The data each fleet should track will depend on its operation and business goals. Focus on your needs to reduce data overload.  
 -  Photo courtesy of Getty Images

The data each fleet should track will depend on its operation and business goals. Focus on your needs to reduce data overload. 

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

As a fleet manager, you know all about the mountain of data available to you with even the most basic tracking and reporting systems. With all of this data, it can be tough to determine where to start and what information is the most important. 

In part one of this two-part series, subject-matter experts share information related to how to understand and gather the right data for your truck fleet. 

Top Fleet Analytical Data Points to Look For

Before even starting to gather and analyze your data, first be sure you know exactly what the goal and mission of your company is and how fleet supports that mission. 

“Fleet managers need to ensure they have an understanding of company goals and priorities and then sort their data to match. With that in mind, they can prioritize data around uptime, maintenance cost, depreciation, operating expenses (insurance, compliance), and market presence (driver retention, advertising, etc.),” said Jake Civitts, director of franchise operations for PacLease. 

It can be hard to narrow down the information needed, but if you keep your fleet goal in mind it’s easier. 

“Look at data relative to initiatives such as safety, productivity, cost, and compliance. Some frequently monitored data points can include fuel consumption, frequency and timing of vehicle maintenance, and driving behaviors including harsh braking or idling, to not only ensure safe driving but also avoid related consequences of unsafe driving like collisions and additional wear and tear on brakes and tires. This is really the tip of the iceberg but a good place to start for a new user. The results are fairly immediate and a positive financial impact can be seen quickly,” said Sara Sweeney, senior product manager, connected vehicle, for Wheels Inc.

Additional data points that should be top of mind for most fleets include any cost-related data. 

“Cost per mile and cost per engine hour is important. Cost per engine hour is especially helpful when vehicles are stationary but running,” said Ken Gillies, senior truck consultant for Element Fleet Management. 

Added items include replacement and maintenance. 

“The top three areas fleet managers should pay attention to are vehicle replacement rate, preventive maintenance compliance (looking for consistent lube/oil/filter service), and utilization based on gallons burned per unit and/or miles driven,” said Greg Raven, director, business intelligence and analytics for ARI. 

Idle time also tops the list of important data points, especially for truck fleets. 

“The top data points that light-, medium-, and heavy-duty truck fleet managers should pay attention to are driver behavior and idle time,” said Jason Boyd, vice president of sales – truck services for Donlen.

But remember, the data you track will depend on your operation. 

“At Penske, we’re very focused on the health of the vehicle, so diagnostic data is top-of-mind. Diagnostic trouble fault codes and various other engine parameters are of high interest to our maintenance and service teams. A fleet will likely be more interested in vehicle locations, delivery ETAs, driver performance, etc.,” said Bill Combs, director of connected fleet, Penske Truck Leasing. 

All maintenance-related data is very important to help keep costs and downtime under control. Preventive maintenance data can make a big difference when paid attention to. 

“Tracking preventive maintenance compliance is considered a best practice in mitigating catastrophic engine failures and reducing total incurred maintenance spend,” said Dale Mottram, strategic consultant for Merchants Fleet Management. “Understanding the percentage of the total incurred maintenance spend that is driven by non-preventive services can help determine overall health of the current fleet and uncover potential areas of opportunity.”

A top cost for fleets is fuel. Tracking data related to cost and use can be helpful. 

“Most electronic logging devices (ELDs) have great dashboard and reporting tools that provide visibility into driver activities that can negatively impact fuel consumption including excess idling, speeding, and aggressive acceleration. Monitoring driver performance in these areas, paired with ongoing driver coaching, provide great savings with little additional investment of time or resources. Curbing these habits in drivers can also help reduce the likelihood of them getting into an accident,” said David Ward, director of telematics & connected technologies for Ryder System, Inc. 

On more point to monitor is vehicle utilization. 

“Utilization and associated spare truck ratio are also important. Spare count is driven by how specialized the work performed is. While rentals can help, consider the time that may be required to transfer tools and equipment,” Gillies added. 

