Fleets can realize much more than compliant logs by mining the data their ELDs provide them.

Fleets can realize much more than compliant logs by mining the data their ELDs provide them.

Photo: Verizon Connect

More efficient dispatching and vehicle utilization, improved customer service and driver satisfaction, better maintenance practices… and by the way, hours-of-service compliance. Those are the advantages realized by fleets that adopted mobile communications, telematics and automated logging systems well before the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration released its mandate requiring carriers to use electronic logging devices for HOS compliance.

Compliance wasn’t the driving factor for these fleets. “Historically, we’ve never sold compliance,” says Eric Witty, vice president of product for Trimble’s Transportation Division. “We sold a full-featured telematics solution, and it just so happens that compliance was something that came along with that.”

These fleets invested early in mobile communications to improve dispatch and later in automated logging applications and automatic onboard recording devices to combine vehicle and driver data in ways that improved their operations.

The ELD mandate now gives all fleets the opportunity to reap these same benefits by mining and analyzing their ELD data. Like any mining operation, you need tools to unearth the true nuggets. An ELD device alone will only make you compliant – but it does provide the raw material you need to start mining.

An ELD records date, time, location information, engine hours, vehicle miles, and driver and motor carrier identification information. Under FMCSA guidelines, it does not have to record vehicle speed, engine diagnostics, or any other vehicle information outside what is required for HOS compliance. It does not have to be integrated with a telematics system, as long as it’s capable of “local” data transfer via USB or Bluetooth.

To realize the greatest benefit, fleets should use a mobile communications system and integrated transportation management system, but even without those systems, the data can still be put to work.

ELD data combined with vehicle performance information and other data such as weather and...

ELD data combined with vehicle performance information and other data such as weather and traffic conditions help fleets make better dispatch decisions.

Photo: Jim Beach/Omnitracs

Simple solutions

While importing ELD data into your TMS, along with information such as engine and driver performance information (speed, hard braking, diagnostics, etc.) allows for more sophisticated analysis, there are simpler ways to mine ELD data.

After all, the devices provide “a large bunch of data,” says Lauren Domnick, senior director of analytics for Omnitracs. And for the most part, that data is “unbiased and standardized. It is what it is. You are either driving or not driving,” she explains. A simple way fleets can use that data to better manage drivers is “capturing wasted time,” non-driving time, time spent loading/unloading and other delays that eat into driving time. “You can look at where these events are taking place,” she says. If you notice you have drivers waiting at one location for an inordinate amount of time, “maybe it’s time to reach out to that location or the drivers to find out why.” That’s a pretty simple way to use ELDs to improve business.

For those new to ELDs who have not seen the data before, Domnick recommends “getting your hands dirty with the data.” Most organizations have people able to pull data into an Excel spreadsheet. Use the ELD data to make some simple charts and graphs that show where your trucks travel, how long they wait, etc.

Jay Delaney, senior director, product management, for Trimble’s Transportation Division, says a simple benefit is gaining logged minutes that were previously rounded-up on a paper log. In an earlier job with a carrier that was one of the early adopters of telematics-aided dispatch, he says, the company was “surprised we could see operational gains” from their automated logging devices’ accuracy. With paper logs, if a driver took a 20-minute break, he logged 30 minutes, the nearest quarter-hour increment. The ELD shows the actual time the driver was on break. “Over a week that kind of time adds up,” he says, noting that was just one example.

“Tracking idle time is another straightforward metric to gather that can have an impact on fuel efficiency, which affects a fleet’s bottom line,” says Adam Bruttell, vice president of sales and marketing (North America) at MiX Telematics.

Scott Sutarik, associate vice president, commercial vehicles, Geotab, recommends that fleets that have not deployed these types of technologies in the past should focus on only a couple of operational areas to start off, rather than try to address a host of things at once. He recommends automated fuel tax reporting, for instance, as a good place to start, since there are a number of vendors offering that service. Don’t try to take on too much at once, he says. “It’s a crawl before you walk kind of thing.”

Integrating ELD data with other operational data

Striking gold

Some of the nuggets that can be mined from ELD (and other) data.

● Real-time insight into HOS

● Improved customer service

● More accurate delivery planning and forecasting

● Monitoring driver safety

● Creating a positive driver experience

● Vehicle performance metrics

● Maintenance planning / scheduling

● Driver Retention

Integrating ELD data with telematics and dispatch information takes the mining operation a step farther and opens new areas for finding operational improvements.

MiX’s Bruttell notes that fleets can use ELD data “to measure fuel consumption and plot it by month alongside distance driven and also by vehicle type so they can benchmark individual vehicle performance.”

