by Rich Bartolotta
Gordon Gekko is one of the most iconic anti-heroes in cinematic history. Almost as iconic was the oversized mobile phone used by Gekko to plot financial takeovers in the 1987 film Wall Street. While he was an early adopter of technology in the 80s, the phones of that time are best remembered for being bulky, costly, limited in functionality and having a short battery life.
Fast forward 20 years to the launch of Apple’s first iPhone. This small, more affordable device boasted numerous functions and an impressive battery life. The explosion of apps that resulted from the introduction of the smartphone has truly changed the way society functions today.
The development of mobile devices has a lot in common with the transformation currently occurring in the world of connected technologies. The “Internet of Things” is already benefitting many types of businesses, including the trucking industry, and will continue to have an impact on every aspect of life as it evolves.
THE INTERNET OF THINGS
One of the most popular terms being thrown around in the tech world today is the “Internet of Things (IoT).” We have all heard the future of technology will involve the IoT, but what exactly is it? The International Telecommunications Union defines it as:
The network of physical objects—devices, vehicles, buildings and other items embedded with electronics,
software, sensors, and network connectivity—that enables these objects to collect and exchange data.
This definition may still feel a little murky. The easiest way to understand the capabilities of the IoT is to see it in practice. An elder family member can wear an alarm device that interacts with sensors around his or her home to let family members know they are doing well and following a normal routine. Or, your smartphone sensors can monitor your workout routine and provide information about your activity level. These are just a couple of examples showcasing how the IoT is already a part of our lives.
The IoT has the potential to encompass almost every activity imaginable, and its uses reach across all industries. In fact, AT&T has a major strategic initiative underway related to the development of “Smart Cities.” Practical applications will include the ability for city managers to monitor road and bridge conditions in order to help maintenance crews identify roads in need of repairs. Major cities across the United States, including Atlanta, are considering applications such as these to help cities run more efficiently and effectively for all.
For instance, the Georgia Department of Transportation announced in July a data-sharing partnership with Waze, the free, real-time crowdsourced navigation app powered by the world’s largest community of drivers. Designed as a free, two-way data share of publicly available traffic information, the Connected Citizens Program will promote greater efficiency, deeper insights and safer roads for citizens of Georgia. The partnership provides real-time, anonymous, Waze-generated incident and slow-down information to Georgia DOT directly from the source: drivers themselves. In exchange, Georgia DOT provides real-time construction, crash and road closure data to Waze. This will result in a succinct, thorough overview of current road conditions.
From smart light bulbs to smart outlets, thermostats, door locks and cookware, the IoT is visible all over our homes, as well as in the world around us. As connected technology expands its applications, it is inevitable there will be some bad with the good. This free-flowing information will need to be secure and have a positive impact on our daily and business activities. The challenge will be to sift through all of the stones to find the pieces of gold that can truly enrich our lives and make tasks more efficient.
THE INTERNET OF TRUCKING
Let’s turn our attention toward the ways the IoT might positively affect the business of trucking. Connected technology has the potential to greatly benefit the trucking industry. Some examples include:
Attracting and Retaining Drivers – We all know the trucking industry faces a shortage of qualified drivers. Millennials working within the industry have grown up using computers, mobile devices and the Internet. Companies that deploy leading-edge communication solutions in the workplace will have a clear competitive advantage when it comes to attracting and retaining younger employees. Young people will want to use the same technology in business that they use in their personal life whenever possible. Companies that embrace this fact and help their employees access information as needed, and in a simple manner, will be ahead of the curve.
Operational Efficiency – Fleet management systems that help optimize fuel usage are also powered by the IoT. Real-time driver coaching and truck performance analytics can lead to reductions in fuel usage. In an industry that consumes more than 50 billion gallons of fuel annually, these savings can result in meaningful profit improvement. The analytics collected can also help to improve maintenance on trucks, better manage assets and help in the area of safety. For truck operators focused on optimal load weight, efficiency can be gained by using technology that provides real-time weight for trucks, which in turn avoids costly trips to the scale.
These are just a few examples of the ways IoT technology can alter the trucking landscape in a positive and meaningful way. Shifting gears, let’s focus on how best to deploy these new solutions.
DEPLOYING IOT SOLUTIONS
Integrating IoT solutions can be a bit of a daunting task. Here are a few important questions to answer before deploying any new technology in your business:
“What problem are you trying to solve?” – Deploying technology for technology’s sake is a losing proposition. Instead, think of technology and the IoT as an enabler. How can you use this technology to solve a business problem? Understanding the business issue is critical in order to accurately assess the best solution. Don’t put the cart before the horse and move ahead with technology without a clear expected outcome for its deployment.
“What is the expected Return on Investment (ROI)?” – Your financial experts will sharpen their pencils at this point. Being able to demonstrate improved operating costs as a direct result of deploying new technology is essential. Most finance people will want the business case to be acceptable with tangible savings, rather than dependent on other esoteric benefits.
Having a sound business case will help you make important trade-off decisions within your business. For example, you might have 10 projects that have good returns, but capital funds to invest in three. The three you choose to invest in will be dependent on these business cases. Take the time to see what your investment costs will be and how operating costs will be lowered by using new technology.
“Do you have skills to deploy the technology solution?” – Once you have decided to deploy new technology within your business, you must concentrate on the “how?” Is there software you’ll need to purchase to achieve the expected benefits? If so, what integrations are needed within the existing operations? Do you have people available with skills and time to work on these new projects, or will you have to outsource these activities? Great ideas are not executed without a sound and well-vetted implementation plan that ensures funding, resources and expertise are available to drive change.
The IoT is ushering in an era of far-reaching change in our personal and business lives. The companies in the trucking industry that embrace technology to drive business productivity, innovation and solve problems will continue to win in the marketplace. Ben Franklin once said, “When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.” Look how much change has happened over the past 25 years in the mobile phone segment. Where will the trucking industry be in 10 years if technology is embraced on a similar scale? It may be impossible to predict, but one thing is for certain: the road ahead is bright.
Rich Bartolotta is a strategic partner with Schooley Mitchell.