Big data. You’ve most likely heard the term being thrown about in serious-sounding and technical conversations about business management. Talked about as the next big thing, the key to competitive advantage for the modern business.

Is it truly the secret to future success for your business, or should it be ignored as simply another passing fad designed to hook the unwary?

The answer lies in having a balanced view of how big data relates to the actual running of your business.

Understanding Big Data – In Simple Terms

Without overcomplicating things, big data is about using the huge amount of data that businesses generate every day more fully. It can be used in a number of helpful ways including:

  • Predict business trends (internally and externally)
  • Analyze customer behavior and preferences
  • Understand what is really happening in your fleet
  • Combine data across several sources to identify trends
  • Getting a more accurate overview of industry trends

It’s called big data as it refers to a mass of data that is too big for a standard desktop computer to process on its own. It is generally handled by a cluster of powerful web servers, such as the cloud computers that run the Telogis platform.

Is this the end of small data?

The trends towards big data in no way implies that small data is dead. They share many similarities and are both very useful in their own right. Think of it this way: you’re lost in the jungle and need to find a way out. You decide to climb a tree to scout for the best way forward. You can choose to climb a smaller tree (small data), or you could scale a really big tree (big data) to get the 50,000 foot view, which allows you to see much farther but with less detail.

When it comes to the jungle of business operations, these smaller trees are no less important for painting a detailed picture of the road immediately ahead but with the advent of cloud computing and integrated SaaS solutions such as Telogis Fleet the big trees are now climbable for even small business owners.

This is allowing business owners to tap into new data metrics previously unavailable, augmenting their existing small data analysis.

Big data offering new cost-saving insights

Back in 2011, ARI partnered with Telogis to handle the huge amount of data generated by the 860,000 vehicles under their direct management and another 1.8 million being managed by partners and affiliates. Since that time ARIs CIO, Steve Haindl and his team have worked hard to capitalize on the power of big data.

In an article for Forbes, Haindl illustrates how data is helping them make smarter decisions with the example of a vehicle needing a minor repair, which sounds simple enough but as Haindl points out there are “a host of questions [that] must be considered. Should we do a minimum repair or a maximum repair? What is the economic impact of the downtime for the vehicle? What other repairs or maintenance are needed on the vehicle? Should the vehicle or major systems in the vehicle be repaired or replaced? Which certified mechanics could perform the repair? What is the probability of failure before the next maintenance window? How long will it take to get the needed parts? Does the client want to minimize cost or downtime?”

In the past ARI would have passed all this data to an analyst to manually process and determine the best decision. Using big data they have automated the collection and processing of data, cutting the time to make a decision in half and saving large amounts on parts, including optimizing the metrics their clients deem most important.

The result has been the ability to quickly identify savings, and while those savings may be just a few dollars here or there when multiplied across their entire fleet has had a significant impact on their bottom line.

But what about smaller fleets, can they also benefit from the increased accessibility of big data?

How can smaller fleets use big data to improve fleet operations?

For all the theoretical discussion surrounding big data, what are some practical ways to apply the benefits of these new data metrics? Is it possible to make your business more efficient, productive or profitable using big data, without needing to be a data scientist?

The good news for busy fleet owners is that SaaS companies such as Telogis are continually looking for ways to harness the power of big data and make it more accessible to customers, from massive multinational fleets with over 50,000 assets to small fleets running just one or 2 vehicles.

In an article advocating big data, Ivey Business Journal suggested five ways it can be leveraged. Let’s look at how they apply to fleet operations.

  1. Makes data more transparent more easily – Data collection that was previously done manually, in standalone systems or paper-based is now collected electronically into a single system, saving time and improving the accuracy of data, such as with HOS compliance.
  2. Uncover hidden trends – Data that might have historically been kept in separate data silos may now be available for analysis. Which delivery routes are the most costly? Compare the time the route is taken with traffic congestion. What factors contribute to good on-time starts or deliveries? Using Plan vs. Actual reports compare variations to the plan to find out the cause.
  3. Better segmentation of customer base – How do you group your customers? Some fleets have arbitrary territories, which are modeled on outdated zones. Tools such as Telogis Territory allow you to tap into big data to create smart territories based on both geographic and non-geographic factors.
  4. Minimize risk – Reducing your exposure to risk is increasingly vital for today’s fleets and tapping into big data can help fleet owners improve safety standards, proactively coaching drivers and targeting specific behavioural issues. Over time that big data related to a fleet’s safe driving record can be used to make significant savings on commercial insurance premiums.
  5. Plan better for the future – The biggest mistake you can make from mistakes is to not learn from them. Having direct access to past business decisions and monitoring their effects can assist fleet owners to make smarter decisions in the future. Should you buy the same make or model of a particular fleet vehicle? Easily review total ownership costs, warranty claims, asset utilization and productivity to determine if it compares well with other vehicles in your fleet.

Big data isn’t a fad but it’s not something that fleet owners need to get bogged down with. Telogis are continually developing tools that make it easy to solve the hard problems, tapping into the vast array of big data they process every minute (over 13 billion data points were processed in 2013 alone) and massaging it into a format that helps you make smarter decisions and run a more profitable fleet.