Please disable your Ad Blocker in your browser's extentions.

Providing business insights: Creating value from data

By Aaron Huff

Chris Gallup describes OrTran’s information systems prior to 2015 as “in the Stone Age.”

“We were fragmented,” says Gallup, chief operating officer of the Kansas City, Mo.-based fleet with 60 power units. “We didn’t have our systems integrated, and we muddled through. What we were extremely good at was putting out fires. We realized we were arsonists. We put out a fire and celebrated it.”

This month, the 2017 CCJ Top 250 ranks carriers with large numbers for revenues, drivers and truck and trailer assets. While those physical assets are relatively easy to quantify and benchmark, many companies would consider data to be their most valuable, albeit elusive, asset.

“We were fragmented [before implementing BI]. We didn’t have our systems integrated, and we muddled through.”

— Chris Gallup, COO, OrTran

It’s not the number of gigabytes or terabytes that create value. Rather, it’s the efforts and investments fleets are making to improve data quality and deliver key insights to users at all levels, from the corporate suite to drivers.

In 2015, OrTran implemented new fleet management systems and tied them together with TMW Systems’ Data Warehouse business intelligence platform. With this technology, executives and managers gained visibility to key metrics across the business.

Gallup says the insights made it possible to cut costs and manage the business better through automation. By the end of 2016, OrTran had increased its value as a business, and its owner, David Orscheln, decided to sell the assets to Outwest Express, an El Paso, Texas-based truckload carrier.

Gallup continues to implement new technology for the combined company to get all users, equipment and data assets on a single platform. “The fun never stops,” he says.

In this eighth edition of CCJ Tech Toolbox, we explain how motor carriers can use BI technology to create value from data and solve big challenges in the areas of compliance, operations, maintenance, driver performance, safety and more.

Also be sure to visit CCJTechToolbox.com for other installments and multimedia content and to sign up for special CCJ TechToolbox webinars and newsletters.


Where to start with BI platforms

By Aaron Huff

Fleet management systems pull data from a single database, but to have visibility of multiple systems in a single application requires a BI platform of some variety. Many fleets use BI platforms from companies such as Microsoft, Domo, Cognos and their transportation management software system providers.

BI platforms come in many shapes and sizes. Fleet management systems are often the entry point and catalyst for why fleets decide to invest in BI technology.

Fleet management systems come with advanced reporting tools to display key performance metrics for drivers and vehicles, as well as compliance, operations, maintenance and any area of a business.

The latest cloud-based or Software-as-a-Service systems typically have a dashboard-style user interface with graphical objects known as cards that display key metrics. The metrics can be customized to individual user responsibilities and preferences to simplify and speed up the workflow and tasks for processes that once took hours to complete.

Fleet management systems pull data from a single database, but to have visibility of multiple systems in a single application requires a BI platform of some variety. Many fleets use BI platforms from companies such as Microsoft, Domo, Cognos and their transportation management software system providers.

As part of setting up a data warehouse, companies first may need to “cleanse” their data and establish standard definitions. U.S. Xpress went through this process in 2016 to report the true lifecycle costs of its assets.

But getting the stakeholders from its operations and maintenance departments to agree on data definitions was not an easy task.

“The meetings were pretty intense to get down to whose definition was ‘right’ and whose was ‘wrong,’ ” says Gerry Mead, senior vice president of fleet maintenance for the Chattanooga, Tenn.-based carrier.

As an example, there was disagreement on the meaning of a “dispatched” and “not dispatched” truck. The operations and maintenance departments wanted to know who was responsible to get the “not dispatched” trucks moving, Mead says.

Once the data is cleaned and defined, companies can create, mix and match key metrics with visualization tools and drill-down reporting to present a compelling story to users and create accountability.


A by-the-book dashboard: MVT uses BI to simplify safety, compliance processes

By Aaron Huff

Mesilla Valley Transportation applied BI to harness data from its various systems and present critical safety and compliance information to employees.

