Trucking has shown an astounding capacity to handle -- even exploit -- change.
Something strange has happened to me this month -- I'm at a loss for words. That's not supposed to happen to people who write for a living. The problem is that I've been traveling a good deal lately, spending large amounts of time with fleets and those that supply fleets with services and goods. And after hours of talking and listening to all these thoughtful and conscientious people, I'm feeling overwhelmed by the pace and depth of change sweeping through the trucking industry.
I know the feeling will pass, and I'll get back to the daily business of focusing on the details, breaking up all the "big" issues into manageable pieces. But for the moment, at least, I'm looking at the immense job facing fleets as they attempt to cope with changes that reach into every part of their business, and I'm more than a little astonished by the flexibility and adaptability exhibited by so many managers and executives in this industry.
I'm sure you're busy trying to keep up with this change, but take a minute to lift your head up from the swarm of things demanding immediate attention and look at the big picture.
First, there's the flood of new technology. Trucks, and the components that go into them, are in the midst of radical change. Continued advances in electronics are resulting in diesel engines with lower emissions, better fuel economy, more power, and improved maintainability. Manual transmissions can shift themselves, and engineers are already at work on alternators, compressors, and other accessory systems that will monitor and balance their own operations to reduce parasitic power loss. Even mirrors are evolving into complete rearward vision systems. Then there are all the recent options available for extended oil, coolant, and lube drains.
In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find a single item on a modern Class 8 tractor that hasn't been redesigned, refined, or rethought. And all these changes are quickly working their way down into all the lighter commercial classes as well.
All the choices posed by this flood of new truck hardware are enough to keep any fleet manager busy for more hours a day than anyone should work. But that's only part of trucking's story today. You're also facing wholesale changes in fleet business operations and expectations.
Information technology has moved well beyond recordkeeping chores to areas such as predictive maintenance, electronic commerce, decision support, load optimization, and other business tools that were unimaginable for fleets even a decade ago. The systems required to run these tools are pushing the edge of available technology. And communications between fleet offices, vehicles, and customers can include wireless, Internet, private network, automated voice, and a rapidly expanding menu of options that all have to work as a single, seamless system to be of any real value.
As daunting as the vehicle and information hardware changes may be, they pale beside the business changes facing almost every kind of truck fleet.
Once fleets clearly identified themselves as private, truckload, or LTL, as local, regional, or national, as businesses with single, well-defined roles for their trucking operations. That trucking industry is history.
Today, fleets fill whatever role their customers want, whether it be third-party logistics, expedited service, intracorporate hauling, or any other permutation devised by those that use trucking's services. And it isn't enough to be prepared to change as those customers' desires change. Your customers, whether they be internal or external, expect you to anticipate and even precipitate those changing desires.
I'm feeling overwhelmed just looking at all this change, but you're living and working through it. In fact, it seems that many of you are actually thriving in this climate of constant, radical change. Take a break for a minute and give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back.