Are you getting too technical?

user-gravatar Headshot

Schneider Logistics signed a definitive agreement to acquire American Port Services, a provider of port transloading/deconsolidation, warehousing and distribution services.

Gainey Transportation Services has acquired North American’s Blanket Wrap Division. North American’s Fort Wayne, Ind., facility will remain the headquarters for the division that will be renamed Gainey Specialized Transport.

Canadian carrier Vitran Corp. has acquired Chris Truck Line, a regional freight carrier based in Wichita, Kan.

Market Transport Service – a Portland, Ore.-based logistics and multimodal transportation services company – has acquired Triple Express, a transportation broker based in Medford, Ore.

MTS Freight, a division of Mergenthaler Transfer & Storage, has purchased all the routes that were served previously by Molerway Freight Lines, expanding its LTL service throughout the Rocky Mountain region.

Mullen Transportation has completed its acquisition of Payne Transportation. Mullen, based in Aldersyde, Alberta, was an initial investor in Winnipeg, Manitoba-based Payne, holding a 45 percent interest.

Saia has opened a second terminal facility in the Dallas/Fort Worth metropolitan area – specifically in Garland. Saia, a SCS Transportation subsidiary, now has 128 terminals in 30 states.

When it comes to adopting technology, I always have been a cynic. Too many companies have squandered money on technology that didn’t fulfill its purpose.

That being said, there is no question that for a trucking company to be successful, it has to invest in technology – not just to gain the productivity improvements that come with it, but also to attract employees and customers. Many drivers I have met won’t work with companies that don’t have in-cab messaging.

Similarly, many dispatchers and other managers don’t want to work with carriers still operating on clipboards and dry-erase boards. And most of all, customers want to work with carriers that can tell them the location of their shipments – at any time.

When you talk technology, you have to understand that the term covers a broad spectrum. On one end is equipment that replaces existing technology, either as an upgrade in performance or as a new way of performing a routine task. A computer with a faster processor is an example of an upgrade. Cellular telephones replacing land lines is a new way of performing the routine task of talking to drivers.

For the most part, this is the easiest technology to purchase because everyone knows how to use it. You don’t have to understand how a cellular network works to make a cell phone call. While it may not pay to be the first user of new technology, certainly once the price starts to fall, there usually is a fairly quick payback on the investment. And again, because everyone understands the application, there is a much lower risk that the new equipment ends up collecting dust.

At the other end of the spectrum is technology that no one really understands. For example, many large fleets and some small ones have adopted dispatch software that utilizes mathematical models to optimize driver load assignments. Now we are treading on dangerous ground. Few people, including some actually selling the technology, understand what optimization is all about. In truth, optimization is based on the simultaneous solutions of millions of equations in order to extract the best possible result.

The best possible result occurs when the model has precise, accurate data and all the settings are correct. For that, you need pretty good information systems – and someone who knows how to tweak the optimization model. Does that describe most trucking companies? Not the ones I know.

As a result, the model produces results that few people understand or are willing to accept. When this occurs, the model’s output largely becomes ignored. Often, the company stops using the technology altogether. That’s not to say you shouldn’t take advantage of this kind of sophisticated technology. But be very careful. You may have trouble gaining acceptance of a technology if employees don’t understand it.

Another caution to consider when buying technology is that you must make sure it meets all your needs today – as well as tomorrow. Too often, companies focus on the solution that costs the least – one that they quickly outgrow – or they diversify into new services that the technology doesn’t support.

Because we live in a world where technology is available readily, we tend to believe that commercial offerings have infinite capabilities. For example, we have electronic spreadsheets that have more features than anyone could possible use. Yet I have talked to a number of carriers who have implemented software and are shocked when they learn what the software can’t do.

The difference is the electronic spreadsheet is used by millions of customers who suggest ways that the software can be improved. Selling millions of copies means that the software company can afford to improve the product constantly.

But when it comes to trucking, only dozens – or hundreds, if you’re lucky – of companies may use a vendor’s software package.

So take the time to make sure you know what you are getting from a software package before you invest in it – and that it has all of the capabilities you need.