Data, data everywhere

But what will you do with it?

There’s been a quiet revolution in trucking, and we are just beginning to explore what it means for the industry.

Like most revolutions, it’s the result of seemingly unrelated developments combining to create something we haven’t seen before. For trucking, it started with diesel emissions, which required sophisticated electronic controls and sensors capable of collecting vehicle operating data in almost unimaginable detail. At the same time, economic, regulatory and social pressures to improve highway safety provided the impetus for fleets to collect and analyze driver behaviors, again in great detail.

Back in the offices and terminals, the imperative to protect slim margins rewarded those who boosted productivity through adoption of information technology to manage and monitor all aspects of a fleet’s operations. The key again—collecting and shifting mounds of data.

Roll out access to cheap, nearly ubiquitous wireless data networks to tie those mobile assets (i.e., trucks) to office systems, add in a public network for precisely locating those assets in real time, and you have all the ingredients in place for a wholesale change in the business of running a truck fleet. In more academically acceptable jargon, we are witnessing the convergence of telematics and business intelligence.

So what’s the “revolutionary” impact of these intersecting technologies?

You’re probably well aware of the initial changes. It’s become much easier to quickly identify problems whether they be with individual drivers, trucks or customers, or more general operational inefficiencies that had gone unnoticed in the daily push to take care of business. Many of you are already using dashboards or geofencing or other information tools that combine data from telematics with other operational data to give you early warning about problems and opportunities you might otherwise miss.

Despite those sizeable benefits, you’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg, gathering the low-hanging fruit, scratching the surface. Pick your cliché, but the reality is that trucking has just begun to explore the implications of generating enormous amounts of data from every aspect of its operations. It doesn’t take much of an imagination to see what’s coming in the very near future.

First on tap is far greater automation of chores that are better handled by direct machine to machine (M2M) communication. One good example already being introduced is remote diagnostics initiated by vehicles and screened by specialized information systems for routing to the people with the skills and resources to handle them properly. Similar M2M communications can automate routine transactions between fleets and those they serve, freeing staff to handle exceptions.

Given the volume and detail of data being generated by trucks and fleets, advanced analytical tools are also beginning to extend analysis into prediction of everything from individual driver behavior to spikes in capacity demand.

I can even foresee a day not that far in the future when fleets realize the value of all this data to other businesses and find new revenue streams outside of trucking services. If that sounds farfetched, think about all interactions your trucks have in a single day. Wouldn’t that data have value to those planning highway development or dependent on traffic or weather conditions? What about the marketing intelligence contained in that data?

In short, this mountain of data is moving the industry from providing services that involve trucks to operating within a larger context that includes addressing the business imperatives of those it serves. And that is truly revolutionary.

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