Many trucking company executives consider information to be a vital asset – second only to people. Information provides visibility, control and competitive advantage.
With technologies such as “virtualized” storage area networks and cloud computing, companies can ensure information always is available. Document imaging and data warehousing technology also can help fleets cut through the clutter to find what they need quickly.
A drawback of technology, however, is that information doesn’t disappear the moment it’s no longer needed. Storage is so inexpensive that fleets rarely need to clear their hard drives to make space for more data.
Cross Country Courier has at least 90 days of information stored in a high-availability disaster-proof environment; the Bismarck, N.D.-based company also backs up data monthly and annually. But the amount of images and operating data it has on hand goes back to 2004, which probably is more data than necessary, says Jay Dillman, vice president of information technology for the 200-truck less-than-truckload carrier.
The company’s transportation management software system mostly is to blame; the software lacks a feature for archiving data on a set schedule. Having previously worked at a large bank before joining Cross Country Courier in 2006, Dillman has experience with executing data retention policies with precision.
“At 90 days, we shredded paper like there was no tomorrow,” he says. “We did the same thing with data.”
Destroying data can be as important as retaining it. The destruction of data is more of a risk management strategy than an IT strategy for freeing up resources. Amid the changing landscape of rules, regulations, risks and data sources, a fleet should give its data retention policies and the technology used to execute those policies a closer look.
Forces at play
Data retention policy took a serious turn on Dec. 1, 2006. That’s when a change in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure placed the burden on the parties involved in a lawsuit to discuss early in litigation what electronically stored information could be available for discovery.
In practical terms, this law means a party has a legal obligation to preserve all data that could be relevant to a dispute that reasonably could lead to litigation. Exempt from this so-called electronic discovery law is data destroyed during the normal course of business.
All data that is related to a dispute must be preserved or placed in “litigation hold” until the dispute is resolved, says Steve Silverman, an expert of electronic discovery matters and an attorney at Pittsburgh-based law firm Tucker Arensberg.
Before this electronic discovery law, Southeastern Freight Lines was retaining all documents and data according to established legal and regulatory guidelines. But the e-discovery law caused management to review all corporate data and decisions about retention for data that did not fit within specified guidelines.
The Lexington, S.C.-based less-than-truckload company reviewed data not only from its mainframe system but also from all servers, including satellite communications, e-mails and voicemails.
No published guidelines or best practices are available to address how long text messages with drivers, satellite position data and information from onboard computing systems – such as speeding, hard braking and other critical safety events – should be retained.
Fleets can create their own rules by establishing parameters for the data retained and the reasons why, says Braxton Vick, SEFL’s senior vice president of corporate planning. If a trucking company determines that it has no need for satellite position data after 60 days, it is free to destroy this data automatically unless a dispute warrants preservation.
“The thing about e-discovery is that for a lot of data, you can set your own data retention based off of your specific need for the data,” Vick says. “As long as you have a consistent policy, that policy is fine for a legal standpoint. But you need to be consistent with it. We spent a full year looking at our data and met with numerous lawyers. We have everything we do outlined and have a retention policy for it.”
In addition to establishing retention policies for each type of data, it also is beneficial for a fleet to review methods for accessing data in the event of a lawsuit or investigation. Suppose that an employee filed a sexual discrimination lawsuit and the court wanted all e-mails regarding the subject addressed in the suit. How would a company obtain that information?
Managing the e-discovery process has become the most expensive aspect of litigation other than legal fees, Silverman says. Clearwell software, a technology used specifically for the electronic discovery process, lets users search the entire Microsoft Exchange e-mail server and pull together all messages and documents that were shared by subject, between personnel or between certain types of personnel.
The case for e-logs
A more recent rule change in November 2008 had an immediate impact on data retention practices of motor carriers. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration reversed its longstanding policy against the use of Global Positioning Satellite and other advanced technologies for hours-of-service audits and enforcement purposes.
For years prior to this rule change, drivers could manipulate paper logbooks and make them match with fuel stops, roadside inspections and other supporting documents that carriers are required to retain for audit purposes. Since this policy change, FMCSA investigators regularly have demanded that detailed position data be turned over to verify the accuracy of driver logs.
FMCSA has required carriers to keep a minimum of six months of logbook data for drivers, whether paper or electronic. But the agency has not provided any guidance for the retention of GPS data other than to consider it a critical violation to fail to produce available data. However, producing the data also may prove detrimental if the time and location provided does not match up within one hour of the entries contained on the driver’s corresponding log.
Another retention problem surrounding paper driver logbooks is having no data at all. Using paper logs invariably results in having a certain percentage of logs missing. During an audit, FMCSA could issue a violation for failure to retain documents. And in the event of an accident, lacking an immediate tamperproof record of driver compliance with HOS rules represents a litigation risk.
Last January, FMCSA announced plans to issue a final rule by July 2012 that would mandate the use of electronic onboard recorders; the rule likely would be enforced three years afterward, in 2015. After the GPS policy change, the mandate came as no surprise given that fleets and regulators already knew that EOBRs provide a foolproof automated way to record driver compliance.
Advancements in onboard computing technology allow customers to establish and automate their own data retention policies for more than just electronic logs. Wireless networking enables data storage and replication between the cab and the vendor’s data center or “cloud.” This data always is accessible through an online portal.
In the case of Rand McNally’s TruckPC, all data captured by the computer is backed up on the in-cab device for eight days and accessible through the cloud via the FleetWatcher portal. TruckPC users can set their own retention policies for data. Some larger fleets have a direct interface to FleetWatcher to pull and save data on their own network.
“We are flexible in that regard,” says Mason Meadows, director of product development for Rand McNally. “Storage is not a challenge. Space is cheap.”
