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How to add, evaluate new technologies

By Lucas Deal

It’s a scenario every fleet knows too well. After months of investigation, research and assessments, you’ve finally found the product your company needs.

With careful planning and a transparent approach with employees, strategies can be built to streamline implementation and ensure maximum productivity with new equipment.

You’ve found the answer to your problem; the solution to your success.

That was the easy part. Now that you know what you want, you must bring it on board.
Bringing in a new technology is an exhaustive affair, but with careful planning and a transparent approach with employees, strategies can be built to streamline implementation and ensure maximum productivity with new equipment.

In this ninth edition of CCJ’s Tech Toolbox, we look at the factors fleets should consider and best practices they can use for implementing new technologies into their operations.

Also be sure to visit CCJTechToolbox.com for other installments and multimedia content and to sign up for special TechToolbox webinars and newsletters.


Planning tech implementation: Coming up with a strategy

By Lucas Deal

Any technology assessment that ends in acceptance should transition its focus immediately from evaluation to implementation. Both fleets and technology providers alike say the cautious traits of research and investigation that help fleets choose valuable technologies are equally useful in their implementation.

Once a carrier knows what it wants, it can’t just buy it and move onto something else, says Joel Beal, general manager for LoadTrek, provider of a cloud-based onboard computer and telematics and transportation management system. Implementation and operational procedures must be developed, he says.

Leadership must delegate a technology’s rollout to project managers capable of handling it, and that team must work with fellow employees and the technology provider to create a strategy and timeline, Beal says.

The delegation decision cannot be overlooked, he says. Because the executives who purchase new technologies are rarely the point people who will implement them, it is necessary for leaders to select an employee not only with project management experience but also the respect of fellow employees and a drive to successfully push a rollout through to completion.

“I strongly believe, regardless of the technology, that it’s the person in charge of getting it implemented who has the biggest impact on the success,” Beal says. “It’s more about the person than the process.”

But process still matters.

Who trained your employees after your first advanced technology purchase?

The technology provider

25.1%

A third-party facilitator

3.6%

The technology provider trained our managers,
who in turn trained our employees

36.6%

A third-party facilitator trained our managers, who in turn trained our employees

4.9%

Our employees were expected to learn the
technology on their own

7.1%

No training was necessary

16.2%

I don’t know

2.9%

Other

3.6%

Source: CCJ survey of fleet professionals, 429 respondents

Newly tapped project managers should meet with suppliers to discuss their implementation methods and adapt their general strategies to their individual fleet. Goals should be presented immediately so that both parties are aware of expectations, says Christopher Platt, vice president of strategic accounts for Omnitracs.

“It’s very important both sides are up front with each other for a successful deployment and implementation,” Platt says.

Installation planning should follow, as the two sides collaborate to determine the best way to add the technology to the carrier’s operation. These plans can vary substantially depending on the technology and its expected usage, says Ron Greenleaf, Mountain District regional sales manager for GCR Tires & Service.

“Because we are advising a customer on their tire policy, we first try to sit down with them and understand their business,” Greenleaf says. “We want to know what they are driving toward and tailor our product to those business objectives.”

This step is best followed by informing employees, particularly drivers, if the technology will have any impact on their work. The effectiveness and value of any technology entering the field ultimately is determined by drivers, so they’re not a group to overlook, says Taylor Brown, executive vice president for Urbandale, Iowa-based Brown NationaLease.

“The worst thing you can ever do is make a decision on a product and put it out to the field without having their buy-in,” Brown says. “Then it’s dead on arrival.”

It’s only after these steps are completed that Beal advises a fleet to move forward with a new technology implementation.

“We spend so much time on pricing and not nearly enough on planning,” he says. “It’s totally backward. It’s so much easier to do it if you have a plan and everyone knows what they are going to do.”


Working with tech providers: Using your subject matter experts

By Lucas Deal

Rush Enterprises’ RushCare Service Connect supplements onboarding training for its fleet maintenance technology with an on-call Customer Support Center.

