Below is a transcript of the podcast episode. There may be inaccuracies, or edits of the audio version added for readability.
Hello everyone, and welcome to the first episode of Talking Trucking Tech with Microdea. I am Steele Roddick and I'll be your host each week as guests and I talk about how technology is transforming the transportation and logistics industry.
The goal of Talking Trucking Tech or TTT is to help carriers and brokers successfully manage the rapidly changing landscape of freight technology, including trends, platforms, best practices, and business results. In recent years, new investments in technology have surged. As companies look to gain a competitive edge, grow profits and accelerate growth in the digital age. With all the buzz around certain technologies, all the complicated jargon and all the hucksters trying to sell you the next big thing, it can be hard to tell the game changers from the false starts. All that glitters after all is not gold.
So [Microdea] wanted to create a podcast dedicated to helping folks in the industry make smart technology investments that can drive real gains, move the needle in the right direction and help you stay ahead of the curve. To do just that we thought a good place to start would be with Microdea's very own Darren Sesel, Darren heads the Microdea Solutions department as the VP of Solutions Architecture, and has been working with carriers and brokers for over 25 years. Darren, welcome to Talking Trucking Tech.
Thank you Steele, it is nice to join you guys.
Let's hop right into it. So what have been the biggest changes in terms of technology that you've seen play out over the past 25 years?
Personally, the biggest changes have been less in the technology and more in the manpower and the people. And, and I guess the mindset 25 years ago, technology was considered like as more of a tool and an afterthought in terms of getting people to do the work. And now it's more integral in terms of how people work. [Companies] are thinking 'technology first', and looking at solutions trying to automate and trying to make the people make those individual decisions on an exception basis so that they can actually just be more effective.
The other aspect is that the workforce today is a lot more willing to adopt technology. That's more part of their life. 25 years ago, there was a lot of resistance in a lot of environments to people adopting technology, both from a leadership and from the employees. You know, there were a lot of people that thought technology was going to take their jobs away from them. They were going to train somebody, something or somebody to do their job and they'd lose their job. And there were also a lot of people thatwho were later in their careers that had been doing it a certain way. So there was some resistance to this new interruption or disruption.
So you're saying companies are being more proactive or more strategic about making these decisions these days.
Well, I think companies are thinking sooner about it. So when there's a problem, instead of looking at a person to solve it, a lot of times people are looking at technology and how they can solve those problems where it wasn't often thought of in the past and often it was just done because other people were doing it. Now there's more intent behind it. And I think I'd say the world is at a point where that technology is integral in their life at that time, it was in the periphery.
And can you say a little bit more about the job fear aspect of it? I feel like over the past couple of decades you've actually seen careers get made based on good making good technology decisions and likely seeing people's roles grow, is that right?
Well, definitely. And I think so in the transportation sector, we saw a lot of people that were dispatchers and they had a very important role, but they probably were not flexing some of the other muscles that they had. And a lot of those people have actually gone on to become implementers of various technologies. And they're essentially the subject matter experts for those technologies in their organization. So their importance to the company and how they feel about themselves has grown drastically rather than being a replaceable component. They're now actually adding to the company's bottom line. They're also actually somewhat strategic in how the company can think about things and they're growing the company. So there's been a lot of people that have gone down that path that have adopted the technologies that were being implemented and saw the opportunity. I think their work has actually improved drastically because it challenged them more in ways than their existing jobs were.
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. What were some of the best investments in technology companies made since 1995? I guess you've actually had a chance to see it progress over time. What were some good decisions that companies made early?
So I'll break it into two main categories. One is who people invested in platforms, there were a lot of ideas that came out that were of a proprietary nature. And then there were other ones that came up such as the Microsoft platform and companies that basically chose, I guess, the safer route and went down the Microsoft route, even though 25 years ago, Microsoft, wasn't what it is today. Or, you know, it grew, or peaked somewhere in this time. Uh, but [Microsoft's] platforms like GP dynamics, the SQL back-end, those things, were at the earliest stages, but by adopting those platforms, a lot of the skills that people learn in other products transferred and were then applicable. And then also the aspect of other systems integrating and working with those solutions worked a lot better because some of these proprietary technologies essentially, shot themselves in the foot by not being able to integrate and work with other platforms.
Their very nature of being separate and distinct made it so that the other platforms could not ultimately work with them. And, those skills [associated with those platforms] that weren't transferable. So, that would be one of the aspects. The other aspect would be the people that got in early on any form of technology. They got a lot of say in how it needed to work. So getting an early and being one of the trailblazers and defining the solutions and the outcome of the development, is something that like today is very difficult to be involved in. In those days, as there were a lot of companies starting up, uh, like Microdea at the time, our initial customers were pretty much our product team, they were telling us what was needed, how it needed to work, and we were then reacting to it. So getting in early, uh, would have been the best investment and understanding how technology could build your company and then structuring it accordingly was good. Obviously certain technologies that, that we all think of as a day to day that we use now like OCR, and items like that - and the early adopters in preparing their documents and having the inputs actually be viable for those [solutions] were definitely good investments.
