Fleets Need to Plan for Holidays’ Surging Freight Demand

Editor’s note: Written by Ryan Wilkinson, chief technology officer of IntelliShift, a fleet management technology firm. This is one in a series of periodic guest columns by industry thought leaders.

The holiday shopping season is traditionally considered to be the crown jewel in the American economy. Beginning as early as October, the aggressive sustained spending in the months leading to New Year’s causes surging freight demand.

Despite the widespread disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic that marked 2020, the National Retail Federation noted that holiday sales actually increased 8.3 percent last season. Its status as an economic juggernaut, it seems, remained intact.

Current conditions, however, indicate that a repeat performance may be less likely – or at least more challenging to achieve. As the COVID-19 pandemic evolved, key global supply chain components have struggled to adapt to the unprecedented volume. The effects have cascaded, driving up prices and delivery times from the auto industry to everyday consumer items. The holiday season will exacerbate an already significant problem with no clear long-term solution on the horizon.

Even in the face of these challenges, fleets across the country will have to navigate operations to meet demand and buffer against potential losses. Now more than ever, fleets will play a major role in driving growth, despite potentially threatening market conditions. By deploying a data-driven strategy for efficient, intelligent fleet operations, leaders can alleviate the pressure and ensure a successful holiday season for their organization.

Here are just a few ways fleets can optimize management meaningfully in the coming weeks:

Intelligent Resource Management and Deployment

During periods of disruption, one of the best bulwarks against loss is the efficient and meticulous deployment of resources. From driver routes to asset maintenance, every element shouldn’t just be accounted for – they should be running as smoothly as possible. That said, achieving this can be difficult, particularly when a key resource is facing disruption itself.

As the supply chain issues and holiday season collide, many fleets are struggling with a third consideration: the driver shortage. As noted by the American Trucking Association, with a talent deficit of roughly 80,000 there has never been a greater need for drivers. Without staff, freight simply cannot move, compounding fleet struggles during an already challenging period. Thus, in the absence of a fully running fleet, it becomes even more important to reduce margins of inefficiency and guarantee that existing operations are optimized.

This is where intelligent management solutions can make up significant slack. Treating each asset as its own distinct data center. Analyze real-time trends and glean critical insights. That helps leaders deploy technology to tailor their strategies to achieve the most desired outcomes. Whether by changing routes on the fly or identifying new potential opportunities, fleets can reduce waste. It empowers drivers and managers alike to do more with less.

Further, these solutions can help mitigate driver issues directly related to the shortage. During a period where every driver matters, proactive career coaching and skill development can help drivers who may be struggling. In a market where letting someone go has an outsized impact on a fleet’s ability to perform, on-going training can transform any driver into a key asset when the fleet needs them the most.

Productivity without Sacrificing Safety

In many industries, bringing on seasonal staff certainly has advantages. Against an uptick of demand, these hires can help businesses meet and exceed their goals, all with the fluidity and flexibility to scale down as needed. In this regard, however, fleet operations are unique. Rather than staffing out warehouse operators who require little intensive training, fleets are entrusting entire assets to these individuals. It’s a matter not only of having the skills to move the asset from point A to point B, but to do so safely, without endangering others on the road.

Yet given the driver shortage and the needs of the current holiday season, fleets are inevitably faced with this risk. Thus, effective – but speedy – training and safety solutions are vital. Modern fleet solutions can get new drivers up to speed, with information and training that serves the needs of individual fleets. For example, best-in-class solutions come armed with AI video capabilities, which intelligently track behaviors and can identify when a driver is putting themselves or others at risk. For example, if a driver is harsh braking or texting, the system alerts them proactively with in-cab coaching to correct the behavior. This way, fleets can move quickly and safely at the same time.

Holiday Success Through Efficiency  

As the holiday season gets closer and closer, the pressure continues to build on fleets around the country. Demand grows, and simultaneously fleets are facing a host of challenges to basic operational success. With the right technological foundation, however, fleets can turn threats into opportunities. It starts with making sure that every component of the organization, from the drivers to the data to the assets themselves, is working in concert to deliver meaningful value. welcomes divergent thoughts and opinions on transport technology and trucking industry issues. Use the comments section to cite yours. Qualified opinion leaders are welcome to offer suggestions for opinion columns. Contact [email protected]

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