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Big data, analytics and trucking

Big data analytics will help trucking companies make improved decisions.
/ Industry News & Trends /

By: Phil Sneed

Data collection occurs in every industry, and the trucking sector is no different. Logistics management companies use information to help drivers develop the best route to transport goods, while truckers use data to keep tabs on the semi-trailer's fuel consumption. When put together, data can improve the entire shipping process, and help buyers and sellers find the most reliable means of transport. Data collection can paint a complete picture.

Collecting and analyzing data is not just centered around a few key areas. Computers and special programs can now collect vast amounts of information that may unveil some aspects of trucking that were previously not seen. All told, big data and analytics are currently increasing the efficiency of trucks and will continue to do so.

"Big data and analytics are currently helping increase the efficiency of trucks."

What is big data?
To some observers, big data is nothing more than a fancy keyword that encompasses large amounts of data. These datasets are so large that traditional computers and servers typically cannot store and process them. As a result, technology research firm Gartner classifies big data as high-volume information that requires cost-effective and innovative information processing procedures. By studying such large amounts of data, trucking and logistics companies are able to increase current insight into situations. As a result, everyone involved in the supply chain will be able to execute better decisions.

What is analytics?
Big data and analytics almost go hand in hand. Without getting too technical, there are two types of big data – structured and unstructured – that specialized software has to comb through. With such a large amount of information, it's easy to understand how someone may get lost. This is where analytics comes in and truly shines. Analytics examines data for meaningful trends and behaviors. Eventually, this information will help logistics management companies increase productivity, among other areas.

Data analytics is a process typically seen in the business world of interaction. Buyers and sellers collect data from past market experience and current market trends are some fields where analytics can look for meaningful patterns. For example, in previous winters the spot market may have been leaned upon heavily due to extreme weather conditions. By inputting this data, shippers, carriers and logistics companies can make the necessary decisions to ensure items are are delivered on time and not damaged.

According to Truckinginfo, all of this data comes from a variety of sources, such as maintenance systems, human resources and the semi-trailers. Trucks in particular are becoming more advanced with how they send information. In an interview with Truckinginfo, Mark Botticelli, Peoplenet chief technology officer, said control systems and tire pressure systems send information, as do reefer units.

"Vehicle-generated data is on the rise as more and more vehicle-centric data is generated by a growing number of sensors being added to trucks to support improved performance, safety, diagnostics and maintenance," said Botticelli.

Other big data uses
In theory, the possibilities are endless when it comes to big data collection and subsequent analytics. Therefore, it's imperative companies know what to look for when collecting all this information. Otherwise, logistics management firms will find themselves overwhelmed with no idea where to turn. 

To help streamline business and carrier operations, companies can focus on a few areas. According to eWeek​, one of biggest areas big data can make an impact involves mobile notifications. These messages, can alert drivers to maintenance issues and upcoming traffic via SMS messages or email. Communications have rapidly improved over time, meaning drivers will receive these alerts almost instantly and can properly prepare for changes.

Trucks are becoming more advanced with each passing day. This is a benefit to drivers and shippers. Big data can monitor the performance of semi-trailers. For example, fleet managers can see potential breakdowns before they become severe and send mobile notifications to the driver. Therefore, shipping times can be changed to account for this potential downtime.

"It's imperative companies know what to look for when collecting all this information."

Though it appears to be science-fiction, some trucks may even be able to receive over-the-air updates because of big data. According to eWeek, the opportunity to update engines and fix reefer issues are all within the realms of reality.

Potential issues aren't centered around the truck and the equipment. The health of drivers also has to be taken into account and monitored, especially if they're driving long-haul and traversing many states. Truckers can be alerted if they have to take a break.

Big data is coming
Companies may not realize it, but they are likely collecting data as it is. According to The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is expected to eventually require all trucks to have electronic logging devices installed onboard. Forbes contributor EMC said a vast majority of drivers still use paper logs, a system that has been in place since the 1930s. These logging devices will help monitor driver health and the status of the semi-trailer.

Big data is an area that is no longer classified simply as a buzzword. With strong analytics, trucking companies can make better decisions to deliver goods on time and monitor the status of trucks.