Ryder's Bill Dawson talks about data. Photo courtesy Today's Trucking

Ryder's Bill Dawson talks about data. Photo courtesy Today's Trucking

MISSISSAUGA, ON — More data is available to the trucking industry today than ever before in its history, to the point that data and maintenance have become integrally linked. But it will take time to figure out how to perfectly integrate this new sea of data into day-to-day business, says Bill Dawson, VP of maintenance operations and engineering for Ryder System Inc.

“This sea of data — this deluge of data — changes every day,” Dawson told attendees at the Canadian Fleet Maintenance Summit, ahead of Truck World in Mississauga. “They need to be able to mire through the noise; and it is noisy.”

Dawson quoted a popular IBM factoid that suggests most of the data that exists in today’s world was created within the last two years. In fact, data has become so widespread that understanding and making use of that data has shifted how industry technicians are celebrated these days, says Dawson. Whereas it used to be all about mechanical know-how, the individuals winning tech competitions in modern times are often the savviest in terms of tech and electronics, not just a wrench.

“They are on the younger side, and the best at managing information,” said Dawson, adding that it’s a divide that will only continue to grow.

For Ryder, Dawson’s dealing with some 180,000 fleet vehicles, 5,200 technicians and some 800 shops. It’s a long way from just a single truck when the company got underway in the 1930s. Now, about $1 billion each year is dedicated to Ryder’s maintenance costs,  Dawson said. With these kinds of numbers, data can be overwhelming.

“It’s hard to be nimble with that data when you’re as big as we are."

The data age is also beginning to connect the trucking industry in ways never seen before. Ryder has invested heavily in advance planning and scheduling for its some 40,000 customers, so they can use data to their advantage and increase uptime. It’s all about interpreting data so that service can be improved, whether it’s ordering in parts at the perfect time, or just having a better understanding of their lifespan.

“What all this does is facilitate a world with no unscheduled downtime,” says Dawson. “That’s the world we want.”

The next key is using that learned information to re-evaluate the way customers spec their vehicles.

With all the advances in technology, it can be tough to keep up with the latest breakthroughs, but even tougher to keep technicians equipped with the latest skillsets to handle that technology. Dawson estimates that his technicians receive about 40 hours of training per year.

“It’s just not enough,” he said, adding that additional training time for exhaust systems has become particularly crucial.

Dawson said the world has just scratched the surface when it comes to understand what’s possible not only with data, but technology in general. The concept of an uptime center may not exist in the future. Someday, he said, it may be just a truck, a driver, and data.

Corrected 12:25 EDT 4/18/2016 to change Ryder Systems to Ryder System.