In December 2016, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration conducted an onsite audit of Mesilla Valley Transportation (CCJ Top 250, No. 75). This was MVT’s second audit in as many years.

“The auditors came in and looked at all of the different things we were doing,” says Mike Kelley, chief information officer of the Las Cruces, N.M.-based fleet. “We came out squeaky clean.”

The first onsite audit in October 2015 was a different experience. The audit uncovered gaps in the fleet’s compliance processes and sparked a turnaround project.
“We started doing a concentrated push to make sure we were operating correctly with a focus on safety to show we were doing the things we needed to,” Kelley says.

In the wake of the 2015 audit, as MVT was taking inventory of the situation, it became clear that employees lacked the tools to manage compliance proactively. Employees in the safety department were using FMCSA’s Compliance Safety Accountability portal to find the company’s hours-of-service and other violations.

They also were being inundated by e-mail alerts from the fleet’s electronic HOS logging application, Kelley says. The fleet’s e-log application was sending email alerts starting when drivers had two hours remaining on their 11-hour cycle. With 1,300 trucks in the fleet and an average of 800 in motion on any given day, if all 800 trucks were getting a two-hour alert every day for 30 days straight, 24,000 alerts would be generated in a month, he says.

Throughout the month of January 2016, the fleet received 17,000 email alerts. After further review, only about 10 percent of those alerts required a proactive response action, Kelley says.

Back to development

At the time, MVT was using BI tools in other areas of its business to create real-time dashboard reports for executives and managers. The dashboard reports were accessible to users through a Microsoft SharePoint webpage and pushed to them daily through scheduled emails.

In early 2016, the company launched an initiative to apply BI capabilities in safety and compliance to harness data from its various systems and present critical information to users. As part of the project, developers created a workflow or “tasking solution” to ensure that compliance procedures were being followed.

Russ Burns, senior developer for MVT, began the project with a BI application to categorize the email alerts. The most critical appear in a dashboard for MVT’s staff of 10 employees who manage real-time HOS compliance across the fleet’s 24/7 operations.

As an example, an employee may see an alert on the dashboard that says a driver is out of hours but still moving. In that event, the employee would use the workflow tools to contact the driver and complete an investigation using drill-down reports.

The investigation might lead to a fleet manager or customer sharing responsibility for an HOS violation, Kelley says.

“By bringing all of this data together, we are not just blasting people with a firehouse of information. Now everybody has their own water fountain.”

– Mike Kelley, CIO, Mesilla Valley Transportation

Another feature of the BI platform automatically audits driver logbook data by comparing a driver’s duty status to work activities such as fueling, loading/unloading and roadside inspections. If logbook data showed that a driver was logged as off duty during any of these activities, the BI system would trigger a workflow for the violation.

The system also catches repeat violations from drivers. These events trigger an escalation process and workflow to managers in the safety department, Kelley says.

“By bringing all of this data together, we are not just blasting people with a firehouse of information,” he says. “Now everybody has their own water fountain.”

Besides creating a BI system to manage real-time compliance data, MVT uses BI technology daily to chart its progress and create new strategies. Managers use various reports in their daily safety department meetings to identify areas to address, Kelley says.

Getting results

Over the last two years, MVT has reduced the number of HOS violations in its CSA scores dramatically. The company’s CSA data show the fleet had nearly 3,300 roadside inspections during the last 24 months; only 1.7 percent of those inspections (55) had HOS violations.

By making improvements to its compliance processes, MVT now is “ready for the new world” of electronic logging devices starting in December 2017, Kelley says.
“We are already playing by the rules,” he says.

The company is looking beyond compliance to harness data from various driver safety systems with its BI platform. Driver behavioral data from MVT’s video event recording system is another source to add to its safety and compliance dashboards.

The data set from this system includes accelerometer events and following distances. Bringing this and other data into a single report would help employees be even more proactive in changing driver behaviors, Kelley says.

