Looking beyond the edge

Vision and the leading edge -- one's overrated and the other is misunderstoodIt's commonly accepted business wisdom that the leading edge of technology is expensive, dangerous territory. Prudent managers wait and let others prove the value of any new technology.Trucking, however, has a number of fleets that are widely recognized as enthusiastic and successful adopters of new technology, fleets that

Vision and the leading edge -- one's overrated and the other is misunderstood

It's commonly accepted business wisdom that the leading edge of technology is expensive, dangerous territory. Prudent managers wait and let others prove the value of any new technology.

Trucking, however, has a number of fleets that are widely recognized as enthusiastic and successful adopters of new technology, fleets that owe a good deal of their success to embracing the leading edge.

These are the fleets that early on invested in satellite and other wireless communications systems, that augmented dispatch operations with computerized load matching and optimization, that welcomed sophisticated collision warning devices, and generally proved open to new information and electronic technologies long before they become industry standards.

Always searching for a good story, we thought it might be interesting to talk to some of them about their experiences living on that leading edge.

It turns out that our basic assumption was wrong. These fleets don't consider their use of new technology in anyway experimental or daring. In fact, they all firmly hold that they have little interest in leading edge or any other kind of technology.

As these "leading edge" fleets see it, their sole concern is making good business decisions. From their perspective, they really aren't pioneering unexplored territory -- they're just a bit more willing to evaluate unconventional strategies.

Sometimes that willingness is laid to "the vision thing," but I think that undersells the carefully crafted foundation that allows a fleet to explore unproven territory. Such an approach to fleet management takes an uncommon level of self-assurance and that confidence can only come from a combination of skills that are far from easy to acquire.

First and foremost, it calls for deep understanding of your customers' businesses as well as your own. That intense, narrow focus needs to be balanced by general, broad-based knowledge of business techniques, new developments in technology, and even human psychology. And it requires high-level analytical skills to carefully evaluate the many possible variables that come with anything that's truly new.

Of course, no one person can possess all the skills your fleet needs to successfully identify and exploit opportunities offered by new technology. That means you have to learn how to hire and develop the talent you need to support those efforts.

Next, you need both the management and organization infrastructure to implement your new technology strategies. And objective methods to quickly and accurately measure the performance of those strategies.

Taken singly, these are formidable skills or attributes that require many years and much hard work to acquire. Assembling them all in one business is an even longer and harder process, which may be why the leading edge of technology is so often considered risky business.

Now, when fleets succeed with new technology, there's a lot more at work than the vision of a solitary, deep thinker. If you look closely, you'll see that they're not standing on the edge of anything, but rather they're perched on top of a well-built organization firmly anchored to a solid foundation.

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