The cost of doing business

Features - Fleet Technology

How independent haulers’ investment in new tech is helping operators compete with the national players.

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October 7, 2020

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During a Sept. 15 WasteExpo Together Online session, industry experts including independent haulers and waste tech manufacturers discussed how technology is affecting the waste industry and the future role technology could have in the industry.

Whether it’s to help truck drivers expedite their routes, implement dashboard cameras for safety and insurance purposes or improve collection logistics, the benefits of technology are evident in how new software and hardware solutions are improving the way waste is managed. However, because of the financial and logistic investments involved in adding technology, companies need to weigh the pros and cons before committing to these solutions.

David Ische, head of business development with Limerick, Ireland-based AMCS Group moderated the panel, which featured four industry experts including Alex Carrasquillo, fleet technology manager at Hartford, Connecticut-based All Waste Inc.; Bill White, cofounder of Jeffersonville, Indiana-based Estes Waste Solutions; Matt Coulter, vice president of sales, strategic operations and special projects for Peoria, Illinois-based PDC Services Inc.; and Kevin Atkinson, president and owner of Missouri, Texas-based Texas Pride Disposal.

The different uses of technology

“We use technology in all areas of our business, but I would say it has the biggest effect on our [collection] operations,” White says.

He notes that investing in technology to help monitor his fleet and his employees has helped make his company as efficient as it can be.

White says having some of the big players in the space, like Waste Management and Rumpke, as competition means having to work harder to keep up with their technology.

Atkinson added that expanding from a two-truck operation when Texas Pride Disposal first started to a whole fleet has really pushed him to expand his technology operations to streamline efficiencies.

“Our billing system was a homemade Microsoft Access-based program,” he says. As the company grew, it was forced to invest in new back-office software to handle its increasingly complex routing and billing requirements.

He notes that the company spent about two years revamping its technology and investing in new software. They’ve also utilized GPS in their trucks over the last few years and are currently adding exterior cameras to the trucks, as well.

As Texas Pride Disposal has grown, Atkinson says he’s noticed the benefit of this technology.

“The more we’ve grown from both a customer service standpoint as well as a labor standpoint, all those things add up to a better experience for our staff and our customer,” he adds.

Carrasquillo echoed Atkinson and White’s thoughts about the benefits of incorporating technology across fleet and office functions for streamlining operations. Beyond efficiency and safety, he says All Waste Inc. has found new uses for tech in showcasing what the company is doing for its customers.

“We’re using drone footage to record our trucks in action, and we post that on our social media platforms and a lot of customers actually will comment on it, and want to see more,” he adds.

"We use technology in all areas of our business, but I would say it has the biggest effect on our [collection] operations,” –Bill White, cofounder, Estes Waste Solutions

From maintenance to marketing to sales, Carrasquillo says so much is changing in the world of waste. While he acknowledges that it takes a commitment to keep up, embracing tech is a way for the company to continue to evolve going forward.

Coulter says that PDC Services Inc. made a recent investment in new accounting software that has paid dividends for the company as it has navigated COVID-19-related challenges.

“We’ve implemented some financial purchasing software that’s made us more efficient and has allowed us to work remotely,” he says. “Let’s be honest, I think all of us have changed in the industry with Microsoft Teams and Zoom and being [forced to meet] with our customers [in a different way].”

The benefits

Atkinson says that Texas Pride is currently rolling out new tech in the company’s trucks throughout two metro areas in order to better document service.

“We actually have two cities starting up in the next 30 days,” Atkinson says. “One thing that really caught the attention of operators in both cities was the exterior cameras that we’re putting on our trucks.” He added that both cities said residents were constantly calling about missed service or other concerns, so being able to access on-demand data gives Texas Pride Disposal an edge over its competition. Without that technology and peace of mind it offers, Atkinson said he wasn’t sure the company would have won those two city contracts.

Although some of the pros of investing in new tech are evident, Carrasquillo says some solutions can have benefits that may not be readily apparent initially but can have major financial impacts for a company down the line.

“There was one situation where we were cut off in an accident and the driver was involved in a rollover crash,” he says. “We were able to take that (dash camera) video and prove that we weren’t at fault. That possibly saved us a $150,000 claim.”

Through software that allows the company to diagnose check-engine lights and test how the exhaust system is working, Carrasquillo says telematics has also played a role in improving how the company maintains its trucks.

White says there are two things that come to mind when discussing the surprising benefits Estes Waste Solutions has come across from tech implementation.

He notes that GPS software was a major win for the company in both helping track drivers and respond to customers’ claims. He adds that routing technology within trucks helps make routes immensely more efficient, which has subsequent financial benefits.

“Whenever you implement new technology in our industry, there’s often pushback,” he adds. “Whether it’s from drivers or service techs or co-owners of the business. But once they see the benefits, it’s amazing how it almost becomes second nature.”

The challenges for smaller companies

Coulter notes that keeping up with some of the national and larger regional haulers makes investment in new tech a necessity.

“Our needs are very similar today to the national companies, because we need that quick access to data and we need similar systems to be able to compete,” Coulter says. “We’re going to keep pushing ways to have technology help us get more efficient through every part of our business.”

"Whenever you implement new technology in our industry, there’s often pushback,” –Bill White, cofounder OF Estes Waste Solutions

However, he does acknowledge that implementing new technology when you run a smaller, family-owned business can be a burden financially.

“The fear of the capital that can sometimes be required [can make you think twice about investing],” Atkinson says. “You look at the cost to implement a GPS system or a back-office software system, and you’re talking typically, even for a small company, a five-figure commitment there.”

He says it can be tempting to spend that money elsewhere, especially in the growth phase of a company, but it’s important to see the more long-term benefits that technology can have.

“Whether it’s a five-truck operation or a 5,000-truck operation, those benefits are there to be had,” he says.

White chimed in to say that as smaller, independent companies, all of the men on the panel have to fight to keep up with the competition despite those bigger companies having more resources.

“I would argue that in many cases, you can’t afford not to [invest],” he says. “Those companies that don’t really struggle against those who embrace technology and move quickly.”

Kaily Cunningham is a digital editor for Waste Today and can be contacted at kcunningham@gie.net.