Sign of the times

Cyberspace lets your -- and your customers' -- fingers do the walking. Time marches on. It may pass so slowly a child will wish it away. Or so quickly a man or woman will dream of seeing it stand still.Whether time floats or rushes by, the changes it brings advance to the beat of different drummers. Sometimes their call is inviting; other times, unsettling. But answer them we must -- or risk being

Cyberspace lets your -- and your customers' -- fingers do the walking. Time marches on. It may pass so slowly a child will wish it away. Or so quickly a man or woman will dream of seeing it stand still.

Whether time floats or rushes by, the changes it brings advance to the beat of different drummers. Sometimes their call is inviting; other times, unsettling. But answer them we must -- or risk being left behind the times.

Very few relish being labeled a Luddite -- one so intent on stopping the hands of time that destroying the machinery of progress becomes a mission. But history tells us tossing monkey wrenches is futile, if not downright dangerous. The same holds true for a business that doesn't roll with the times. Sooner or later it must adapt or be trampled by competitors racing to embrace change.

Running headlong into the future is, of course, risky business. But being innovative doesn't have to mean betting the farm on a long shot. Often all it takes is an open mind, a bit of confidence, and a dash or two of creativity.

And dragon-slaying is not a prerequisite. Computer-enhanced communications, which takes many forms, is a sterling case. Dataheads are especially fond of speaking in "killer app" terms, as if there weren't a million and one potential uses for electronics.

Some folks even seem to forget that before trucks, freight was hauled by beasts of burden. Before that, it got where it was going on men's backs. Now, it's the Internet that's changing the movement of goods for the better.

However, until there's a working model of Scottie's transporter to beam loads to and fro, trucks will still be handling the heavy moving.

Yet, for the time being anyway, Internet access promises to let truck fleets work a lot smarter -- in everything from delivering customer service to buying used trucks.

Trucking operations, especially LTL and express forwarders, have already begun spinning Web sites to pull in business from around the globe.

Fleets can also make the Internet work for them by drawing on virtual databases, not to mention physical inventories, that exist at countless sites along the World Wide Web.

This concept is illustrated broadly in the TV commercials and print ads aimed at consumers by Internet service providers. A more down-to-trucking use became evident while researching this month's feature on used trucks.

Pennants, streamers, banners, and balloons still flutter in the breeze above lots where used cars and trucks are sold. And they probably always will, if only to mark the places where people can kick some real tires.

Not content with such low-tech eye-grabbers, at least one truck remarketer is posting "For-sale" signs in cyberspace for all to see.

Reasoning that it's not the asphalt patch they're parked on but the used trucks that should shine, Comp-U-Truck, Winston-Salem, N.C., is letting buyers access a searchable database via its Internet Web site (www.computrucks.com).

At last count, the database contained over 2,600 vehicles, including heavy trucks owned by Ford, Mack, and Volvo GM, as well as units offered by various franchised and independent dealers. Since the site came online last October, reports Comp-U-Truck president Robert Donohue, visitors have accessed an average of one Web page "every 1 minute and 23 seconds."

And since a virtual showroom doesn't need employees to stay open, online shoppers can query the seller 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

During one eight-week stretch alone, browsers at the Comp-U-Truck site pulled up 57,721 pages of truck listings. "About 85% of our [Internet] activity comes from the U.S. and Canada," Donohue states, "but a growing number of visitors are from export markets, including Great Britain, South America, Asia, Australia, Africa, and Russia."

Face it. The virtual universe is expanding. Whether you're buying or selling trucks or truck-related services, there's no time like now to pick up its beat. After all, yesterdays only crowd our brains because tomorrow never comes.

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