Central to MVT’s BI strategy is the ability to access data from various systems through application program interfaces. Eventually, APIs will replace the process of extracting data from emails and monitoring the web portals of its various fleet management systems, he says.


Focusing on behaviors: ReedTMS Logistics looks at hourly performance of office employees

By Aaron Huff

ReedTMS Logistics uses personalized dashboards to display real-time metrics for managers and employees to achieve daily goals and meet weekly incentive plans.

The traditional reporting structure for motor carriers is to get results into the hands of executives and managers as soon as possible after an established timeframe ends.

By looking at the results, managers may want to know what happened during the weekly or monthly period to cause a change in income, revenue, customer service or any other measurement.

Another report would have to be created, and by the time the report comes back, the person who asked for it may have forgotten why.

One of the motivations for investing in BI is to create real-time visibility of daily activities and behaviors that drive bottom-line results. By focusing on behaviors, companies can hold people accountable.

Mike Reed, president and chief financial officer of ReedTMS Logistics, invested in BI tools to focus quickly on problem areas that develop each day, such as a slip in revenue or an increase in deadhead miles.

As part of the company’s BI strategy, it segments the reporting of its fleet into different groups — van, refrigerated and specialized. ReedTMS Logistics operates 76 trucks across these divisions.

As CFO, Reed says his most critical daily reports come directly from the fleet’s LoadMaster TMS system from McLeod Software and show unbilled loads and aging receivables.

Reed tasked his IT staff to give managers and employees real-time metrics through personalized dashboards. As part of this project, the company created weekly incentive plans for office employees who meet daily goals.

“Once you miss out on revenue, it’s gone. We focus more on the revenue that we need to make an acceptable level of profits.”

– Mike Reed, president and CFO, ReedTMS Logistics

At ReedTMS Logistics, the BI platform harnesses data from multiple systems. On the logistics sales side, the platform pulls data from Salesforce.com and the company’s Shoretel voiceover-IP phone systems. On the asset side, the platform pulls data from the PeopleNet mobile fleet management system and McLeod.

ReedTMS Logistics has dashboards for all of the company’s position groups from sales to accounting. In the center of the office is what Reed calls a “Jumbotron” with scorecard metrics rotating through four screens for everyone to see.

The company has daily and hourly revenue and load count targets for employees to meet. Reed says that on the asset side, managers and employees see “what are we doing and what do we expect to be doing” for loads so “we can manage to the revenue.”

“Once you miss out on revenue, it’s gone,” he says. “We focus more on the revenue that we need to make an acceptable level of profits.”

Data segregation

A core function of BI tools is the ability to segregate the reporting of key metrics by different groups and divisions within an organization to create accountability.

Tri-State Motor Transit, a provider of high-security transport services with more than 300 power units, already has seen a difference by using BI tools for this purpose.

In May 2017, company managers held strategy meetings and set new goals to achieve higher levels of service, velocity, efficiency and revenue per truck. As part of this effort, they organized TSMT’s operations into strategic business units based on freight types.

Previously, “everything was in one hopper, and it was anyone’s game,” says Frank Larance, director of asset utilization and business intelligence.

Individuals now are responsible and held accountable for the freight in their business units.

“They are running with it,” Larance says. “We also have specific goals set for them. Previously, we had generic targets, but they did not know how to impact targets. With segregation, you know exactly what you have to do. What we have seen is an increase in performance.”

TSMT, which has offices in Joplin, Mo., and Glendale, Ariz., monitors its performance using McLeod’s Vital Signs BI tool. As part of Larance’s responsibilities, he monitors real-time performance metrics for deadhead, rate per mile, revenue per truck and more.

All of these and other key metrics are displayed on big screens in the operations room.


Gearing up on maintenance: U.S. Xpress uses data to keep assets out of the shop

By Aaron Huff

With BI, all of the information that U.S. Xpress managers in maintenance and operations need to do their jobs is available in a few mouse clicks.

