Picking the pilot testing path

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I comment frequently about information technology (IT) issues in this space for two main reasons.

The first is simply that IT today is as critical to the trucking business as trucks, drivers, and diesel fuel.

The second is more personal: I am and continue to be something of a technophobe, with many Luddite-like tendencies, so trying gain a better understanding of all the IT perambulations in the trucking sector is ultra critical for myself.

[This from someone who still refuses to use the automated checkout line at the grocery store, too: I’d like a real human working the cash register on aisle four please!]

And thus so we come to the always-ticklish business of how to pick the right software package for those working in the transportation and logistics industry: not an easy task, considering how many options (and expensive options at that!) there are to choose from.

For that reason, comments recently made by Stuart Mann – seen here at right, who serves as global implementation manager for software maker CargoWise – caught my eye, as he argues that transportation and logistics firms should engage in more “pilot tests” of software products because in his view it makes things “safer to fail and easier to succeed.”

In some ways, this is a view often reflects in how fleets try out new and perhaps different truck models than they’ve used in the past: buying a handful and then putting them through their paces in real world operations to see how they perform.

“The global supply chain has evolved significantly in the last 10 years, creating a challenging environment in which to select and implement software products that will meet historic, current and future business requirements,” notes Mann.

“Yet many logistics companies are using yesterday’s business practices to address current and future technological needs, and remain dominated by the desire to try to fix scope, time, quality and cost at the start of a project,” he explains. “This approach makes it almost impossible for logistics companies to document a full and meaningful set of requirements.”

In his view, spending a lot of time, money and effort trying to evaluate software in an artificial setting is a common mistake that many companies continue to make simply because they have never done things any other way.

Instead, Mann champions the belief that it’s far easier (and cheaper) to simply roll out and test new software in a real but controlled way. “Rather than scoping a project, and wasting time looking to recreate the inefficiencies under which you are already operating, it’s far more effective to take on a piece of software and run a pilot test,” he says.

“Being live on a particular piece of software in a controlled way, as quickly as possible, is the cheapest and most effective way to learn about how it works, because it offers insight that cannot be gained in a demonstration or other kind of artificial evaluation setting,” Mann explains.

Yet he adds that this is not the way most transportation and logistics companies look at a software pilot. “Most think of a pilot as the first phase in a progressive deployment to test all of the expensive upfront analysis work,” Mann notes. “While it is a helpful learning tool to use before committing to large-scale deployments, it is a first step, not an interim step.”

By contrast, he thinks that the pilot test itself should be seen as the opportunity to learn about software and refine a full-deployment program should it work out – much the way a trucking company will operate different types or brands of tractors on established routes to determine whether they deliver on fuel efficiency promises and other touted benefits.

Mann also believes that the “catalyst” for embracing software pilot testing is the realization that technologies such as cloud computing will force a “rethinking” of all of the traditional data-crunching processes – processes which need to be ironed out so many of the services surrounding software implementation today, such as installation, deployment, training and support, are all largely automated now.

“While the notion of ‘fail fast/succeed faster’ is enough to strike fear into the hearts of every process-driven, scope-based project manager, it works,” says Mann. “And it works because unlike the more traditional approach, it embraces the current technological environment and welcomes the future.”

I’ve got my doubts about the whole “welcoming” aspect of things, but one thing is for sure: if pilot testing helps find and fix software “bugs” faster and at lower cost, I’m sure most trucking operators will no doubt gladly adopt the practice.

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