeys occurring on different engines and transmission brands. If a fleet manager has to use different portals to check on a vehicle’s health, it’s unlikely they will be able to fully utilize the data to make smarter decisions putting them at a disadvantage. And businesses that turn to third-party insight tool are compromising deep insights for convenience.
Fortunately, this proliferation of data also represents a new opportunity for fleets to revise business strategies and more easily comply with new regulations like the electronic logging device mandate. As an industry, we should resolve to work together to provide insights instead of simple implementation. What fleet managers need now isn’t just technology that addresses state or federal legislation but data-driven insights that can help grow or streamline their businesses. There’s open space for solution providers to educate and facilitate a smarter way of doing business and they need to act as partners to their customers, but also with OEMs.
SUPPORT SMALLER FLEETS
Laissez-faire borrowing standards have led to many independent fleets buying $100,000 trucks at zero percent interest. But some lack the business required and have their trucks repossessed. This presents a challenge, because independent small- and medium-sized operations make up roughly 60 percent of all truck sales, but a much smaller percentage of wallet share. However, this represents an opportunity for OEMs that want to step in with the right network of less expensive, low touch, self-install solutions – such as the new 2020 marketplace suggested above. This market is hungry for modular, smart tech and vendors that act as partners. But smaller fleets are often de-prioritized for the bigger sales opportunities, which hurts everyone in the long run. We should take care to remember when we neglect these fleets, we miss the kind of early feedback that could point to future trends or patterns that affect everyone in the industry.
The world tends to see trucking as “old school” but the truth is, the industry helps drive the economy forward. Transformation is happening whether or not we’re comfortable with change. By resolving to welcome and learn from change-makers and disruptors, move beyond products to insights and open platforms, and recognize the buying power of the small-to-mid market can we truly take advantage of all the opportunities that our evolving industry will provide.
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