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Analyzing TMS data to predict the future

“Predictive and prescriptive analytics” are the future of what fleets will expect from their TMS platforms

When it comes to modern trucks, have new developments and technologies changed the ball game in terms of the remote diagnostics that are offered?

According to Ray West, vice president and general manager of the TMS solution at TMW Systems: they absolutely have. Receiving fault codes from the vehicles is much easier than it once was, he explained. TMW’s system has been developed to trigger maintenance problems and then identify the appropriate team within the fleet’s maintenance shop or operations area.

So when a truck generates fault codes that indicate a major breakdown or failure, those codes help the fleet determine whether the vehicle needs to be taken out of service immediately or if it can wait until the next scheduled maintenance service.

“The fault codes have become integral as far as operating the systems,” West explained. “Fleets want one enterprise system that handles all of the various personnel within their organization, whether it be fleet safety, risk management, operations, shops and maintenance, inventory control, and accounting and finance. They want the full gamut and they want the data readily available at the tips of their fingers so they can do their KPIs and their business intelligence as far as analyzing data.”

“We seem to move faster and faster,” West added. “Being in transportation, the speed at which we change seems to be increasing. While once upon a time transportation, in general, was a little bit of a laggard when it came to technology, I think it’s just the opposite now.”

Over at McLeod Software, Mark Cubine, vice president of marketing, pointed out that data analytics has been one of the biggest growth areas the company has seen in the last five years. However, he explained that “predictive and prescriptive analytics” will become the future of what fleets will expect from their TMS platforms.

By predictive analytics, Cubine means events or issues that point a fleet toward what’s going to happen or might happen. Think a crystal ball or a forward-looking view that attempts to provide advice about what should be done based on what might happen.

Using hours of service as an example for how predictive analytics works, fleet managers can plan which driver to assign a specific load based on ELD information and what that driver’s hours of service status currently is.

“It looks forward and says, ‘Can this driver physically—based on historical averages—get to this load, pick it up, and make the delivery appointment?’” Cubine explained. “It’s ensuring the planner who is making this assignment is setting that driver up for success and making sure [the driver] can legally operate within the hours of service limitations. 

“We have a lot of customers using forward-looking predictive analytics 100% of the time,” Cubine added. “They will not assign a load to a driver unless they’ve run that feasibility check to see if that driver could handle the load before sending it to them. We are scratching the surface of what’s possible.”

Beyond that is where prescriptive analytics comes in, Cubine noted. Prescriptive analytics tells fleet owners and managers what their next steps need to be.

“That’s the future of TMS,” Cubine emphasized. “It’s not just operationally doing all the things we need to do to run the business; that’s there now. We need to get better and will get better at pushing more information to the point of decision in operations on a daily basis, all day long.”

TMS and the driver shortage

As long as trucking has existed as a profession, the industry has dealt with a shortage of drivers. Although it’s nothing new to read about a growing truck driver shortage, the industry remains in an environment where there is consistent driver turnover, and, especially in such a tight market, those pressures are weighing down on carriers.

Though there isn’t a single simple answer for reducing driver turnover rate and retaining the best drivers, Cubine explained the right TMS could help fleet managers understand who their best drivers are through analytics.

“Keeping your best drivers is one of the important things,” Cubine noted. “A lot of carriers are working harder than ever at understanding what they need to do to retain those drivers, and then it becomes everybody in the company’s job to retain that driver.

“It’s the customer service reps, it’s the driver managers, it’s everybody’s responsibility to work toward the things that retain the very best drivers,” he continued. 

Cubine explained that in the last five years or so, McLeod has seen a lot of changes that have driven functionality on its end to help customers identify who the drivers are that they really want to retain. TMS allows fleets to coach their drivers to be better performers and offers ways to help managers better understand what they need to do to retain those qualified drivers. 

One of the most common reasons drivers leave a company is that they feel the company didn’t keep its commitments to them. One of those commitments could be home time, Cubine explained. Another biggie is revenue expectations and promises.

“If we made earnings commitments to those drivers, somebody has to pay attention driver by driver of getting the revenue they expect that week,” Cubine stressed.

“The ultimate TMS is going to have to pay very close attention to capturing and recording the commitments that are made to the driver and helping the operations side of the company meet those commitments,” he added. 

Cubine took his point further by adding that those commitments to drivers also need to be measured, monitored and managed proactively on an ongoing basis. And at the same time, he said the best companies are using their TMS to coach, measure, monitor, and reward driver performance.

When it comes down to it, technology has become a crucial element in transportation, whether it’s managing drivers’ hours of service, managing vehicle performance, managing the costs for maintenance parts, or managing KPIs and driver scorecards.

In general, the industry is moving more rapidly towards advancements in technology and leveraging the most efficient ways possible to analyze the data coming off transportation management systems. So, when it comes to crafting the ultimate TMS for today’s trucking operations, fleets are expecting the full package from their providers. And that doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon.      

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