On every desktop PC in the IT department of U.S. Xpress is a wallpaper image with a high-tech truck and a slogan: Technology and Business, Together We Deliver.

Prior to 2016, the company’s maintenance and operations departments needed some help from IT. Managers in both departments lacked visibility as to why trucks were going beyond their promised due dates in the shop, as well as other factors that hurt asset utilization.

In 2015, Jeff Seibenhener, chief information officer, began working on a project with Gerry Mead, senior vice president of fleet maintenance, to create a new suite of reports to provide real-time visibility of metrics for asset availability, utilization, velocity, throughput and more.

To develop the system, Seibenhener and his IT department used the Microsoft BI stack to build the data warehouse, data cubes and analytical processes necessary to take transactional data from various sources and transform it into intelligent and consumable information.

The information is delivered to users through a web-based Microsoft SharePoint interface. The online reports help users at all levels “quickly understand if we are winning or losing,” Seibenhener says.

The reports have helped the maintenance department find ways to decrease costs and increase uptime and asset availability. All of this gives operations the opportunity to generate more revenue and eliminate disruptions for drivers.

“We are driving that business efficiency and managing both equipment and people really fast,” Mead says.

“You’ve got to be able to move, shoot and communicate. If you are sitting there building reports and then having to analyze it, you just used up a whole bunch of time.”

– Gerry Mead, senior VP of fleet maintenance, U.S. Xpress

A Tractor Velocity report shows the number of trucks, by division, that have been in the shop for more than 24 hours. Users can click on a number to find out why the truck is in the shop and take action to improve efficiency.

Another report, Standard Repair Times, shows how efficiently the shops are completing repairs. Each type of repair is represented by a green, yellow or red stoplight icon that indicates how the average repair time is trending in relation to the fleet’s SRT.

“We don’t want report builders, we want true analysts,” Seibenhener says.

For Mead, one of the most important reports shows failures that occur between preventive maintenance events. The company’s trade cycle for tractors is 500,000 miles, and it schedules a PM service every 50,000 miles to change oil, fuel filters and more.

With BI, managers in maintenance and operations no longer have to search or ask for answers. All of the information they need to do their jobs and accomplish the company’s goals is available in a few mouse clicks.

“You’ve got to be able to move, shoot and communicate,” Mead says. “If you are sitting there building reports and then having to analyze it, you just used up a whole bunch of time.”


Scoring drivers: Fleets can answer the question ‘What makes a good driver?’

By Aaron Huff

Paper Transport used BI to create a custom mobile app and a scorecard to give its drivers a daily snapshot of their safety and fuel behavior scores.

Many mobile fleet management systems come with driver scorecard applications. By connecting to the vehicle’s electronic control module, these systems capture safety and fuel behaviors, score them and show drivers how they stack up against the rest of the fleet.

Paper Transport, a Green Bay, Wis.-based dry van carrier with 570 trucks, wanted to create a driver scorecard that showed more information than what was being captured by their trucks’ ECMs.

Peter Covach, IT systems analyst at Paper Transport, led the development of a custom Android mobile app and a scorecard feature to give its drivers a daily snapshot of their scores in four categories: safety, production, equipment and administration.

The custom app uses real-time information from the fleet’s XRS mobile platform from Omnitracs. It also imports information from the fleet’s TMS system.

“Our scorecard used to be very high-level and didn’t have detail,” Covach says.

“Drivers would only get a score 30 days later. With the new iteration, we are able to download, validate and display that data to drivers in a timely manner. Now drivers actually believe what is coming out of their scores. It has really been driving our driver behavior, which is fantastic.”

“Now drivers actually believe what is coming out of their scores. It has really been driving our driver behavior, which is fantastic.”

