Making Big Data Actionable for Fleets
Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.com.
If there is anything that is changing the way fleet managers are managing their companies’ fleets its Big Data. And, because of it, fleet managers have more data points from more sources than ever before to measure how the fleet’s vehicles and its drivers are performing mostly in real time, from a disparate range of sources (the vehicle, the driver, road data, weather data, etc.).
Measuring the Pluses & the Minuses
While sometimes overwhelming, there are a number of benefits to collecting so much data. In fundamental terms, it can help the fleet manager get to the bottom of the fleet’s operations.
“I think it’s really getting a better understanding of the cause and effect of things,” said Pete Allen, executive vice president – sales for MiX Telematics. “If I can consolidate and aggregate that information, I can get a clearer understanding of what’s happening and get a clearer picture of cause and effect.”
Allen’s observation was echoed by Colin Sutherland, VP Global Sales and Marketing for Geotab.
“Big Data enhances fleet optimization by providing visibility of fuel usage, traffic conditions, weather patterns, and other information,” he said. “Using a Big Data methodology, managers can obtain a more accurate picture of each factor influencing the health and efficiency of the fleet.”
It’s not just the data itself; also the frequency or freshness is one of its biggest benefits.
“I would just say that the big positive is that it’s in real time, and I think the big opportunity or fear factor is that it’s in real time,” said Joe Castelli, VP of Fleet and Commercial Operations for LoJack.
There are other benefits as well, including the most fundamental of all.
“The biggest benefit is having access to information the fleet has never had before,” said Ryan Driscoll, marketing director, GPS Insight.
And, it’s not just having the data, it’s being able to use it and allowing it to drive processes.
“The greatest value of big data comes through the systematic exploitation of data-driven insights,” said Kurt Thearling, vice president, analytics, WEX, Inc.
And, with this large amount of data, fleet managers can act on it more confidently.
“The main benefit is in being able to make more informed operational decisions,” said Kelly Frey, VP product marketing for Telogis.
Not surprisingly, Big Data has some potential down sides, not least of which is the staggering amounts of information it captures.
“The biggest benefit of Big Data can also be viewed as the biggest drawback,” said Ben Ospino, head of product management for Webtech Wireless. “The data today’s fleet management solutions deliver is extensive and has the potential to overwhelm. Each and every business is unique in its needs, and while one business might require a specific set of data requirements, another business might require something completely different. So knowing what you want to measure, extracting the right information, and utilizing it properly becomes critical to your overall success.”
There are other potential data potholes that fleet managers should be aware of when collecting Big Data.
“In terms of drawbacks, it does require investment not only in terms of time, money, and resources, but in culture and focus,” observed Thearling.
Getting a Handle on Big Data
As Sutherland of Geotab noted, having the correct tools is one way to get a handle on Big Data. There are other ways as well.
“A flexible system won’t exclude expansion in the future, so deciding what the most important analysis is for your fleet, today, and then selecting a solution which will accommodate that future growth is the best place to start,” said Toby Weir-Jones, product line management director, FleetOutlook for CalAmp. “Don’t treat Big Data as an IT project; it’s really about corporate intelligence and agility.”
In addition to having the right tools, Sutherland of Geotab recommended having the right people as well.
“Fleet managers need to rely on IT professionals and professional data scientists. They shouldn’t be afraid to say ‘I don’t know how to deal with it.’ There is a reason why one of the most in demand and highest paid jobs today is data scientist,” he said.
Turning Big Data into Actionable Data
It’s not just enough today to collect large masses of data. Fleet managers must turn this data into action.
Sutherland of Geotab said that this process starts even before a fleet may be considering turning data into action.
“Start recording data now! By the time your company starts setting its long-term forecast for growth and operational savings, you will need to start asking data for projectable answers. In most cases, quality data will include accurate GPS recording of trips, intersections, speed, time of day, ignition events, low and high speed impact, and the type and cost of any vehicle damage claims,” he said.
Ospino of Webtech Wireless agreed with the importance of getting not only quality data up front, but, more important, relevant data.
“It’s really still about being smart with your data. Fleet management and telematics can provide an incredible amount of fleet intelligence. As with all intelligence, the skill is in knowing what the right data for your organization is, and extracting this data and making the best use of it,” he said.
Fleet managers, in particular, must also have ready access to the data being collected by the telematics system.
“Insights from data are worthless unless you are able to take that insight and do something about it. Part of it is simply giving the fleet manager access to the insights in a way that allows them to understand what is happening,” according to Thearling of WEX, Inc. “But, it’s not just about getting the insight into the head of the fleet manager — that’s a good start, though — it’s about providing processes and systems that take the insight and automatically generate actions.”
The data allows the fleet manager and the company leadership to set measurement parameters.
“Data needs to be translated into knowledge. This means using data to identify attributes or groups relevant to the problem a fleet’s trying to solve. If it’s collisions, then data should be used to identify all the attributes of the collision group: time of day, location, likelihood of road congestion, rate of speed, and so on. Then identify correlative properties — what do these groups have in common?” said Bryon Cook, VP Operations and Analytics for Lytx, Inc. “When you identify these correlative groups, you can build insights that power effective coaching programs to directly address the behavior.”
Ultimately a big part of the success in any system is making it an automatized part of the business.
“Turning Big Data into real value with analytics and the ability to use that intelligence to gain a desired business outcome boils down to automation,” said Frey of Telogis. “Automating the collection of the data and how it is presented to the back office and to the drivers is paramount. Getting the right data into the hands of the right person at the right moment to make the right decision is the ultimate goal of Big Data.”
For Castelli of LoJack, getting the driver involved is crucial.
“Drivers have to understand what is going on up front — maybe you have a couple of them help you set the goals — you can get all that done through a training session with them,” he said. “You can’t just dump it on them and say ‘don’t speed anymore.’ You have to help them understand that the tool is to help them do their business more efficiently.”
If there’s one point that’s universally agreed on, it’s that Big Data is here to stay. What the future of Big Data looks like is still open to interpretation.
“I think as more and more fleets adopt telematics and fleet management systems, Big Data analysis will come into play more and more,” said Castelli of LoJack. “With that you’ll have technology improvements. It’ll be easier to sift through the data — what it means to their business — how it will impact their customers.”
Driscoll of GPS Insight sees the Big Data world only increasing and expanding its benefits.
“The Big Data door continues to open. As software gets more and more sophisticated and as more and more systems continue to integrate, more data will be available at a fleet manager’s fingertips to help reduce costs, reduce risk, and increase revenue,” he said.
Thearling of WEX sees Big Data tied to the Internet of Things (IoT).
“I do believe that the next decade will see an incredible growth in sensor technology (aka the IoT), creating data that has never been collected or managed in the past,” he said. “Putting a powerful sensor into, onto, or near something you care about will be cheap and easy. But, that’s just the first step. Figuring out what is in that data is going to be the real challenge.”
Cook of Lytx sees IoT as rapidly evolving the commercial transportation world, opening up new possibilities.
“The doors opening for fleet managers are really windows, and they relate directly, being open to collecting data and sharing data within the fleet’s networked infrastructure to create as much visibility into what’s happening on the road as possible,” he said.