Monthly Archives: March 2018

How To Incentivize Your Truck Drivers In A Way That Works

When it comes to ensuring your truck drivers aren’t just operating their vehicles safely, but are also happy and motivated on the job, incentives have the power to do both. Yet, the problem is that too few fleets focus on individual performance and organizational effectiveness. They are so intent on the bottom line and getting the load there on time (which is important) they neglect to pay closer attention to how fleet morale is doing.

Many studies have proven that highly engaged employees not only feel more appreciated within the company, but they do a better job, increase their productivity, are more loyal to the company, and in the case of a trucking company, have far less accidents.

But do you know how to leverage truck driver incentives to improve across-the-board incentives? There are many objectives and methods a smart fleet manager or trucking company can utilize to get the most out of their employees, whether it be shop technician or truck driver.

Consider incentives from the following perspectives.

The Best Ways to Motivate

When you create fleet incentives, ensure they are authentic, objective, and transparent. You can only boost the commitment, engagement, and accountability of your fleet culture by not hiding important aspects of your incentive program from your fleet. If those being ranked by an incentive system aren’t sure how the ranking works, or how certain individuals are selected, they may not believe in the inherent fairness of the system.

Top performing companies utilize several methods to motivating their employees. They don’t stop at just one program and try to squeeze every employee into fitting within that program. Your back-office employees may respond differently to your truck drivers in just the same way your shop technicians may respond differently from your dispatchers.

We mentioned authenticity earlier for good reason. Being able to communicate your fleet’s goals and values that makes your truck drivers and employees feel like an actively engaged part of the solution will directly impact how they perform, and thus your fleets bottom line and goals. Connect fleet rewards with goals to realize change and continually improve.

When it seems as if your employees are “getting it,” tell them so! Tell them how their job competence is critical to the proper functioning of the entire fleet. Connect rewards with that competence. When you tell them how much you appreciate what they do, they will want to do it more.

There is no simpler way to connect and motivate an employee than by sitting down and talking to them to tell them what a great job they are doing or have done. Far too few leaders engage in the simple act of telling their people something as simple as, “Good job!” Are you one of those fleets?

We also mentioned objectivity because it is important that those you are recognizing for a good job understand that objective metrics are playing a role in who gets recognized, rather than who is who’s friend or family member. There is nothing worse for morale than an employee thinking they are getting passed over for recognition for an unfair reason.

Ideas for Motivating your Truck Drivers

There are many ways in which you can motivate your truck drivers that are directly related to their job. One example would be a recognition coin that is connected to tire tread depth. When a recognition coin fits into the tread depth – based on factors within the truck driver’s control – that coin then becomes a symbol of the great job said truck driver has done.

Some items of recognition can even be tied into safety or other measures. If a truck driver does a great job, why not reward him or her with a jacket that has reflective stripes on it so that they can be better seen at night if they need to get out and check something on their vehicle’s exterior. In this way, not only are they recognized for a job well done, but their overall safety profile is improved.

Objectively-based recognition measures could include recognizing employees for a specific number of injury- or accident-free days or a high level of coaching effectiveness scores. How many safe miles have they driven or how many miles since an accident? Rewarding a truck driver for excellent improvement is not a bad thing, especially if the truck driver has a bad track record. You want them to get better and there is nothing wrong with incentivizing them to do so through an effective recognition program.

Have you considered recognition as a team sport, where certain groupings of truck drivers who go on certain runs are rewarded for on-time deliveries, least complaints, and improved teamwork. Whichever you go with, just make sure it enhances and rewards cooperation and team spirit, rather than pitting truck drivers against one another in a way that tears them down.

How Transparency and Culture Play into Company Incentive

When it comes to incentive programs transparency, objectivity, and fairness are all interlocked. Do your truck drivers or other employees fully understand what they need to do to earn the reward? Furthermore, are you allowing them to see the leaderboard? Can they effectively view how they are doing when compared to others within their division?

Letting all the players see the progress reinforces good behaviors by creating a positive feedback and friendly competition feedback loop. Using milestones and incremental steps to reward people encourages continuous improvement in a way that one large lump incentive may not. You want to be able to acknowledge good behavior mid-stream.

Does your company utilize an employee portal? Allowing your people to log into the company portal to view how well they are doing can go a long way to motivating them to do even better. Even if the results aren’t made public, they should at least be made available to the people directly involved with the program.

