Archives for August 2015

Howard’s End?

By Mark Solomon | August 31, 2015 | 12:55 PM | Categories: Transportation

Imagine if the former editor and publisher of the Journal of the American Medical Association wrote an op-ed in the New York Times charging the physician community with being a threat to public safety, the AMA with blocking regulators’ efforts to make physician practices safer, and Congress with coddling doctors?

The trucking crowd was treated to this type of surreal scene nine days ago when Howard S. Abramson, who spent 16 years as editorial director of Transport Topics, which is owned by the American Trucking Associations (ATA) and considered trucking’s bible, penned a piece for the Times’ op-ed page excoriating the industry for “consistently” resisting efforts to improve road safety, and Congress for doing the “trucking industry’s bidding by frustrating” the regulators tasked with overseeing it. The column had the headline “The Trucks Are Killing Us,” and a drawing of a truck’s cab with a grill in the shape of a skeleton’s face.

If something was needed to shake off the summer slumber, this was it. Abramson, who also spent a number of years as Transport Topics’ publisher before leaving ATA in 2014, was blasted across the trucking spectrum from the executive offices of ATA to other trade journals. It became, for a couple of days at least, the talk of the somewhat clubby transportation journalism fraternity of which Abramson was a part, and who many still know well.

For full disclosure, this blogger worked for and with Abramson in the late 1980s and through the mid-1990s at two other publications. Here’s what is not in dispute: Abramson is a stellar journalist. He has deep experience covering all transport modes from every angle. He understands the business and journalistic sides of trucking. He is tough, and can be caustic, combative, and combustible. And he is nobody’s shill; he told this blogger several years ago that one of his biggest challenges was to keep Transport Topics independent from the state trucking associations that would want the magazine to serve as a mouthpiece for the industry’s line.

It is the reputation of Abramson’s fierce independence that may resonate long after the hubbub over his incendiary piece dies down. The trucking industry is locked in a fierce, emotional, and seemingly endless battle with safety advocates and the railroads over legislative and regulatory issues concerning highway safety. In fact, trucking is coming off a successful legislative period where it got a lot of what it wanted from Congress, namely a delay in the implementation of certain adverse regulations and an advancement of language allowing longer twin trailers on all of the nation’s federal-aid highways. For someone of Abramson’s prominence, and one so closely tied to trucking in so many ways, to use arguably the nation’s most powerful op-ed page to slam the industry is of no small matter to its lobbyists. Abramson was not a casual observer of the trade. Nor was his view colored by personal tragedy as so many anti-truck types who lost a loved one in a truck-related incident. He was an insider’s insider, with access few could match. That is influence the railroads and safety advocates couldn’t buy if they tried. As Congress returns from summer recess to attempt to pass a long-term transport funding bill, it will be interesting to see what impact, if any, Abramson’s column will have on lawmakers and on the status of pending truck safety legislation.

Abramson’s critics—and there a few—will say that he’s been gone from Transport Topics for 18 months, and that his power left with him. Others will call him a hypocrite, claiming he supported the industry when he needed a paycheck and turned on it only when there was nothing to lose. In e-mail exchanges, Abramson said he had felt this way for some time but couldn’t go public with his views while employed at ATA. He denied his column was an attack on the industry. “What I did was to write an opinion piece about a specific area of concern for me, and one that I believe should be a deep concern for anyone who drives on our roads,” he wrote.

Abramson stressed that he doesn’t want to put the industry out of business, that he is aware of trucking’s importance to the economy, and that he has a “deep understanding of the complexities the trucking industry faces.” But true to form, he’s not backing off. “I believe the trucking industry has done much to impede highway safety improvements … rather than supporting technologies that would lessen car-truck crashes, elements of the trucking industry have spent great energy thwarting their use,” he said. “I believe trucking has missed the opportunity to be seen as a partner with the motoring public in efforts to make our roads safer, and has made itself an adversary in this regard.”

Abramson called his op-ed a “service to the more responsible segments of the trucking industry,” saying some industry insiders and truck drivers share his view that special interests that put profits over safety are blocking efforts to employ available, proven, and affordable technology and processes that would reduce the number and severity of truck-related accidents. He also professed wonder at the backlash to his column. “In my many years of covering the trucking industry, I have often been baffled by the inability of those who run it to deal with constructive criticism,” he said.

And what about that slash-and-burn headline augmented by the skull and crossbones-like caricature? Abramson said the Times, like many publications, develops its own headlines and graphics. As one who has spent many hours working with Abramson, this blogger can attest to the truth of that statement.

