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Big Data : Taking on the Tsunami

Big data is just data, until you learn how to tap into it to find the information you need.

In the 1990s, the tsunami of information that was becoming available from a growing number of sources was dubbed “big data.” Since then, that tsunami has not stopped gushing, and although it may seem overwhelming, big data can provide valuable insight to fleet managers.

“You have to be able to present data in a very user friendly view.” — Julie Hunter, Client Solutions Specialist, FleetCarma

According to Julie Hunter, Client Solutions Specialist at FleetCarma, big data is the granular information that comes in very quickly. “It’s very detailed and complex, and needs to be analyzed to be beneficial to the fleet,” she says. “Its purpose is to improve the efficiency, productivity, safety and overall savings. And it can make a big difference as it opens up opportunities to analyze current operations and move forward based on what is the best option for the business and its customers.”

But the way you would analyze the data for a taxi fleet is different from, for example, a municipal fleet. “They both have a need for ongoing data management and interpretations,” says Hunter. “You also have to be able to present it in a very user friendly view.”

Significant budget item
Paul Wingate, Senior Strategic Consultant at Element Fleet Management, cites the definition of the META Group (now Gartner), which came up with a clever categorization. “When it comes to dealing with Big Data, they referred to the 3 Vs,” says Wingate. “There’s volume, variety, and velocity (the speed at which it arrives). Two additional “V” characteristics have been suggested; variability (the inconsistency of the data), and veracity– the quality or accuracy.”

He agrees that there’s more information available than ever before. This presents new challenges and opportunities for fleet managers. “What type of team, resources and technology can you leverage to get the results you want?” Wingate says.

For most companies, fleet is a significant budget item and fleet managers understand the importance of controlling and reducing costs. Fleet managers should be clear on their goals. For example, according to surveys, managing safety and risk is a key priority for many fleets. A valid question to be asked is, “how can big data be leveraged to improve safety and risk for my fleet?” asks Wingate.

“The safer your fleet, the bigger the impact for your bottom line.”

Data from a variety of sources can be utilized in a meaningful way to improve safety records. This also involves predictive analytics. “Based on a number of different factors, you can predict what drivers might be the ones you want to zero in on, and proactively work with them through additional training to make them a safer driver,” says Wingate.

Mining for nuggets
Not surprisingly, another goal for many fleets is improving overall data management. “More companies recognize that there’s a great deal of data, which needs to be turned into something actionable to help improve their operation,” says Wingate. “Specifically, creating appropriate metrics, identifying trends, determining how to reduce their spend and lower fleet budgets.”

Naturally, a company requires certain skill sets to use and leverage big data. “Do you have data scientists that can mine for gold nuggets?” asks Wingate. “Our goal is to identify and implement innovative ways to take Big Fleet Data and make it more digestible for clients.” He adds, “This includes the challenge of combining data from several sources, interpreting the data, then creating a message using graphs and images that gets the necessary information across in a presentation that will help provide a clear course of action for them.”

Finding the “outliers”
One course of action that can be a result of big data is identifying what Harvey Smith refers to as “outliers.”

Smith, Director of Product Development at ARI, notes that big data can help optimize a fleet’s performance. “It’s the 80/20 rule,” he says. “You want to find the 20 percent of vehicles that are driving 80 percent of the spend. Those are the outliers.”

Big data can help determine the worst case offenders, which may be operating at a higher cost per kilometre than the rest of the fleet. “Once you spot those outliers, you can ask where and what is driving this behaviour,” Smith notes. “Is it the driver? Is it misuse of the vehicle?”

And once that trend is identified, the information can be used to predict what other vehicles might be leaning towards this behaviour. “You look at the operating data within a fleet,” explains Smith.

He defines this as the “Big Five”–preventive maintenance, scheduled repair items, unscheduled repair items, outside influences, and rental cost.

“Outside influences are attributed to drivers, so if a driver damages a vehicle by puncturing a tire, that counts as an outside influence,” Smith says. “That’s what our fleet management system monitors. We can trend the whole fleet, look at these measures and see what vehicles are trending out from normal behaviour, and then take prescriptive action.”

Making sense
According to Mike Rusch, President at Jim Pattison Lease, big data can be pulled in two ways–from a proprietary fuel and maintenance card, and from data being sent in by the car itself. “If you’re using telematics, you can capture that information right from the car,” he says. “Being able to group that information is very powerful, but you have to be able to present it to fleet managers in a way that they can consume it.”

As companies become leaner, and fleet managers have more to do, they have less time to look through fuel and maintenance records. “What are you looking for?” Rusch asks. “You need a system to make sense of alerts and notifications, to tell you what’s really important. That’s the key to big data–it’s wonderful that there’s so much information, but which data really makes sense?”

Big data can provide improved safety, efficiency, cost control and convenience. “We’re trying to help our customers keep their people and drivers safe and on the roads so they can be billable and earn them money as well,” Rusch says.

“It’s wonderful that there’s so much information, but which data really makes sense?” — Mike Rusch, President, Jim Pattison Lease

A system that makes sense of the data, helping to highlight the important pieces, is key. “There are always anomalies in vehicles that you need to cycle out,” Rusch says. “Being able to track that and create reports that summarize it makes a big difference. Otherwise, you just get overwhelmed with data. Anecdotally, everyone has that one vehicle that’s a big problem, but where are the metrics? That’s what you need to manage fleets effectively.”

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