There is no single industry that has been immune to the effects of the global Coronavirus pandemic. However, some industries have been more resilient in navigating this crisis compared to others, and this can be attributed not just to their nature of work, but also to the extent to which they have adopted technology in their daily operations/business. From grocery stores using WhatsApp groups for home deliveries, to schools and colleges engaging students through online classrooms, there are many such examples of how technology has come to the rescue at this critical time and keep things relatively unaffected for some.
The story has been a bit different in the trucking industry, which has been severely affected due to the national lockdown (the trucking industry accounts for more than 2/3rd of the total freight movement in India). Though trucks carrying essential commodities such as fruits, vegetables and medical supplies have been allowed to operate, there have been numerous reports of the challenges faced by truck drivers on the road such as getting stranded at state border crossings, and not able to find food, water and rest areas on the road, and how these problems have been exacerbated due to their lack of access to technology solutions. The current national lockdown and the resulting problems faced by truck drivers have been unprecedented in their scale and scope but they provide some key insights on the role technology can play at times of crisis and uncertainty.
It’s no secret that the trucking industry has been a laggard when it comes to embracing technology, which can be attributed to multiple reasons:
- > Largely unorganised nature of the industry dominated by small fleet owners (more than three quarters of the fleet owners have a fleet size of less than 10 trucks).
- > Lack of awareness among fleet owners on the transformational benefits of technology
- > Unskilled truck driver workforce
- > Dominance of brokers who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.
- > Lack of policy push and incentives from the centre and the states to mainstream technology solutions in the industry (most of the policy push has focused on the OEMs towards vehicle technology innovations with limited focus on operations)
In a study conducted by SaveLIFE foundation in 2017, it was found that only 16% of truck drivers had a smartphone with internet while 76% of them were using feature phones.
Smartphones with internet access are perhaps the low hanging fruit when it comes to technologies that can be adopted relatively easily and at the same time provide significant benefits. They can provide real time information to drivers on locations with availability of food, water and other amenities, disseminate policy announcements in real time to drivers such as health and safety precautions, helpline numbers etc., enable fleet owners to track the location of their fleet, enable regulatory agencies to monitor and assist stranded vehicles and help drivers find loads. As one of the stakeholders that we spoke with said (paraphrased in English):
“In this day of unprecedented disruption and uncertainty, having real time information at our fingertips has become a critical need to stay afloat”
The use of mobile apps for drivers and fleet owners, WhatsApp groups and social media platforms (Facebook and Twitter) to share important information and get feedback from the driver community are some of the ways in which industry stakeholders (government, industry associations, drivers, fleet owners, etc) are working together to navigate the present situation.
At Intents Mobi, we are currently working on some of the above solutions among others to help the trucking industry, as a small but significant measure to #ThankOurTruckers.
Perhaps, the silver lining in this time of crisis is the realisation in the trucking industry that there are low hanging fruits when it comes to technology adoption, which are essential to create resilience in times of disruption and change. We hope this leads to large scale technology transformation in the industry going forward, creating a healthier, transparent and more supportive ecosystem for the people who are driving the country, one highway at a time.