View source: Lidia Yan
The trucking industry is a critical element of the U.S. economy. E-commerce is at an all-time high, and trucking companies have risen to the resulting demand challenges exacerbated by stay-at-home measures and nationwide shutdowns.
Over 3.5 million people were working as drivers in the industry as of 2019, and those individuals are consistently responsible for moving more than 70% of the nation’s freight by weight — an obligation which persists even under the confines of changing government health and safety regulations.
For the largest fleet owners, like XPO Logistics and YRC Worldwide, these regulations and increasing economic pressures certainly present a challenge. For smaller fleet owners with less resources, the stakes are even higher. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has reported that, of the 777,000 for-hire trucking fleets in the U.S., almost 97% operate fewer than 20 trucks — and most fleet owners simply do not have access to the same resources that industry behemoths may have.
Technology is changing that. With the rise of fleet operations solutions, the trucking industry has seen the onset of a democratization of tools and resources that previously did not exist for the average fleet owner. Today, solutions exist to benefit fleet operations — from efficiency to data management to driver safety — improving the ability of smaller fleets to cope with the changing economic and regulatory landscape.
Existing efficiency roadblocks have only expanded with the onset of the pandemic. Social distancing measures have propelled a reduction in the number of staff at warehouses and distribution centers, creating a ripple effect in the delivery pipeline. Delays at the port do not, however, alleviate the pressures of delivery timelines for drivers and fleet owners. In fact, with the predominance of expectations like two-day shipping, the pressure has only mounted.
Efficiency is paramount for fleet owners today to combat delays. Technology providers have risen to the challenge to serve the market and address these pain points. Take, for example, technology solutions like automated freight matching. When done correctly, this type of technology makes it possible for drivers and carriers to book their next load from anywhere on-demand.
A host of companies now make up the digital freight marketplace, including my organization, which focuses on drayage, or the first mile of the supply chain, while companies like Convoy and Uber Freight focus on over-the-road or long-haul trucking. These digital hubs offer an online marketplace and mobile application to manage availability, load capacity and preferred rates for drivers. Comprehensive freight and drayage marketplaces make it easy for drivers to schedule their preferred loads, routes and working hours individually.
Democratization of Data
Data is a ubiquitous topic in the tech industry, but its importance in modern business operations cannot be overstated. Fundamentally, the success of a fleet demands accurate data and a means of distributing relevant and critical information between owner-operators, drivers and carriers. If drivers can communicate delays and carriers can quickly communicate available loads to an audience of fleets poised to transport them, the bottlenecks associated with legacy methods virtually disappear.
Reduced management time and an improved ability to connect drivers with their preferred loads can empower fleet owners to improve operational efficiency, streamline the supply chain and ultimately maintain the accounts that are critical to their success. Increased access to data can also reveal places where improvements might be made to bolster cost-effectiveness and driver experience.
Following the introduction of the FCMSA’s electronic logging device (ELD) mandate, technology solutions are more critical from a compliance standpoint and offer the added benefit of standardized, trackable safety protocols. ELDs, like Samsara, can improve fuel efficiency, simplify logging and offer violation alerts to ensure fleet owners can manage and prevent unsafe driving practices. That accountability is critical to helping drivers get enough rest and abide by necessary regulations.
By empowering drivers with tools to communicate issues, delays and load changes, fleets can benefit from improved safety and keep a pulse on drivers in real time. Additional tools like Eleos, a route planning application, can help fleet owners to support drivers in safely meeting their delivery guidelines without sacrificing safety.
Before adopting new technology, companies should consider whether the provider of the solution has a working knowledge of how the industry operates. A certain amount of industry expertise is required to avoid a tech provider that might make inaccurate assumptions that ultimately fail to address the root issues the company is seeking to alleviate.
In addition, fleet owners should plan ahead for common challenges that can arise when adopting a new technology. Because trucking is traditionally a pen-and-paper-based industry, user-friendliness is key. Selecting a straightforward and intuitive platform can alleviate the learning curve drivers might face. In addition, many states have varied regulations concerning their individual approaches to data security. To remain compliant with privacy laws and prevent security breaches, fleet owners should vet new technology solutions against a high standard for privacy and transparency.
Ultimately, fleet owners should opt for solutions that address the pain points that matter most to their drivers. Does the technology help the fleet owner and his or her drivers remain compliant with laws like the ELD mandate? Does it improve safety and efficiency? Does the provider have a robust plan to ensure business continuity? If they can address these points, while also meeting the fleet owner’s standards for service and company values, it may be a tool worthy of investment.
As advanced technology becomes available to fleet owner-operators, these nimble companies will be better equipped to meet new demand challenges and to navigate the realities of a supply chain that has been permanently modified by the ongoing pandemic. Technology is transforming fleet management as we know it, and the companies that opt to take advantage of these new tools will be better prepared to weather the fiscal year in 2021 and beyond.