Technology should empower, not control

Sitting in the driver’s seat relaxing after a walk, I was reviewing information gathered by my Fitbit. Noticing the satellite console to my right, I was struck by the thought of how these two technologies perform the same function.

Both the Fitbit on my wrist and the satellite that connects my truck, simply gather large amounts of data and sort it into meaningful trends that serve as scores and benchmarks to measure my performance.

For those of you not familiar with a Fitbit, it is basically a sensor that tracks your heart rate, calorie burn, exercise, sleep, and so on. You wear it in the guise of a wristwatch and see all of the data it gathers displayed on your smartphone or desktop in graphic form for a meaningful picture of your overall health. You don’t have to spend any time measuring or inputting information. No paperwork involved.

The satellite system in my truck performs the same basic function in a similar manner. It gathers information to measure my performance as a driver.

There is a profound difference in how information collected by my Fitbit is used compared to how the information gathered by my truck’s performance management software is used, even though they are designed to achieve the same result of improving performance. The Fitbit data is immediately available to me in a meaningful form, motivating me in the present moment. It is flexible and encourages innovation. The performance management module in my truck is designed as an information source for the carrier in order to manage individual performance. One system empowers, the other controls.

My Fitbit has a far greater impact on my personal health and safety than the system that is designed to manage my on-the-job performance. This was made evident by something I was not looking for when I started using a Fitbit: Measuring my sleep.

I had convinced myself over the years that I am a five- to six-hour per night sleeper. That is always the way it has been for me. But seeing my sleep patterns in graphic form each morning had me questioning the quality and length of my sleep in relation to how fatigued I have been feeling over the past few years. I have not been adjusting my work and rest patterns as I age.

Seeing an analysis of my sleep, its quality and length on a daily basis helped me to immediately recognize some changes I needed to make to my daily schedule. In just a few short months, my average length of sleep increased to almost seven hours per day from less than six. The positive effect on me has been immediate and dramatic.

A little innovation goes a long way. The simple action of making vital information available in a usable format makes innovation possible. We’re not doing that in the cab of today’s truck. Carriers continue to parcel out information as they see fit in the form of policy and enforcement. This is yesterday’s paradigm and not a plan for the future.

One of the great topics of discussion in the trucking sector is how to attract millennials to the driver’s seat. Millennials are always described these days in terms of individuals who want control of their work environment, multi-taskers that foster innovation through interaction. So why are we moving in the opposite direction within the trucking industry? Why is technology used in the truck cab focused on controlling drivers rather than encouraging independence and innovation?

Imagine what a driver could do if the information gathered by today’s performance management software were made available in a meaningful format. What gains could be made in fuel management, preventive maintenance, time management, and overall productivity?

We need to change the way we share and consume the data that directly affects a driver’s performance. I think it would be an enlightened change. A change that is past due.

Al Goodhall has been a professional long-haul driver since 1998. He shares his experiences via his ‘Over the Road’ blog at http://truckingacrosscanada.blogspot.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @Al_Goodhall.