The biggest resource for fleets working to implement new technology properly is the providers selling it. Even the most tech-savvy carriers lack the implementation experience that the product experts have compiled.

“We’ve found we have the most success when we listen to our providers,” says Mike Moran, president of Moran Transportation, based in Elk Grove Village, Ill. “We use their expertise to guide us on how to move forward.”

Suppliers say this is important because there are so few technologies that have identical implementation. An electronic logging device may need identical attaching components, and a new safety system may fit only in a specific configuration, but how a fleet plans for and installs both can vary wildly.

Mike Schwanzl, director of field sales and service for Dana, says he’s seen that in how customers evaluate his company’s newest technologies. While some customers prefer to spec new components directly into their next truck order, others may opt for retrofitting where applicable, or some combination of both.

Schwanzl says Dana offers detailed guidance for any potential avenue, “pointing out any circumstance” where one strategy is required or strongly recommended.

Technology providers are equally useful in building and maintaining a timeline for implementation — sometimes even offering real-world experience as direction.

“We recommend customers implement technologies in stages and improve in areas of need,” says Brian Mulshine, director of operations, technology and innovation for Rush Enterprises, which introduced its RushCare Service Connect platform in 2016.

“This is what we did for our own fleet,” Mulshine says. “The available data has to be configured and is pivotal to improving fleet performance. Smaller continuous improvement actions are the best way to achieve adoption and success.”

Which factor had the largest impact on the implementation of technology in your business?

Executive/managerial buy-in

27.6%

Employee buy-in

16.8%

Ease of Use

15.5%

Performance/operational gains

36.2%

Other

3.9%

CCJ survey responders were mixed on the drivers of acceptance of new technology, with performance and operational gains edging out top-level buy-in as the main motivating factor.

Also, in cases where fleets are making large-scale changes, relying on a provider is more than just recommended: It’s mandatory.

Fleet management software providers require access to many departments to properly embed their technologies within a carrier’s business. Depending on the provider and the scope of the software, these implementations may take months or even years.

No matter the timeframe, the providers say it is imperative the customers rely on the expertise of their implementation team to maximize onboarding efficiency and minimize business disruptions.

“When you’re changing the entire base system of how a customer does its business, that’s going to take time,” says Ray West, TMW Systems’ senior vice president and general manager of transportation management software product lines.

West says technology providers also double as a customer’s best training resource.

“Our implementation teams are experts in the industry,” he says. “We offer very customized training based on the customer’s business model and work face-to-face with them to make sure they understand exactly how to use the systems.”

Rush Enterprises does the same with its RushCare Service Connect portal, while also supplementing onboarding training with an on-call customer service support team.

“We focus on explaining not just the technology itself, but the benefits the technology provides,” says Mulshine.


How much to implement: What can you handle?

By Lucas Deal

St. Louis-based Hogan Truck Leasing, with more than 7,000 units, relies on vendor support for all technology rollouts and conducts small test rollouts with early-adopting customers.

One common but
avoidable mistake that carriers make when onboarding new technology is tackling too much too fast.

“I think in a lot of cases, fleets often underestimate how important it is to have implementation as part of their project plan,” says Deryk Powell, president for Velociti, a provider of technology deployment services. “I think sometimes companies find what they what and move forward, not realizing how much work it is going to be.”

Implementing new technology is more than adding parts or providing access to new computer tools and resources. To Powell, implementation is a comprehensive strategy that ensures a fleet earns the maximum benefits and return on investment on any product it chooses to purchase.

For fleets with a multiple technology to-do list, determining the manpower and resources necessary to implement each technology is a good pre-work assessment. Powell says this helps the fleet identify how much the business can manage without losing implementation effectiveness.

No two rollouts are the same, which means that in some cases, one fleet may be able to implement only one technology at a time, while another might have the ability to install the same system and additional products concurrently.