By practicing these incentive methods on a consistent basis, across-the-board, you ensure your company culture stays intact. Safety culture within a company, when tied to effective incentives, can see a big boost over time, along with individual employee morale. Do you know anyone who doesn’t like to be rewarded or appreciated for their efforts?

Technology, Statistics, and Employee Engagement

We live in the age of technology. It is transforming nearly every way the trucking industry gets business done, and it could also have a positive impact on how you incentivize your people. Are you using technology to provide specific data sets that help your leaders objectively track goals and recognize employees once those goals are met?

Technology generates data, which in turn generates statistics. You can use these statistics to both track and recognize employees for a job well done. When these methods are used, a new set of statistics is created: engaged employees and improved performance.

Here are some numbers to consider. When employees are engaged, fleets see:

  • 48% fewer accidents;
  • 25% lower turnover;
  • 28% lower missing inventory;
  • 37% lower absenteeism;
  • 41% fewer vehicle defects;
  • 10% higher customer loyalty;
  • 21% higher productivity, and;
  • 22% higher profitability.

Employee incentive programs matter. Not only do they make your employees feel more motivated, they help create safer fleets. They both increase profitability and decrease overall fleet liability. Yet, that doesn’t mean incentive programs aren’t without challenges you should consider.

Overcoming Incentive Challenges

If you aren’t creating effective incentive programs, you could run into many unforeseen challenges. If you are seeing any of the following, it may be time to rethink your employee motivation or incentive programs:

  • Employees who appear to be indifferent or show little care to the reward being offered.
  • Little to no resources devoted to funding the incentives.
  • Incentive programs resulting in unintended or unwanted outcomes.
  • Employees reporting feeling manipulated by the program.
  • Employees are finding ways to game the system or create winners where there should be none.
  • The improvements or morale gains incurred from the program don’t last very long.

If there is one thing worse than not having an incentive program in place, it is having one in place that doesn’t yield any real benefits or results. If you are running an incentive program that is moving the dial backwards, it is time to consider scrapping it or coming up with a new method.

In the end, there are many ways you can create a better environment for employee morale that don’t cost a lot of money or resources. Whether it be a simple letter from the CEO saying thank you or a breakfast party for those who must come in early in the morning or work overnight, each of these are positive steps you can take that yield big results.

Don’t discount the power of employee morale and motivation. From your front-line truck drivers to your managers and fleet technicians, you want to make sure everyone from the top down in your organization feels good about the job they are doing. Do you feel good about the job you are doing generating better company morale? If not, it’s time to take a second look at your programs.

A Look At Some Of The Capacity Challenges Facing The Trucking Industry

From new rules to heavy taxation, the trucking industry does not operate without challenges. Today, motor carriers bemoan new trucking rules, taxes, and other factors that lead to truck driver shortages and rate hikes. Today we will take a look at a few of those factors and how they are impacting the trucking industry, both here and across the border.

If there is one country that is locked together with American trucking companies, it is Mexico. There is so much cross-border freight from the U.S. to Mexico that many wonder how business was done before entities were able to push the supply chain south of the border. Yet, that doesn’t mean they are without problems.

If you talk to many local produce and trucking industries, they will tell you that new regulations have created an environment rife with truck driver shortages, skyrocketing trucking rates, and technical problems. As a result, some American trucking companies are even making the hard choice to move their operations to Mexico.

South of the border, companies deal with rules that prohibit foreign truck drivers from picking up cargo in the U.S. and delivering it within the country. The ELD mandate also presents a unique challenge because commercial truck drivers, no matter where they are operating, must comply with installation of the devices on their vehicles.

The result? Another truck driver employment crunch and several trucking entities being required to replace Mexican truck drivers with U.S. citizens. In some cases, truck drivers are forced to double up on their runs to keep their hours down.

Due to this convergence of factors, the delivered cost of fresh produce has been rising almost by the day. It won’t be long before retailers and restaurants will have no choice but to pass those increased costs on to shoppers. As a rule, if transportation costs rise, inflation will rise with them.

The fact is, even short-term spikes in shipping costs can result in price increases at the grocery store. Consider how easy it is to simply change the sticker price on a product. Shipping and transportation are huge drivers of food costs.

