Throughout the pandemic, the transportation industry proved itself as an invaluable component of our functioning society today. In fact, we can all thank trucking companies for keeping food on the shelves and essential products in stock when the world hit the pause button due to COVID-19.
Like many industries today, transportation is undergoing a major transformation because of new and emerging technologies designed to streamline the processes that help the sector run efficiently. For example, VideoProtects is bringing the science of video-telematics to the transportation market by offering video-based solutions for drivers and fleets.
Transform It Forward with Michael Nalepka: Driving change in the transportation industry
On the most recent episode of Transform It Forward, I chatted with Michael Nalepka, the General Manager of VideoProtects at J.J. Keller, a company that provides businesses with expertise in safety and regulatory compliance. Among several other topics, we discuss how video technology and AI are transforming to keep drivers, fleets, and highways safe.
Having joined J.J. Keller this past January, Michael has had an extensive career in the transportation technology field. He’s held roles at Procon Analytics and PeopleNet, helping to drive innovation and cutting-edge product development in the transportation industry throughout his career.
You may recall the great toilet paper fiasco of 2020 (or you may work hard to forget it). When the pandemic first hit North America, there were real concerns about people not having access to food, personal care products, and essential household items because of delays in shipping, which caused serious panic in many areas.
However, during this time, the transportation industry stepped up and showed its tremendous value in the face of an emergency. Trucking companies continued operating to deliver the goods people needed while quarantining at home, which helped us avoid shortages that would have surely resulted in even more disastrous consequences.
“In a lot of ways, in many ways, to begin with, the big transportation space basically saved our country when everything was shut down. The trucking industry kept going and really rescued us. They were there delivering all the goods and services we needed during that time and as a result of that.”
Because of this phenomenon, trucking rates went up, and many of these companies are making a higher income now than they were pre-pandemic. According to Michael, the competition in the industry today is fierce, and given the backup in the supply chain, it’s more critical than ever to have goods and services being made on home soil in North America.
Driving change through technology
With fiercer competition and a rapidly developing economic landscape, the transportation sector is being forced to grow alongside other industries. Michael noted that technology is driving this evolution forward, but it’s also upping the ante in terms of the expectations for transportation companies today.
“It’s not just about going from point A to point B anymore to be successful and profitable as a commercial carrier today. You have to be flexible; you have to be able to dynamically change almost in real time. It really has changed it from end to end in transportation, and we’ve had to, on the commercial side, adjust to that, virtually, and in real time.”
As Michael explains, technology is consistently dialing up in the transportation industry. He notes that as a company that’s been around for 65 years, J.J. Keller specializes in helping companies keep up with compliance standards, regulations, and reporting requirements (in fact, they literally write the book on it), so it’s their responsibility to ensure companies are up-to-date and informed with the latest and greatest ways to stay safe on the roads.
These technological advancements are continuing to drive forward change in the transportation industry. Michael says there’s never been a better time for people to join the business — not only is the industry increasingly profitable, but the new technology has also contributed to leveling out the playing field because it’s become more affordable than ever, so smaller companies can compete with the transportation giants that have been around for decades.
However, this is no “get rich quick” scheme. Like any other business, entrepreneurs have to be smart, quick, and knowledgeable enough to take full advantage of the newest technologies to succeed in the transportation industry.
“If you’re a small trucking company and you’re just getting into business, you’re probably at the best time ever to jump in and to be profitable. But you’re going to have to be sharp. You just don’t get in a truck and drive. You’ve got to know technology today, which is really attached at the hip to transportation.”
The power of video in the transportation industry
One example of a technology that’s improving the transportation industry is video, which is being paired with new AI technology to keep the roads safe. Michael emphasized the importance of installing high-quality video surveillance systems in every trucking fleet across the country to help exonerate the company in the case of a lawsuit.
“For fleets, in fact, if a fleet today doesn’t have a forward-facing video camera recording system on their large trucks, they are one accident away from a nuclear lawsuit.”
Many trucking companies also use cameras to record the drivers to help reduce risky driving incidents and help them avoid falling asleep at the wheel. Michael notes that with new AI innovations, the roads are becoming increasingly safer, and, as a result, helping transportation companies save money.
In terms of what’s next for the transportation industry, I wanted to hear Michael’s opinion on the future of self-driving cars. He mentioned that although there are billions of dollars being spent in the area now, many people in the industry are still quite skeptical of them.
“As humans, our brains are focused on processing in real time and basing decisions on moral, legal, and ethical concerns. Can you transfer that to artificial intelligence and to self-driving cars and vehicles? I think it’s a big question mark.”
Five key takeaways
- The transportation industry has been an integral part of keeping North America running smoothly throughout the pandemic. Trucking companies continued delivering the goods and services we needed despite the global shutdowns, which ultimately rescued communities across the country. As a result, the perception of the industry has shifted dramatically, and overall, incomes have gone up.
- To remain successful and profitable, companies need to be flexible and dynamic enough to keep up with the rapid pace of changes we’re seeing today. The transportation industry has reinvented itself because of the pandemic to keep up with things like compliance standards and hours of service. Technology and regulations are consistently dialing up in transportation, which is why companies like J.J. Keller need to stay on top of the changes.
- One of the major challenges the industry presents are regulatory requirements and the attention to detail needed to keep up with reporting logs. Michael mentioned that this is one area where the use of technology is critical. It’s up to companies like J.J. Keller to bring a complicated process down to earth and ultimately help trucking companies remain profitable by taking full advantage of the latest tech available.
- Customer satisfaction is number one in the transportation industry. However, the trucking sector has experienced a shortage of drivers for years, and an extremely high turnover rate—soaring up to 100 or 150% each year, according to Michael. As a result, the question of retaining drivers has been another major challenge facing the trucking industry recently.
- The progression of technology in recent years, it has given smaller trucking companies a fighting chance to keep up with larger companies. Not only has technology streamlined and automated the entire process, but it’s also become much more cost effective and sophisticated, which has leveled the playing field for all companies in the industry. Michael noted it closely linked the technology to the transportation field today, so for those companies hoping to succeed in the industry, they need to be up to date on the latest tech. One example of this is video technology — Michael mentioned, if trucking companies don’t have proper video cameras on each truck, they’re only one accident away from a nuclear lawsuit.
Listen to the full podcast episode here.
If you missed previous episodes, click here.