Operating a large commercial fleet generates a high volume of complex data. From fuel consumption and maintenance to licensing and compliance, managing a fleet either on the roads or rails entails thousands of inter-related data points that, if managed well, can significantly reduce a company’s bottom line expenditures.
Multiply this by hundreds of fleets — some with as many as 10,000 vehicles — operating simultaneously on a global scale, and you begin to have an idea of the amount of transactional data recorded and tracked by fleet management company ARI.
ARI manages the entire life cycle and operation of a fleet vehicle for its customers, from up-front specification and acquisition through resale. Its suite of services includes strategic consulting as well as risk management tools, such as driver safety training and accident management. ARI also maintains six call centers in North America that operate 24/7 365 days a year to support customers’ fleet operations by providing assistance regarding repairs, breakdowns, accident response, preventive maintenance, and other driver needs. Call center personnel handle roughly three and a half million calls a year from customers, drivers, and suppliers who expect access to real-time actionable information. To provide a level of service commensurate with customer expectations, ARI is focused on transforming the high volume of data it collects into real-time, actionable business intelligence (BI).
“It’s critical for us to be a solution partner and provider with our customers,” says Bob White, ARI’s Senior Vice President of Client and Fleet Services. “It’s one thing to be able to tell a customer exactly how much they spend on maintenance, which may help to identify potential problems, but to provide a truly impactful solution, you also need to help them understand trends and patterns. It’s important to collect robust data not just for the sake of collecting it, but to provide recommendations, best practices, and options to the customer base.”
The amount of data ARI collects can seem limitless. A fuel transaction that appears simple on the surface, for instance, has several data points in addition to the total sale, including state taxes paid, fuel grade, and time and place of purchase. Maintenance records are even more intricate. A simple brake job and preventive maintenance check-up could result in dozens of records created for each component that is serviced during that one visit. Each part and service performed on a vehicle is tracked and recorded using American Trucking Association codes to give the customer a detailed line-item expense report.
Acceleration with Fewer Stops
While customers always have expected detailed information about their fleet operations, until recently, ARI had limited capability to manipulate the data in order to spot trends and develop proactive solutions to any possible challenges the data might reveal. ARI offered itemized spend reports and other operational information formatted in simple spreadsheets, charts, or graphs — but had a persistent, enduring interest in trying to figure out how to better leverage that data to provide their customers with a more complete 360-degree view of their fleets.
“Over the last 15 years, we’ve spent a great amount of time, effort, and resources collecting comprehensive data for our customers, and we’d regurgitate it back to them in detail. But when it came down to trying to analyze the data to make recommendations or present options, it could only be achieved through significant amounts of grunt work or — more realistically — it wasn’t possible at all,” says White.
“It’s critical for us to be a solution partner and provider with our customers.”
— Bob White, Senior Vice President, Client and Fleet Services, ARI
As an SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence customer, ARI has had a BI platform in place for about 10 years, but aggregating data across its entire customer base wasn’t a feasible option. For instance, if ARI was running fleet operations for a pharmaceutical company, benchmarking that fleet’s performance against others in the industry was a manual, time-consuming process that often failed to deliver the level of insight ARI knew should be possible.
ARI’s transactional data for most fleet management operations was processed and stored on mostly homegrown applications written on non-SAP back-end infrastructure, which also integrated with accounting data stored on SAP BusinessObjects LiveOffice. For reporting, ARI depended on internal subject matter experts in various phases of fleet operations — which they called “reporting power users.”
“Every request, internally or externally, had to be funneled through this group of reporting power users,” White says. “You would put a request in for a report and it would come back in five days. If it generated more questions or you wanted to take a deeper dive, that reiteration would go back to the report writer for a change. The timeline for the entire analytical process was drawn out further and further, and the only way to keep up with the pace of growth of the data and its complexity was to add more resources into the funnel. We were always playing catch-up.”
The funnel was just as frustrating from an IT department perspective. ARI knew it needed to improve its IT infrastructure to more efficiently fulfill customers’ expectations.