As an example, if one looks at the rates to ship produce from a location like Nogales, Mexico to Los Angeles, California, the increase becomes obvious. Prior to the New Year, rates were around $1,200. Today, rates average around $2,000 and even up to $3,000.

According to a recent USDA Truck Rate Report, some locations are suffering from a “slight shortage” of trucks, as they refer to it. With local trucking rates in many municipalities at record highs, many are wondering when the spike will end. While the ELD mandate and cabotage rule can be blamed for a portion of it, East Coast storms, post-holiday shelf restocking, and a general shortage of truck drivers across the country all contribute to the problem.

Did you know that trucking companies pay one of the highest tax rates of any business sector? A study published by New York University discovered that trucking pays an average of 26.74 percent taxes, second only to the home building sector, at 27.28 percent. If you look at rates for railroads, air transport, parcel and logistics, and even marine – trucking’s tax rates are far higher. To make matters worse, new laws at both the state and federal level are exacerbating the problem. One such example of unhelpful laws is the one put forth by Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, referred to as the IMPROVE Act.

What is the Improve Act?

In Tennessee, Governor Bill Haslam put a signature piece of legislation to his state house entitled the IMPROVE Act, an acronym that stands for “Improving Manufacturing, Public Roads and Opportunities for a Vibrant Economy Act”. The goal of the bill is to raise around $10 billion for state infrastructure projects that currently sit in a huge backlog.

The legislation will impact people in Tennessee who buy food at grocery stores or purchase gasoline or fuel. Individuals and businesses that pay taxes on interest or dividend income will also be impacted. The timeline of the act states that the gas tax would increase by July 1. The bill would be designed to fund over 960 projects throughout the state, addressing badly needed infrastructure concerns. So, why would anyone be opposed to such an act?

Primarily, those opposed to the bill argue that the tax benefits in the package will primarily benefit businesses and other entities, rather than lower or middle-class tax payers. Others state that transportation projects in the state could be funded by shifting money out of the state’s general fund, rather than raising taxes in specific sectors.

Overall, the trucking industry remains opposed to the act for the simple reason that it will result in a significant increase in the cost of diesel fuel, thus directly impacting trucking companies that operate within and through the state.

No Help from a Capacity Crunch

Record freight rates, already under pressure from state legislation like that mentioned above, continue to face pressure as the competition for truck drivers adds to an already tight capacity situation. There is plenty of evidence to show that the supply of available trucks to move freight is far outpacing demand, which is causing rates to rise.

According to ACT Research’s latest For-Hire Trucking Index Report, the for-hire index rose faster than the capacity index in each of the last 12 months, which allowed the supply-demand balance to climb to its highest reading ever recorded. Due to this wide spread between freight and capacity, many industry insiders expect continued strength in freight rates as we move into 2018. This leaves little doubt that truckers and motor carriers are in a great negotiating position compared to years past.

Digging deeper into the survey, it becomes apparent that the recent severe weather events across the United States caused a wide range of productivity problems. Looking at the data from late December into early January, the trucking industry saw a 10 percent utilization drop, at least in regions where inclement weather was a problem. Still, the weather certainly hasn’t put a damper on demand capacity.

In fact, according to many sources, trucking companies are simply running out of capacity at a time when they need it the most. A survey conducted by the Washington Post in late 2017 found that out of over 1,600 shippers surveyed, their number one concern was the capacity problem.

Other trucking industry-related surveys reported the same thing, with one such survey resulting in nearly 1 in 5 survey respondents stating they were the victims of capacity issues in 2017. When compared with 2016, capacity problems for shippers nearly doubled. But what are the reasons a capacity crunch that never seems to go away?

Cause and Effect?

For many, the primary reason is simple. 2017 was a good year for the U.S. economy. In both the second and third quarters growth came in at around a 3% annualized rate. This after an anemic 1.4% growth rate in the first quarter. Yet, an improving economy isn’t the entire answer.

The trucking industry right now is also currently dealing with the fallout from a shortage of trucks related to the ELD mandate. While the mandate sets the playing field even for truckers, it takes time for fleets to make the switch to compliant ELD use, especially for smaller players.

In addition to the ELD mandate, fleets are increasingly dealing with fierce competition to hire and retain experienced truck drivers. As fleets compete, they are more willing to operate at far higher levels of capacity utilization.

