Back in October 2016, Otto — a company purchased by Uber that focuses on self-driving trucks — got a lot of attention for making a 120-mile “beer run” in Colorado with an autonomous vehicle. The media was quick to get after this story, with CBS Sunday Morning and The New Yorker both creating long, in-depth pieces (different mediums, of course) about our automated future, especially as it impacts trucks and hauling. This year, a Chinese AI company has already deployed driverless semi-trucks in limited commercial use on remote American highways. The company plans to expand its autonomous truck fleet to 500 units by next year.
There is a belief that automation could replace 1.7 million American truckers in the next 10 years. There are different beliefs about the quality of salary within the trucking and ground transportation industry; some claim it’s one of the best ways for lesser-educated workers to make a middle-class living, and others claim the hours are too much on a family, regardless of pay.
What underscores all this coverage is simple: technology moves more quickly than human process, and companies still largely compete on cost. The transportation industry is no different. There are immense pressures on CFOs, operational managers, and back-office staff to keep costs as low as possible while still keeping productivity high and clients happy. It’s extremely challenging.
Automation will change some the game, and deployment is speeding up. Most discussions of transportation automation from 2017 estimated ROI 10 years from now, and sometimes even longer than that. But today, with TuSimple rapidly expanding its fleet, it is obvious that driverless trucks are already here. To close the gap between logistics competitors, other systems must be made more efficient. What are you doing now to be more effective at cost?
One way to reduce complexity would be to have better processes around paperwork — while maintaining a good cost structure. Transportation might be up there with health care as one of the most paperwork-intensive industries. You typically have:
- Employee records
- Shipping/warehouse receipts
- Supply chain documents
- Material Safety Data Sheets
- Driver logs
- Copies of Commercial Drivers’ Licenses
- Tax records
This is an enormous amount of paperwork to manage, and a strictly manual process makes no sense anymore. You need an enterprise content management (ECM) system, and typically you’ll want it to do the following:
- Integrate with most of your pre-existing processes and/or have the ability to be customized to what you need
- High-level security for proprietary documents
- Easy tagging and finding to avoid “needle in haystack” moments
- Tiers and permissions to determine workflow easier
- Some automated workflows so that specific tasks/papers go immediately to the next person who would need to approve
All these bullets would reduce both (a) admin and (b) training costs, which will keep the bosses happy — and maybe stave off more automation by a year or two.
And while we can’t promise you a 120-mile autonomous stunt, we’ve got the rest covered.
A version of this article was originally published as Transportation, Logistics, and Content Management by Ted Bauer on May 10, 2017