Communication is key when rolling out new technology says panel

by Sonia Straface

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – When it comes to rolling out new technology within your fleet, communication is key, according to the experts.

In a educational session, titled ‘Rollouts: How to Effectively Launch a New Product or Feature’ at this year’s in.sight user conference hosted by PeopleNet and TMW Systems at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville, three panelists explained to attendees how to avoid failure when it comes to introducing your fleet to new technologies.

The panel included Byron Holland, senior business process specialist at Mohawk Industries, James Wilkinson, director of Midstream Systems at Bridger Logistics and Jane Whitmore, director of master data at Bridger Logistics.

Holland explained that the most important part of a successful rollout is communication between all employee levels – from the CEO to the drivers.

“Communication was one of the main things that made our rollout successful,” he explained. “At Mohawk we learned early that driver acceptance was going to be a big part of if the rollout worked or not, so we made sure that they knew exactly what the rollout was about.”

Holland said that the company, which had more than 500 tractors at the time of its rollout, sent out letters to employees explaining the goals of the new technology.

“We really needed their buy in,” he said. “And on the executive level, we made sure our management team met weekly to talk about pot holes and speed bumps in the project and how to address that…You have to keep people involved throughout the process. We learned early on that acceptance is a hard thing. We had to make sure that the drivers especially were informed and aware and comfortable with the technology. We didn’t just turn it on and force them to use it. We had training videos, and different web content to help the drivers learn it. After that, the drivers started buying in.”

Mohawk also organized conference calls during different hours of the day at the start of the rollouts, so over the road drivers could call in and ask questions when they experienced a problem. Holland said this helped the driver feel more comfortable and trust the new technology.

Wilkinson echoed Holland’s viewpoint adding that without driver buy in, rollouts can crumble. He said that the struggle for his experience in rolling out the new PeopleNet/TMW systems at his company had to do with the communication failure between operations and IT.

“Operations thought they knew better than IT did,” he said. “There were a lot of fights about what the drivers should be doing, and why they should have to log in every day. We had to get it through to them to do it the right way. Because when something new comes along, everyone thinks they can do it better than the right way to do it. So if we tell them you have to do step one, step two, step three, they’d say, ‘Well we don’t have to do step one, we can just skip to step two.’ So we had to work on getting them to do it the right way.”

Wilkinson said to work on the communication issues, the company decided to hold daily 15-minute scrum meetings to discuss the successes and failures during the rollout stage in order to identify key areas that the business needed to work on. Essentially, he said, the meetings let everyone get on the same page with what was working and what wasn’t.

Another important aspect of a rollout is to have a leader in every department accountable during the rollout process, Whitmore added.

“I think the number one thing you have to have from the beginning (of a rollout project) is you have to know what success looks like for you and your company,” she said. “And then…making sure every department has a leader and knows about what the goal is for the project. That means IT, ops, dispatch, back office…there needs to be one key person from each team to hold accountable for the success of the project.”

She remembered her experience with rolling out the Peoplenet system at her company when dispatch wasn’t buying into the technology and the problems it created for the project.

“Dispatch wasn’t buying in,” she said. “And they’re such an important group. Everything starts with them and we always heard from that ‘the system didn’t work.’ For me, it’s all about having the right leader in each department and making sure they know their and expectations role in the project. Once we got the right leader in each team and department who could get on board, things really came together.”

Finally, the panelists agreed that with a rollout, speed bumps are natural and shouldn’t be feared by even the most experienced companies.

“Be flexible,” said Holland when asked what his best advice was to fleets thinking about rolling out new technology. “And don’t be scared to fail. There will always be speed bumps and pot holes along the way.”

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