How Big Data Will Change Direction of Trucking Industry

Everywhere you go in the freight transportation world, it seems everyone is talking about “Big Data” and how it will influence if not outright change supply chain strategies, logistics operations, even truck maintenance practices.But here’s a question rarely asked in such discussions: just what exactly is “Big Data” and how should it be defined in the minds of motor carriers? 

What exactly does the term “Big Data” mean from where you sit? 

First, we need to define “Big Data,” as everyone defines it differently. We define it in terms of large volumes of data that overwhelm a business on a day-to-day basis. But it’s not the amount of data that’s important. It’s what organizations do with the data that matters. Big Data can help make big decisions and, ultimately, big changes. Analyzing the data and making it actionable for the organization can lead to better decisions and strategic business moves. 

The way we see it , “Big Data” comes in two distinct forms from both on and off the truck. On the truck, it’s real-time vehicle performance, driving behavior and environmental information in the form of video, sensor and telematics data. Off the truck, it is back-office operational data – including everything from transportation management system information to insurance claims and maintenance records.  

The power of Big Data comes from the insight it provides into what happens inside, around and in front of a truck and then by offering a clear way to take action. 

For example, on paper, many professional drivers look the same – especially if they have good, safe driving records. However, understanding their actual driving performance can reveal key differences that cost fleets. 

So while Driver A and B have similar safe driving records, Big Data will show that Driver A routinely makes U-turns on public roadways – putting himself, the cargo and the fleet at a higher degree of risk. Driving measurable improvement in fleet operations is all about uncovering the less obvious, or hidden, risks while providing that information in an “actionable” format. In this way, by proactively monitoring data and using it to coach drivers, trucking fleets become safer – saving lives, protecting jobs and saving money. 

Many fleets are worried that it will cost too much to try and bring “Big Data” based programs into their operations – especially when it comes to safety. How big a concern should cost be? Processing – and interpreting – Big Data can be costly, particularly for individual fleets trying to do it on their own. But Big Data plays an important role in calculating an ROI [return on investment]. The key is having the right information, delivered to the right person, at the right time, to take action. 

For example, when considering a video-based safety program, it’s important to note that video is just one piece of the puzzle. It’s the contextual information – collected and analyzed in real time and provided in a way that is actionable and measurable – that delivers savings beyond just the exoneration of the driver. To realize the full ROI, fleets need a platform that has been built with analytics as a core component, one that includes intelligent data collection, advanced algorithms and actionable metrics.  

We advise fleets to examine the initial investment for the hardware needed and the expandability of that platform – extra cameras, data integration, etc. – the ongoing monthly service fee, integration options to other systems and the analytics available. 

Fleets should also examine the investment required against the estimated reductions in collisions, collision cost, and improvements in claims resolution times. Fleets should also expand their ROI by seeking additional savings in fuel from “softer” driving and [engine] idling reduction, with maintenance savings also resulting from “softer” and safer driving habits. 

For example, let’s say a fleet equips their vehicles with APUs [auxiliary power units] yet they still have an idling problem. Vehicle profile data can identify and diagnose the root causes of the issue, allowing the fleet to fully understand the cost impact of excessive idling, the drivers who are incurring the highest costs, the time of day/night and location of specific idling instances to determine whether it is justified or not.  

Another buzzphrase often attached to “Big Data” is “actionable intelligence” and it usually rings hollow with truck drivers and many fleet managers, too. Explain what that term really means and why it’s important to trucking. 

It’s understandable why “actionable intelligence” may ring hollow for drivers. They haven’t seen a lot of it helping them in their day-to-day job. They may only have been at the receiving end of a manager who has some data on a tabular report from one of the on-board systems – and, a little bit of data can be dangerous. 

When asked Steve Mitgang, CEO of SmartDrive Systems – an in-cab video and safety analytics provider – to delve into this topic and provide his take on the meaning of Big Data for fleet operators. 

So, Steve, what exactly does the term “Big Data” mean from where you sit?