Moving ahead means embracing today’s technology

January 11, 2013 By    

“What’s your 20?”

Even today, that’s still a familiar question from a dispatcher to a driver. I’d like to take that question up one level – to the propane company CEO and key leadership within the industry: What’s your position on technology?

As incredible as it seems that many marketers still have no control over the simple whereabouts of their fleet or controlling delivery, I find it even more incredulous that many have yet to embrace any modern-day technology across all aspects of the operation – from customer management, forecasting, supply chain and delivery to sales and marketing.

I get it. On the face if it, the range of technologies available today is quite daunting, especially when you are trying to figure out the issues they raise and what it all means for your company: the web, mobile tablets, smartphones, access to anything anywhere, security, live streaming delivery data, search, social media such as Facebook and Twitter, e-commerce, gaming and intuitive user interfaces, remote tank monitoring and e-logistics and the seamless integration of these disparate pieces of the bigger puzzle. I could go on and on. So, how do you make sense of all of this and do so without being distracted from your core business?

Like every game-changing innovation, the bell curve of technology adoption is no different in propane than in any other industry. There were the early adopters, those who are on the leading edge of technology adoption and openly embraced and invested in the challenges and reap the bottom-line rewards. Remember Renaissance?

Over time, as technology solutions within propane got more stable and cheaper, adoption slowly increased. Now, we have arrived at the inflection point where it’s not a case of if technology can help you, but rather a matter of which technology will and how you implement it.

I’m also sure that our industry must now adapt to a year-round deployment timetable and move away from the summer window being the only time to deploy technology. We can no longer simply punt to the next colder year.

I don’t think there’s a single smart propane marketer out there who is not aware of some technology and its impact on operations and possible future survivability. And that is a problem.

I think many marketers know just enough about technology to be dangerous, yet not enough to make the right decisions along the way to successfully deploy and manage its evolution.

Another worrying trend is that the industry is becoming increasingly vulnerable to the influence of the local IT consultant. I can say from my company’s experience, these guys can kill a deployment and set you back indefinitely.

So, what makes for a successful entrée into the ongoing world of technology and its application in propane? What’s the answer? The truth is that technology is complicated, varied and yet has a profound impact on your business. Managing that change is crucial and cannot be done in a vacuum.

There are a few exceptions, but most propane marketers cannot hire, nor retain, high-caliber IT professionals. As such, you must seek out vendors from inside and, yes, outside the industry. You should form lasting partnerships with them. Look for vendors who invest heavily in software engineering and are able to explain to you how the technologies of today – and tomorrow – can help your business in a meaningful way, in all aspects.

I would also like to think that like-minded executives and leaders in the industry could form a coalition of sorts, as well – a forum focused purely on technology within propane. Remember Pinnacle?

Anyway, I’ll leave you with this quote. Winston Churchill once famously said, “Keep calm and carry on.” That is a great mantra to follow.

Don’t panic, don’t stall and keep looking. I do believe that the propane marketers and leaders who leverage current technology to its fullest and keep on top of its evolution, yet do so within the considered framework of day-to-day business, will not only survive but outperform, out-profit and absorb others.

Vinny Mullineaux is the CEO of Vertrax, a provider of propane-focused back office and mobile technology. He can be reached at or 203-952-7666.

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