These days, heavy-duty trucks are more like computers than vehicles. We like to think of Ruan’s trucks as big red computers driving along America’s highways to deliver products for our customers. The last decade has seen tremendous advancement in the technology equipped on trucks and utilized in back offices, and the next decade will see further advancements—many features are coming to life that were once simply a fantasy. Science fiction, if you will. Autonomous trucks. Virtual reality. Drones and bots. These are all the result of significant IT macro trends that have applicability within the transportation industry.
The following macro trends are in focus for transportation companies across the world for a variety of reasons, including safety enhancement, optimization, and improved customer service—and they will continue to develop and be implemented at an increasing rate. Many of these trends fall into the category of artificial intelligence (AI), which can broadly encompass a variety of technologies that execute cognitive-style tasks that emulate human reasoning, according to Transport Topics. And it is becoming increasingly prevalent in the transportation industry. Research firm MarketsandMarkets estimates that the AI market for the transportation industry is growing at a compound annual rate of nearly 18 percent from 2017 to 2030, with its size increasing from $1.2 billion in 2017 to $10.3 billion by 2030. Companies that are unable to invest in and utilize many of these emerging technologies will struggle to keep up with industry standards and service levels.
Mobile applications—and the resulting consumerization of IT—is currently having a significant impact on the transportation industry. Think about it. You place an order from an online retailer, and it arrives at your door two days later. Between placing an order and receiving it, you get email notifications about its status. And, you can log into your account and track the order’s location day or night. Thanks to the visibility consumers have to personal orders, both workers and customers now expect the same in their business interactions.
To remain competitive, transportation companies must adopt mobile technologies, which are basically systems with mobile capabilities or that can push information to and from a mobile device. These apps can specialize in dispatching, hours-of-service compliance, finding truck parking, accessing truck maintenance manuals just by scanning a VIN, etc. Having mobile applications that are integrated and connected to a back office also improves the work experience for truck drivers, warehouse personnel, and operations team members alike. Modern mobile technology essentially allows work to be completed within a unified, workflow centric app that runs on common tablets and smart phones. The dynamic workflow capabilities within mobile technologies ensure that data is captured in a uniform way, enforcing consistent and common practices across the company. This results in clean back end data and, therefore, valuable business insights.
The Ruan Approach
All of our professional drivers are equipped with tablets or smart phones that contain custom and purchased mobile applications. Our proprietary RedTrak app manages dispatching and routing— and provides real-time freight data to our operations teams and customers behind the scenes. RedTrak works in conjunction with our electronic logging and hours-of-service compliance application and RTMS2.0, our transportation management system. Ruan’s tablets are also equipped with an app for our employee intranet, allowing professional drivers to access company updates, training, videos, and safety alerts when safely stopped.
“Our mobility strategy is to provide all of our team members an easy-to-use platform that enhances the quality of their work— and therefore our service and transparency to our customers,” said IT mobility team Product Owner Andrew Paul. “By developing the application in-house, we can be responsive to changing requirements and support the demands of our customers.”
Autonomous and Semi-Autonomous Vehicles
A significant macro trend across the transportation and automotive industries is autonomous vehicles. Billions of dollars have contributed to the development and testing of heavy-duty trucks capable of maneuvering themselves down America’s freeways, but their widespread use and adoption is many years down the road. While autonomous trucks could potentially reduce labor costs by extending the number of hours trucks are in operation, professional drivers will always be critical. They will navigate city streets for the first and last miles of trips. From exit to exit, the job of the truck driver could shift to facilitating business processes.
Certainly, the business case for autonomous vehicles is convincing— hundreds of thousands of loads are dispatched daily, and the average age of the American truck driver continues to increase. Few young people are entering the industry. As the U.S. population grows and demand for freight increases, an industry already saddled with a driver shortage is seeking ways to continue to operate and get goods to consumers. Autonomous truck proponents argue that the technology is appealing to drivers—that it should attract a younger, more tech-savvy generation. And, autonomous trucks could prove safer than those driven by humans, who have a capacity for human error. Still, a number of hurdles exist for autonomous trucks to navigate freely on federal and state roads, including regulations and public perception.
While autonomous trucks get most of the headlines, autonomous technology used on trucks can help save lives every day. Trucks now widely come equipped with advanced driver assistance systems that use a combination of radar- and camera-based components, like following distance and lane departure alerts, roll stability controls, and active braking, which could intercede on the driver’s behalf to eliminate or greatly decrease a collision’s severity. Any event triggered by the technology could be reported to employers, allowing for coaching opportunities. Collision mitigation systems prove time and time again to be worth the investment, and this autonomous technology will continue to find its way into more and more trucks, hopefully reducing the number and severity of accidents on our roadways.
