Trucking’s Shifting Technology Landscape

Trimble Duo ELD
The advent of federally mandated electronic logging devices attracted a spate of new technology vendors eager to fill a new market need. (Trimble)

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From our homes to our offices and out on the open road, technology has advanced by leaps and bounds over the past decade. In 10 short years, the ubiquity of smartphones, the rise of cloud computing, the expansion of the Internet of Things, and the growth of artificial intelligence and machine learning have changed how we work and live.

This certainly has been true in the North American trucking industry, where motor carriers and logistics providers have been applying the latest technologies to help solve old challenges, such as driver recruiting and retention, regulatory compliance and moving freight more efficiently while ensuring highway safety.

At the same time, the industry’s technology market has been undergoing a transformation. A steady stream of mergers and acquisitions has dramatically altered the industry’s technology landscape, with several large vendors completing major deals to assemble more comprehensive platforms.

A decade ago, the biggest names in transportation management software were TMW Systems and McLeod Software, and the largest players in trucking telematics were Qualcomm and PeopleNet. ALK Technologies, meanwhile, was a top provider of routing and mileage software.

Of those names, only privately held McLeod exists in the same form today. Publicly traded Trimble acquired PeopleNet, TMW and ALK, while Qualcomm sold its trucking technology business, which is now Omnitracs, to Vista Equity Partners.

Meanwhile, a surge in outside investment has injected new energy and ideas into the transportation technology market.

Tech startups fueled by venture capital have developed a broad range of new applications designed to improve efficiency and safety in the trucking industry.

At the same time, private equity firms have been driving the growth of some of the more established players in the trucking technology sector, such as Omnitracs and video telematics provider Lytx Inc.

Broader industry trends also have led to major shifts in the industry’s technology market.

The advent of federally mandated electronic logging devices attracted a spate of new technology vendors eager to fill a new market need, particularly for small trucking businesses. The widespread deployment of in-cab technology driven by the ELD rule helped pave the way for broader adoption of other applications beyond the requirements of the regulation.

Most recently, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic forced trucking companies and third-party logistics providers to quickly adapt to the supply chain disruption wrought by this historic public health crisis.

Although the economic fallout from the pandemic took a heavy financial toll on many transportation companies, it also highlighted the value of freight visibility and modern fleet management technology.

Through it all, the industry’s largest technology vendors have been focused on expanding their capabilities through acquisition.

While these companies aim to unlock greater efficiencies by assembling the right pieces of technology, they also understand that they must continue to work together with rival technology developers to support shared fleet customers.

That dynamic is unlikely to change in the highly fragmented trucking industry, where different fleets have unique operating requirements and business priorities.

Although trucking companies will continue to have many options in the increasingly competitive transportation technology market, they also can expect to see more waves of tech startups and additional consolidation in the years to come.

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