Technological Disruptions Bring Risk for Fleets

A Velociti technician installs an onboard computer in a truck cab. (Velociti)

[Stay on top of transportation news: Get TTNews in your inbox.]

A systemwide update to GPS technology last year gave the trucking industry and other sectors a glimpse into how large-scale technological malfunctions can cause broad-based problems for businesses, but small-scale issues can be just as disruptive, experts said.

“We don’t hear many questions from fleets that we work with on the concern of a networkwide outage,” Velociti President Deryk Powell told Transport Topics. “The GPS rollover event heightened the awareness of that for some fleets — it’s absolutely a concern.”

While rare, the April 6 GPS rollover event spotlighted how reliant carriers have become on technology. The event, which occurs roughly every 20 years, is tied to the 10-digit format of the system date. It’s only 10 binary digits, and when it runs out of spaces an update is required.



Much of the trucking industry relies on older onboard technology for critical functions, which can hurt reliability and efficiency. So is it time for fleets and their technology vendors to implement faster replacement cycles for onboard tech? Seth Clevenger talks to Ray Greer of Omnitracs and Deryk Powell of Velociti. Hear a snippet, above, and get the full program by going to

“Trucking does depend on GPS a lot but it is generally a very reliable system,” Clem Driscoll, founder of the marketing and research firm C.J. Driscoll & Associates, told TT. “The U.S. military depends on it. It’s used for all kinds of commercial and government applications. There can be problems but they are not very common.”

That’s also true among trucking-specific technology providers, he noted.

“Systems go down occasionally,” Driscoll said. “A particular telematics provider may have its servers go down. It doesn’t happen often … but it does happen from time to time. That can be an issue.”

Scott Sutarik, vice president of commercial vehicle solutions at Geotab, noted that improvements in safety and efficiency have made technology a necessity — despite the risks of downtime. This is especially true, he said, when it comes to hours-of-service compliance with electronic logging devices, back-office reliance on transportation management systems and camera-based systems for safety. He also listed fuel tax reporting, radio frequency identification, and electronic door locks and cargo sensors for sensitive shipment among technologies that have been beneficial to trucking.

Despite the gains technology can bring, Powell noted that service disruptions can negatively affect a carrier’s bottom line and slow down its ability to do business. This will only be more true, he said, as the industry advances further from its analog past. He used electronic logs to illustrate the point.

“When you’re talking about drivers having to revert back to paper logs, as an example, it’s a real issue for the industry,” Powell said. “There is a mandate around the repair of ELDs. You have eight days to get a broken ELD repaired. That’s a real issue for fleets.” He noted that some newer drivers may have no experience with paper logs.



Mark Cubine, vice president of marketing and enterprise systems at McLeod Software, agreed, but noted that it could be easier for drivers to temporarily adapt to the fallback of paper logs than it would be for trucking companies with small staffs that are reliant on TMS systems to suddenly revert to manual processes.

“Those examples are good wake-up calls for the vulnerability of technology,” Cubine told TT. “Fortunately in the case of the driver’s logs there is a paper paradigm that an individual driver could go back to,” he said.

Driscoll added: “I think the danger is more — in terms of losing functionality of ELDs and fleet management — it’s more individual systems that could have hardware or software failures,” he said. “I think it’s more in the area of specific devices and specific solutions.”

Sutarik stressed carriers that conduct thorough research and development when investing in new technologies are in a stronger position to avoid potentially catastrophic situations.

“Companies that do not share a similar focus on engineering and continuous innovation and instead accumulate legacy IT debt by focusing their efforts on keeping old and outdated systems working are made more vulnerable to threats such as downtime,” he said.

Powell added, “I do think the more manageable and relevant concern is that one-to-one failure.”

Want more news? Listen to today's daily briefing: