These days, change seems inevitable. So who's responsible?

It's a good bet that someone at your fleet is responsible for managing operations. If you're a for-hire carrier, you certainly have defined sales and marketing positions. And it's hard to imagine a trucking operation of any kind that doesn't have someone watching over equipment maintenance. Depending on the size of your fleet, you may fill one or all of those roles, or have the people responsible for those jobs reporting to you. But who's been assigned responsibility for managing change at your company? My guess is no one, and that could be a serious mistake.

I recently sat in on a presentation by Jack Shaw, a consultant who's been deeply involved in electronic commerce for many years. Speaking to a group of technology people from a wide variety of private and for-hire fleets, Shaw made a convincing argument that electronic commerce over the Internet is about to trigger five years of the most radical change trucking has ever seen.

When you think about the last five years in trucking, that's quite a statement. You've already had to deal with rampant consolidation and the emergence of competition from third-party logistics. The widespread adoption of wireless data systems has reshaped the way truckload carriers conduct their operations, and corporate emphasis on inventory control has redefined everyone's concept of customer service.

These are all good examples of what another speaker called "disruptive innovation," that is new technology or business processes that change the rules whether you like it or not, innovations that you must adopt if you want to continue doing business.

If your fleet is like most, you're response to these disruptive innovations has been to let the most affected department deal with them as isolated events or projects. That kind of reactive approach may work for the short term, but piecemeal solutions developed in isolation can only lead to inefficiency and lost opportunity. There has to be a better way to develop strategic solutions that do more than offer quick fixes.

Shaw suggests that in the current business environment a fleet needs to focus as much attention on change management as it does to managing operations, sales, and its other business processes. You need to appoint a change manager who operates at the same level as the managers in your other critical departments. In fact, Shaw believes that 10% of your staff should now be devoted to managing change, and that on top of that, 10% of all employees' time should be set aside for education and training to prepare for change.

If you accept Shaw's basic premise that trucking is about to enter an era of intense change - and I do based on the things I'm seeing and hearing - then you need to give his suggestion serious consideration. As much as you might wish that things would just stay the same, wishing won't make it so. I'm afraid that we've just seen the beginning of disruptive innovation in this industry.

Adding a new management function goes against the "less is more" attitude that now dominates business in general, and that, in truth, has always been part of trucking's corporate culture. But would you let accounting spec your trucks, or maintenance write your business plan? So why would you expect them to plot your future without some expert guidance?

Since you can't avoid change (unless you're ready and able to retire), your best course of action is to embrace it. It just makes good sense to accept change as an integral part of your business.

It may be inevitable, but that doesn't mean it's unmanageable.