The Electronic Logging Data (ELD) mandate, Hours of Service (HOS), Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMSCA’s) safety scores; It is clear that owning a truck fleet comes with compliance challenges.
The Internet of Things, predictive analytics, new BI platforms; It is also clear the external IT environment presents opportunities. How are new capabilities in IT solutions being leveraged to meet fleet compliance and safety challenges?
The FMCSA mandate that fleets are currently most focused on involves electronic logging devices (ELDs). ELDs will replace paper logbooks. An ELD is a device that synchronizes with a vehicle’s engine to automatically record driving time. This will enable more accurate hours of service (HOS) reporting. FMCSA has mandated a compliance date of December 2017 for most commercial trucks.
Ken Wood, the EVP of Product Management at Descartes, said fleet owners should ask, “If I have to be compliant, what benefits beyond compliance can I get with an ELD solution?” Descartes (Nasdaq:DSGX) provides on-demand, software-as-a-service, supply chain solutions – including routing, mobility, and telematics solutions that run on the same platform. While an integrated solution can provide opportunities for significant operational savings, Mr. Wood also points to potential insurance savings that can be garnered through safer driver behaviors. Carriers can either share driver data with insurance companies when negotiating rates. Or carriers with GPS/telematics data that proves safe driving behaviors can work directly with insurance companies that have low cost insurance in place for such fleets .
In transportation, the Internet of Things (IoT) is nothing new. Fleets, for example, have been using telematics solutions for many years. Telematics solutions can capture engine data to indicate when equipment is becoming unsafe to operate. In other industries, the use of IoT data for predictive maintenance is cutting edge. Robust predictive maintenance solutions have existed in fleet telematics for many years.
But these predictive maintenance capabilities are continuing to advance. Public cloud solutions, which can analyze the data of all their customers while protecting customer identities, have advantages in this area. James Stevenson, a Vice President at TMW Systems, says TMW is launching their big data platform this year. TMW Systems is an end-to-end solution provider for private fleets, carriers, brokers and 3PLs. Their BI platform will synchronize mobile communication data with information from fleet maintenance software in order to make specific model and equipment maintenance predictions. For example, according to Stevenson, “A specific truck alerting on a certain set of fault codes that analysis shows – based on the history of other trucks of this model – indicates you should look at getting an alignment or you’ll have to prematurely replace the brake pads.”
Kevin Haugh, Chief Strategy and Product Officer for Omnitracs, says their company is investigating over the air vehicle engine setting updates. These updates would change the set points for vehicles based on where trucks are operating. “So if a truck enters a mountainous area, for example, automatically changing gearing and engine settings to account for grades and thinner air.”
A variety of hardware and mobile devices are used for routing, tracking, and customer service. Kevin Pasternack, a vice president in the transportation division at HighJump, talked about the importance of non-display alerting for these devices. HighJump, a supply chain solutions provider, offers a mobile resource management solution called SkyTrack Mobile that provides verbal information on a new load or load update on the driver’s android device. Avoiding distracted driving is a basic idea, but many truck applications still do a poor job in this area.
In addition to the ELD mandate, companies with truck fleets need to comply to FMCSA’s Safety Management System (SMS). The SMS’s BASICs (Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories) scoring has been a point of contention for years. BASICs are the seven categories the FMCSA uses to measure safety performance and create monthly driver and company safety scores. For liability reasons, shippers and brokers are increasingly reluctant to tender to carriers with poor safety scores.
What has existed for a few years are transportation management systems (TMS) that integrate to the government’s BASICs database – or third party CSA databases like Vigillo – and update their fleet clients on how they as a company and specific drivers in their fleet stand on these scores. One reason to work with a third party solution like Vigillo’s is that the solution gathers inspections and violations as drivers report them from the field. These master lists can then be compared to inspection reports automatically downloaded daily from the FMCSA database and identify erroneous data that got entered into the government’s database.
But in addition to an up to date understanding of BASICs scores, and being able to correct errors, what about predicting what your BASICs scores will be? I interviewed Todd Bucher, a Vice President with responsibility for developing MercuryGate’s MercuryFleet solution, about their product development in this area. MercuryGate provides cloud based TMS solutions. Mr. Bucher told me that MercuryGate is developing capabilities to leverage the algorithms used by the Driver Safety Management System to predict driver scores before they are recorded in the FMCSA database. In this way fleet managers will be able to proactively address these issues by working with drivers before their scores deteriorate to unacceptable levels. The product delay for MercuryGate is that FMCSA is redoing their safety rules, which is holding up development.
Clearly, coaching is one way of helping drivers. But what if you could actually apply route intelligence to proactively warn drivers they are entering a section of road where safety issues are particularly apt to arise? This was the question posed to me by Brett Conner, President of Isotrak North America. Isotrak is a provider of real time intelligence to drivers and fleets. Not only are they a fleet telematics company, they also consider themselves a business intelligence company.
Mr. Conner described a deep statistical analysis of a particular route, with a statistical curve showing how a particular driver is performing on a stretch of road compared to others. This would involve aggregating data by route from all their customers. “Imagine drivers on route 85 from Atlanta to Charlotte. Many different customers make this same trip,” Mr. Conner pointed out. “Imagine there is a sharp turn. Our BI solution would see the average truck speed on that turn. After aggregating the data, we’d be able to see the outliers.”
In conclusion, there is new functionality and interesting development occurring in the fleet solutions market. These solutions don’t need to be implemented just to secure compliance. The same solutions that protect drivers and the public can also save carriers money and improve service.