Big Data: Forging a path for the future

March 2, 2016|Nathan Logan

Remaining competitive in the midst of the rise of big data and data analytics is not easy. In today’s world of pervasive technology, companies are being forced to change how they operate so they can keep up.

So what is big data? Big data refers to the exponential growth of vast and complex data sets, which can be used to predict behaviors and actions. This predictive analysis helps you understand your business, spot trends and make better business decisions in real time.

Take time to think about what you want to know and then use data analytics so you can work smarter—not harder—to create operational efficiency.

Where do you start?

With multiple systems gathering information, it can seem like you have numbers and statistics everywhere you look. Think about how to use that explosion of information as a source of insight and to your benefit. For transportation companies there are three main areas which big data can be of significant importance: fleet management, recruiting and retention, and fraud prevention and detection.

Fleet management

When looking at fleet management there are many areas to tackle, but let’s just touch on some big picture items. Fleets require constant attention in terms of maintenance, fuel and safety, which all add to the overall customer experience.

Predictive maintenance

Repairs and maintenance are an expected cost for every transportation company. The unexpected occurs when tractors and trailers break down on the road. Is it avoidable? Many times, the answer is yes. When looking at your repairs and maintenance cost there can be a wealth of information—use the data and analyze it.

Determine when a repair or maintenance is needed, then document when, where, why and what was fixed and you are well on your way to having data you can use to keep your fleet running smoothly. You can analyze data to look for trends such as when the same part is appearing to fail on vehicles after so many hours or miles. By using predictive maintenance you can schedule maintenance in a shop at convenient times, so drivers aren’t idling on roadsides and customers aren’t asking where the load is.

Fuel consumption

Data on your fuel purchases can also provide insight to tighten your operations. Look at idle time to see if too much money is being spent on unproductive hours. Use data to plan the best route for maximizing your fuel, taking into consideration the weather and road conditions, driving behavior and location. Negotiate fuel discounts if possible and make sure drivers are purchasing fuel at the correct locations. If you use fuel cards, analyze the purchases to make sure there is no unnecessary spending.

Safety

Of course you want to protect your drivers and keep equipment functioning at its best. Predictive maintenance helps keep trucks in tip-top shape to prevent accidents, keeping your drivers and other motorists safe. Newly required electronic logs will give you the ability to monitor speed and other metrics to ensure you’re following best practices and know where you need to adjust—or perhaps train—your drivers.

In addition to electronic logs, truck-mounted cameras will also play an important role in the industry. You can set cameras to record as much or as little as you would like, and studying the tape can help you determine who is at fault for an accident and whether drivers are doing their part to keep themselves, the vehicle and others on the road safe.

Improve customer satisfaction

Keeping your customers satisfied, perhaps even delighted, is critical to the success of your business, and improving the customer experience is one of the single most important things you can do. Without them, there is no business. Predictive maintenance will help keep vehicles on the road, fuel data will help you plan the most efficient routes and maintain costs and a strong focus on safety will give you peace of mind—all of which will improve the customer’s overall experience. In addition to these items, location tracking can give you better planning ability and more accurate delivery times.

Recruiting and retention

While keeping customers happy is a no-brainer, remember that your drivers are also one of your most important audiences. With driver shortages affecting everyone in the industry, recruiting and retention need to be at the top of your list. Everyone wants to find the best of the best. But are you using better information to find the right candidates—the ones who will perform better and stay with your company longer?

Use data analytics to set your business apart. Think about information such as cost per hire and your turnover rates—including what is causing them and how to prevent turnover—as well as response rate by marketing method. Knowing which recruiting avenues are working for you to find the best candidates means you can invest more money into what’s working.

Take a look at what your successful employees have in common and what makes them tick. Then, how do you find people like them? What worked during the hiring process? Try to go out and do the same—look for and market to the right people.

Safeguard your future success

Fraud can happen to anyone. How can you detect fraud, and better yet, prevent it from happening? While having better data increases the likelihood of spotting trends, your system won’t be waving a red flag for you. You need to know what to look for.

For those in the transportation industry, accounts payable is one of the largest areas for fraud concern. Trends and inconsistencies can be looked for in all areas, but here’s what is most important:

  • Compare accounts payable addresses to employee addresses
  • Delete old companies that are no longer used
  • Identify trends in payable amounts and dates

Think about what you want to know

You won’t get to your destination without a planned route, and it’s no different with data analytics. You must have a clear strategy and path to get to your end goal.

  • Form a strategic question
  • Define your objective
  • Gather your data
  • Develop procedures
  • Analyze your results
  • Manage those results

Data does nothing for you if you’re just collecting it. You also need to ask the right questions, look at the correct indicators and then automate the process as much as possible.

There are numerous software packages that can help automate the process, but don’t think you must have the perfect software to begin charting your course. Even Microsoft Excel is a great place to start and can do many things. The important thing is to initiate the process!

Schenck can help you sift through the ever-increasing amount of data so you find out what data analysis can do for you.


Nathan Logan is a supervisor in Schenck’s Fond du Lac office, and a member of the firm’s Trucking & Logistics team. He can be reached at nathan.logan@schencksc.com or 920-907-2131.