Fleetowner 4312 Mtroad

From “Big Data” to “Big Calculations”

July 25, 2014

As technology is increasingly viewed as a profit-generating tool for trucking, the processes governing how information gathered and analyzed by such technology are undergoing a kind of evolution as well.

For example, Victor Allis, CEO of supply chain information system provider Quintiq, believes that “evolution” can be summarized as moving from a focus on “Big Data” to what he calls “Big Calculations” in terms of how transportation-related information is processed.

“When we talk about ‘Big Data’ we’re really talking about is all the real-time information generated within the supply chain – where trucks are located, how potential traffic delays could affect delivery times, etc.,” he explained to Fleet Owner.

The “next wave” in this process – the “Big Calculations” Allis referred to earlier – is taking all that real-time information and plugging it into algorithms that automatically, for instance, can adjust loads in transit to meet delivery deadlines while staying in compliance with hours of service (HOS) guidelines.

“The supply chain is a dynamic puzzle that is constantly changing,” he stressed. “So the goal is to automate the ability to optimize the supply chain using real-time data. If you want to make decisions faster, you need to automate that process.”

Norman Thomas, VP-commercial operations for CarrierWeb, added that as the trucking industry remains tight on capacity and the driver shortage problem continues, motor carriers in some cases are being forced to turn away profitable freight in desirable lanes. 

“Part of solution is to continue to drive productivity of the assets on the road to maximize revenue per truck per month – and technology helps with this objective,” he told Fleet Owner.

That’s why he believes minute-by-minute real-time data combined with analytical applications on the “back end” allows a carrier’s operations team to improve on day-to-day freight planning as well as reaction time to unexpected situations.

“Integrated with back-end modules and better use of tools by operations personnel provides better coordination on the road asset productivity,” he explained. “The main challenge to technology adoption is the ease to conduct ‘business-as-usual’ with a focus on the day-to-day. [Carriers] that will be successful can operate on dual path of managing for today and planning and implementing for tomorrow.”

In his view, carriers ultimately boost profits by both reducing cost and improving productivity by moving to a “Big Calculations” environment. “In addition, carriers can refine operational decisions using real-time and historical information – learning from prior decisions and errors,” Thomas stressed. “That can truly gain insight into which customers and lanes are profitable or not.”

Michael Levine, business development manager at Alligatortek, added that getting all of a trucking firm’s technology on the same page is another critical step to gaining better and faster data analysis capability.

“Many transportation firms rely on multiple systems and databases to accept orders, dispatch trucks, track shipments, manage invoicing and perform other critical business processes,” he explained. “If a company has multiple databases, it may require several people to manually enter data, which can be costly and cause an overly complex daily process.”

Integrating databases, leveraging modern technologies and automating even a few manual processes allows them to spend less time on administration and more time working proactively to keep their customers happy, Levine added.

“The transportation industry is very competitive and not very forgiving – companies don’t have multiple chances to do the job right,” he said. “If they’re using separate systems to dispatch trucks, track deliveries, manage drivers and perform other administrative work, they’re losing time and precious resources. Integrating information and automating the right functions can make their jobs easier and more efficient, and can even help improve on-time deliveries and streamline operations.”

Levine’s firm recommends a “gap analysis” to help transportation companies determine what technology projects could potentially solve their business challenges while generating returns on their investments.

Such a “gap analysis” identifies bottlenecks and inefficiencies that improved technology could solve, and details disconnects between current technology and long-term goals.

“Several types of solutions can help to eliminate these gaps, including creating a ‘dashboard,’ where alerts from multiple systems automatically appear on one screen, or creating a custom management system that automates key operational activities and provides advanced reporting capabilities,” Levine said.

“Transportation companies should focus on how they can use automated processes to improve collaboration between their office staffs, customers and drivers,” he stressed, and should also work toward having the right data analysis and reporting tools so that management has the visibility they need to make intelligent pricing decisions and manage their labor costs.

“For many companies, sticking with the status quo and doing nothing to improve their technology will actually cost them money,” Levine emphasized. “Companies should analyze what they’re doing today, and what the cost savings would be if they automated some of their processes. Often, there is a very compelling case for investing in technology now, to increase growth and savings in the future.”

CarrierWeb’s Thomas emphasizes that as time goes on, not investing in such technology could become a significant liability.

Late adopters avoid the investment because they concentrate on the basics and costs associated with that- trucks, fuel, insurance, administration and overhead, equipment, and all-important driver pay,” he explained. “The danger is the trucking firm down the street that is investing in technology and continuous improvement is gaining a competitive advantage slowly but surely.”

Thomas stressed that shippers and consignees both are becoming more demanding every day and want more information necessary for their improvement efforts. “Carriers need to continue to improve and drive innovation and ultimately meet their customers’ increasing needs,” he added. “Those who don’t will not be able to compete.”

About the Author

Sean Kilcarr | Editor in Chief

Sean previously reported and commented on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry. Also be sure to visit Sean's blog Trucks at Work where he offers analysis on a variety of different topics inside the trucking industry.

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