The data can be used to create things such as movement reports, charting which assets made a movement from one location to another within a certain time frame. Daily trip reports can chart driving time and idle time by driver or vehicle.

Analyzing the data leads to better dispatching decisions, says Dustin Strickland, software product manager, McLeod Software. “We have started to see fleets realize significant benefits by using the information about a driver’s available HOS in conjunction with their current position and the demands of potential next loads,” he says. When you throw in factors such as traffic and weather, “planners can always set their drivers up for success.”

Trimble’s Delaney agrees. “Why give a driver a load they can’t execute? This data gives you the ability to avoid that.”

Konexial’s My20 Tower, an enterprise fleet management system based on its My20 ELD telematics technology, gives fleets real-time data on all trucks and drivers on the road, using that ELD data to enable dynamic load matching.

“I'm able to track and gather full diagnostic reports on my assets at all times,” says Ron Greenleaf, owner of Greenleaf Transport, a small Tennessee-based fleet that uses the My20 Tower. “Getting real-time data has made a tremendous difference — I get accurate information on my drivers and equipment every minute that they’re out on the road.”

ELD data combined with other operation information can make fleets more accurate in planning and forecasting, says Ozzie Flores, safety and compliance product manager, Teletrac Navman. “ELDs provide location start time, end time and time on-site data points,” he says. Fleets can use that data for insight into delivery windows, on-time delivery percentages, and missed delivery windows. That information can then be used to develop baseline metrics for determining how efficiently the operation is running and point out areas that need improvement.

Driver behavior can be monitored. “Not only are fleet managers collecting compliance data, but also driver behavior data,” says David Van Dorselaer, GM industry solutions – manufacturing, AT&T Business. “All of this data is then used by fleet managers to help optimize daily routes, predict maintenance issues, decrease idling costs, and improve driver performance.”

Taking things a step further, ELD data can be aggregated with other operational data for analytics purposes. Omnitracs’ Domnick notes that its predictive solution uses ELD data and a variety of additional data points to predict which drivers may be most likely to have an accident, allowing fleet managers the time to reach out to those drivers for additional coaching.

“Maintenance is a big area where fleets can make use of the data,” Witty adds. When coupled with engine data such as fault codes and business analytics, drivers don’t have to call in to say there is a warning light on – the system has already alerted managers to the problem. “Now, faults come in all the time, and the analytics allow fleets to search for patterns.” That data can then be used to automatically schedule work orders.

When ELD devices are integrated with a carrier’s mobile communications and dispatch systems,...

When ELD devices are integrated with a carrier’s mobile communications and dispatch systems, back office personnel can see easily track a driver’s available hours.

Photo courtesy of Trimble Transportation

Measuring the ROI

There is no shortage of ELDs on the market from which fleets can choose, from simple, single-function devices that meet only FMCSA requirements to more robust, full-featured telematics systems that can integrate with any and all sensors on a truck or trailer. The price range is varied. What’s the best bet? For a single-truck operation, a simple device will work fine. After all, you are only tracking one truck and one driver and all you want is to be compliant. Even smaller fleets may be fine with single-function devices, depending upon their operation.

But larger fleets find that the reporting and analytics capability are often more important than the compliance part of their system, in terms of operational efficiencies.

For the single-truck operation, an ELD lessens the likelihood of getting cited for a log violation, which will save money.

For the more robust systems that include analytics and other reporting capabilities, more efficient dispatching, improved customer service and safety and better driver retention are all things that add to the bottom line.

“If you can prevent just one accident a year, that alone can pay for the technology,” Domnick notes.

“The near-real-time data available to fleet managers gives them visibility into driver status so they can schedule work more efficiently and remain compliant. It also gives fleet managers the tools to better manage drivers and their day-to-day operations,” says Owen Dodd, product marketing manager at Verizon Connect.

Plus, ELDs – even simple ones – help drivers by eliminating paperwork, thereby creating a more positive work experience, Flores adds. ELDs can reduce errors and allow drivers more time to focus on other tasks.

McLeod’s Strickland says fleets can realize payback in a few areas, such as monitoring loads and flagging potential problems early enough that they can be addressed; proactively managing detention problems; understanding which shippers or consignees are repeat offenders in terms of detention, and understanding what it actually takes in terms of time and miles to service specific customers on specific freight lanes.

All of that technology has costs, but it’s well worth it if you unearth those valuable nuggets that help your business run more efficiently.

About the author
Jim Beach

Jim Beach

Technology Contributing Editor

Covering the information technology beat for Heavy Duty Trucking, Jim Beach stays on top of computer technology trends from the cab to the back office to the shop, whether it’s in the hand, on the desk or in the cloud. Covering trucking since 1988.

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