Conversely, in cases where near-immediate product implementation is necessary — such as with the upcoming ELD mandate — fleets should be especially cautious in risking the deviation of resources to implement a second technology.

When internal assessments still don’t show an obvious path, it’s best to ask the vendor, says Joel Beal, general manager for LoadTrek.

“This is where a vendor can be a big help, because the vendor has done this before and will do this again,” Beal says. “They know how long it’s going to take, who has to do what, what the priorities are. They have the experience to tell the customer what needs to be done.”

Tom Boyer, vice president of maintenance for St. Louis-based Hogan Truck Leasing, says he relies on his vendors’ support for all technology rollouts. Boyer says that with more than 7,000 units on the road, he can’t implement any new technology without knowing exactly what’s required of his team and how it will impact his customers.

He says small test rollouts with early adopting customers and Hogan’s sister companies — Hogan Transportation and Hogan Dedicated — have proven useful in this area since the real-world results can be used to assuage questions and concerns from other customers.

“You want to make new technology implementation as invisible as you can so you don’t negatively affect them in any manner,” Boyer says.


Winning employee buy-in: Cultivating company acceptance is critical

By Lucas Deal

When implementing a new technology that will impact its drivers, St. Louis-based Moran Transportation initially trains a select group of lead drivers before a fleetwide rollout.

Another aspect of implementation that cannot be overlooked is employee acceptance.

While new technology is change for the better, it’s still change. Altering an employee’s equipment and/or responsibilities without proper instruction and training can be counterproductive and potentially harmful.

“Most people don’t talk about employee buy-in or really even think about it, but it’s so critical,” says Deryk Powell, president for Velociti.

“It’s the biggest influence on whether something works for us, absolutely,” says Thomas Newby, vice president of equipment and maintenance for Thomasville, N.C.-based Old Dominion Freight Line (CCJ Top 250, No. 10). “You have to show employees what’s in it for them.”

The reasons for this are twofold. First, there’s the functionality aspect. It’s unfair to expect employees to use new technology properly if they haven’t been trained, Powell says.

But perhaps even more important than practical training is justification. Employees, particularly drivers, should know exactly why a new technology is being implemented and, as Newby says, how it will benefit them.

Powell says the risk from skipping this training is enormous.

“There are a lot of opinions around the technology out in the market today,” he says. “If you don’t control the messaging of why you’re adding something and show drivers how it benefits them, it can be perceived the wrong way. Word travels fast in the driver community. You don’t want your people to misunderstand what you’re doing.”

Who trained your employees on additional new technology?

The technology provider

26.5%

A third-party facilitator

4.8%

The technology provider trained our managers,
who in turn trained our employees

38.7%

A third-party facilitator trained our managers, who in turn trained our employees

10.9%

Our employees were expected to learn the
technology on their own

8.7%

No training was necessary

6.5%

I don’t know

0.9%

Other

3.0%

Source: CCJ survey of fleet professionals, 429 respondents

Many carriers use onsite terminal meetings to acclimate drivers to new technology.

These meetings, typically led by a member of the fleet’s implementation team, allow the carrier to brief large numbers of employees on a new product in a short period of time.

“We develop formal training for the drivers and have training facilities at every single one of our service centers,” says Woody Lovelace, senior vice president of corporate planning and development for Lexington, S.C.-based Southeastern Freight Lines (CCJ Top 250, No. 27). “We have mobile training units that travel to each location to provide the training. We believe it is very important that our drivers understand why things change.”

In cases where a fleet is unable to bring its drivers together in a timely manner — or believes more training is necessary for them to fully understand a change — additional training options exist.

When adding a new technology, Thomasville, N.C.-based Old Dominion Freight Line brings in older drivers who might be more resistant and trains them first to get them more comfortable.

Brent Nussbaum, chief executive officer for Hudson, Ill.-based Nussbaum Transportation, says his fleet uses its monthly newsletter and coaching runs to help onboard and teach new employees about technology. Nussbaum says the newsletter allows the company to disseminate all technology training materials and provide drivers guidance on where to find the information if they need to reference it again.