Hmm. Interesting. What are some of the biggest flops been over the years or technologies that never really lived up to their hype or, places where companies actually did waste a bit of time and money with little reward.
They have two categories of flops. What does that surprise me in terms of, what I thought as a big player, I would have thought had a better chance. Blackberry tried to get into like the mobile device in the trucking space. And they made an attempt considering how decent a platform and the skillset that they had. I just imagined them being a little bit more able to come in and actually dominate. And they really just came in and disappeared. So that was surprising just on that. And I think we've seen that the rest of happened in play out with them in the mobile phone market as well. So maybe it's not as surprising. The other one for me, in terms of being surprising was storage. When I started working, hard just space was so expensive and actually fast, hot disks were crazy [expensive].
So when I started working with computers, they didn't come with gigabytes, they came with megabytes and people invested thousands and even hundreds of thousands of dollars in optical discs and other types of storage to try and accommodate, the huge requirements that they have. And today we have it where the average laptop comes with over, you know 500 gigabytes on an SSD drive. Nobody blinks when you say, oh, my computer has two terabytes of storage. It that's just considered like a minimum requirement, but the amount of money that we spent on optical drives, and the software to manage them was just a giant waste of time, in hindsight.
That's really interesting. I always liken it to kind of how lots of people's lives have sort of just moved to the cloud without them really knowing. So lots of times people have external hard drives to store all their other stuff, and now it's just stored in the cloud, but you never really know. I guess lots of people, of course, didn't see that happening and definitely not in the nineties.
Uh, yeah. I, I have a whole drawer full of USB sticks that are useless now.
Yeah. Interesting. All right. Maybe you've already just touched on it, but what's a technology that surprised you on like the upside, like [storage space/cloud storage] has.
You guys might laugh at this, but the mobile technology and how fast and how powerfully that moved to, to be so dominant. There's more computing power in my phone then in the first three computers that I had at work. So the ability to, to actually put that much power in people's hands in a distributed data network, is to me, crazy how fast that moved. That was one of the things that when phones were coming out and everything and car phones and the original Motorola, like big battery that you carried around that I was like, this is a fad. It's gonna die. There's no real need for it. Why did people need to get hold of you?
You know in between driving and it didn't seem like it would stick. I guess that that's actually a bit of naivety on my part because I was at the beginning of people getting emails and switching from letters and faxes to emails, and with seeing how fast that went and how fast it went from you just having a work email, then you got an email when you got your ISP and then it became like you got Hotmail and Yahoo and Gmail and the proliferation of all these different services. I guess the fact that cell phones kind of went down that same path is not surprising, but it happened really fast in terms of capabilities and even today stuff that was out four years ago is totally antiquated compared to what's coming out on a daily basis.
Yeah, I don't think it's laughable. I think it's one of those things that like seems obvious seems obvious now, but definitely wasn't and, you know, could have easily went another way. It would have been easy to not [predict]. No one, I don't think anyone really predicted just how quickly it would take off and go to like billions of smartphone users, you know, that would have been hard to see. I think, especially if your first experience was that big giant cell phone.
Yeah. When you're trying to think the power and the antenna and the networks cause they didn't exist. How was that going to take place? How was the world going to change there? Now we're talking about like 5G getting out there where the network transfer rates are way faster than old codex networks used to be.
Yeah. Interesting. What are some technologies today that you think have great promise, but maybe aren't quite there yet?
This too is in that category for me at the moment I would say is the concept of blockchain. Um, and you know, there's a lot of the concept which is really good in terms of making sure that the digital transactions have, have, [a better ability to be audited] and more security to them because, we're definitely going to be in a situation in years to come where [blockchain] will be the majority of the transactions that we see compared to a lot of other paper and manual transactions that we deal with now. So, that is coming along. I think some of the underlying technology isn't there for it. I think there's also just a unity and a disparity in terms of the players in terms of what each of their agendas are. So because there's so many people involved to get some unity on that is just going to take some time.
It's a standardization problem.
Yeah. It's the same thing. Like you know, we historically saw for those old enough to remember it's the same as in when VHS came out and beta max and LaserDiscs. All these different methods for viewing and recording shows. Eventually, you know, it settled down on VHS and now it's gone. And now it's a PVR and you don't even have a PVR it's all cloud based. So it's going to naturally settle into something totally different than what they're probably imagining today, but it's going to take some time. And the other one I would say is AI. There's a lot of promise that I see there. But what I think that issue is the expectation and the reality between what can be done and what people think should be done, is a little bit far apart.