Fleets must retain electronic HOS supporting documents for a six-month period, although FMCSA is expected to issue additional HOS guidelines. In response to FMCSA’s reversal of its GPS policy, many carriers chose to adjust their practices for GPS data retention and other information captured from their onboard computing systems.
At the request of its customers, PeopleNet – a provider of integrated onboard computing and mobile communications systems – moved its standard data retention rate to six months. All data – including positions, driver messages and driver and vehicle performance – now is purged at that time.
If PeopleNet customers choose to retain data for a longer period, they have various options, says Brian McLaughlin, chief operating officer. PeopleNet’s Onboard Event Recorder (OER) application records the pertinent data surrounding a critical safety event such as a hard-braking incident. To store OER data longer than six months, such as in the event of an accident, a fleet can save reports as a PDF file.
Safety-related data in itself is not a supporting document. Qualcomm’s Critical Event Reporting (CER) application has some level of configurability to define event thresholds, and it has features that alert customers when events occur. Qualcomm stores data for six months, and fleets have the option of downloading or printing CER data and keeping that information at their own facilities, says Jim Sassen, senior manager of product marketing.
PeopleNet also offers a network appliance called PeopleNet Link, a self-contained out-of-the-box integration solution for PeopleNet applications. Through PeopleNet Link, the data resides in customers’ IT networks and is subject to their own data retention policies.
Xata, which provides the XataNet and Turnpike fleet and driver management systems, has a standard retention rate of six months for logbook data. Users with administrative credentials can configure these online software systems to set retention policies for trip and telematics data for up to 24 months. Commercial carriers typically keep telematics data for 15 months, whereas private fleets often keep data for up to two years.
Xata is working with a number of industry leaders – including Annette Sandberg, former FMCSA administrator – to create an audit manual for customers that will provide instructions about how to interact with auditors and provide only the requested information. Xata also is developing new software tools for the same purpose to present information based on each user’s login credentials and profiles, says Christian Schenk, vice president of product marketing.
Managing the enterprise
A now-common technology that speeds up the billing process by capturing documents electronically also can be a powerful tool for managing corporatewide data retention policies. Carriers can use imaging systems to manage many different types of externally produced documents for drivers, equipment, customers and vendors. Carriers also can use the technology to manage retention policies for their own internal documents and contracts, including spreadsheets, e-mails and faxes.
McLeod Software has a tool within its Document Power imaging software system that allows users to configure data retention policies based on date and document type. The system’s electronic filing cabinet feature lets a user choose a certain document type, such as a driver log, and configure the system to run a scheduled purge. Users also can set the software to purge all documents older than a certain date.
Document Power interfaces with McLeod Software’s LoadMaster and PowerBroker transportation management systems, as well as software from other providers. Through the interface, documents are indexed to a specific record that is searchable from within the TMS. Users quickly can locate any document in the filing cabinet directly from the screens they use on a daily basis for as long as they choose to retain the data, says Adel Harika, director of imaging for McLeod Software.
TMW Systems, a provider of enterprise transportation software, offers full record management and archive capability in its TMW Synergize document management software. The system can be adapted to the company’s specific record retention policy.
Data warehousing is another powerful technology to improve archiving and retrieval of data. TMW Systems offers customers a set of code for extracting data from their transactional database. This code, formally known as TMW Data Warehouse, reorganizes transactional data into a separate database for more accessible data reporting and analysis.
Data warehouse technology is not used to archive all data – just the segments useful for later analysis. Pulling transactional data out of the production database and into a data warehouse eliminates clutter and ensures it is available for future trend analysis. “Physical things are easy to get, but you can’t replace people easily or information that you’ve developed over time,” says Steven Prembridge, senior business intelligence analyst for TMW Systems.
Software-as-a-Service or cloud computing is another strategy to free up IT resources and automate data retention policies. PCS Software started offering its Express TMS software as a SaaS solution in 2008.
“In the past three years, over 90 percent of our new clients have chosen to go with Software-as-a-Service rather than a traditional software purchase,” says Sean VanDyk, vice president of sales. “Hundreds of our older clients also have chosen to migrate from having the software installed on their networks to using our Software-as-a-Service. Either way, it is the same exact system, with the same exact interface, features and capabilities.”
PCS Software clients also can use the company’s online document imaging system to retain all documents for three years and use an archive function to move older proof-of-delivery documents to another location or drive, VanDyk says.
Data retention is not a topic that can be resolved clearly after a few meetings between departments or with a legal adviser. The transportation industry always is in a state of flux, and despite a trucking company’s best efforts to use real-time data to operate more efficiently and safely, it also has to consider the value of that data and the potential harm it could cause by retaining it.
BLACK OR WHITE
Setting policies for data retention requires the balance of three factors: your business needs, complying with state or federal requirements and managing IT resources. Since data storage is fairly inexpensive, only the first two should be of concern, says Steve Silverman, an expert of electronic discovery matters and an attorney at Pittsburgh-based law firm Tucker Arensberg.
The only exception to a written policy of practices and procedures for destroying data is when certain records must be retained longer than normal because of a legal dispute, in which case the specific records in question should be retained until the matter is resolved.
A records retention policy may consist of a simple spreadsheet organized into categories and subcategories of record types. “Supporting data for reports” is one example of a category, “operating results” as a subcategory, and “tonnage, mileage, costs, etc.” as the types of records to be retained. For each category, list the minimum and recommended retention period according to business and legal needs. Also, specify the custodian of the record and by what authority, if any, the policy has been established (legal, tax, regulation, etc.).
Following is an example based on the actual retention policy of a large carrier. It shows how data retention is an ongoing process that does not always lend itself to clear policy.