Does your data give actionable insight?
Interesting but Useless Data?
We all agree that data is great and lots of data is perhaps even better, but it poses the question: How do you make it actionable to the specific needs of my fleet and business without the process becoming burdensome on scarce fleet resources?
“Never before have fleet managers had access to the sheer volume and variety of data that they do today, much of it in real-time. But what to do with it? How does a fleet manager filter the ‘interesting but useless’ excruciating detail from that which will truly help manage and reduce costs?” said Bob Cavalli, principal, RAC Fleet Consulting LLC. “Is all real-time data truly actionable? If you manage a 500-unit fleet and a driver in Los Angeles is pumping premium fuel at the end of his or her day, which may be 8 p.m. your time if you are based on the East Coast. What is the value of knowing that in real-time? The mere ability to know something doesn’t speak to its usefulness.”
“On the other side of the equation, how do providers of that data — FMCs, telematics providers, and OEMs — determine the format and frequency of presenting that data to their customers?” said Cavalli. “What kinds of reports do fleets want and need and pay for? Pre-formatted reports or a data dump with custom reporting capabilities? Or both?”
The volume of the relentless ongoing data stream is aptly illustrated in the following metaphor. “We’re all drinking from the telematics ‘firehose’ of data, which is why it is important to make data actionable,” said Tom Coffey, senior vice president of sales for Merchants Fleet.
Using another metaphor is Frank Dankovich, director of fleet sales for FCA. “Fleet managers are on the verge of a data avalanche. Now is the time to prepare,” said Dankovich.
Despite feeling overwhelmed, fleet managers recognize that Big Data provides new opportunities for them to more effectively manage their fleets. “This is an opportunity because there are more tools than ever to aggregate and present data in meaningful ways. With many systems and large amounts of data, fleet professionals must become more savvy regarding IT, system integration, and data management to minimize information overload,” said Arthur Kappel, CAFM, director of fleet operations for Altice Tech Services.
The Risk of Data Paralysis
Advanced Fleet Management (Spain), recently surveyed commercial fleet managers about the challenges they face and one of the recurring themes was the issue of data overload and the potential of data paralysis.
“Telematics has increased the volume of fleet data by a factor of 10, fleet managers are crying out for making things more simple, intuitive, easier to use, summary versus detail reporting. In addition, management by committee demands fleet managers have the right report at the right time with the right story to sell upstairs,” said Tom Callahan, president of Donlen.
The issue of data overload was also cited by Kimberly Fisher, global manager, fleet & travel for National Oilwell Varco. “We get a great deal of data, but I find that sifting through some of that data is a challenge or I just do not have the time to sift through it all to make it useful. We continue to be asked to do more from our companies with less resources. There is such rich data and I feel that we are not applying it to achieve the best results in our fleet,” said Fisher.
In addition to feeling overwhelmed by the volume of data, fleet managers struggle with how to extract actionable data.
“How can we get to the bottom line and use the information for a more productive and cost-effective fleet without going blind. How can we use the new data from in-vehicle modems to compliment other telematics data,” said Brenda Davis, global fleet category manager, indirect sourcing for Baker Hughes.
In the long-run, fleet managers acknowledge that the power of Big Data will make them increasingly dependent on the use of it to manage their assets and drivers.
“Can you still manage a fleet without understanding the insights that your fleet’s data can tell you? How well can a fleet manager function without some grounding and understanding of data, statistics, analytics, and the pitfalls of data manipulation? The leasing companies are strong in this area, but can you effectively manage something if you cannot understand how the solutions were derived; I submit that you cannot,” said Michael Bieger, global fleet manager for Catholic Relief Services.
A widespread response from fleet managers to data overload is the lack of resources and manpower to extract the data and understand it.
“As fleets implement new systems to manage their fleets, there also needs to be a commitment to resources that includes staffing individuals who can extract pertinent data to manage the fleet through the use of metrics and KPIs,” said Tony Orta, fleet operations manager for SoCalGas. “There are countless number of fleets today that are under pressure by senior management to maximize the extraction and usage of key information that can achieve the ROI that was originally promised. This requires the need to have individuals who can efficiently extrapolate the right data and format that information in a useable format for effective decision-making by fleet managers.”
One source of confusion for companies looking to acquire and implement a telematics solution is the multiplicity of service providers who all promise similar or better results.
“There are so many fleet products and services that it becomes hard to decide what is important for your fleet,” said Eliot Bensel, vice president of account development at CEI Fleet Driver Management. “Key stakeholders need to ask difficult questions, such as: ‘How do we justify the initial investment to realize the ROI of a new initiative and make the fleet safer?’ ‘How does this program from one supplier strengthen our efforts with our main provider, and can we integrate the two?’ Taking a step back to see how a product or service will fit into the current ecosystem can often help inform how effective it will be in the fleet.”
This market confusion leads to the fundamental question of whether a corporate fleet wants to be an early adopter or a fast follower.
“There are more tools and services than ever, but as new technologies come along with promises to save lives, time, and money, fleets have to decide when they will choose to adopt the technology. Adopting new safety technologies early can be costly, but it will give your fleet a layer of protection if litigation does occur, because your fleet went above and beyond what your peers in the industry are doing,” said Bensel of CEI.
Developing New Metrics
The job expectations of fleet managers are changing in the new world of fleet connectivity. “A fleet can’t survive on preventive maintenance strategies alone. It must increase its focus on predictive maintenance and be able to tell the story of efficiencies and effectiveness to senior management,” said Orta of SoCalGas.
As Big Data becomes more seamlessly integrated into the fabric of fleet management, it will be necessary to develop new metrics to monitor its use, implementation, and efficacy.
“Having the metrics needed to manage the fleet and share fleet success with management and fleet stakeholders is crucial. Try as hard as you can, if you do not have the metrics to understand how your fleet vehicles are being used and where your money is being spent, it will always be an uphill battle to control the chaos,” said Ed Smith, president and CEO of Agile Fleet. “Using metrics, fleet managers can justify replacement budgets, purchasing new vehicles, or adding automation.”
A common refrain from some fleet managers is that they are being overwhelmed with too much data to make informed decisions.
“With the vast amounts of data pouring in from all the devices and processes that are involved in a fleet operation, making sense of the data is crucial to be able to operate efficiently and effectively. When much of this data comes in, it is raw data. The key is to simplify and organize data in a manner that makes it clear how processes work together and what the trends are on a more granular level,” said Bensel of CEI. “Data should be centralized – having to look in several places to get the full picture is not a viable solution for safety and accident management. One of the biggest trends for making informed decisions is data visualization, which helps make a compelling case when presenting large amounts of data to key stakeholders in the fleet safety program or the fleet operation as a whole.”
One value to utilizing telematics data is to modify and improve driver behavior, along with identifying high-risk drivers before an incident occurs.
“This is a big challenge but also a significant opportunity with the right tools and analytics in place. Traditionally, companies have focused on negotiated maintenance savings, fuel rebates, tire discounts, etc. to reduce costs and while these strategies are certainly still important, effectively managing drivers can have a greater impact on your business,” said Greg Wallingford, director of business development, ARI.
This post is an excerpt of a 2020 article “In addition to feeling overwhelmed by the volume of data, fleet managers struggle with how to extract actionable data.” by Mike Antich, editor of Automotive Fleet Magazine, Fleet Hall of Fame inductee (2010).