Wednesday, February 17, 2016

May we interrupt this disruption?

Let’s talk about hype. Lately, there has been a lot of it about how technology will change trucking.
They call it “disruptive” technology.

But it isn’t.

Here’s one example, a survey by Princeton Consulting called Disruptive Technologies in Freight Transportation and Logistics. According to the results, we will soon (say, within 20 years) see big changes due to self-driving trucks, drones, Uber, the IoT (Internet of Things), and Big Data.

But we won’t.

Let’s take them one at a time: Self-driving trucks won’t be on public roads for a long time, and when they finally are, they will be limited to specific jobs. A truck without a driver is a truck without someone to load, unload, and deal with the all the nonsense trucking entails. In short: no driver, no brain. Oh sure, we might see driverless trucks in platoons, one following the other in distinct lanes. But at best, they’ll be a small fraction of total line haul. They’ll change the business a little maybe, but they won’t disrupt anything.

Drones will have little or no discernible impact on trucking. Never mind the air traffic challenges, the ratio of fuel to freight alone will limit them to highly specialized uses.

The “Uberization” of freight may put an app on your smartphone, but that’s about it. Some say it will replace middlemen, like brokers. But the Ubers will simply become brokers, the new middlemen. For trucking, nothing will be disrupted.

The Internet of Things will make incremental changes in trucking – much like some new technologies make driving a little bit safer. But computer chips and sensors talking to each other will not disrupt the essential business of trucking.

Big Data may or may not help carriers make more money. It will give them statistics to predict things, but that doesn’t mean those predictions will be right. It’s not going to change the way things are done.

Nevertheless, consultants and publishers love hype, so we’re bound to hear more about how big change is right around the corner. Change is always around the corner, but it’s rarely all that big.

It will take more than digital technology to change the nature of trucking, the essential business of picking up stuff here and taking it over there. No matter what the surveys say, that will still require a driver and a truck for a long, long time to come.