Trucking, the Internet, and You

If you dont read anything else today, take a few minutes and read this. I promise that if you are involved in the trucking industry today and plan to remain in business tomorrow, then reading this editorial is mandatory. A few minutes of your time now, could make all the difference in your future. If you agree, disagree, or just have some comments of your own concerning this topic, just click on my picture and e-mail me your comments.

Today you are seeing little glimmers of internet usage by the trucking industry. In fact I would say that trucking internet use today approximates nationwide industry internet use back in 1996. Today the internet has major impact on the nationwide industries, and it will most certainly have major impact on the trucking industry during the next year. Let me tell you why I predict this.

Back in 1996, industry considered the internet as nothing more than a fancy toy for computer scientists and some geeks (nerds). Industry had not yet learned of the advantages that the internet could offer. A few brave pioneers setup shop on the internet and hard to find information slowly began to trickle out to Joe public. Then some more pioneers decided that, what the heck, why canít we also sell things through the internet ? Sure, those things have to be downloadable or at least something we can mail, but why not give it a try. Well, they did give it a try, and it worked to some degree, but both industry and Joe Public still didnít understand the full potential of the internet.

First of all, back in 1996, industry had no idea about how and if the internet could be used to promote business and increase the sale of products. Sure it sounded neat, but what could you actually do with it? Over the next four years both industry and the public consumers discovered the many and varied uses which have brought the internet to the forefront today. Industry learned how to adapt to the advantages of the internet, Joe Public learned that he could get a better deal on the internet, and the banking industry figured out ways to securely transfer funds through the internet.

Once all these entities started working smoothly together, the internet took off, and it will surely never go away. Once industry adapted its business practices to incorporate the internet, the internet became more and more important and made the industry more efficient. Joe Public quickly learned that industry was now making information available which was never before obtainable. The more information that Joe Public looked for, the more information industry published, just to keep Joe Public happy and impressed. Selling products on the Internet started taking off just because of the shear volume of users.

We all know about that snowball effect which is still building larger each day. The internet demonstrated runaway business practices which drove both industry and Joe Public to where it is today. Now you can find information, services, and products today like you never could back in 1996. Joe Public is happy and the industry is prosperous.

Yada, yada, yada, but what has all this got to do with the trucking industry? Within the next year, I predict the same runaway business practice changes in the trucking industry. It has already started, still lacks full maturity, but is growing bigger every day.

Behind the scenes, many forces besides industry management and Joe Public, were at work promoting the internet concept from 1996 to today. As peopleís lives become more fulfilled (to busy), time becomes a sacred asset. There just arenít enough hours in the day! Everything has to be done more efficiently, we have deadlines to meet, I need more information to make the best decision, I canít be running around to find the best price, Iím just here for a short time and I donít know where everything is, I must be able to compete in todayís competitive industries ÖÖ doesnít this sound like todayís trucking industry demands?

So, here is the million dollar question; did Industry and Joe Public change the internet, or did the internet change Industry and Joe Public? The obvious answer is, "YES", both were changed. Each one impacted the other. Why then, would the trucking industry be any different? As complexity increases to support effeciency, more information is required to keep it all working.

As computers got more complicated, to improve the internet, more information was required on the internet, to educate the computer users and to help them maintain their complicated computers. This same information included the latest trends, and the users delighted the computer manufacturers, by upgrading computers all the while. Informed buyers buy things. They evaluate how the improved products will benefit them, and then they buy to reap those benefits.

The same metamorphosis is beginning to take place today in the trucking industry. As trucks become more complicated with anti-lock brakes, computer controlled diesel engines, load balancing suspension systems, lighter weight materials, and driver convenience options; truck owners and operators need more information and education to see how they can maintain and benefit from these new features. Many trucking companies are realizing that loading up a new truck with driver convience options not only retains more qualified drivers, but also increases the resale value of the truck substantially. Which used truck will sell faster, one with no driver conveniences, or one loaded with driver conveniences?

Now mix that in with driving schools turning out inexperienced drivers in record numbers, and you can see where this is all going. Not only do the new and younger drivers need more information resources, they are also much more computer literate than the older drivers. After all, they learned computers and the internet during their last few years in High School. The internet didnít even exist when the older drivers were in High School.

Most of us agree that the driver training schools certainly do not provide all the driving skill requirements that new driver needs. In fact many driving schools teach some practices which are just plain wrong. They look good on paper, or they meet some perceived requirement, but they are just plain wrong.

For example, most driving schools teach drivers to always start out in first gear. Well, guess what folks? This decreases the driverís ability to obtain smooth clutch engagement on level ground, which results in bouncing truck front ends, roughed up clutch discs, and weakened clutch plate torque springs, and overstressed drive train components. What does all this lead to? It leads to premature failure of truck clutches, drive train components and front shock absorbers. Do these failures cost the trucking industry money and lost profits? You bet they do!