Rates are also set to skyrocket, not only because of an increasingly sound U.S. economy, but due to increased global activity as well. With global trade expected to rise by around 4.5% this year, we could see the growth in global trade contributing to increased growth in American trucking usage – thus leading to an even higher rate of capacity crunch.

Now the question is, where do we go from here? If you look at the Cass Freight Index, which takes a separate measure of both shipment volumes and linehaul rates, you’ll see that those rates have jumped as well, with truckload van freight rates up a whopping 30% over the same time the previous year. Could we see these large movements lead to greater inflation?

The trucking spot rate market began to turn around in late 2016 and has since been on a tear. When combined with higher contract rates, it isn’t hard to see which direction all this is going in. As carriers and shippers adjust to the new normal, a robust spot market will continue to translate into higher contract rates.

Quite frankly, there are a lot of moving pieces to consider. As the U.S. and global economy continues to improve, will we see a bubble develop? Furthermore, when can we expect to see the capacity problem begin to ease? At this point, only time will tell.

Discovering Greater Efficiency And Profitability Through Big Data For Trucking Companies

Here at the QuickTSI Blog, we have taken a couple different looks at the onslaught of Big Data and what it could mean for your fleet. Yet, as the future brings change almost by the day, new methods of utilizing data to improve fleet operations become known. That’s why we wanted to take an updated look at how trucking companies can dig deeper into big data to make your fleet work better for you.

Once your fleet has moved beyond the basics of simply looking at and analyzing data, you can unlock even more advanced ways to increase your levels of fleetwide efficiency and profitability. Many fleets are using data to merely generate reports. In this way, they can glean business-critical information. And yet, many times these reports can be difficult to compile or make sense of. Whether it be complicated graphical data, pie charts or graphs, or other cumbersome methods of gleaning valuable information, a one-time report only provides a one-time view.

When management is trying to use a canned report to realize greater efficiency, that data can only get them so far. This is where a new term comes in: Business Intelligence. Utilizing business intelligence allows a fleet to take a specific data set and break it up into different dimensions or qualifying factors. Rather than being a static block of data that a fleet manager must figure out what to do with, business intelligence provides the necessary tools to slice and dice the data into several, more easily understandable chunks.

Here is an example: What if a fleet manager could take specific revenue numbers from a tractor and divide it by dispatcher, or even truck driver. Being able to dig into usable data allows fleets to better determine where to place their assets. Rather than using a canned report to scan down endless rows of data, a fleet manager can view historical trends, analysis based on asset type, and even forecasts of what may be coming down the road – so to speak.

What is a Data Cube?

If you haven’t heard of a data cube, it’s okay, most haven’t. Generally used as a purely technical term, data cubes are essentially multi-dimensional arrays of information used to determine specific points of interest. But how does this apply to a motor carrier?

Let’s say you run a report on revenue by tractor, then you want to follow that number to the specific dispatcher. Using a traditional fleet management software solution, you may need to manipulate the data in many ways to achieve the desired result. Using data cubes, you can look at a specific number (tractor or dispatcher) and look at is in several dimensions without having to dig through layers of numbers.

When you analyze that data through a data cube, you may discover that said tractor is experiencing lower revenue because it was being operated by a different truck driver or dispatched by a different dispatcher. When you can look at the data in many ways, you may discover problems that you otherwise did not know you were even looking for.

It is referred to as a data cube because each face of the cube yields different information. You may be trying to determine revenue by tractor in relation to the truck driver only to discover an operational or mechanical issue. Mechanical issues can also be isolated and resolved utilizing this method.

If you can split downtime per tractor, or by specific issue plaguing your tractors, you can then determine if a specific model is causing you more problems than another. While the data itself doesn’t tell you what to do, it can at least point you in the right direction, thus allowing you to rectify the problem in whatever way you can.

Using Data to Break Down Common Assumptions

If there is one problem that trucking companies struggle with, it is assuming the answer to a problem. There are so many moving parts to a fleet that it can become easy to just assume you know what is wrong or what is right. Utilizing advanced data analytics can help you decipher whether the things you believe to be true are actually true, rather than baseless assumptions.

