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As the world becomes more reliant upon technology, so do the various modes within the intermodal industry. But with the introduction of new technology comes the question: How can adopters within the intermodal industry properly plan and prepare for the deployment of new technology?

Among the techniques that companies need to employ to prepare for, or accelerate the deployment of new technology, industry experts say, is to get started in a timely manner.

"Early adopters accumulate advantages over their competitors, in part because they have more options to challenge the 'we’ve always done it that way' mindset, and in part because they are getting to help guide the development of new technologies to address the issues that are most important to their businesses," Clifford Creech, a business development manager with Phillips Connect Technologies told Intermodal Insights.

Tom Williams, a group vice president with BNSF agreed, saying that his railroad has always tried to be an industry leader for adoption and deployment of new technology.

"Adoption and deployment of new technology can enhance the safety, service and overall efficiency of our railroad; however, careful consideration of which technologies and how best to implement them is paramount to avoid associated pitfalls that can impede progress," he explained.

The process of effective technology implementation, he said, begins with testing the technology to identify the value, and developing a strategy for deployment.

"Subsequently you need to train your staff, and ultimately demonstrate the value of the new technology in order to achieve employee buy-in," he continued. "Furthermore, you must continue to monitor the success of the new technology and fine-tune its usage in order to maximize your investment."

Jonathan Wahba, a vice president with Canadian Pacific Railway, remarked that companies need to understand what customers want and implement technologies that "meet them where they are and where they need to be." CP, he said, has found that its customers want to see more data about their shipments, and they want to be able to access it from their devices.

"Innovation is also about anticipating and shaping the technologies that will be relevant in coming years," he explained. "We also need to look for how innovation can make us more efficient." Stephen White, a business manager with fleet tracking and management software company Geotab, commented on how limiting mobile apps and platforms is important to technology deployment.

"As commercial trucking fleets begin to use technology in almost every avenue of the management process, they have started to use many different solutions at the same time, which has led to drivers and fleet managers having to deal with a myriad of apps that have their own user interface and setups," he said.

The difficulty of managing the large number of apps that fleets may be using, he said, has created the need for one open platform with a focus on customizability.

"Utilizing one platform that grants fleets unlimited access to their data and an extensive number of world-class integrated solutions that can help elevate their operations will enable them to deploy and integrate new technologies with their already existing platform in a more seamless manner," he explained.

Emerging Categories

Among the emerging technology categories likely to become widely adopted in the intermodal industry in the coming years, some experts say, are safety and optimization.

It’s likely that there will be widespread adoption of safety and optimization solutions within the intermodal industry in the coming year, White said, explaining that the intermodal industry can utilize fleet technology to help improve driver safety fleet-wide.

"Safety solutions enable fleet managers to have full visibility into both their drivers’ driving behavior and the external or situational conditions of particular road events. For instance, driver safety reports provide insights that can help to reduce or deter risky driving behaviors of drivers that may be threatening drivers’ own safety and the safety of others on the road, such as harsh braking or acceleration [events]."

This data, White said, can then be used to address and help improve driving habits of the entire fleet, through using alerts to address unsafe driving actions, offer in-vehicle driver coaching, and provide gamification activities. In addition, he said that [in-vehicle] cameras are becoming increasingly valuable when it comes to fleet safety.

"With multiple camera options available, video telematics combines vehicle data and driving data in real-time to provide context during a driving task or incident," he explained. "Video telematics can provide drivers with notifications to help prevent collisions while on the road or performing other driving maneuvers such as driving in reverse."

Williams said that investing in safety will always be a constant for the rail industry as it protects employees and communities and helps provide the most reliable intermodal service for customers.

"Adoption and deployment of new technology can enhance safety, service and overall efficiency; however, careful consideration of which technologies and how best to implement them is paramount to avoid associated pitfalls that can impede progress."
Tom Williams
BNSF Railway

"Positive Train Control serves as a good example of this dynamic for BNSF and the rail industry," he said. "PTC uses GPS, Wi-Fi, and high-band radio to monitor and control train movement to prevent collisions and derailments."

Another example of a persistent emerging technology category, he said, is deploying solutions to increase yard efficiencies to help shipping partners easily enter and exit rail facilities.

BNSF’s RailPASS app, in combination with the railroad’s automated gate system, reduces in-gate times to as little as 30 seconds; RailPASS also allows truckers to input shipment data and avoid manually inputting information at the intermodal facility kiosk. Additionally, the app provides instructions for assigned parking locations, making it easier to locate and drop off shipments.