As with just about every aspect of fleet management, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to data analytics

“It boils down to what is important to the business and the culture of the fleet as to what is important for optimization.  Obviously, safety is the No. 1 priority and the data around that is paramount. But, if a fleet is in support of a large company objective, such as the uptime of a crane, then the optimization needs to be in line with that,” said Civitts of PacLease.

Top Ways to Optimize Data

Gathering all of the data you possibly can certainly allow you to analyze any information you could need related to your fleet, but too much data can be more of a curse than a blessing. Optimizing the data you gather can help ensure you get the most of out of every piece of information you gather.

“As my colleague Charlie Guthro, VP of global strategic services at ARI said, there are four key pillars to successful asset management. He coined the phrase ‘buy right, repair right, replace right, drive right’ to help fleet managers prioritize their methods for optimizing fleet operations,” said Raven of ARI. 

Raven explained that truck fleet managers can leverage data on vehicle and equipment performance to determine optimal fleet age. 

“That insight will help them ‘buy right’ to maintain a flatter, more predictable budget. They can use data analytics to ‘repair right’ by implementing a predict-and-prevent model for maintenance management rather than continuing to operate under a break-and-fix dynamic. Vehicle data can then help identify when repairs are no longer economical to help lead to better ‘replace right’ decisions and ensure replacement cycles align with budget goals and support broader corporate strategies. But, perhaps the most critical x-factor to the overall performance of the fleet is ‘drive right.’ Effectively monitoring driver behavior and deploying corrective driver training is vital to controlling costs,” Raven said.

Overall, data optimization goals can be categorized broadly into three categories: 

“The three most important areas of telematics-related fleet optimization are cost control, safety, and efficiency,” said Mike Pugh, corporate vice president for Enterprise Truck Rental. 

From there, subcategories come up, which can be further optimized depending on fleet goals. 

“Analyze cost trends and subcategories such as maintenance, fuel, accident damage, and more. It provides the ability to hone in on optimal replacement cycles for job-specific vehicles,” said Gillies of Element.

One of the top data pieces that can be optimized is driver performance and behavior-related information. 

“Data integration from telematics programs is proving to be a powerful tool in tracking driver behavior, improving overall fleet safety, reducing fleetwide fuel consumption, and improving preventive maintenance compliance,” said Mottram of Merchants Fleet Management.

For driver performance-related data, gather specific information to optimize productivity and easily track issues. Addressing several of these issues can result in not only increased safety but decreased costs as well. 

“Are drivers speeding, hard braking, optimizing MPG, etc.? Daily or weekly MPG scores alone can be a huge factor in returning value on the upfront investment of a telematics system,” said Combs of Penske Truck Leasing. 

It seems obvious, but safe driving is crucial to a successful fleet program. 

“Safe driving helps ensure employees get home at the end of the day and can deliver important goods and services to customers. It’s also a critical brand feature — you don’t want your corporate image tainted by someone driving poorly on the road in one of your vehicles. By monitoring for vehicle speed, seat belt usage, and aggressive driving, fleets can proactively identify behaviors that could lead to accidents and address issues directly with the employee,” said Sweeney of Wheels.  

Further, by addressing these events, fleets can optimize how the vehicle is being driven, which can extend the life of brakes and tires, which provides cost savings in a number of categories including safety, maintenance, and downtime, Sweeney added. 

With vehicle data — items such as overall mileage, idle time, fuel efficiency, number of stops, route planning, etc., are key points.  

“From these key points, you should be able to identify wasteful practices and opportunities for improvement. With financial data such as operating costs (tires, parts, insurance), vehicle depreciation or rental expense, and revenue generation (as appropriate) fleet managers can make decisions about what is driving the expense side of the business and evaluate what kind of returns they are getting from the eration of the fleet,” said Civitts of PacLease.  

Another way fleet managers can optimize their data for a higher return is through monitoring vehicle idling. 

“Idling is literally money being burned. But, it’s important for whoever is monitoring to understand how the vehicles are used because some applications may have valid reasons for idling. For example, sometimes a vehicle needs to idle to power equipment used to service a client, or a driver needs to idle to keep the vehicle cool in hot weather. In contrast, there are applications where idling a vehicle may just be a driver habit. By identifying and addressing the issues, fleets can quickly see a positive overall impact on fuel economy, CO2 emissions, and fuel spend,” Sweeney said.