Here is another actionable example of how this could work. A particular tractor is giving a lot of warnings from the in-cab technology. As a result, the fleet manager assumes that the truck driver operating that tractor just happens to be a bad performer. Yet, when utilizing the data provided in an advanced analytical way, the fleet manager determines that the warnings are all generating from a specific curve within a half-mile of fleet headquarters.

Fleets can also glean better insight into profitability using data. Many technology companies now offer profitability management tools that harness the power of big data to give fleets greater insight into where they are making and where they are losing the most money. Fleets far too often assume that what they are doing is right and is earning the most profit.

Yet, once you dig into the numbers, lanes that you once considered a bedrock of profitability can be changed or altered. Fleet managers can dig into the data to better analyze profitability, change freight lanes, or alter operations. Even better, this type of deep analysis can provide the justification a fleet needs to request a rate change.

Many fleets believe that driving faster wastes fuel, yet for many, when they crunch the numbers, they may determine that their truck drivers can travel slightly faster operating on cruise control without expending a lot more fuel. Beyond fuel consumption, fleets have also started using deep data analysis to determine if they are even spec’ing the right equipment.

Questions arise, such as, how much engine load are we using? Are we using the right engine, or could we use a lower-hp engine with a different gearing setup? Do our trucks need better aerodynamics? Furthermore, is there more that can be done to improve truck driver performance?

Finding Opportunities in the Big Data

Sure, when you are evaluating your fleet’s voluminous levels of data, it may be easy to address the low-hanging fruit before all else. Things like fuel efficiency, maintenance, and training first come to mind. But digging in the data can reveal so much more than that.

Other questions should come to mind, such as revenue-per-mile, expenses, whether you are getting the best rates, where your most profitable customers are, and so much more. Another example of this could be your tractor utilization. Is 5 percent of your fleet sitting idle? That might not seem like much to a large fleet, but compound that over time and that could be serious money.

Fleets are also starting to turn to advanced new ways of measuring profitability. They are called velocity-distance and velocity-revenue. Velocity-distance is described as the average mph a tractor travels from the moment it picks up a load to the moment it delivers it. Velocity-revenue is referred to as the revenue per hour traced from the moment the load is picked up to the moment it is delivered. Both of these measures provide valuable insight into the following question: How much money is that tractor making for you per hour, per load?

Business Intelligence Gives You an Edge

Measuring these kinds of data markers moves your fleet beyond the simple thoughts of dollars and cents. Instead, you may determine that one lane is taking far longer to deliver, which could result in a loss of capacity or ability to take more loads. When you can parse through the data to make those kinds of discoveries, you can better fine-tune your operation to handle the routes that make the most sense from a profitability perspective.

Motor carriers that are utilizing data to dig deep have also discovered momentum. This metric tracks status changes within the system, from the moment the order is placed to the moment it is delivered, including how long each step takes. When you can map out every step of the process, from order procurement to final billing, it is easy to see where you may be losing or gaining along the way.

Finally, one of the best ways to utilize big data to the benefit of your fleet is through evaluating your gross margins, which can be divided by revenue and displayed as a percentage in whatever software you may be using. Gross margin is represented by the difference between revenue and cost of goods sold.

For many fleets, standardizing this number can be a problem, but when you are crunching it using big data analytics, figuring out your gross margin can be as easy as a click of a button. Using data this way is where business intelligence gives you an edge.

If you haven’t investigated how you can use business intelligence to realize greater outcomes in your business, then you may not be realizing cost efficiencies that are right in front of your face. Consider business intelligence and dig deep into big data to streamline your operations.

Examining The Importance Of Cybersecurity In Trucking

Have you heard? The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently announced that their National Registry of Certified Medical Examiner’s website was breached in a cyberattack last year. While they did not announce the attack until right now, many people reported a period last year and into the first part of this year in which renewing their medical certification or verifying their doctor’s eligibility was impossible.

The FMCSA reports that the hack occurred on December 1st and resulted in a system outage. While the FMCSA did create a workaround utilizing a new search tool, it is still unclear when the CME database will be coming back online. Furthermore, medical examiners are still unable to upload physicals and certification information. For now, they are back to utilizing paper records. The FMCSA has issued guidance that they are to hold on to that information and upload it once the system comes back online.