Nussbaum’s coaching runs mirror another common industry training method — using drivers to train their colleagues. ODFL has been doing that for some time, says Newby.

“We’ve found success bringing in older drivers who might be more resistant and training them first to get them more comfortable,” he says. “Then when we roll it out, they start selling it to everyone else.”

“We’ve found it helps to have a few lead drivers trained first,” says Mike Moran, president for Moran Transportation. “Drivers tend to talk to peers differently, and it helps to have some of those guys on the front lines.”

But the front line isn’t the only place where low employee acceptance rates are damaging. If executives also don’t show vocal support for a technology, it’s hard to get everyone else on board. Implementation requires everyone working toward the same goals.

“We’ve found through the years when we’ve had major implementations of technology that we become so concerned about those front-line associates,” Lovelace says. “But the paradigm shift is actually with leadership.”

He says every action plan at SEFL has executive ownership, and these action plans are addressed at the corporate level with regularity. This ensures that when the carrier selects a new technology, executives remain invested through implementation and into its use.

“For us, getting to full utilization is very critical,” Lovelace says.

What prompted you to implement a new technology?

Government mandata

61.7%

Improved operational efficiency potential (ROI)

15.8%

It was built into the vehicle

16.7%

Employees requested the tool

0.8%

Other

5.0%

Source: CCJ survey of fleet professionals, 429 respondents


Evaluating implementation: Get out the measuring tape to assess success

By Lucas Deal

Remote diagnostics and vehicle maintenance software are technologies customers are likely to undervalue, says Jim Nachtman, product marketing manager of on-highway trucks for Navistar.

The successful onboarding of new technology doesn’t end when every truck is equipped and each driver is trained. New technology is purchased with specific benefits in mind, and once it’s in use, those benefits should be confirmed.

“I think that’s a huge challenge for us as an industry,” says Joel Beal, general manager for LoadTrek. “It can be very difficult to follow up on a product once it’s out there.”

Beal believes there are multiple reasons for trucking’s struggles in measuring a technology’s effectiveness.

One stems from general business structure. Some fleets lack the manpower and resources to continue monitoring a technology once it’s working. Project managers are assigned new tasks, and leadership shifts its focus to new potential technologies. In the shuffle, the focus on what was implemented slips, and an evaluation isn’t completed.

Another barrier to proper technology evaluation is measurement. Carriers can avoid such common missteps and still fall victim to mistakes during a product assessment. This is especially common with fuel efficiency technologies, where vendor-provided fuel-savings estimates sometimes far exceed real-world data.

Tom Benusa, chief information officer for Eagan, Minn.-based Transport America, says his fleet rebuilds vendor return-on-investment calculators using its own data to better gauge expectations for a new technology. These updated calculators are used initially in product selection, then again during product trials and finally after fleetwide implementation.

Benusa says the updated formula is necessary because vendor calculators usually “show how great the tools are” in optimal conditions, not the real world.

“In my experience, it is best to have your own methodology,” he says. “You have to have confidence in the numbers you’re using to make any decision.”

Beal says vendors also can be helpful in this area, amending their own ROI calculations to provide more accurate expectations while also ensuring a new technology is operating properly. The latter is incredibly important, because implementation mistakes that aren’t corrected immediately become costly over time, he says.

There’s also the issue of usage and ensuring product training is successful. Jim Nachtman, product marketing manager of on-highway trucks for Navistar, cites remote diagnostics and vehicle maintenance software as technologies customers are likely to undervalue.

“I think sometimes customers get a product to do one thing, and that’s all they use it for,” Nachtman says. “That’s what they wanted, so that’s what they learn, unaware that it could do so much more.”

Beal agrees and says that such oversight isn’t just a problem with new technology.

“Even if you’ve been doing this for a while, sometimes it doesn’t hurt to take a step back just to reevaluate things and make sure things are working like they’re supposed to,” he says.