The potential for big data to fundamentally change the way that businesses work is touted across many industries, and the trucking industry is no different. According to Iowa State University researchers, trucking companies stand to save billions annually if the industry can find a way to properly utilize the tremendous amount of real-time data that the U.S. and state Departments of Transportation collect.

How can real-time data help trucking companies save money?

By aiding fleets in avoiding highly congested areas, the state and federal Departments of Transportation’s collected data on interstate and highway operating conditions have the potential to dramatically improve fleet productivity. As noted by Dave Cantor, a supply chain management professor and one of the Iowa State researchers, steering clear of congestion, road work and accidents can help trucking companies boost on-line performance, ensure safer freight delivery, and reduce unnecessary idle time. All of these benefits directly translate into lower operating costs.
Flag of the United States Department of Transportation
However, while the various Departments of Transportation are already collecting this valuable traffic data, barriers still exist that prevent many trucking companies from taking advantage of it. In particular, smaller fleets have the biggest hurdle; the Iowa State researchers found that fleets of less than 100 trucks generally lacked either the manpower or the technology to retrieve and utilize the Department of Transportation’s data.

Besides issues with information distribution, problems coordinating the data itself still exist. Although individual Departments of Transportation collect data, there is little communication between different states. For the many fleets that travel beyond a single state’s borders, this fragmented information could end up containing a lot of holes that reduce efficiency gains.

What are some possible solutions for trucking fleets to access real-time data?

Researchers were able to identify several possible solutions to these data communication issues. The most promising fix involves the use of electronic logging devices. Since all trucks nationwide will be required to have an electronic logging device system installed by the end of 2017, information on road conditions could easily be disseminated to all trucking fleets via these devices. Individual state Departments of Transportation are also working on better information distribution systems; for example, Iowa is currently starting on development of an app or other readily-available communication system that would spread information more efficiently than electronic highway signs.

Indeed, the Iowa State researchers found that coordination between the data gatherers–namely, the various Departments of Transportation–was the biggest obstacle to full-scale utilization of real-time traffic data by trucking fleets. To that end, researchers put forward four key recommendations that they identified as most important to implementing a comprehensive real-time data solution: forging partnerships between Departments of Transportation in neighboring states, digging deeper into the potential cost savings of such a program, forming a coalition between government experts and industry leaders, and exploring potential partnerships with vendors.

Ultimately, a number of issues still need to be resolved before trucking fleets of all sizes can appropriately utilize real-time traffic data to boost their fleets’ productivity and realize the financial gains. However, Iowa State researchers have made a clear case for the benefits that big data can bestow on the trucking industry.

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