Continuing with the concept of driver behavior is the ability for vehicle location, tracking, and performance data. 

“With performance data (on time deliveries, service level, route adherence, customer satisfaction, etc.) fleet managers can determine if they are accomplishing the overall business objectives or if they are not supporting and need to better advocate for more resources and or rebalance,” Civitts said.

This information can help a fleet increase their customer service. 

“The data can show when a truck was where. On-time departure, stops, and delivery schedules can be monitored extremely accurately with GPS tracking and telematics systems,” Combs said.

With time comes change and even further advancements. Complacency is the easiest way to fall way behind.  
 -  Photo courtesy of Getty Images

With time comes change and even further advancements. Complacency is the easiest way to fall way behind. 

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Route monitoring is one of the most commonly utilized pieces of data, but can also be one of the more complex pieces of data to properly gather and optimize.

“While route optimization can be fairly complex and often requires integration of a third-party service provider, route monitoring can be as simple as tracking for all vehicle stops greater than a certain number of minutes to identify unauthorized stops. Geofencing domicile location and customer locations can also help track for unauthorized stops. Route monitoring can be done with no additional software and can easily help fleet managers identify waste in their trucking operations.,” said Ward of Ryder. 

With ELD mandates, hours-of-service (HOS), and a host of other regulations truck fleets must be aware of, data is especially useful for compliance monitoring. 

“Compliance monitoring involves monitoring for drivers HOS. With the ELD mandate in full effect, non-compliant fleets are already feeling the pain of inspections resulting in fines, driver detentions, and out-of-service placements. Getting hit with any of these can impact fleet performance in a notable manner. Most ELD systems include reports, dashboards, tools, and alerts to help the fleet manager track and manage drivers and ensure they stay in compliance,” Ward said.

In addition, ensuring a compliant vehicle with electronic DVIR capabilities and tire pressure monitoring systems are a few examples of ways to ensure driver compliance and safety, according to Combs.

Vehicle data can also help optimize vehicle maintenance, including preventive maintenance to help reduce the occurrence of unscheduled maintenance and related vehicle downtime. 

“Poor preventive maintenance compliance is one of the largest catalysts for premature catastrophic engine and transmission failures. Leveraging real-time alerts and scheduled reporting to track and improve preventive maintenance compliance carries potential to reduce costly non-preventive maintenance spend and mitigate vehicle downtime as well as potential associated rental vehicle costs,” Mottram said. 

A tip for optimizing vehicle data for maintenance-related help is by consolidating information where possible. 

“Consolidate data on maintenance activity where the cost, supplier, and mileage are quickly accessible. This enables prevention of repair duplication and helps obtain warranty coverage. The availability of the detail helps minimize vehicle downtime,” Gillies said.

And, particular to truck fleets, light- and medium-duty truck fleets often have multiple drivers who are directly responsible for maintaining the vehicles. 

“Each driver may assume someone else is going to take care of the check engine light or the tire pressure light. By having alerts configured and a centralized repository to view any exceptions, fleets can ensure any maintenance issues are addressed promptly before they lead to a roadside event, major repair, or other inconvenience,” Sweeney said.

Additionally, truck fleets need the added capability of tracking vehicle use in different ways, including hours used. 

“With telematics, accurate scheduling of preventive maintenance by miles or hours is doable. Vehicle-in-motion characteristics such as harsh braking or cornering, speeding, and route optimization data are supported, enabling driver management,” Gillies said.

Data Analytics Advice from the Field

To best gather and optimize your data, there are a few tips from the field that will help. 

“First, pick a point in time and start fresh. Trying to go back and review months or years of data that may not have been looked at will only put you further behind as new data piles up. Just say to yourself, ‘Starting the 1st of next month, here’s what we’re going to do.’ And, stick to your plan,” said Sweeney of Wheels.

Next, don’t forget to leverage your available resources and those in the industry who understand data analytics the best. 

“A key role of a fleet management company is to help fleet managers understand what the key metrics are for their individual fleets and how they can drive meaningful business improvements. You don’t just want information from your fleet management company, you want knowledge and insight too,” said Raven of ARI.