Pallet experts teach safety course at Virginia Tech

By Ben Ames | August 20, 2015 | 12:21 PM

Searching for ways to improve the humble wooden pallet, supply chain professionals from around the country gathered in Blacksburg, W. Va., on August 4 for training on pallet design software.

Representatives from Amazon.com Inc., DuPont Co., and 19 other companies attended the two-and-a-half day educational short course at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, titled “Wood Pallet Design and Performance: Pallet Design in the 21st Century.”

Together, the cross-section of pallet manufacturers and recyclers, pallet brokers and end-users learned how to design efficient and safe wooden pallets using the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association (NWPCA)’s Pallet Design System (PDS) software program, according to the university.

PDS users can improve pallet strength, stiffness, and durability by using the program to simulate design aspects such as pallet materials, the location and dimension of components, and loading and handling conditions. Attendees also tested their designs in a laboratory at Virginia Tech’s Center for Packaging and Unit Load Design (CPULD).

“CPULD at Virginia Tech is an outstanding facility to host a course on pallet design. The attendees were able to observe actual load tests in a lab setting while learning how to simulate loading a pallet using PDS,” said Brad Gething, Technical and PDS Manager at the NWPCA. Gething hosted the class along with CPULD director and Virginia Tech professor Laszlo Horvath.

The two groups will join forces to repeat the course in the spring of 2016 at a new location in Washington, D.C. For more information, see http://www.palletcentral.com or http://unitload.vt.edu.

Cybersecurity and your supply chain: a wake-up call

By Toby Gooley | August 06, 2015 | 1:02 PM | Categories: Supply Chain

By now, everybody on the planet is aware that criminals have at various times hacked into the customer databases of giant retailers like Target and Home Depot, and that even government agencies—including the military—are not immune to such crimes. But what many of us don’t realize is that our supply chains are also vulnerable to electronic infiltration.

As Drew Smith, founder and CEO of the computer security company InfoArmor, writes in “Is your supply chain safe from cyberattacks?” in the Q2/2015 issue of our sister publication, CSCMP’s Supply Chain Quarterly, global supply chains are highly reliant on the rapid sharing of data among supply chain partners. Yet each of these relationships represents a potential point of access to an organization’s proprietary information. Exchanging data with suppliers, it turns out, is risky business.

That last sentence deserves your full attention. Today’s integrated, interdependent systems, Smith notes, are rife with cybersecurity risks. These include the transmission of information to and from vendors; open access to data rather than “need to know” access; frequent changes in suppliers and products; a lack of standardization of security protocols among suppliers and other supply chain partners; and obsolete or infected hardware and software.

Smith argues that cybersecurity should therefore be an integral part of supplier vetting, and that every buyer should require its suppliers to meet specified security standards. “One of the most important and effective steps you can take,” he writes, “is to include cybersecurity protocols, conditions, and capabilities in the procurement function’s approval criteria for all potential new vendors.”

The Home Depot security breach came about because criminals obtained and manipulated vendors’ computer credentials. Target was compromised because a service provider failed to follow accepted information-security practices. If cybersecurity standards are not currently included among your vendor-approval criteria, I urge you to circulate Smith’s article in your procurement organization, and to conduct a risk assessment soon.

New thinking on infrastructure

By Peter Bradley | August 04, 2015 | 9:59 AM | Categories: Transportation

Congress continues to dawdle, postpone, pontificate, obfuscate and otherwise refuse to come to grips with reauthorizing highway and mass transit funding programs. Before heading off for August recess, both houses did agree on a three month extension of the current law, so at least states had funding for current projects during the peak construction season. You can see DC Velocity's latest report on the legislation's progress here.

Just as Congress went away without coming to grips with a long-term bill, along comes a timely new book on just how important fixing our infrastructure is to the health of the nation's economy. And the book, “Move: Putting America’s Infrastructure Back in the Lead,” comes from one of the nation's most respected and thoughtful business thinkers, Rosabeth Moss Kanter. A professor at Harvard Business School and former editor of Harvard Business Review, Kanter offers an analysis of what ails our transportation and other infrastructures and offers some thoughtful ideas on how to tackle them. It's book not just for transportation executives or those involved with managing transportation projects, but for anyone concerned with the long-term health of our economy.

I hope that someone of Kanter's stature addressing an issue that's usually given short shrift in the mainstream business press might help bring greater attention to the topic and help develop the sort of innovative approaches to dealing with some of the massive challenges. The book has already drawn important reviews in major publications, including the New York Times.

Now let's just hope key players in Congress take note as well, particularly of this from Kanter: “Infrastructure has no ideology. Bridges either stay up or fall down.”

The opinions expressed herein are those solely of the participants, and do not necessarily represent the views of Agile Business Media, LLC., its properties or its employees.

Thoughts from our editors.

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