By Neil Henderson, Chief Executive Officer, Barloworld Transport
“Technological innovations in the transport industry present the opportunity to challenge the status quo of risk management and operational efficiencies.”
While the transport industry has seen some necessary change over the past two decades, road transport remains the dominant way to move large volumes from A-to-B in southern Africa. Transport is an essential service that drives the economy and impacts everyday life. However, it is a tough industry that often struggles with poor public perceptions. It is both capital and labour-intensive and unless you are passionate about trucks, there is nothing glamorous about it.
That said, sections of the industry have seen radical transformation and increased innovation has made transport smarter, more efficient and critically, safer. Modern commercial vehicles have advanced telematics, tracking systems, on-board computers, dynamic routing and scheduling, in-cab cameras and driver monitoring and management systems.
In effect, transport has entered the information age where technological advancement, mobile data and analytics is enabling a new connected world of transport. For example, the availability of data from telematics helps to monitor and analyse our fleet and our drivers in real-time, providing superior journey management for greater efficiencies, enhanced safety and, ultimately, cost-savings for the customer.
While innovation is critical to modern transportation, people and risk management remain as important as ever in our business.
A people-driven business
Transport is all about people: those we employ, those we serve by transporting goods and those communities in which we operate.
Drivers are a central cog in the transport industry machine and even though modern trucks are technologically advanced, they still require professional drivers with the necessary skills and experience to operate them. As professional transport operators, we have to ensure that our drivers are properly trained, competent and medically fit. Looking after our drivers and protecting the lives of all road users is not negotiable.
Customer collaboration and supply chain integration is another positive aspect of the industry today. With the amount of real-time information now available, there is also greater data sharing and collaboration with customers, making supply chains more transparent and efficient.
Change and Risk
As an industry, we have opened ourselves to much needed innovation so as to improve operational efficiencies and better serve our customers. But, aside from vehicle innovation and technology changes, we are also confronted daily by change-inducing risk.
The South African road statistics are shocking. In 2015 there were close to one million accidents – meaning one in 10 vehicles on South African roads was in an accident. Unroadworthy vehicles and illegal operators are commonplace and unlicensed drivers and fraudulently obtained licences are a real problem. In addition, about 43% of professional drivers in South Africa have expired professional driving permits.
This scenario is compounded by a serious driver skills shortage and a complex labour context. Labour unrest is expected in a labour-intensive climate – and can emerge either from within the industry or in an associated industry where a large-scale strike at a client can have a knock-on effect for the transporter.
Lost productivity hurts drivers, transporters, customers and ultimately the economy. But this is a reality that needs to be considered and managed every day. Anticipating risks and having appropriate contingency plans in place is essential. Through a combination of foresight and planning, we are able to mitigate a number of known risks, maintain productivity and ensure a safe work environment.
Foresight and Trends
Smart trucking nowadays is predicated on three key trends:
- Increased focus on risk management;
- Integrated transport solutions rather than ‘basic transport services’; and
- Innovation and payload optimisation.
The focus on risk management was initially driven by customer-side demands, particularly from multi-national mining, oil and forestry companies which insist on best practice in risk management from service providers. However, self-regulation is equally important to risk management.
Many transport companies adopt good risk management practices of their own accord because they realise the benefits and long term value derived from proactively managing risk. In addition, the investment in technology and transport innovation would be wasted if not used as a pre-emptive means for risk management.
Due to the fact that everything in business comes back to people, best practice is more than just ticking compliance boxes. It’s about equipping and preserving the lives of drivers and other road users. The more risk-averse you are and the better innovation in use, the more efficient and safe your operations will be. However, to both survive and grow in the transport industry, solutions are needed – not just ‘one-size-fits-all’ transport services.
As such, integrated transport solutions are key to addressing a customer’s full transport requirements. Transport works best when customers’ needs are understood, expectations and challenges are taken into account and solutions are specifically tailored for each customer’s needs.
While these are all important aspects of the transport industry, an uncomfortable reality still remains: loss of life and goods, damage to vehicles, non-compliance, illegal operators and unroadworthy vehicles.
It is essential that industry and government collaborate to keep unroadworthy vehicles off the roads and ensure the drivers of commercial vehicles are well trained, have the necessary experience and are medically fit to meet the unique challenges professional truck drivers face.
So while accepting the status quo may mean resisting change – which hampers innovation – it entirely depends on what you define as the status quo. We believe a combination of embracing innovation and being driver-centric in the transport industry is a status quo that should always remain. It is a pivotal means of ensuring safety on the roads.