The Ruan Approach
Nearly all of our fleet is equipped with advanced driver assistance systems. Our safety numbers have improved as a result of this technology, and the data the systems provide has opened lines of communication between our operations teams and drivers from a risk management perspective. We have the ability to review data and coach drivers on maintaining proper following distance, reducing speed on ramps and curves, and avoiding hard braking situations.
Ruan also leverages SpeedGauge, a program that takes the GPS location breadcrumbs from our electronic logging devices (ELD) and compares that information to the database of all posted speed limits within the United States. This then generates a report of the fleet’s percentage of speeding, along with individual speeding events, which can be used to coach driver behavior and promote safe driving habits.
“We will continue to invest in autonomous technology that can protect our drivers and keep the motoring public safe,” said Director of Safety Programs Allison Meiners. “Watching the technology evolve over the years has been impressive.”
Robotic Process Automation
Several technologies are currently helping to drive efficiencies and reduce human error in back offices. With the major influx of data sent and received on a daily and even hourly basis, it is difficult for employees to process, especially if they suffered a night of poor sleep, deal with frequent work interruptions, or are simply having a bad day. These real-life inconsistencies could have an impact on the consistency of work decisions that people make for their for customers—which could cause increased costs or delivery delays. But AI-enabled software doesn’t have inconsistencies—it works as it was programmed to work, reducing errors while handling thousands of business situations. As a result, transportation companies are relying more and more on AI solutions for repetitive administrative tasks, which allows employees to focus on value-added tasks like analysis, coaching, and customer service.
“Computers are getting smart enough to interact as humans, complete actions like humans, and automate mundane tasks,” Ruan CIO Dan Greteman said. One key automation technology is natural image processing. The technology recognizes and pulls relevant information from documents like invoices or rate requests, alleviating the time-consuming and error-prone task of manual data entry. Natural image processing reduces paperwork and allows back office staff to focus more on analysis and optimization.
The Ruan Approach
Ruan’s powerful transportation management system, which includes top-notch, on-the-market technology and proprietary custom applications, is capable of data-driven optimization using data from multiple internal and external sources. The technology can make ideal load matching decisions, determine the best routes, and integrate with in-cab tools. And, Ruan employs the experts able to get the most out of the software, which means our customers get the most out of it.
While augmented reality (AR) technology is still in the development phase, it holds significant opportunity for the transportation industry. AR, coupled with visual learning models, allows workers to perform simple tasks outside of their immediate areas of responsibility, reducing dependency. Consider a driver breaks down on a highway. Using AR-enabled smart glasses and repair apps, the driver could assess and fix minor problems without a technician, according to Freightwaves. “Essentially, a less experienced person can complete a more sophisticated process by leveraging an AR-enabled wearable computer or mobile device,” Greteman said.
In another application, heads-up displays can project relevant information on windshields, like driving speed, weather updates, and approaching road delays. The virtual instructions are superimposed on real objects as a driver travels down the road. AR could also help transform warehouse processes; some software is able to recognize serial and barcode numbers, identify objects, and also help employees navigate the warehousing floor to expedite the picking process. This technology can reduce training time and costs, and it’s virtually error free.
“Augmented reality brings data to life. It can provide an optimized reality for our customers and drivers, enhancing service while promoting safety and potentially increasing profitability,” Greteman said.
Internet of Things and Sensors
The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to a connected network of physical devices and vehicles, among other things, that are equipped with software, sensors, and wireless connectivity—meaning they can be monitored and controlled via the internet. IHS Markit predicts that the IoT will consist of 30.7 billion objects by 2020. In the world of trucking, these things include navigation systems, electronic logging devices, advanced driver assistance systems, and networks of Internet-enabled sensors that monitor everything from tire pressure and trailer temperature to fuel usage and maintenance needs. Sensors can be applied to trailers, pallets, and even trays, allowing for package-level visibility for operations managers and customers. And all of these things produce a vast amount of data that can help create fleet efficiencies and improve safety.
Blockchain technology is essentially a decentralized digital ledger to which all parties involved in a transaction share a common view. Without blockchain, each party in a transportation transaction has its own view of various parts of the process—orders, invoices, fuel records, shipment tracking—via their own ledgers. By having all the data on one shared and continually reconciled blockchain where everyone sees the same thing, errors and inefficiencies are reduced.
The Internet of Things is critical to implementing blockchain technology to transportation. Throughout the lifecycle of a load, “IoTconnected objects will continuously update the blockchain for the shipment so that shippers, carriers, and customers stay on the same page, and goods and payment flow without delay or interruption,” according to Freightwaves. Blockchain brings with it an automation and sophistication that can enable several things, particularly in food safety. In addition to sensors, the IoT enables barcode-level tracking, creating visibility to single SKU. The blockchain containing tracking information can be used for reverse logistics if a product needs to be recalled—knowing the product’s origins down to the SKU level can facilitate more selective recalls and avoid waste, according to Forbes.