Without the internet, who is going to get that word out to enough people to effect a change in the industry? How will these new drivers learn all the other things they need to know? Will they all have to learn through mistakes which take big chunks out of the trucking profit margin?

If that is not enough to convince you that major changes in the trucking industry are needed and are starting to take place, then just stop and look around. Todayís trucking industry management is using computers just to keep up. Load dispatching is getting more complicated due to the industry "get it when I need it" requirements. Government regulations complication keeps escalating in attempts to reduce accidents resulting from the shear volume of vehicles on the road today. Everyone is being forced to become more competitive just to survive. The cost of truck parts and fuel are skyrocketing. Many of these pressures can be offset once the trucking industry learns how to incorporate the internet, to make necessary information more readily available, and effeciency a reality and not just a dream.

There is another obvious change that is about to take place in the trucking industry. Today you find a few internet load dispatchers, but most of them are charging the drivers a fee to access that information. This severely limits the utilization of that service. Just two years ago (1998) the internet industry was making this same mistake. They were charging the internet user access fees to get to internet information. That industry learned over the past two years that it is much better to give the internet user free access because this brings many more users, and the service cost is easily paid for by the service sponsors who are doing much more business. Some enterprising internet load dispatch service will soon figure this out, and when they do, they will soar to the top and you will see a decided improvement in matches between load delivery requirements and load hauler availability. A match which is sorely needed to increase truck profits through more loaded miles driven.

Another example of trucking internet gone wrong, are those internet computer terminals you see in many truckstops today. There are at least two companies trying to make this work, but they are doing it all wrong. They are called KIOSKs and they are pay for use internet terminals. Hello Ö. Is anybody awake out there? You want to get truckers to use the internet, so you charge them to use something that they donít know how to use! Now that is really smart. Most truckers say "what the heck is that thing used for anyway?" And those who put their money in, stumble around for their time duration, and then walk away confused, disgruntled, and telling everyone that they meet, that it was a total waste of their time and money.

Do you think this trucker will put any more money into one of those machines again? You took a driver who had initiative, was willing to try something new to expand his horizons, who realized that the internet could probably help him; and you threw him out the door, making him feel that the internet is definitely not for him! One customer, who will negatively influence many more potential customers, gone forever! If you are going to charge for using KIOSKs, then you had better at least provide some free user training instructions at that terminal.

Of course the best solution is to get the advertisers to pay for the KIOSK and make it's use free to the trucker. Then you will see lines waiting to use the KIOSK, instead of empty KIOSK booths with screens flashing to a non-existant audience. But you will still need to provide some user training at that terminal. Those lines wont form when the trucker cant get what he wants, even if the use is free. Some might say that the free training would prevent paying customers from eady access. Simply not true if you plan it properly. For example, you could allow 5-minute free training sessions, but then prevent training sessions for the next 30 minutes. This would allow some training to take place, but would ensure significant access for paying customers (whose numbers will be increasing because of training).

Many of the current trucking websites are making another very important blunder. In their attempt to razzle-dazzle users, and increase revenue, they are confusing users and distracting users with their flashing banner ads to the point of disgust. Some of these websites look like Vegas, blinking and flashing and carrying on to extremes, to the extinction of useful information and products that the trucker is actually looking for. Come on folks, give the trucker a break. The American Native Indians were the last large group to fall for the trinkets gag. You are not doing the trucker a service by blinking and flashing him away, and you are probably negatively impacting your website hits through the whole process. Just the opposite of what you originally wanted to achieve.

As I said in the beginning, today you are seeing little glimmers of internet usage by the trucking industry. Many truckstops now have internet connections in the truck parking areas, and in-cab satellite repeaters are beginning to show up at major truckstops. E-mail is being realized as a much better communications medium between truck drivers and their families. Limited load dispatching has already began to take place on the internet.

This trucking Internet glimmer is like a lighted match in a pile of dry leaves on a hot August day. If companies like the KIOSK vendors and the blinking trucker websites donít blow that match out, that glimmer will turn into a blaze before you even know what happened. These internet pioneers will pave the way, and once that pavement is in place, the internet trucking industry will switch from those dusty dirt side roads to the interstate highway system where it belongs, where it can run efficiently, and where it needs to be in order to survive todayís and tomorrowís economy.

Now who do you think will get to the trucking Internet interstate highway first? Those pioneers who are navigating the dirt roads now, or the spectators setting at the roadside stands watching the traffic go by? Just remember one thing, it is far dustier sitting alongside that dirt road than driving down that dirt road!

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