Data strategy advice for T&L managers

By: Rob McKay


Technology experts are appraising managers on the uses and value of technology available and the information it increasingly collects

Data strategy advice for T&L managers
Gavin Hill

 

The middle of the calendar year is transport industry conference time and data management and collection for a variety of uses is an increasingly high-level issue for discussion.

The recent Victorian Transport Association (VTA) state conference was a case in point and there seems little doubt that one impetus for transport and logistics companies and technology service companies alike is the government trend to computerise compliance in everything about the industry, from road taxes and access, to chain of responsibility.

Though that might sound somewhat negative, there are productivity gains to be had as well, such as lowering bridge load factor of 2 down to 1.6, through verifiable on board mass systems, as Transport Certification Australia (TCA) CEO Chris Koniditsiotis notes.

"We now have information that allows us to utilise our road network in a more efficient way," Koniditsiotis says of the ability of road managers to take the guess-work out of load factor estimates and assumptions.

And it is not as if it is a new message nor that significant sections of the industry are blind to the opportunities and have failed to ‘buy in’.

According TCA general manager of strategic development Gavin Hill, more than 32,000 heavy vehicles now carry TCA-recognised in-vehicle units (IVUs) as part of the National Telematics Framework.

This represents a 22 per cent increase in the last two years.

"The transport industry tells us that the IVU is a centrepiece of technology which supports a range of business and regulatory functions," Hill says.

"No action of government could have coerced the industry to do this," Hill says of the take-up.

"It’s your industry that says ‘we value these things’."

Industry players had told the TCA they view truck telematics and IT hardware as a "critical technology hub" within their vehicles.

Hill also points to access, particularly in NSW with the sector supporting road infrastructure initiatives in western Sydney, as an indication of productivity gains from IT and telematics, noting that meeting Intelligent Access conditions amongst others removed 145 bridge conditions in the region.

Risk mitigation

While access is a continuing issue for operators, Chain of Responsibility (COR) reforms highlight risks that remain personal to managers.

The transport industry’s dismal work fatality rate makes it a huge target for regulatory efforts to reduce the toll and regulators and service providers alike have identified opportunities surrounding this compliance trend.

Fleet Effects compliance systems general manager John Tsoucalas, who is also VTA technology committee chairman, raised an area where manager influence can be variable and remote – with subcontractors.

Where early focus was on speed and fatigue management, maintenance has been added to that.

Of this growing burden, Tsoucalas says it "adds a lot of complexity and more importantly it adds a lot of paperwork, spreadsheets and whole lot of other processes a fleet needs to implement, especially when they are running high percentages of subcontractors, like some fleets do".

With the promise of prosecutions being easier to come by and therefore defences needing to be more detailed and comprehensive, he poses a series of questions he believes owners and managers should ask themselves.

These include:

  • Adequate monitoring of speed, particularly where limits are posted
  • Access to speed sampling
  • Validation with engine management systems.
  • Work diary confirmation
  • Rest-break monitoring
  • Comprehensive information to allow proper scheduling.

Weighing up the efficacy of smartphone data in the absence of telematics, if that is the extent of a subcontractor’s IT profile.

With maintenance in the COR mix, a growing concern for fleets generally, validating subcontractor’s vehicle servicing and speed-limiter comes into play.

"The list goes on," Tsoucalas says.

"Within NHVAS, especially if they are involved in your program, as some fleets do, are you monitoring every aspect of the paperwork?

"Previously, it was only and issue in NHVAS maintenance – next year, it’s actually an issue of law."

He sees flexible ‘mobility’ platforms as the key defensive concept that allow the likes of speed sampling, including of speed zones, though mapping providers may only update these quarterly.

These may not be comprehensive but will paint a picture of behaviour that can act as a point for discussions with the driver, "which is what you’ll be trying to do here".

It will also bolster feedback to drivers in the review process and for performance management.

The same sort of thing goes for fatigue management and maintenance functions, with a transport company’s system able to handle the data returned to it, not least to cover-off COR risks.

Tsoucalis views a new trend in continuous feedback of video coverage from dashcams and driver cams at the time of incidents.

This allows for instant identification rather than needing almost endless viewing to identify the time of incidents.

Bottom line

What was left to others to identify was the potential of all the information captured in such systems to be put to profitable use.

Those with an eye to the mid-term at least, were prone to phrases such as "data is more valuable than oil" and "data is gold", though the valuation was based on the likes of future direction, customer expectation and internal review.

Trimble country manager Nick Dabner, who identified in passing that the top tech companies earnt more than OPEC in the last quarter, is a future watcher.

Dabner sees a natural and reinforcing progressions where technically mature transport and logistics businesses that once sought efficiencies in analysing where their assets had gone, moving past gaining from seeing them in real time to working out where they will be at different stages in the future.

"Planning is very difficult in transport – where will I be in one hour or tomorrow – because that is actually where I can influence my transport operation and make substantial improvements," he says.

"Why? Because I can be proactive; I can avoid being out of hours; I can avoid service failure.

"That’s data can really help – you’ve got to build from the historical base and move forward."

On a firms’ approach to new technology, Dabner sees no entirely easy path but advises they focus on processes rather than the technology and then on the changes being asked of their businesses.

Future shock

One presenter for whom "data is the gold of the future" is Kristine Alleva, director of financial management services firm AcQuum, especially where customers are concerned.

While Alleva is not alone in stating that technology is an increasingly cheap and effective management tool, she does look at optimum ways of using it.

High on the list was that if data is gained through disparate systems within a company, it should be able to be captured once, combined into one dashboard swiftly and a profile report formulated not much later.

This allows a complete profile the customer relationship to be seen at a glance and while drilling down into the detail is easy to do and should make the relationship’s profitability to the transport company plain.

And if possible, this should extend to the needs of the customer’s customer "to provide insight into your customer’s expectations".

"The best supply chains will be those that can quickly analyse large amounts of disparate data and provide business insights, such as alerts to decision-makers to make decisions in real-time," Alleva says.

"While gut instinct will always have a place in the decision-making process, the reality is that data does exist to make every decision – you just have to find it."

Alibaba and Amazon are looming disruptive marketplaces where data analytics on consumer wants and needs is "obsessive", so expectations on supply chain and fulfilment service providers will be high.

With Uber joining them, the shadow of the ‘Uberisation’, or other consumer-centric models, of freight transport and delivery may also come into play.

Those wishing to engage in such spheres – Amazon is reportedly willing to work with smaller transport and logistics companies in Australia rather than just one large provider – will also "need to have their technology in order to be able to hook into their systems", Alleva says.

Her five-point takeaway is:

  • Invest in light-weight cloud-base sytems to fill the gaps where you don’t have data captured
  • Utilise existing technology to do the heavy lifting
  • Find ways to unlock the data you already have
  • Spend time on data analysis, not data preparation
  • Understand what the data is saying ad alert those who need to know so they can take action.

 

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