Collaboration has been a red-hot business buzzword for some years now - the "re-engineering," "quality first" and "team hug" of the 1980s all rolled into one. Unlike these other phenomena, however, actual sightings of collaboration in action had been rather rare. No more.

If you attended the recent American Trucking Assns. Management Conference & Exhibition in San Diego, for example, you had the chance to see it at virtually every turn.

At a joint press conference, Aether Systems (already allied with companies like AT&T Wireless Services, Verizon, Reuters Visa and First Data/Western Union) announced the acquisition of Motient Corp.'s retail transportation business. Meanwhile, Viastar Services Corp. and Amtech Systems (both affiliates of TransCore Holdings Inc.), along with new partner Corporativo Integra de Mexico S.A. de C.V., met with editors to discuss the expanded capabilities their relationship is enabling.

Everywhere, collaboration was in the air. Technology, it seems, is not only changing the way in which companies work, it is changing the very nature of businesses themselves.

In his 1993 book, "Techno Trends: 24 Technologies That Will Revolutionize Our Lives" (HarperBusiness, a Division of Harper Collins), futurist Daniel Burrus noted that, "Collaboration rather than confrontation is going to be the norm in the twenty-first century, and with forward-thinking organizations it already is. Once again, technology is changing reality."

For fleets trying to make good decisions about which technologies to implement and which suppliers with whom to work, however, all this reality-changing collaboration among technology suppliers can be a little unsettling - rather like meeting prospective in-laws for the first time and realizing that they will all become your relatives.

There are plenty of reasons to smile and shake hands all around, though. For starters, the suppliers working so diligently to forge alliances are solving many of the technology integration problems that carriers themselves used to face, and they are doing it upstream of your fleet's systems implementation, not afterwards. This has the potential to shorten installation schedules, accelerate payback periods, and enhance ROI, not to mention reducing training and start-up frustrations generally.

As solutions are combined and streamlined, up-front costs are also falling and options are multiplying. Fleets have never had more mobile communications and management systems choices, and at more price points.

In the process of crafting some of these collaborative solutions, technology suppliers have had to share their expertise, as well. This think-tank environment is bringing together some of the best and brightest minds, who are helping the entire industry to better understand and realize the benefits to be derived from the current technology revolution. Tapping into this knowledge bank can help carriers make technology decisions that are not only right in the short term, but strategically sound for the future, as well.

It is impossible, of course, to observe this technology "mating season" without asking some questions about your own organization. Are there alliances that would strengthen your position in the marketplace? Expand your capabilities? Lower your costs? Teaching companies how to successfully collaborate may turn out to be one of technology's most important and lasting contribution to the trucking industry.