5 things to know about improving your fleet’s data management

Just this past week Donaldson came out with a line of ‘smart’ filters that will tell you exactly when they need to be replaced.

It was only a matter of time before even the filters on your trucks became connected. Don’t get me wrong, filtration is one of the most practical applications for connectivity. Today, they’re replaced based on standardized intervals and as a result, many filters are being disposed of too early or too late.

A filter that can communicate to you when it actually need replacing can save you money. Donaldson, cognizant of the fact this is yet another set of data for fleet managers to digest, presents it in an easy-to-interpret manner using a green/yellow/red color scheme. It also presents it using a fleet’s existing telematics system. Top marks for that.

Data overload is real. Large fleets are beginning to employ data analysts to manage the reams of data being pulled from today’s equipment. For small fleets, it’s impractical to hire an individual to manage this issue. The person responsible for data management likely wears a half dozen other hats.

But data analysis is essential to improving productivity. It’s the great equalizer. Large fleets with big resources have always had an advantage when it comes to collecting and analyzing data. Now there are products for smaller fleets that give them the same capabilities.

(Illustration: iStock)

Last week I attended a Truckload Carriers Association webinar in data overload. Amanda Schuier, senior vice-president of Quality Transport, walked us through her journey of managing data overload. She was exasperated when it took 36 dashboards for her to figure out what was happening with her fleet. So, she set out to simplify and streamline the process. Here are a few of her learnings.

There’s no perfect solution: Schuier was looking to replace an outdated TMS as well as an ELD she was unhappy with. Replacing 36 dashboards with a one or two systems that will present all meaningful data on a single pane of glass isn’t easy. There’s no shortage of systems in the market, but none will satisfy all your needs. Schuier suggests creating a checklist and finding the system that will fill the most boxes on that checklist. Then, go from there.

Give it a test drive: Also on the webinar was head of sales for TMS supplier Axele, Robert Ramirez. He said most TMS vendors offer free trials. Take advantage of them. And ask questions. If a vendor isn’t responsive during your free trial, it’s not going to be helpful when you become a paying subscriber, he added.

Start slow: When you find a platform to help you manage your fleet’s data, don’t try to solve all your problems in one go. For Quality Transport, the initial focus was on two key metrics: revenue per mile per week, and safety violations per month. These are crucial KPIs for any fleet, but difficult to measure without an effective data management program in place.

Don’t underestimate the benefits: Schuier is confident driver turnover has been reduced as a direct result of the company’s better use of data. Before integrating the TMS and ELD, drivers had to handle actual paperwork. And they never knew where their next load was coming from or going. Now, they upload paperwork remotely and can view their entire week’s scheduled in advance. They can better plan their lives. When a fleet is effectively managing the data available to it, everyone wins, including those essential folks behind the wheel.

Make customers accountable: Schuier was giddy at the prospect of using data to gain a better understanding of dwell time. The industry’s capacity utilization is nearly 100%. New trucks are nearly impossible to procure. The biggest issue facing the industry today is lost productivity due to excessive dwell time at shippers and receivers. With an effective data management program in place, fleets will be able to more accurately identify the shippers and receivers who are creating these backlogs. And they’ll not only know it, they’ll have hard proof in the form of data. This can be presented to problem shippers and receivers, giving them an opportunity to clean up their act or go find someone else to take their freight – and good luck with that in this environment. There has never been a better time for fleets to go after problem shippers and receivers.

James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 18 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at james@newcom.ca or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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