Fortunately, the agency reports that there was no indication personal information related to truck drivers, medical examiners, or fleets themselves were stolen. Still, this brings up a much larger point, one in which government agencies and trucking industry players must do better, and that is in the area of cybersecurity.

Hacking Vehicles is Now a Thing

In 2016, the University of Michigan announced that researchers from a conference were able to expose the vulnerability of semi-truck electronics systems in a dangerous way. The researchers connected to the vehicle through the vehicle’s OBD II port and were able to successfully take over the truck’s internal network. They could then do everything from change information displayed on the instrument panel to trigger unintended acceleration and disable the brakes. It was a major wake up call to the trucking industry.

Taking over vehicles has been a hot topic of late, as researchers have also shown the ability to take over passenger cars by accessing their infotainment systems. In a separate study, researchers were able to disable acceleration and braking functions on a Jeep Cherokee. As a result of these developments, both manufacturers, fleets, and trucking industry advocates are engaging in a debate regarding a truck’s vulnerabilities.

We now live in an age of the Internet of Things (IoT), and with everything increasingly connected, it is now easier than ever for hackers to gain control of critical aspects of our lives for nefarious purposes. And with the ELD Mandate now hear, many motor carriers and truck drivers are wondering if ELDs are safe from this kind if hacking.

Considering most ELDs utilize an open connection to a cellular network, be it through a tablet or smartphone, this is a necessary question. Are truckers at risk to being hacked now that ELDs are being adopted across the industry?

Cybersecurity in the Age of the ELD Mandate

Ask ELD makers and many of them will downplay the threat posed to their devices. This is partially true. Since an ELD is not designed to write to the vehicle’s engine control module, it decreases the risk that hackers can use the device to infiltrate the truck. ELDs merely transmit and receive data and have built-in security measure to prevent hacking.

Still, hackers have become very adept at finding vulnerabilities in IoT devices. The industry has little doubt that the day will come when ELD hacking becomes a serious threat to the industry. And although ELD manufacturers downplay the threat, systems engineers increasingly have security on the mind.

Unfortunately, there is already an example of a trucker possibly being impacted by issues with cybersecurity. While the manufacturer in this case was not entirely sure whether the problem was a hack, they admitted never having encountered the problem before. The problem lies in the interconnected nature of modern commercial motor vehicles. Data connectors and wiring are all integrated into the functionality of the truck itself.

There are documented incidents where an onboard unit won’t allow a truck to be shut off. Even with the key removed, these situations result in a vehicle that is still running. When this happens, the truck can only be turned off when the onboard communications device is powered down. And while these instances are relatively rare, they serve as stark examples of the importance of taking a hard look at the electronic integrity of large, Class 8 heavy-duty commercial motor vehicles.

Large ELD manufacturers have a staff dedicated to ensuring the security of not only the devices themselves, but to the safety of their over-the-air updates. They are good at engineering devices specifically with security in mind. They also understand that whenever wireless communication is being used, there is a chance for hackers to get involved.

ELDs Are Still Safe

Even as motor carriers and ELD manufacturers operate with security in mind, it is still worth noting that hacking into electronic logs or AOBRDs is virtually impossible, since these devices cannot access the controller area network of the vehicle and are only previsioned to read and display data. Manufacturers specifically do not give applications any write abilities or abilities to make specific requests of the truck. By themselves, they cannot engage or change the code of the vehicle’s electronic control module.

Some believe that in the previous case where the dashboard was lighting up and causing strange fault codes, rather than hacking, that may have been the result of an incompatibility between the protocol the device is reading and the protocol it is broadcasting. A good way around that is to reset the device or change a pin on the plug connecting the device to the vehicle.

Still, even though ELDs are designed to be safe and hack-proof, manufacturers are still designing better safety protocols into their devices. Some manufacturers are designing their latest devices with an encryption chip built in. These chips will be able to authenticate the device within the cloud. This creates a double layer of security within the system.

Manufacturers and software providers are also engaging in continuous security audits and evaluating new improvements to their systems. This means that the biggest risk to a vehicle’s still remains the physical connection into the truck itself. Rather than writing a whole new protocol to design a new set of code into the ELD, it would be far easier for a hacker to simply plug directly into a tractor’s hardware.

What Motivates Bad Actors

For the trucking industry, hackers’ motivations vary from wanting to cause general chaos to stealing protected financial or proprietary business information. They also use ransomware to extract money from trucking companies or engage in other types of data theft.