– Peter Covach, IT systems analyst, Paper Transport

Companies can use BI products to create these types of robust driver scorecards using data from multiple systems. The TMW Data Warehouse platform comes with built-in integrations with PeopleNet and TMW Systems’ suite of products.

Fleets that use TMW Data Warehouse have their data from PeopleNet and TMW products in a single location. By using a report builder called TMW Data Warehouse Explorer, driver scorecards can be created by selecting the data sources from different categories and building metrics.

Brian O’Sickey, a senior business intelligence analyst at TMW Systems, recently presented a webinar to explain the process of using Explorer to create a driver scorecard.

Using the Trip Details data source, O’Sickey showed how a user can select revenue, dispatch mileage (loaded, empty and hub miles), pickups, deliveries and other driver-related data points. He used a Calculation Builder feature in the report palette to show how users can create custom metrics by entering formulas that weigh each metric to create an overall score.

The report palette has features to sort metrics and add color-coded visual cues to help identify top performers and trending patterns.

A common setup is to have a scorecard dashboard in the left quadrant of a screen that shows a ranked list of drivers by their overall scores in their peer groups. The screen’s remaining real estate can be filled with charts and graphs to show data trends.

Users also can create drill-down reports to view historical details for any metric in the scorecard.


A clearer picture: Video telematics systems improve driver coaching effectiveness

By Aaron Huff

Cypress Truck Lines’ management team developed a robust driver coaching program using SmartDrive’s video-based insights.

In terms of data quality, perhaps nothing is more definitive than having actual video footage.

A fast-growing number of fleets now are using technology that combines video with telematics data and BI to assess driver performance based on incidents such as hard braking or sudden swerving.

Lytx has loaded its DriveCam Enterprise Workspace online portal with BI tools designed to simplify the workflow for driver coaching to change behaviors. The portal’s goal is to create “more results with less effort,” says Brandon Nixon, chairman and chief executive officer of Lytx.

With DriveCam Enterprise Workspace, coachable events and other information are presented using objects called “cards” that show a lot of data in a simple way.

A Driver Profile screen gives managers more context and information to be effective coaches and to track that effectiveness.

“We used a lot of behavioral science in the design, not only to get drivers to change but also to get coaches to do the things we want them to do in a meaningful way,” says Kristin Costas, product lead at Lytx.

“We used a lot of behavioral science in the design, not only to get drivers to change but also to get coaches to do the things we want them to do.”

– Kristin Costas, product lead, Lytx

Categories of risky observable behaviors are assigned a time-weighted score for the last 30 days. The points system shows the relative collision risks of behaviors based on Lytx’ ongoing analysis of its 70 billion-plus miles of observable driving data.

The company’s data show the importance of reducing incidents of drivers not wearing seatbelts. Drivers who don’t wear seatbelts are 3.4 times more likely to be involved in a collision, according to Lytx.

Cypress Truck Lines, a family-owned and -operated flatbed carrier based in Jacksonville, Fla., adopted the SmartDrive video-based safety platform in 2012 to improve safety and gain a deeper understanding of the overall risk for its 500 power units that operate in the eastern half of the United States.

The SmartDrive program identifies unsafe driving with an open platform that captures video, vehicle, audio and driving data and automatically offloads footage for expert review and analysis.

Cypress’ management team has developed a robust driver coaching program using SmartDrive’s insights. Because footage and analysis is provided in real time, coaches can sit down with drivers on an as-needed individual basis.

The fleet has created a safety bonus program using the SmartDrive safety scores of each driver. Drivers can track their personal scores on a mobile app.

Since adopting the SmartDrive program and providing ongoing evidence-based coaching to drivers, Cypress’ safety score has improved by 80 percent, and the fleet also has reduced instances of exceeding its maximum speed by 100 percent. Cypress also credits the technology for improving seatbelt use dramatically and reducing instances of cellphone use and distracted driving.

Make your ELD decision Make your ELD decision
MANDATE DEADLINE IS COMING. Make your ELD decision