OPINION: Changing with the times doesn’t always come easy

NatRoad CEO Warren Clark shares his thoughts on dealing with technology and innovation within the transport industry

Reports about the take-up of technology by Australian businesses are prolific. One report by a management company in the wake of the pandemic recently caught my eye.

It said that more than 70 percent of Australian transport and logistics companies invested in new technology during COVID-19, but 98 percent of their employees reported facing technical difficulties.

Noting that the report was about the broad logistics sector, and not just the heavy vehicle segment, it made some telling points.

40 percent of employees said they lost at least three to four hours each week due to system downtime leading to delays in the freight task.

That strikes me as a situation where people are working for the technology and not the technology working for them.

About 30 percent said the main culprit was a lack of IT support to address mobile device downtime issues, or an absence of self-serve applications that allow drivers to diagnose and troubleshoot device issues independently while they are on the road.

Experienced operators will tell you, as good as on-board systems monitoring can be, there’s no substitute for thorough, hands-on safety checks before a truck leaves a depot.

I’m also not sure whether many small operators have ready access to technical IT expertise at the drop of a hat.

Other factors producing downtime were a lack of up-to-date information being shared across all systems (28 percent) and systems not being upgraded frequently enough (40 percent).

Our industry is fairly set in its ways and traditionally does not adopt new technology with open arms.

One reason, even recognised by regulators, is that current Heavy Vehicle National Law does not encourage innovation.

Another is that most road transport operators are self-employed or only have a handful of employees. The cost and time involved in keeping vehicles on the road while complying with the demands of red tape means upgrading technology is sometimes an afterthought.

Most industries are naturally resistant to change. We all prefer to stick with familiar processes and equipment if we think a learning curve will be steep.

And then there’s a general distrust of unfamiliar technologies.

NatRoad has consistently held the view that new technology is generally a good thing if it makes the freight task safer or more efficient.

We also recognise privacy concerns relating to technology are often valid, and truck drivers value the independence, and control, they have over their work schedules and routes.

Innovations like Electronic Work Diaries make sense provided regulations for use of their data are in place to prevent misuse.

Technology is a no-brainer if it reduces business costs, encourages safer behaviour, or stops someone from taking shortcuts.

The common thread with managing any change is the need to be prepared.

If you’re a business operator intending to put in a new system, it makes sense to ensure your employees are properly consulted and that they embrace the process.

Good change management means also having adequate support in place so that the people you’re asking to adopt the technology know you have their back.

On that note, I’d like to wish you all a happy and safe Christmas and a resilient New Year.

*Warren Clark is CEO of the National Road Transport Association.

NatRoad communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Our advisers are available to clarify any questions you have and provide the right advice for your business and workforce. Contact NatRoad on (02) 6295 3000.

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