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February 03, 2017

The future in your pocket

Whip Around - Mobile Inspection Platform Whip Around - Mobile Inspection Platform

Late last week, I was sweating away in the gym watching two talking heads blather away on one of those stock market channels the old guys in there love to watch. And these two experts were going on about how Apple was pretty much over as a tech company – that all that could be done with a cell phone had been done and the company founded by Steve Jobs was going to have to find something new to sell to the public.

And then this week Apple announced that it sold 78.29-million iPhones in its last financial quarter. Oh, and it has $246 billion in cash on hand. And it is working away on the next generation of products and innovations.

So much for the talking heads.

This week also saw a new study from transportation analysts Frost & Sullivan landing in my inbox. Titled “Mobile Apps Driving Trucking Industry Transformation in North America, 2016-2017,” the report focuses on the use of smartphones and how they’re quickly becoming a mandatory piece of equipment for pretty much anybody working in the trucking industry today.

In fact, according to this report, smartphones will likely be the foundational building blocks that take trucking into a new world of integrated operations and efficiency. In short, as every conceivable aspect of our lives becomes wired into constant-flow, real-time, fully integrated, data-driven, information stream, the smartphone will be the point of delivery and interface that allows us to navigate, update and access that virtual world.

In real world terms, the report says, this will mean the end of paperwork, while removing many of the competitive advantages that large fleets enjoy and the barriers to entry that hamper small fleets. 

The result will be a technology explosion that will lead to enhanced, visibility, and competitiveness among owner-operators and small fleets. Large fleets and dealerships will benefit greatly, too, as smartphones will streamline maintenance and shipping operations while increasing visibility and accountability throughout the logistics chain.

And the crazy thing about all of this is that we’ve barely scratched the surface in terms of the apps that will empower smartphones in trucking and fuel this massive efficiency explosion.

Currently, according to the report, there are about 70 widely used trucking-specific apps in popular use today – and virtually none of them have or are connected with developmental support from traditional industry players such as OEMs, dealerships, brokers, and 3PLs.

But all that is about to change. The authors of the report predict that $2 billion will flood into trucking in the next five years to fund “digitization” of the traditionally paper-bound industry – with the lion’s share of that money focused on the $50-billion brokerage market, which is widely seen as woefully inefficient and badly in need of modernization.

My take is there is nothing but good news in this report. For starters, pretty much everybody has a smartphone today and is comfortable using them. So the learning curve, as these apps and abilities come on line, while be manageable and largely stress-free.

These same attributes should work to keep costs relatively low, too – something that is usually not the case during industry transformations on this scale. As the apps empower drivers, dealers and fleets, efficiency, productivity and profitability should rise accordingly as well. And, equally, important, because this movement is just stirring to life, there are ample opportunities for traditional industry players as well as brand-new tech developers to get in on the ground floor in a big way.

The transformation will be sweeping. And the winners will be those who tackle this technology head on, master it and put it to work on their behalf. And it is not at all too early to be thinking of these changes, and even planning for them today.

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