This can be a major problem for truck drivers, but even worse, it is a potential safety hazard for truck drivers, threatening both their wellbeing and sometimes their life. If a hacker can completely disable a vehicle and strand its driver while they attempt to extract a ransom, this puts the truck driver in a situation of unacceptable risk.

It isn’t out of the realm of possibility to think that a cyberterrorist could cause a truck driver to lose control of their vehicle as the result of an attack. The danger to a truck driver’s life in this situation cannot be overstated.

Beyond safety, such actions can potentially paralyze a fleet, disrupt delivery times and schedules, and expose sensitive business information or commercial details. A smaller fleet caught up in a situation like this can potentially be put out of business.

It’s Time to Future Proof

Since modern commercial motor vehicles are so reliant on technology to perform essential business functions, these technologies represent both an opportunity and a risk. Just as the benefits of advanced technologies are shared across a network, so are the downfalls. New commercial motor vehicles have complex communication protocols built into them, regardless of their make and model. In the modern age, they are largely big computers on wheels.

Once a hacker has figured out a new way to attack a truck’s internal network, it is up to manufacturers and vendors to find a way around it. Yet, problems remain. The industry-wide J1939 standard means that a hacker could come up with an attack that is applicable to every vehicle utilizing that standard. This could potentially make large commercial motor vehicles more susceptible to attack than passenger cars.

With defensive tools at the ready, trucking companies and manufacturers are looking to things like malware defense installations, vigilant operating system monitoring, isolating suspicious programs, and setting up firewalls to prevent network penetration. Still, for every advance they make in preventing attacks, hackers are ready to respond.

The trucking industry – including ELD manufacturers – must learn how to “future proof” their technologies against the attacks of tomorrow. Truck drivers’ lives and business longevity is at stake when a hacker strikes. And while it remains to be seen how successful the industry will be at preventing large-scale attacks in the future, incremental changes will continue to reshape the trucking industry and tractor security. How will this impact trucking as we move into the future? Only time will tell.

How To Not Get Overwhelmed By A Huge Trucking Parts Inventory

If there is one thing that every modern trucking shop technician frets over – especially those working in large fleets – it is the ability to effectively manage the massive jumble of truck parts that they must deal with on an ongoing basis. The fact is, a well-managed parts inventory can help motor carriers save both time and money.

From fleet manager to truck driver and technician, ask any of them and they will tell you that having a truck down and not having the parts on hand to fix it creates a major headache. Therefore, properly managing your parts inventory is a critical aspect to running a successful fleet operation. When you need the right part at the right time, not having it can result in lost business.

Operating an efficient supply chain is directly related to having the parts on hand when you need them. Far too many fleets suffer unnecessary downtime because they are not efficiently or effectively managing their parts inventory. In the end, it is all about having the right part when you need it and where you need it. Just having the part, but not knowing where it is when you require it, helps no one.

One way around this is for a motor carrier to partner with a reliable vendor who can provide the part when it is needed. Yet, not every fleet is in a position – whether financial or logistical – to find such a partner. In those cases, what is a motor carrier to do? Let’s dig a little deeper.

Step One – Coding to the Rescue

Have you heard of vehicle maintenance reporting standards? They are industry-wide standards designed to offer a level of consistency to parts utilization. By using VMRS codes, a motor carrier can examine which parts are used the most, when they are required, and if they fail. This allows motor carriers to better manage which parts they have on hand and avoid excess inventory problems.

Utilizing a system that relies on code tracking allows a motor carrier to take a long-term look at parts inventory management and procurement. A historical parts usage tracking system eliminates cost problems if you have more parts than you need, just as it eliminates downtime issues when you don’t.

VMRS codes were created to provide a universal language for motor carriers and manufacturers to rely on when specific components or parts are needed. Whether it be someone building the truck, computer, or otherwise, VMRS codes make a huge difference in effectively managing parts. If properly used, this coding system can not only help with inventory management, but also greatly improve preventative maintenance schedules and help fleets keep track of specific failures. They help shop technicians develop a long-term view of which parts are working and which aren’t.

For those learning VMRS codes, it should be advised that the most common code used is thirty-three. All the codes are nine digits long and are broken down into groupings. The first three digits describe the system being used, the next three describe the assembly the system is being used on, and the final three describe the component itself.

