Big data by the truckload

Big data by the truckload

At a recent conference in the United Kingdom (UK), information was given on how the fleet industry is going to change dramatically with the advent of connected cars and the arrival of “big data”. A similar conference was held in Johannesburg two years ago. COLIN WINDELL explores the topic

The fleet industry is set to undergo a “massive revolution” with the introduction of the connected car and the arrival of so-called “big data”, while contract hire companies will transform into analytics businesses that lease vehicles.

This was the main message from the conference, but why is the UK important? In terms of the total percentage of new vehicles bought each year with some level of corporate funding, South Africa leads the field at more than 85 percent. The UK sits second on the list at around 52 percent, but it is way ahead if this figure is translated into unit volume terms.

Nevertheless, the South African fleet industry is a sophisticated entity, despite the fact South Africans still largely prefer vehicle ownership over full-maintenance leasing, and corporates therefore carry these depreciating assets on their books.

While there is a high level of sophistication – even for the “old school” fleet bosses still managing fleets on spreadsheets – the developments in technology are beginning to outpace some of the corporate thinking on vehicle management.

Nick Mitchell, Audi UK’s service and technical manager, said: “The arrival of the connected car will result in massive changes in the way people use cars as well as in the application and provision of cars. Technology will be updated before our eyes. We are about to go through a massive revolution.”

At the local conference – sponsored by Mercedes-Benz’s FleetBoard division – the two main themes around telematics were that it will be used as a predictive tool (rather than analysing what had already happened) and that there was still both resistance and confusion on the matter. The theme was the same in the UK.

The arrival of “big data” brings “transformational change” to contract hire and leasing companies. Craig McNaughton, corporate director of Lex Autolease, has forecast that data analysis will enable fleet owners to “predict the future” in terms of vehicle service, maintenance and repairs, as well as driver behaviour, thus taking away uncertainty for fleet operation.

This massive techno-shift is not localised. It is happening in South Africa, the UK, the United States (US), Europe, and wherever road transport and fleet management is required. Conferences come and go – and usually impart information to a small percentage of the actual target base, with an even smaller percentage actually implementing that knowledge.

The comments made at the local conference still hold true and are worth repeating as a reminder to fleet operators that they will have to embrace and deal with these changes and the new technology that comes with them.

Fleet expert and managing director of DPS South Africa, Charel Schickerling, said telematics was just one element of fleet management, adding: “Some telematics suppliers do not fully understand all the ways in which it could be applied – and they need to, so they can impart this to their customers. Telematics systems today are extremely sophisticated.”

Kim Anderson, from T-Systems, says: “Everything that can ‘talk’ to something else on a digital platform, will do so; everything that can be digitised will be. That is the point. The information is out there; it is how we manage and interpret it that counts.”

He pointed out that some modern cars have seven times more software on board than a Boeing 787 and it is not uncommon for company IT departments to run at just ten percent of the purchased computing capacity.

“Some 85 percent of IT spend is ‘non-differentiating’ to the company and lies dormant as data records. It is time to move up to systems of engagement (such as Twitter and Facebook) and systems of intelligence comprising connected real-time information, automated machine learning and predictive analysis,” he said.

David Lubinsky, a director of Opsi Systems, reminded us that the cellphone has been the single most disruptive piece of technology ever, and has turned the entire world “upside down”.

“The cellphone and the constant flow of data have made a lot of things possible,” he said. “On any large truck there are probably five or more SIM cards for engine and driver management, manufacturer data collection, hijack and theft systems, route management (GPS) and the driver’s cellphone.

“This means it is now possible to create a closed circle of management with the ability to schedule many vehicles and jobs (including next-day planning of all available jobs and adding jobs as they happen), plan and execute real-time events and provide a dashboard summary by vehicle, trip and job.

“The second is the mobile phone where an app (which is tightly integrated with a scheduler), can manage complex workflows, navigation, handle calls and add vehicle stops dynamically.

“The next element is monitoring, where all mobile events are displayed at head office and show start of day, workflow events at stops, end of day, delivery items and proof-of-delivery notes. There is live tracking of all vehicles, along with planned and actual locations of all events.

“The final part of the system is to have a workflow editor and to customise the application (by depot and stop type) in a way that makes it simple to input information onto a form that can be quickly printed or emailed.”

Highly significant in the South African context is the fact that 67 percent of drivers are willing to change their behaviour. This is the highest percent of all countries surveyed by Towers Watson UK.

Presenting the findings, actuarial consultant for the company, Bhavisha Goolab, said: “We surveyed 100 000 individuals in the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Canada, Brazil and South Africa in 2013 and 2014.”

While primarily interested in insurance, Goolab says: “This is powerful, because it means that, if implemented properly, in South Africa telematics could have a very significant effect on a portfolio if risky behaviour is accurately identified and improved upon.

“And to be able to identify and feed the effects of this risky behaviour back to drivers, data then becomes key and the foundation of telematics itself.”

Peter Olyott, chief executive officer of Indwe Risk Services, said user-based insurance is going to become more prevalent and telematics will enable insurers to instantly update rates based on usage – so trucks experiencing downtime will get lower premiums until they are back on the road again.

The advent of the connected vehicle will enable drivers to download functionality that physically changes a model’s characteristics and specification with a huge potential impact in numerous areas of fleet operations.

Sharing and using personal-vehicle user data is a big issue and many leading lawyers have advised businesses to update employment contracts, terms and conditions and codes of conduct to reflect the new world of “big data”.

Huge amounts of data will be generated and what happens to that data is the question. It is crucial to ensure it is being ethically handled. Fleet operators need to plan how they will use that information and must inform their employees.

Today’s connectivity is the start of the journey towards the autonomous vehicle and, while the secure exchange of data builds the foundations for new business activities and applications, there are significant risks and challenges regarding safety, security and privacy that need to be addressed.

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Focus on Transport

FOCUS on Transport and Logistics is the oldest and most respected transport and logistics publication in southern Africa.
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