Big data. Better route optimization. There’s so much we can do today when it comes to improving fleet operations — and the potential for intelligent routing will empower carriers to operate more safely, efficiently, and profitably than they ever have before.
For the motor vehicle carriers that ride this paradigm shift successfully, the data-driven decisions they make will provide a tremendous competitive advantage.
So, what is big data — and how will it change the way you route your fleet in the future?
Let’s take a look.
What is big data?
We’re living in the digital age and, increasingly, everything we do leaves a digital trace. That’s information we can capture, analyze, and leverage to inform the decisions we make each and every day.
Of course, doing that is a sizeable undertaking. (They don’t call it big data for nothing.)
That’s because the rate at which we generate data today is absolutely unprecedented; the rapid adoption of smartphones, social media, and mobile apps have made that possible.
In fact, according to Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, “There were 5 exabytes of information created between the dawn of civilization through 2003, but that much information is now created every 2 days.”
At the same time, technology is evolving rapidly, giving us an even greater capacity to capture and synthesize large and complex data sets across huge networks simultaneously — and produce reports that give us actionable information.
Think for a moment about the data produced by the CERN particle accelerator. We’re talking 150 data centers and 65,000 computer processors across the globe processing thousands upon thousands of terabytes data simultaneously, giving us incredible insights into the inner workings of our universe.
That’s where we’re going with big data.
And, as exciting as big data is to those who study physics and astronomy, it holds equally exciting potential for those of us in the trucking industry.
The challenge of improving on fleet management KPIs
Anyone who works in the trucking industry knows that every day is a fire drill — and finding the trends that could improve operations from a pile of paper reports is next to impossible.
Sure, each of those reports offers something, but if that data were integrated, the insights would be far more meaningful.
But, you’re constantly pressed for time (and your smartphone is more than likely attached to your hand), so all of the data in the world is useless to you if the tools aren’t there to bring that tremendous volume of data together and synthesize it — allowing you to see trends and anomalies, and make more informed business decisions.
Big data analysis of planned vs. actual miles
As an example, one of our customer’s costs went up 10% and he didn’t know why. But, by using our Insight data mining tool, he was able to create a story. He could look at his planned transportation costs versus actual and review the components that fed into those costs — time and miles.
Actual and planned miles were right on target in this case, so that wasn’t the culprit.
He then looked at drive time versus service time. While service time looked good, actual drive time versus planned was off quite significantly.
In the end, big data allowed that carrier to drill down, identify the inefficiency, and take steps to reduce it.
That’s the power of big data — it allows you to identify issues like overtime and out-of-route miles, and optimize routes that are both efficient and executable.
Big data and the future power of vehicle-to-vehicle communication
It will come as no surprise to you that the transportation industry is generating vast quantities of data. The challenge, then, is in harnessing that data to provide clear, actionable information; that’s because carriers are using multiple niche solutions from a variety of vendors that work in isolation.
And, when solutions don’t talk to each other, we create data silos.
Today, transportation companies looking for deeper big data insights and predictive analysis send their operations data to our sister company, Omnitracs Analytics, where they add it to external data sets, such as:
- Traffic congestion
- Census data
- Employment statistics
- Population density
Then, they send customer data and insights back — but, at present, there’s no aggregation of data across customers at the macro level.
But what if we did that? What if we could capture data coming in from trucks across the industry? And, for instance, what if we knew that there were 50 rapid deceleration events on I-94 West in a white out?
What if big data, industry predictive models, and vehicle-to-vehicle communication (V2V) allowed us to push out real-time notifications to drivers approaching that spot, helping them to arrive at their next destination safely.
That could be a game-changer.
How predictive modeling with big data will give way to intelligent routing
By its very definition, big data requires big data sets. And, the custom predictive models that might offer the productivity and efficiency insights we’re after are only possible for carriers with 500 drivers or more.
At least, that’s the case today.
For a predictive model to identify risk signatures in historical events, you must have deep enough wells of data, rich with events, from which to draw your predictions. Small carriers just don’t have enough service time, fuel efficiency, detention time, and planned versus actual miles data for a custom predictive model to work.
However, if you’ve got at least three years’ worth of data on 500 drivers or more, you most likely do have the rich information that, when integrated, will identify risk signatures. And when you can determine what caused events to occur in the past, you can make predictions for the future — and those predictions can be astonishingly accurate.
What’s more, the processing power and configurations we have today allow us to run multiple transactions on smaller data sets across multiple servers. And, that means we can perform that deep analysis in a nanosecond.
Even better, there’s light at the end of the tunnel for smaller fleets.
By aggregating large numbers of trucking companies’ data — and this isn’t far off — we can generate the large data sets necessary for predictive analysis. Meaning, we can build predictive models that will be totally independent of fleet size.
Consider, for instance, the potential for intelligent routing.
What if route optimization software could do more? What if instead of plotting routes based upon miles, road conditions, and customer hours of operation, you did that and factored in weather and traffic congestion analysis, predictions of how tired a truck driver will be based upon his Hours of Service logbook, refueling station access based on real-time price and wait time information, and where safe parking will be available when a driver’s legal hours are up?
Big data will remove inefficiency and risk by harnessing machine learning technology to crunch all of these various data points down into clear, actionable information in real time — and not for one truck, but for a thousand trucks all at once.
How can you prepare for a big data future?
We know that carriers who implement technology see year-over-year improvements in safety and efficiency of 6-13%. And, as we move away from fragmented data and toward fully integrated systems, those improvements will only increase.
So, to prepare for this big data future, we encourage all carriers to inventory their data. If you’re not collecting every KB of your available electronic data, then now’s the time to start. Given some care and feeding, big data solutions will see you through some challenging times — and help you to thrive and grow.
Of course, many of the big fleets are already doing this. For them, the big question is: Are you really and truly ready for big data?
It’s not uncommon for trucking executives who’ve leveraged their experience to advance their careers and lead successful companies to find predictive models really confronting. These models can counter what their past experience tells them in the absence of big data.
So, you must be open to thinking differently and being data-driven. If you’re ready for that, then you’re ready for big data technology — and you’ll find yourself making decisions with far more certainty than you ever have in the past.
If you’re there — you’ve bought into the concept and you’ve collected the data — then it’s time to begin.
When you’re ready to move forward, two factors will be critical to your big data project success. First, you need to identify a project champion — this is absolutely critical; someone needs to push this project through when time and resources are tight. Second, you must build a cross-functional team, including driver, sales, and customer service teams. Any constituency can kill this project. So, creating an environment that fosters excellent communication and generates buy-in from the beginning will ease barriers and accelerate your success.
We’re ready for this exciting ride — and we hope you’ll join us.
Ready to jump on board? We’d love to empower your fleet with big data. Just contact us and let us show you how we can help.