History Channel’s latest reality TV creation, Big Rig Bounty Hunters, has brought a little-known underground industry into the limelight. This industry involves hired contractors working to track down missing cargo or 18-wheelers that have simply vanished off the map altogether. The show follows a number of colorful characters, the “bounty hunters,” as they attempt to find these trucks and/or retrieve their cargo so that trucking companies aren’t out heaps of money. And the hunters make a pretty penny in the process too.
As an employee of a transportation and logistics solutions provider, this show got me thinking, how is it even possible for a truck or its cargo to go missing in today’s modern era of transportation logistics and fleet management technology? I did some research and it turns out the current era isn’t as modern as one might think…
According to Kimberly Knickle, practice director at IDC Manufacturing Insights, just 26 percent of respondents in IDC’s supply chain mobility survey reported using smartphones and media tablets for logistics. Dwight Klappich, a research vice president at Gartner didn’t fare much better in his industry analysis. Klappich recently asked an audience of carriers and private fleet operators how many of them had mobile-enabled fleets. About half of the audience responded that they did so. Klappich then asked how many of the vehicles were equipped with GPS systems and the response was significantly lower. “So, basically they’re driving around in $300,000 units, but still using paper to track their activities,” he told Logistics Management. So according to industry experts, many trucking companies are keeping track of their expensive rigs (and cargo to boot) with a paper trail – kept by the trucker – inside the truck? The premise of this show is starting to make a lot more sense.
But the industry is slowly changing, says Klappich. As drivers are using more technology in their personal lives, they want to move away from antiquated techniques, such as paper logs, while on the job. Due to a current driver shortage and an increased incentive to comply with driver requests, along with reduced costs, trucking companies are taking note and rolling out mobile solutions to their fleets. And with good reason; the benefits of mobile technology on big rigs are many: drivers can capture signatures as proof-of-delivery, communicate with their company, receive permits, reconcile fuel taxes, photograph damage to deliveries and navigate where they are going. In addition, tablets and other mobile devices enable two-way communication between the driver and dispatcher.
While it may be some time before tablets are widely used across the trucking industry, one technology that is much more commonplace is the use of a “black box” or electronic on-board recorder device that not only enables the driver to log his miles, but also allows the distributor or trucking company to keep tabs on the driver’s routes and track his status in real-time. Leveraging this kind of technology is a no-brainer according to Anne Ferro of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Farro states that most companies that switch to electronic logs do so “very effectively and very profitably.” She also states that those who leverage this technology are “finding it’s a very, very efficient mechanism for tracking on-duty status.” According to Commercial Carrier Journal, electronic logging technology is not just a beneficial service for drivers and their respective owners but it may soon be the law. Farro predicts that a rule mandating the use of electronic onboard records will be proposed by September 2013.
Until tablets become widely adopted across the industry, or electronic on-board recorders are federally mandated, it seems the big rig bounty hunters can keep their day jobs.