The importance of reliable data flow is increasingly critical for fleet operators.
Business continuity has essentially become a buzz term over the last couple of years. Given how much the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the global economy, transportation fleets have more than ever, needed to rely on continuous connectivity to keep the wheels turning.
Yet theory is one thing, practice another. To understand what’s required to feed a continuous (and secure) flow of data in the real world—an environment where fleets and transportation networks have to contend with distributed networks, rapid growth in telematics and electronic logging and, often changing climatic conditions—Autosphere sat down with Joel Sheppard, Regional Sales Manager, Canada at Opengear, a leading provider of solutions for secure, resilient network access and IT automation. Here’s what he had to say.
Autosphere: What do you see as some of the key elements in making a “digital” transportation eco-system work effectively?
Joel Sheppard: When we look at a digital, live transportation ecosystem, it is complex and comprised of a lot of moving pieces, with many different parties involved. When we look at transportation, you’ve got the vehicles and the fleet, and you have got brokers and shippers and often there are all these different stakeholders trying to communicate with each other and they aren’t operating on the same platform. And often, because of this, they are constantly dealing with challenges related to stability and visibility.
When you apply legacy applications and more disparate IT systems to your communication infrastructure, they often don’t provide that full view of your operating environment. And from an operational standpoint that that can greatly impact the business overall.
This becomes particularly important when we look at the demands today from a market perspective and a desire to leverage new technology. Many organizations involved with transportation and logistics are really in a situation where they need to view their current infrastructure and platforms as a connected system.
Ultimately, there needs to be forward-thinking in place to ensure that, as a business, you’re leveraging the right technology, it’s reliable and that demands are being met by having the proper infrastructure in place.
AS: How much more work needs to be done to create a communication infrastructure that is consistent, fast, and reliable?
JS: It really boils down to having a resilient network. Today, you see a lot of organizations adding new applications and there are a lot of different technologies out there. Adding these applications can put a real strain on the network, increasing the risk of outages.
So, when we look at freight and road transportation for example, where there are multiple locations and outlets across the country, an outage may occur at a data centre and not at the actual, physical location. While there is often some redundancy built-in, with on-hand replacement hardware and secondary network connections, it’s not often a cost-effective way to build and manage your digital infrastructure, nor does it provide adequate data security protection.
That’s where a company like Opengear can add value by having a second set of eyes, as well as the ability to secure network locations and provide a secondary path for the network in case of an outage. Whether your fleet is engaged with more long-haul operations or metro deliveries, your remote locations need to be secure.
AS: Based on what we’ve learned during the pandemic, how do you think we can leverage technology to mitigate against potential transportation and logistics disruptions in the future?
JS: The COVID-19 pandemic is certainly a once-in-a-lifetime event and while it has required virtually every industry to pivot, it’s also demonstrated that organizations really need to sit down and re-strategize their approach to both transportation itself and also technology.
There are operational constraints to consider that can lead to delivery delays, congestion and higher freight rates. And because of these external influencing factors, there is an urgency to adopt effective digitalized solutions. Yet when doing this, the approach needs to be calculated. What I mean by that is taking a look at your existing network from the inside out and looking at real-time viewing of that network.
During the pandemic, the transportation sector (and others), quickly learned the importance of deploying proper technology, including leveraging the power of cloud computing and automation. Modern technology also provides some opportunities to really dial down into key insights such as cargo visibility, traceability and even helps alleviate issues involving labour shortages. By having an effective infrastructure in place, it allows an organization to quickly pivot in the future, if and when a disruption does occur.
AS: In terms of network security, what do you think are some important things to consider moving forward?
JS: There’s no doubt that digital innovations improve functionality and increase efficiency in the transportation sector. But in deploying any new infrastructure, it’s also important to understand that by doing so, there is an increased risk of cyber threats. We constantly hear about this every day, but it has to be continuously talked about because there are more and more telematics and IoT devices being added to networks. Vulnerabilities do happen and can cause disruptions in the network.
If a company has the right technology, like for example Opengear’s Lighthouse (our central management platform), they can have a holistic view of all of their equipment as well as all the products and applications that are running within that network. Therefore, when there is a cyberattack, they can disable access to the networks and equipment that’s impacted. They can also shut down access to servers to protect data from a breach and even disconnect the Wide-Area-Network to isolate any affected branches.
Although some organizations in the transportation sector are further along with these kinds of developments than others, being able to have that holistic view of your digital environment makes a big difference in the long run. Ultimately, it boils down to business continuity and minimizing the impact of disruption, which is critically important for fleets and transportation companies.