The synergy between onboard and facility technology for commercial fleets

It’s a remarkable time for those of us involved in the transportation technology world. Every day, something new, and often unforeseen, comes into view. The fact is, the convergence of transportation and technology can be overwhelming. The pressure to make good decisions about technology has never been greater, especially when trying to determine how the technology can be quantified, controlled and leveraged by commercial fleets.

There are two key areas that are a critical starting point for fleets to consider. The first is the physical or hardware layer of technology, or as some jokingly refer to it, the parts you can kick. The second area is the design, deployment and support of that technology. Those services, or functions, have a massive impact on the success or failure of technology investments. And in a world where so much of this technology has a home everywhere –trucks, tires, terminals, containers, shops, yards, etc. – it is important that the design, deployment and support is a core element of your technology roadmap.

Technology impacts all aspects of the supply chain, now more than ever. So what is the synergy between onboard and facility technology for commercial fleets? Most fleets focus predominantly on the onboard technologies themselves while the facilities they connect to are an afterthought, if even thought of at all. But all of these “connected devices,” “connected fleets,” “smart cities,” “Internet of Things,” “M2M devices” are connecting everything: us to our vehicles, vehicles to buildings, buildings to us. It’s a circle of interconnectivity that, when properly planned, can magnify the success of every single device within its ecosystem.

Sometimes the separation between onboard and facility technologies are simultaneously blurred with many key questions to address, such as, “Who leads the charge? IT, Operations, Safety, Maintenance or Procurement?” Scope also needs to be clarified…for example, “We know we need Wi-Fi inside, but what about the yard or the trucks?” It’s important to understand what technologies are needed, how they impact each other and who will manage the project to ensure a cohesive plan.

What will this synergy look like in the future?

  • Seamless, omni-channel visibility from suppliers all the way to consumers?
  • Trailers as warehouses and/or stores on wheels? (That’s already here.)
  • Same-day, free e-commerce delivery? (Also already here!)

 What impact will these synergies have? What will distribution centers look like in the future?

  • Uber-ized, Amazon-ized models?
  • Order online and 3D print the product at home?
  • Augmented reality in the warehouse and truck?
  • Ground and aerial delivery by robotics/drones?
  • Autonomous delivery and payment?
  • The “passenger economy?”

The possibilities are endless and some almost unimaginable. What’s attainable? What’s unrealistic? How do we benefit? And what do we do in the meantime?

It’s an over-simplification, but we look at it like this… Hardware talks to software, which provides us with information, then we take action. At the end of the day, this is always true and something we can plan around. Within that simple framework, there are some certainties on which we focus our efforts: onboard and facility technology must be designed, deployed, and supported in a proactive, collaborative manner. This allows commercial fleets to realize the full benefits of technology. Because technology is great…when it works. Failure to realize this and not planning properly can kill the technology investment.

So when we say onboard and facility technology, what are we talking about? We are talking about any aftermarket devices that go on a fleet, in a fleet or around a fleet. Sounds like pretty much anything and everything right? That’s because it is… in cab video, aerodynamics, safety and fuel efficiency IoT sensors, solar panels, connectivity (in-cab entertainment, Wi-Fi, wearables), idle reduction, onboard computing (ELD, EOBR, telematics, asset tracking, apps), tire inflation, collision warning/mitigation, POS, fixed and mobile work stations, handheld devices, smart LED, access control, RFID, beacons, RTLS, core IT infrastructure, kiosks, digital signage, dimensioners, load management, person tracking, forklift mounts, terminals, V2 and autonomy… the list goes on and on with more being added every day. Most of these devices cross over platforms, meaning they are found in all three major areas of the fleet world, trucks, warehouses and yards. And even those that don’t cross over still interact with one another.

So what might a synergized project look like? These are just a few of an infinite list of examples.

Onboard and Facility Scope Combination

  • An ELD refresh is coming up and you want to leverage Wi-Fi in the yard
  • You need to expand Wi-Fi outside, but the inside also needs an update
  • It’s time to pilot collision warning on yard tractors and forklifts
  • A warehouse barcode relabeling project has fallen behind
  • An IoT play is being considered, with smart LED lighting at the dock
  • You need to rollout a driver fitness app on the drivers’ mobile tablets.

Onboard-Only Scope

  • You’ve deployed ELD, but to ensure up-time you need a better solution for repairs on the road
  • In-cab video needs to be installed throughout the fleet
  • Lane departure warning is partially deployed only on new trucks, and now you’re considering a retrofit on the rest of the fleet
  • A dedicated contract requires trailer tracking on a portion of the fleet

Facility-Only Scope

  • You’re ready to rollout RFID for pallet level tracking at all locations
  • It’s time to expand a dimensioner pilot to additional locations
  • The forklift VMUs need to be upgraded
  • You just deployed new tablets, but need to upgrade charging stations

And in every case, always remember to ask…

  • Can your Wi-Fi network support the changing environment?
  • What is your plan for system monitoring, support and repair?

So how do you best leverage these synergies? Contrary to the opinions of some, it is not always best to tackle these projects in a linear fashion. They are often, and will be increasingly, interdependent. And with proper planning, major benefits are gained by leveraging the synergies…

  • Time saved
  • Scheduling efficiency and asset utilization improved
  • Employee training and acceptance improved
  • Employee loss of productivity avoided
  • Productivity of project members maximized
  • Consistency and quality ensured
  • Out-of-pocket money saved
  • Budgets met and ROI maximized
  • Investment success

When done right, the design, deployment and support of technology can and should be a net contributor to ROI, not a cost to the project.

What are some things you need to watch out for?

  • A poorly designed Request for Proposal (RFP)
  • A poorly designed Statement of Work (SOW)
  • An unclear timeline
  • Lack of cross-departmental alignment
  • Under-qualified technology, deployment and support vendors
  • The “quick and easy install with seamless integration!”
  • Technology fatigue. Don’t “set it and forget it.”

It’s a lot to digest, so where should your focus be? The always on, always connected supply chain is coming fast. In many ways, it’s already here. Whether you intend to lead or follow, stay abreast of the latest innovations and be ready to adapt. Ensure your Wi-Fi infrastructure can accommodate more devices and vastly more capacity. Make sure it is mandatory that a plan is in place to handle post-deployment support. And lastly, look for cross-project collaboration opportunities by including design, deployment and support as a core, critical component of your “technology roadmap.”

Written By: Deryk Powell, President, Velociti Inc.

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