People don't actually realize like [the decisions], the human brain is capable of making intuitive leaps. And computers are getting to that point where they're starting to do that. But most of the times they're either very specifically trained to do a certain skill or based on certain pre-programed algorithms like, you know, when they made Big Blue to play chess and things like that, but a lot of the interpretation and they're looking at various facts and understanding the history of that accountant and what certain things would mean. And don't mean is not quite there from an AI perspective. So the finding those algorithms for the really mundane stuff that is bogging people down. I think we're going to see some more of that coming, but we're still going to need people for a long time to actually do the more intuitive and more human top-end evaluations that the computer just can't do.
Yeah. It's still quite narrow rather than more general. I know that's kind of the idea. I read a ton of stuff about trying to make the leap to a fully autonomous [AI]. And it seems like that's kind of the, the barrier that they've run up against is it needs to be more general to actually like anticipate future events that it's never seen before. And that actually requires a quite large leap from where they are today. Even though it seems like it's quite close. This is my understanding.
Yeah. Because I think we don't actually realize what goes into the average human making a decision. There's a lot of aspects of experience - having seen some similar things, but even that idea of identifying a previous experience as similar, is not as straight like a path which an algorithm can define. They can be so disparate, but if you notice a trend in it, which the human brain is a little bit actually more likely to do than a computer, you're able to utilize that to make some of these changes. And I think, you know, we saw that a lot in how Microdea evolved, because, you know, over the last seven, eight years, we had a focus in multiple industries. So when we were doing transportation, we were constantly being fed by ideas from healthcare and finance and education and insurance - And we didn't even probably realize it that it was taking place - but it allowed us to make some different decisions in the industry that I think ultimately differentiated us from other people out there. But at the time, I don't think we could have attributed it to [our experience] in those other industries, but, you know, looking back, I think I can.
That's, that's really interesting. Um, all right. Final question. What's one piece of technology or trend that the industry like the transportation industry more broadly was dismissive of at first that turned out to be a game changer, or at least more important than everyone first thought it would be,
I would say like route optimization. It has been a major changer for people. A lot of people thought, you know, truck drivers and, and industry knew everything like, the best routes, [as] they've been driving it for years. A lot of experience, went into play of knowing where to go and how to go, based on experience. But I think over the years, what with route optimization and actually figuring out to, and bringing into, where to fuel up and making sure that your truck is [maintained], even some of the engine aspects of being monitored. And then optimizing when you should be taking a different route, when you should be refueling, when you should be servicing, when you should be getting air in your tires, all of those things together, have made the ability for certain companies to compete and actually minimize their expenses, which then in turn can optimize their profitability.
Uh, because as we all know, the margins are so small [in the industry]. I think that's been [route optimization software] a bigger player than people ever thought it would be. I thought it was in the beginning, the way that it was perceived was it's look, it's cute. And it's technology for the sake of technology, not for the sake of improvement, but I think people that have adopted it and have used it have seen huge increases [profitability]. The other aspect, just as I was going down that thought, was the idea of big data. It has actually been the people that are using that data and looking at the trends, looking at the analysis, looking at what's happening on various different things from which trucks are economical in the long run, how often you change your ties, what [tire] pressure you run it. A lot of that information that companies [have figured out] have actually seen huge, huge returns on that info [for the company].
Interesting. Yeah, I'm sure on the road optimization front of this sort of thing, where the early versions of it, I'm sure were far worse than like someone who is trained and like seeing all those patterns, they actually are quite good. Like if you've developed an intuition or know how to get places, it takes a while for the technology to kind of catch up to and then pass [the human]. I'm sure it's easy to kind of dismiss that first.
Yeah. You know what it was - there's a lot of times people that worked in technology basically just do things in technology because that's what their mindset is geared towards. So there's a lot of resistance in other areas where, especially when you believe that the human is better, the issue becomes in a specific human may be better, but as a whole your fleet of drivers is not better. You know, you might have two drivers in the fleet that are better than the optimization potentially, but the rest of them don't yet have that experience or that intuition. So it's a normalizing factor for a lot of organizations that allows their entire fleet as a whole to be better.
Yeah, let's leave it there.Thanks again for joining us and thank you to everyone out there for tuning into the first episode of TTT. Be sure to click, subscribe, to hear about future episodes. And if you'd like to learn more about Microdea, you can always check us out at Microdea.com.
Founded in 1995 and headquartered in Markham, Ontario, Microdea is a fast growing document management and automation software company serving hundreds of customers in the transportation and logistics industry, including truckload and LTL carriers, private fleets, brokers and 3PLs.