In the world of route planning and delivery for fleets and trucking companies, here are six things to be aware of that could influence how business is done. Fleet Owner caught up with Cyndi Brandt, senior director of product marketing and strategic alliances at Omnitracs to hear some of the latest.

1. Watch your competition — and know who your competition is.

Brandt tells Fleet Owner a big trend in planning and delivery is that the competition is changing. "Your competitors aren't who you think they are anymore," she says.

Companies like Amazon and Google are moving toward innovations in delivery — the latter recently was awarded a patent for an autonomous last-mile delivery system concept, for example. Amazon, meanwhile, has purchased a number of truck trailers, Brandt points out.

"What is Amazon going to do with that? Be aware they're creating some sort of infrastructure there," she says. Also, Amazon has built a significant cloud infrastructure and has become "one of the largest, if not the largest, wholesale distributors of electrical and plumbing supplies — and no one knows it."

Many are familiar with Uber's shakeup of New York City taxi business last year, so be aware that something similar could happen in trucking and freight.

2. Listen for the hum of drones.

Dovetailing with that last one, the advent and proliferation of drones could have a real impact in planning and delivery, according to Brandt. "Drones are real. I hate to say it, but they're real," she contends. Amazon has gotten some attention recently with its concept of using drones in last-mile delivery.

Brandt points to one entrepreneurial fellow who tried to set up a business using drones to deliver beer to ice fishermen. That may not ultimately have much of an impact on trucking, "but you can people are getting enterprising" with drones, she says.  

"Having said that, do I think that drones can take over what a lot of our wholesale distributors are distributing? No, they can't, but it's going to have an impact on how we do business," she adds.

3. Give some thought to those millennials.

For several reasons, the latest generation of young adults making an impact in the workforce — millennials — is changing things already. "This is a group of kids who grew up with smart phones in their hands," Brandt notes. "They've never been without digital technology."

One thing they apparently can do without much more so than prior generations, she adds, is driving. Studies have shown millennials are getting their senior driver's license at much lower rates, in some cases as low as 50%, which eventually will play into trying to find and hire truck drivers who'll be comfortable driving heavy trucks on highways.  

But there's a flipside to that. Another aspect of millennials that's unlike other generations is that they've grown up posting all kinds of updates on their location and activities, Brandt notes.  

"Traditionally in trucking or wholesale distribution, we've always had people averse to being tracked, people averse to you knowing what they're doing throughout the day. Millennials have grown up posting where they are and what they're doing, and they're geotagging the locations of their photos," she tells Fleet Owner.

"So they're used to that technology and they want to use technology to make their business easier. I call it 'the technology of knowledge,' kind of knowing where you are," she says.

4. Get in on the next step in analytics: Prescriptive.

Fleet managers, Brandt quips, often are getting "over-graphed and over-pie-charted." One trend you'll see in planning and delivery is taking data fed back to the fleet and making it more predictive of things like problem behaviors, accidents and so on.

But you can also work to automate certain fleet actions depending on what your telematics and other data may be telling you, she points out, which can help unburden the back office. "We're looking to make big data more understandable for folks and more actionable," says Brandt.  

"As you get into big data, there's what we call prescriptive analytics. That along with predictive analytics gives you not only what you should be doing, but how to do it," she explains. "Because with analytics, you've got data and human intervention to get to some type of decision; then you have to create an action. People get mired up in that human intervention and decision cycle."

She gives the example of a driver who's exhibiting some unsafe behaviors like hard acceleration and braking. That information could form an alert for the fleet manager, but could also trigger the driver being sent corrective videos he or she would need to watch to help reduce problem behaviors. That way, it's one more step taken out of what the fleet manager has to do personally.

"If you can take those steps away and automate them — whatever the decision should be — it's much more powerful," Brandt says.  

5. There it is again: the Internet of Things is coming of age.

"One of the biggest trends" influencing the world of planning and delivery, Brandt emphasizes, is the much-talked-about Internet of Things. Essentially, hooking together more and more connected devices is allowing for more advancements — sometimes quite unexpected ones.

"We know there's an opportunity to integrate more and more with what's in the cab as well as outside the cab of the truck," Brandt says. "We need to pay attention to the different technologies that are out there today so that we can actually make 2 plus 2 equal 6."

While that may sound cliché, she adds, the Internet of Things actually is bringing change in planning and delivery. "You're going to be able to take more data points and bring them together," she explains. "When we talk about cameras vs. route plans and navigation, all these things can now become intertwined and create an experience for the driver inside the cab that's second to none.

"Let's take mobile app technology and bring it in to the driver," Brandt continues. "Let's make it easier for them to do what they do every day."

6. You're going to need better ways to make sense of "big data."  

With more information being harvested from connected devices, she notes, you've got lots more data to make sense of and decipher. Fleets will need to be able to cut through and make sense of available data, but they'll also have more types of information available than before.

"We have streams of information that we never thought we would have: weather; live traffic; historical traffic; 'black spots'/high accident areas; immediate cargo movements," Brandt explains. "Our own software is also generating tremendous amounts of data. We can take all this big data and bring it together; we can transform it into products that make people's lives easier."

Keep an eye on what new data is being used in planning and delivery, she advises: "It's amazing what you can do when you harness all of it."