The Ruan Approach
Ruan is a member of BiTA, the Blockchain in Transport Alliance, which was formed by experienced technology, transportation, and supply chain executives to create a forum for the development of blockchain standards and education for the freight industry. Ruan also has a six-person internal Blockchain Forum that meets biweekly to educate the membership on blockchain technology. The team deployed a prototype blockchain in the first quarter of 2019 to highlight the potential of the technology.
While the widespread application of wearable technology is several years down the road, it has several compelling applications, particularly for enhancing safety in trucks. Ballcaps are being created to measure brainwaves and give a fatigue rating, a critical factor for drivers as sleepiness plays a role in many accidents. One company is developing a vest that can detect a stroke or other health emergency and stop the truck as a result. Trucking executives could use these and other biometrics tools, like Fitbits or other fitness devices, to recommend changes to improve the safety, health, and efficiency of workers. Especially as the price point of this technology comes down, it will likely be used by more and more by carriers.
Big Data and Analytics
All of the macro trends above, when applied, generate a tremendous amount of data. The data produced from mobile applications, electronic logging devices, driver wearables, sensors, advanced driver assistance systems, dashboard videos, etc., is more than can be analyzed and comprehended. But if the industry could tap into this valuable resource to measure, improve, and connect operations, just imagine the ROI impact. Determining the actionable data and using it to achieve true service and performance gains is the challenge.
“More data is being generated than ever before,” Greteman said. “Now we’re figuring out how to assimilate all the data and make it relevant. The key is to be discerning about which data is potentially useful in decision making.”
Today’s computers are useful in sorting through the data to help transportation companies make meaningful service and performance decisions. According to Transport Topics, AI models can find patterns and reach decisions that are outside of a human’s capacity to process through predictive analysis. Computers can take data from one source and analyze it in context with data from several other sources—which is something the human brain doesn’t have power to process, nor do most employees have the time available to try.
Predictive analysis is especially compelling from a safety standpoint. Carriers could harness data from in-cab technology—like collision mitigation systems, dash cameras, and ELDs—to create algorithms related to safety, allowing them to determine which drivers are most likely to have a preventable accident or violation. The technology could also help support drivers currently on the road. For instance, if a driver has X number of lane departures in X minutes, an alert could be sent the driver’s mobile application to see if he or she is okay. Data, in this case, would provide an extra layer of support to professional drivers.
Omnitracs is currently developing a powerful, data-driven AI model that would contribute to driver retention. The software, according to Transport Topics, compiles data related to driver performance—like HR reports, accident and violation history, on-time deliveries, incab videos, and incidents recorded by advanced driver assistance systems (hard braking, lane departure, etc.)—and makes predictions about certain drivers being at risk of quitting the job. This technology would allow managers to proactively engage these team members and avoid turnover.
Predictive analysis also has applicability in fleet maintenance. As computers on wheels, trucks produce a multitude of data. That data, if analyzed correctly, can be used to predict and then prevent breakdowns by notifying maintenance teams of necessary preventive maintenance before an issue arises. This technology could reduce downtime and potentially maintenance spend.
The starting point for many companies trying to capitalize on the impacts of IT macro trends is legacy modernization. “There are many platforms and operating systems out there that are no longer in widespread use and should be replaced with newer versions that can integrate with each other and support new applications, making them more efficient and reliable,” Greteman said.
Unfortunately, these systems and software are often expensive, and some carriers are strapped with technical debt from adopting early systems that saw rapid technological advancements after implementation. Therefore, they’re left with limited financial ability to move to more advanced systems. However, most IT macro trends require investment in legacy modernization to function.
The Ruan Approach
Ruan has spent the last several years updating our largest legacy revenue-generating programs to stable, supported systems to accomplish business proficiencies and improvements. We facilitate regular updates to our systems to ensure we’re using the most up-to-date versions—and we have the experts in place to manage these updates without impacting business operations.
The Human Factor
While IT macro trends are certainly compelling and largely applicable in enhancing multiple aspects of the transportation industry, people are still—and will remain—the industry’s greatest asset. Companies need professional IT experts to develop, program, and implement these technologies, as well as alter them as business needs change. And at its core, transportation is about relationships. Carrier and customer. Manager and driver. Customer and driver. Corporate team member and field manager. Computers will never be able to manage the emotions that define these relationships. Instead, by automating mundane and time-consuming tasks, computers will allow their human counterparts to focus on relationship building, retention, and customer service.
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