Omnitracs CEO: Company needs to ‘innovate faster’

Omnitracs conference

Although the year 2019 was not entirely “a bed of roses,” Omnitracs made great strides in embracing data-driven technology solutions, said the CEO of the fleet management solutions company during its annual user conference in Las Vegas this week. 

In his keynote address, Ray Greer discussed the widespread failure of the company’s electronic logging devices (ELDs) in November 2019, a service outage that impacted thousands of drivers and carriers. The problem was caused by a software failure during a scheduled GPS rollover.

As stressful as that crisis was for Omnitracs, it also reinforced some of  the ways the legacy provider needed to innovate going forward, said Greer, who prior to taking the reins held executive positions with Ryder and FedEx and had most recently been the president of BNSF Logistics. 

The trucking industry has always been a late adopter of technology, Greer said. “But we’re at a point where we can begin to use technology in much more efficient ways than we ever thought before.”

Greer said when he became CEO the most consistent feedback he received from customers is that Omnitracs needs to innovate faster.

“But there is a very natural tension between supporting and maintaining old technology and innovating with new. Somewhere we as an industry have to find a balance between the two.”

In his speech, Greer ticked off a list of Omnitracs technology investments and strategies in 2019 that hit the equilibrium sweet spot. 

The company announced a partnership with SkyBitz Inc., an IoT telematics provider, to offer customers advanced fleet and trailer-tracking solutions. 

Skybitz executives probably never imagined they’d be at an Omnitracs conference, Greer said.

Other investments include acquiring Blue Dot Solutions and forming a strategic partnership with Red Hat, complementing Omnitracs’ $70 million annual research and development budget to accelerate what Greer described as its “open source culture.” Those collaborations led to the unveiling of the initial phase of Omnitracs One, a cloud-driven technology platform.

In launching the open source platform, Omnitracs aims to create an API-driven information hub, according to Greer. The company needs to improve interoperability, he said, and ultimately plans a “highly configurable, single source of truth” fleet management experience.

Disparate, actionable data about delivery, distribution, brokerage, sales, the consumer and more, delivered to a “connected driver” is central to that vision.

“We will expand the data sources indefinitely,” Greer explained, “and over time understand who needs it so we can begin to create an ecosystem that changes the way industry operates and make it more efficient.”

Greer said among the lessons learned from the ELD failure – the company hired PricewaterhouseCoopers to conduct a third-party analysis of what went wrong – is the need for better systems integration.

Acting on that intelligence, Omnitracs has created an “end of life” team, so that every time a new technology comes out the company considers how it impacts older technologies. 

Bringing hardware costs down to a price point that allows it to be refreshed on a regular basis  “just like the cable company refreshes hardware” was another insight about how to ensure problems like the ELD failure don’t recur.

Founded in 1985, Omnitracs faces growing competition from new entrants like Samsara and KeepTruckin as the business landscape shifts toward flexible, data- driven and user-friendly solutions. The company’s pivot is part of a larger effort to stay relevant as the entire industry lumbers toward new technology adoption. 

In addition to its strategic shifts and investments, Greer noted other accomplishments of the last year. Omnitracs accelerated customer growth onto the Omnitracs One platform with more than 15,000 vehicles on the platform today. It also migrated 456,000 units from AOBRD to ELD, with 80% occuring in the last four months. 

“In 2019, there were many learning opportunities that positioned us to be successful in 2020,” Greer said. “As we continue on this path of innovation, we know there may be challenges but we will meet those head-on and with full transparency.”