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Fleet navigates data overload to find actionable insights

June 21, 2021
Fleets feeling overwhelmed by data emitted from various commercial vehicle sensors, safety systems, and more are not alone. Here's how one company worked through that "noise" to optimize operations and truck utilization.

ST. LOUIS — Various systems and technologies in today’s commercial vehicles and fleet operations collect data. Some of those data points from different systems might match up and help provide actionable insights, while others might just seem daunting and more like unnecessary noise and clutter.

For Amanda Schuier, senior vice president of Quality Transport, which is based in Freeport, Illinois, dealing with data overload and “living through the noise,” as she calls it, has been a real struggle for the carrier. Quality Transport collects data from its GPS tracking systems, dash cams, electronic logging devices (ELDs), maintenance operations, tire pressure monitoring management systems, routing systems, dispatch software, refrigerated trailer sensors, digital document systems, safety alerts, facility warehouse systems, on-site cameras, and much, much more.

After dealing with frustrated drivers who for years would have to call in for every dispatch and felt totally disconnected from the company’s dispatching system, Schuier knew it was time to make a change. She reached out to Ryan Camacho, director of business strategy and development at Axele TMS, to help streamline dispatch operations and navigate all the data coming through the carrier’s various applications. During a June 7 Truckload Carriers Association Safety conference in St. Louis, Schuier and Camacho discussed some best practices to help carriers deal with data overload and overcome the struggle of matching up key data points for actionable insights.

“As a small fleet, sometimes I feel like I get lost in the shuffle, and I want things that align with what bigger carriers do,” Schuier explained. “I also don’t have as much money as bigger carriers do, but I want to stay competitive, and I want some of the tricks and tools the larger carriers have.”

Camacho pointed out that Quality Transport’s problems are not unique. He said more than 60% of carriers in the market don’t have systems to manage their data; rather, they rely on Google docs and spreadsheets. But the ELD mandate forced carriers to adopt new technology to collect data, and when used correctly, that data has been able to help trucking companies begin to see trends they may not have noticed otherwise.  

Schuier connected with Axele last year to begin leveraging the data coming off the company’s ELDs and started by focusing on one key performance indicator (KPI) at a time.

“I started at Quality about three years ago, and technology improvements were something we had in the back of our minds, but we kept putting it off to research it more, and then COVID happened,” Schuier said. “So, that really expedited the process for us. We made the transition more abrupt and quicker than I was thinking, and we did that for driver and office staff safety concerns.”

When adopting Axele’s TMS, Quality Transport started with beta testers—drivers and other company employees who Schuier knew would embrace the technology and those who would oppose the technology. The carrier relied on a group of over-the-road drivers using the Axele app and uploading all their documents. After testing the TMS with OTR drivers, Quality Transport then began testing the app on its regional drivers and then out to the rest of the fleet.

“Making the training and adoption quick and easy for drivers and staff was important,” Schuier said. “Since it was cloud-based for us, it was smooth and reduced the burden.”

Uncovering problems and KPIs 

As trucking companies first begin the process of making their data more accessible, Camacho said a challenge is internalizing the information to create a holistic view of their fleet operations. Making the most of their data can also help fleets uncover problems that they never knew existed.

For Quality Transport, a big problem the data uncovered was truck utilization and hours of service timing. Although it seems counterintuitive, Quality Transport took 10 trucks out of service last year and added 10,000 miles per truck on average to its remaining vehicles in an effort to increase efficiency. Overall, reducing total fleet count has helped provide better utilization of the equipment in operation and helped the company retain more drivers, Schuier said. 

Camacho emphasized the importance that fleet managers know what the operational cost per driver and per asset brings in. “What would it mean if you were utilizing the trucks you have more efficiently?” he pointed out. “We are trying to get from analytics looking through the rear-view mirror to analytics looking through the front-view mirror—prescriptive analytics—to [pinpoint] a tractor or trailer not fully utilized on the lanes they are running.”

Camacho also noted that fleets should use the data they have on hand to better evaluate their customers and even develop shipper scorecards.

“Shippers are always giving a scorecard for the carrier, but very rarely are they getting a scorecard back,” Camacho stressed. “I think it’s a matter of the carrier having a lack of confidence in that data or going through that data and cleaning it all up because it takes time.”

He said fleets can arm themselves with that data to have more meaningful conversations with dedicated freight customers. They can leverage the data to tell shippers where changes need to be made on certain freight lanes.

Carriers can also use the data to track detention time for their drivers, allowing them to charge shippers and compensate drivers accordingly.  

And when it comes to safety, Schuier said Quality has adopted safety systems, like dual-facing cameras, to identify driver trends and use the data to provide driver training and coaching when needed.

“We are using them for our new drivers and also we have one installed for a driver who had a couple of hard-braking and hard-turning incidents,” Schuier said. “He hasn’t had one [incident] since the camera went in.” 

About the Author

Cristina Commendatore

Cristina Commendatore was previously the Editor-in-chief of FleetOwner magazine. She reported on the transportation industry since 2015, covering topics such as business operational challenges, driver and technician shortages, truck safety, and new vehicle technologies. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut.

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