If you aren’t utilizing VMRS codes as a critical aspect of your inventory management system, you may not be as efficient at managing your overall inventory and eliminating downtime. Why not allow your shop technicians a better idea of which parts they will need and when they will need them? VMRS codes are your friend.

Step Two – Embracing Telematics and Software Solutions

While there have been programs and databases in place for a long time that help shop technicians better manage their parts inventory, the explosion of trucking technology has created an entirely new landscape. Whether it be using QR codes, apps, or advanced telematics, shop technicians have more technological tools at their disposal than ever before.

As an example, one manufacturer recently released an app that lets a parts manager or shop technician log into their inventory on a smartphone or laptop. They can interface whether it be an Android or iPhone device. No matter where they are, they can complete a comprehensive inventory analysis, figure out which parts are out, and which need to be ordered, look up a specific part by part number or type and even filter for missing parts or parts that often fail.

Fleets who already use telematics solutions are used to seeing efficiency gains. Are you ready for your parts inventory to see the same gains? Telematics providers built into their systems many ways to track inventory and manage parts. Their systems are designed to prevent downtime, and allowing their customers to better track their parts creates an added value proposition within the system.

When a motor carrier knows that a vehicle or group of vehicles have been placed into service at the same time, they can set up a reminder system that allows them to know ahead of time which replacement parts will be needed and when. A fleet manager can then order the parts well ahead of time. Once the trucks are then brought in to be serviced, the parts will already be on hand when needed.

Telematics also helps fleets assess long-term parts trends and component life cycle needs. When failures and defective parts are spotted ahead of time, fleets can use that data to address the situation before a minor problem turns into a major one.

Step Three – Track Service Events

Far too many motor carriers address maintenance needs in a vacuum. Rather than holistically looking at what failures are occurring and when, they are addressing service events from a reactive standpoint. By examining them closer, a motor carrier can go from a reactive stance to a proactive one.

Ask any fleet manager and they will likely be able to tell you down to the dollar what parts are costing them, whether it be in general maintenance or repairs. Whether repairs are done in-house or by an outside service provider, they should have this information always on hand. Still, are they digging deeper into the numbers?

By digging deep and proactively addressing parts and maintenance concerns, managers and technicians can follow a part’s history and know where money should be allocated. Repair dollars don’t come cheap, so knowing where your parts inventory is deficient can help trim costs and pad your bottom line.

Following service event reports closely can give your shop the critical information it needs to boost or decrease inventory where required. Whether it be the need for special equipment, a higher budget for more technicians, or improved training on specific parts usage, having a deep knowledge of service events and tracking parts can yield positive results.

Step Four – Utilizing E-Commerce

In the age of the internet, just about anything can be procured online. Many fleets have moved their parts procurement efforts to online purchasing, a move that can yield significant benefits. Still, motor carriers must be very aware of whether they are dealing with a reputable company or not.

If you work with a local vendor, you can pop in at any time to look at their operation. The same does not hold true for online vendors. Still, that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways for you to evaluate if they are the company you should be partnering with. How long has their website been active, and do they publicly display reviews or testimonials?

Furthermore, do they have a customer service department on hand to answer questions in a courteous and expeditious manner? As with any vendor operation or partner, quick customer service is critical. This has become especially important in the age of the ELD.

If you aren’t quite sure what part you need, will your online partner be on-hand and ready to guide you? A good parts supplier – whether online or otherwise – should have a support staff on hand to assist their clients where required. It is also important to analyze whether their support department goes above simply helping you find a part.

A reputable vendor partner will be able to assist you far past the order process. A motor carrier should be able to expect their partner to provide information on the order replacement process, updates when parts are shipped, ways to track the parts once they have shipped, and information on return policies. Partners who have been in business for a long time will often cultivate several touch points with their clients.

The point is, you should feel comfortable working with a company, especially if they are an online vendor. A wise man once said, if you must think twice, think again. Your business isn’t buying something as simple as a hat or shirt. Having the parts you need on hand when you need them is a critical aspect of running a successful trucking company.

Now the question is, are you doing everything you can to run an effective parts management program? If not, you may be selling your shop short. Do your technicians and fleet managers a favor by keeping parts in mind.