It’s easy to get lost in the overall amount of information available. Don’t get lost in the raw data. 

“Take advantage of the built-in tools and take it one step at a time. Don’t try to set up too many reports, alerts, and dashboards all at once or you’ll feel overwhelmed. Master what’s needed as far as compliance is concerned, and then look at safety and fuel-efficient driver coaching. After that, seek to expand your use of the solution,” said Ward of Ryder.

In addition, don’t lose sight of your overall objectives. 

“Prioritize organizational objectives and don’t try to tackle everything on the list at once. Understand that not everyone needs to be a data expert and partnering with your fleet management company can provide tremendous value in aggregating the right level of data for your objective(s) while excluding extraneous data points not pertinent to the analysis at hand,” said Mottram of Merchants Fleet Management. 

Once you start to feel overloaded with data it can be difficult to unbury yourself.  

“My first advice would be to prioritize the various reports and data sources based on what has the most impact and is needed to meet minimum business objectives. For example, P&L statements, unit performance metrics, and other mission-critical reports that customers ask for should be first. Beyond that, extra reports that provide information on which you take no action should be eliminated, or reduced in frequency,” said Civitts of PacLease.  

The next step, according to Civitts, would be to jump into the data sources and understand where it is coming from. 

“For example, are engine hours from the engine control unit (ECU), from telematics, or from key on? Once you understand the sources determine what is needed to help improve the business and whether you have it in an actionable format, then work on improving those,” Civitts said.

Your data providers can also be of assistance in helping you create systems that will gather and pull the data you need for your fleet. 

“Utilize customized reporting dashboards to highlight and organize data into the three most important categories of cost control, safety, and efficiency,” said Pugh of Enterprise Truck Rental. 

And, when in doubt, don’t forget the experts are here to help. 

“Fleet managers can also leverage the data analysis with their chassis and upfit suppliers to enhance vehicle performance and minimize costs,” said Chad Christiensen, senior consultant for Element. “If your company uses a fleet management company, garner their help with drilling into the data to find developing trends and enable early intervention to avoid larger cost impacts.”

The Bottom Line

In the end, “you can’t manage what you can’t measure. Fleets of all sizes can benefit from using telematics,” said Pugh of Enterprise Truck Rental. 

But, the devil will always be in the details. And gathering the right information in the first place is important. 

“Think about what’s most important to your business, prioritize the use cases for which you hope to utilize data, and focus on getting the right information in the hands of the right people at the right time. Focus is really the key. Don’t try to track everything at once, or nothing will succeed,” said Combs of Penske Truck Leasing.

Through targeted data collection, the analyzing process becomes much easier. 

“With the immense volume of data available to fleet managers today, data overload isn’t probable, it’s inevitable. It is important to target the measurements that indicate the fleet’s overall performance. Many truck fleets can do this with just a handful of high-level metrics that are easy to understand,” said Raven of ARI.

And, similar to “you can’t manage what you can’t measure,” Christiensen of Element added that “properly targeted, data-driven changes generate data-proven advancements.”

Having access to robust data is a start, but being able to extract actionable insights from the data is what will set an operation apart. 

“Your scorecards and your key performance indicators (KPIs) should be based on your company-approved benchmarks and trends. Being able to tell the story to your leadership and get buy-in based on your data will help fleet managers optimize their truck fleet operations,” said Boyd of Donlen.

With time comes change and even further advancements. Complacency is the easiest way to fall way behind. 

“As telematics becomes more advanced and we’re able to apply more analytical tools to the ‘legacy’ data we’re all familiar with in fleet, we’re going to continue to identify new ways to optimize fleet operations. But, there’s no need to wait for that — there’s a plethora of potential with the tools in place today. Don’t hesitate to ask yourself or your provider how telematics could work for you,” said Sweeney of Wheels. 

About the author
Lauren Fletcher

Lauren Fletcher

Executive Editor - Fleet, Trucking & Transportation

Lauren Fletcher is Executive Editor for the Fleet, Trucking & Transportation Group. She has covered the truck fleet industry since 2006. Her bright personality helps lead the teams content strategy and focuses on growth, education, and motivation.

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