"BNSF continues to research and pilot new technologies in this realm," Williams said. "We are piloting gateless technology to eliminate entry times at our facilities."

At the railroad’s Logistics Park Alliance facility outside of Dallas, Texas, BNSF has moved past the pilot phase for machine vision inventorying, which provides greater vision of shipments throughout their journey in the facility. Additionally, at its logistics park in Kansas City, the railroad has moved from the pilot to production phase of automating horizontal container movements.

"The information we gathered during the pilot phase gives us the expertise to run this type of facility as we look to further implement this technology across our network," Williams said. Wahba said that another emerging category is acoustical detectors and that in recent years, CP has installed them along key rail corridors.

"Our chief engineer, Dr. Kyle Mulligan, working with his team, was able to identify the sonic signature created by a wheel bearing, weeks, and even months, before it fails. This has the power to prevent derailments," he said. "Additionally, since we can now predict an impending failure so far in advance, we can move a loaded railcar with one of these bearings to destination and plan for a replacement at a time when it doesn’t interfere with a customer shipment."

The patented detection process, Wahba said, has reduced online bearing-related failures 95 percent by enabling proactive detection and replacement.

"In this case, a gain in safety came hand-in-hand with a gain in customer experience," he remarked. "Technology-driven safety enhancements like this enable us to do right by our workers, communities and customers."

"Adoption of sensor-rich telematics solutions will increase as fleets see the benefits that those solutions can provide," Creech added, "and those benefits go beyond safety to also impact asset utilization, driver productivity and customer service."

Avoiding Pitfalls

With implementation of anything new comes potential pitfalls, and there are a few challenges that businesses, large and small, may face when incorporating new technology into their fleet. To start, White said, fleets must consider that introducing new technology involves several steps and may require project management.

"We have found that in some cases, fleets can overlook project management as a critical component, and this can make the implementation process more difficult," he said. "To avoid this, it is recommended that fleets outline the scope of work and involve a project manager from the start to help ensure successful implementation."

Fleet management technology can help fleets improve their operations in general, but if they want to get the most out of their data and see real results then they must define more specific goals and objectives, such as reducing idling time to help reduce CO2 emissions and improve cost savings, he said.

"Without specified goals, fleets may suffer from information overload. Having access to data can be helpful but it can also have adverse effects if you do not know how to use it or what you are using it to achieve," he remarked. "The best advice for fleets that are not sure how to maximize their data is to work closely with their telematics providers to develop strategic objectives or identify new solutions and technologies that suit the specific needs of the fleet."

Another challenge businesses may face during the implementation process is that the driver’s perception of the new technology may not be positive.

"If a fleet manager detects these concerns, it is critical that it gets addressed in a timely manner to avoid long-lasting impacts on the company culture," he said. "To ease worries, fleet managers should be transparent with their drivers about the purpose and benefits of introducing new technologies to their fleet.

Also among the pitfalls that need to be avoided, Williams added, is implementing new technology too quickly without a proper deployment strategy, as that can hinder operations rather than achieving the desired effect.

"Internal buy-in and employee training is paramount to success," he explained. "Additionally, buy-in from external partners is key to seeing a return on your investment."

Wahba added that needless complexity should be avoided, as small, simple process improvements can add up to a significantly better experience for customers.

"For example," he said, "many early adopters of auto-gate technology at intermodal terminals relied on biometric access. When CP implemented auto-gate technology, we used a web-based application with a QR code. As a result, we can convey information to drivers through the application in addition to in-gating them. It becomes a two-way communications tool. By using a web-based application, we avoid requiring drivers to perform downloads and simplify the whole process."

Clem Driscoll, founder and principal of CJ Driscoll & Associates, which supplies consulting and market research services for the telematics industry, said that a good practice for trucking companies to engage in is doing due diligence regarding choosing tech suppliers.

"You want to pick suppliers with experience and [that have] a good track record. You don’t want to fall into the pit of picking a poor supplier that’s not really experienced in your sector," he explained. "Make sure you pick a provider that has good customer service; talk to some of their other customers. Ask them for references."

He also added that proper training is another key to successful implementation.

"You don’t want drivers out there who, in the case of electronic logging devices, don’t know what they’re doing with the device and don’t know how to operate it and pull up the display of data," he said. "You want to make sure that people who need to be trained are properly trained."

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