‘Red Zone’ Trucking

Roza Agecoutay Blog, Business Insights, Freight Broker, Trucking

Overhead photo of an American football player making a one handed touchdown.

“In gridiron football the Red Zone is the area of the field between the 20-yard line and the goal line. The red zone has no official meaning during the process of playing the game and is not generally marked on the field (although some professional stadiums may have special striping for the 20-yard line). The term is used mostly for statistical, psychological, and commercial advertising purposes (i.e. radio networks have been known to sell sponsorship of the red zone whenever the home team enters it). It is said to be a place where the chances of scoring are statistically higher.”

~ from Wikipedia*

It is estimated that there is 17 to 20% slack capacity in the trucking industry in North America. This means that up to 20% of the capacity – in this case, cargo space – is not being utilized at any given moment. For an industry that moves 70% of the freight across the North American continent, this excess capacity is truly a very big number. Improving utilization in the trucking industry is a significant opportunity for all of us.

As an industry, we find ourselves on the 20-yard line, ready to enter ‘The Red Zone’. As in football, this is a tougher, more difficult and demanding area in which to operate. It is difficult because there is less space to maneuver, and the competition – the defense – is more motivated. It’s where careers are made… there are a lot of 80-yard quarterbacks in the NFL, but it’s what they can do in the Red Zone that makes them great. And while the Joe Montanas, Tom Bradys and Peyton Mannings of the world have risen to the occasion, I am not sure that we in the trucking and freight transportation industries have risen to the challenge just yet.

But if we can find a way of dealing with these last 20 yards in the ‘Trucking Red Zone’, the rewards will be significant:

  • Increased revenues
  • Reduced operating costs – fuel, labor, equipment
  • More predictability – increased customer satisfaction
  • Mitigation of our environmental impact

This isn’t an issue solely related to those businesses that operate a trucking company. This relates to the entire industry – and supporting industries, like my own, the transportation management software industry. These supporting industries – truck manufactures, technology companies, financial services companies – also need to play a role in building the solutions and infrastructure necessary to make progress in the Red Zone.

Yes, there may be a few yards gained with a quick dive play to the fullback, but the biggest gains are going to come from an amalgam of capital, technological innovation and insightful thinking – ways of  doing things that haven’t even entered the game yet – like Tom Landry’s ‘shotgun’ formation in the 70s, or Bill Walsh’s ‘West Coast Offense’.

But I am optimistic. I do feel that we are at the dawn of the ‘Convoy-ance of the trucking industry’. Not the Convoy App per se (though $1B is quite the valuation for a start-up…), but the concept – the removal of barriers and impediments that inhibit the development of more efficient markets. Siloed thinking, short term expediency at the expense of long term benefit. I believe that in the next 20 years we will see even more significant advances in technology along with unique thinking – perhaps a more shared economic approach, one where information is more transparent, more available to the common good.

It won’t be easy. They say that while ‘democracy isn’t perfect, but it’s the best system we got’. Well I think we can say the same about Trucking over the past 40 years, as it emerged from a highly regulated environment to a freer, more competitive system. It surely advanced the cause, and I would argue that while it got us to the 20 yard line faster… it hasn’t gotten us into the end zone yet. But I do have faith in the competitive structure and common sense of our industry that will show that society is better served by unbridled capitalism managed by an appropriate level of regulation. If we play by the same rules and regulations – and introduce those regulations that allow all the players in the game to adapt, then the right balance will be struck. (Remember that rules in football and other sports are introduced and tested either in pre-season, or in the minor leagues, before being introduced into the major professional leagues.)

But as Dylan sang, ‘the times they are a changin’. And now we will have to act differently. But first we will have to think differently. I remember seeing the screens with a video representation of all the planes in the air at any given time and wonder why we can do the same for trucks – have a shared common picture of what is happening in the market.

In the Wikipedia definition above it states that the term ‘Red Zone’ is used for statistical, psychological and commercial purposes. To date I would argue that the Red Zone in the trucking industry has been used almost solely for commercial purposes. But a funny thing has happened over the past 20 years in football with the advent of the same concept: the offenses and defenses got more innovative. They worked on new defensive schema, blocking formations and patterns – they started to think differently about the way they played the game. They also looked at the analytics, started measuring things differently, and realized that this zone was the ‘crucible of performance’ for teams, for coaches and for players – that what they did there could win them the SuperBowl.

I believe that with more data – more open and transparent information systems – that we will be able to better measure the performance of our industry and the impact on our economy and come up with the new technologies, the new equipment, the new methods and systems necessary to get closer to that the end zone.

It makes sense for each of us. It makes sense for all of us. And it makes sense all of those who will follow… and want to play in this great game as well.


*This definition is straight from Wikipedia. And if I use something from Wikipedia I make sure that I put a plug in for supporting this great website. It is the ultimate ‘crowdsourcing of knowledge’ application. I make sure I donate every time its founder, Jimmy Wales, asks for support. I suggest the same for you. If you use it fund it.

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