Fifteen years ago I spent most of my time writing about fuel economy. Advanced technology was a roof-mounted air deflector and leading-edge research involved wind tunnels and cab aerodynamics. The major driver concern was teaching them progressive shifting and other fuel-saving habits.
Now I find myself writing about a new computer standard called XML and the latest developments in wireless data integration. Whoever expected practical, down-to-earth trucking to become the poster child for information technology productivity? Certainly not me.
Curtis Youngblood is a third-generation trucker. The business started by his grandfather was a regional LTL carrier. Over its history, Youngblood Trucking evolved into a 48-state truckload carrier, started and eventually closed a full-service leasing business, changed it's culture to include owner-operators as well as company-owned equipment, moved into partnerships with other carriers as well as brokerage services and became Youngblood Transportation Systems.
Equipment has gone from mass-produced “fleet” tractors to custom-built units that give Youngblood what it needs rather than what the truck maker thinks it needs. Finding drivers and skilled technicians used to be a simple matter of shifting through the applications; today it occupies a major portion of the fleet's efforts and affects everything from the equipment they buy to the freight they haul.
But for Curtis, the most surprising change has been the power of information. “We have so much information now that we're constantly discovering things about ourselves that we didn't ever expect,” he says. Whether it's the need to partner with potential competitors or the value of high-level service in a difficult freight market, Youngblood is prospering on the decisions driven by that self-knowledge.
Although it may be especially adept at taking advantage of this new flood of information, Youngblood is far from unique. Fleets of all types and sizes are effecting major changes in operations based on their ability to collect and, more importantly, use information at all levels of their business.
The ability to analyze and quickly respond to this wide breadth of available information has become the most valuable skill of today's fleet executives and managers. And choosing the right tools, both hard and soft, for obtaining and manipulating that data has become just as important as spec'ing the right trucks.
The transformation hasn't been easy. For those of us schooled in the physical realities of automotive mechanics and the common sense realities of trucking, grasping the implications of such an abstract notion as information technology takes a lot of work and a leap of faith.
Even more difficult is accepting the unexpected discoveries that follow and having the self-confidence to act on them — even though they may seem to contradict years of experience.
Just look at today's trucking industry, though, and you'll see that the payoff is certainly worth the effort.
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