Is it really only a few weeks since the fuel crisis? It all started with the queues at petrol stations and soon escalated to a break down in food deliveries and worries about the emergency services - but what did we learn from the fuel crisis?
"One thing that became apparent during the fuel crisis was the fragility of the transport system," says Clive Girling, marketing director at Isotrak, a supplier of fleet management software for the transport business.
"Basically, vendors which are working in this space develop software that promotes efficient use of vehicles, which in turn helps profits but also makes the best use of fuel resources - an issue that became a top priority last month," he says.
Girlings says tracking software that enables fleet managers to keep track of where each of their vehicles is at any given time cuts down the amount of unnecessary journeys that vehicles have to make.
"For instance, if a pick-up has to be made from Harlow, software now exists that enables fleet managers, using an easy-to-use graphical screen application, to click on a map, which will give the location of the nearest vehicles to Harlow. The managers can then call a vehicle and ask the driver to divert to the pick-up point, rather than having to send out a new vehicle," he explains.
"Backhauling", according to Girling, is being made possible by modern technology. "It refers to the practice of optimising the time a vehicle is on the road by organising a return delivery of goods. A lorry normally takes goods from A to B but if it were possible to ensure that it also carried a load back from B to A, the haulier would increase profits and efficiency.
"We are seeing this starting to happen through 'freight exchanges', an idea that runs along the same lines as a business-to-business marketplace," says Girling. "It's a Web site where companies that need a load transported can get in touch with haulage and delivery businesses. It allows companies to organise trips much more effectively."
While these sites are in their infancy, Girling says they look set to grow at a huge rate in the next few years.
He believes what is hindering full-scale adoption of freight-exchanges is the lack of a standard electronic proof of delivery technology. "If you're doing business with a company you have just met through an exchange, you need some kind of assurance that your goods have arrived at the designated location."
Girling says he is seeing the introduction of electronic tagging and tracking devices that can be attached to pallets and individual items.
More digital technology is being included in vehicles these days. This, he says, is a good thing, because the more data that's available, the more analysis on vehicle performance is possible.
This was first published in October 2000