“We took a long, hard look at our current infrastructure and knew it wasn’t up to par,” says Bill Powell, ARI’s Director of Information Systems. “We knew we wanted to do more to empower our customers and to empower us to make better decisions for our customers. We knew if we could integrate all of the data we were compiling, we could develop and offer more insightful, compelling analyses.”
Filling the Tank
Through an existing customer-facing dashboard called ARI insights®, which allows customers to see every facet of their fleet operations, including invoicing, the buying and selling of vehicles, and maintenance records, ARI knew that customers were most interested in looking at invoices and purchase order transactions, which they would then export and download into Microsoft Excel. Armed with this knowledge, ARI realized that it needed to create more tactical, strategic, and predictive reporting capabilities.
“We took a long, hard look at our current infrastructure and knew it wasn’t up to par.”
— Bill Powell, Director, Information Systems, ARI
After creating a business case and exploring various options, ARI implemented SAP BusinessObjects Explorer in mid-2011, giving customers more flexibility to access data and run their own reports. Then, at the beginning of 2012, ARI integrated SAP BusinessObjects Explorer with SAP HANA.
“It didn’t even start as a conversation about SAP HANA,” Powell says. “It started with SAP BusinessObjects Explorer. We put it in front of a few key customers and at that time, SAP HANA wasn’t even in production. We got some great feedback and, because it was so compelling, we wanted to do the same thing here internally. SAP BusinessObjects Explorer got everyone thinking about what analytics could really mean to an organization and that eventually led us to SAP HANA — to help us go after and leverage not just one customer’s information, but all of our customers’ information.”
ARI began to grasp the full processing capabilities of SAP HANA about three weeks after the go-live when it ran a standard accounting report. According to Powell, ARI’s controller wanted an impact analysis of its top 10 customers. The task was assigned to a reporting power user who applied standard processes: wait for specs, design a program to the query, and wait. But the analysis kept timing out, so ARI had no idea how long it would take for a concrete result that was needed in, at most, 36 hours. With enough data in SAP HANA to execute on the query, ARI changed tactics.
“We simply took those queries we were firing into our other infrastructure, tweaked them a bit, fired them against SAP HANA, and got the results back in 3 to 3½ seconds,” Powell says. “It was so fast that we were questioning the results.”
Further, when the controller asked for a slightly different analysis, SAP HANA produced the updated results with lightning speed. “He got the results before he finished his sentence,” Powell says. “In our old environment, that would have taken at least another 24 hours.”
SAP HANA is also streamlining ARI’s call centers. ARI estimates it has seen a 5% reduction in time spent for each call center transaction, from the time a call center staffer takes a call to retrieving and delivering the requested information. With those staffers representing 40% of ARI’s direct overhead, that time reduction translates into significant cost savings.
“We’re asking those folks to do more and deliver more service to our customers, and SAP HANA has allowed us to do that. We’ve been able to increase the scope of the service while also providing a significant payback on the transactional level,” White says. “We are getting direct savings on the transactions in addition to an ability to perform analysis we weren’t able to do before.”
Unlocking BI from the IT department and driving it back into the business was arguably even more beneficial from an external point of view.
“The value that we can now deliver to our customers is almost immeasurable,” White says. “We spend a tremendous amount of resources collecting data, and the inability to truly leverage that data was always frustrating. Customers couldn’t understand how we had this information but couldn’t get it for them. Now that we’ve unlocked it, it’s incredibly exciting what it will allow us to do in the future.”
Around the Next Bend
ARI’s expectation is that predictive analysis can provide its customers a new level of budget certainty. Mining data to produce precise figures for what it costs to operate a fleet of a certain size over a particular route during a certain type of weather and across specific industries — and predicting what changes to any of the variables would mean — is now nearly as simple as providing customers their historical spend on fuel.
“If customers want to reduce their overall spend on fleet maintenance, they’ll essentially have a number of levers to pull — ‘If I change this, the likely occurrence over the next six months, one year, or two years in these areas will be this.’ We didn’t have that ability before,” White says. “There are now a number of areas we’re working on from a predictive modeling standpoint to directly leverage SAP HANA and bring to market new products over the next year that will really be the next generation of fleet management provider value add-ons.”
A planned expansion of mobility offerings will augment ARI’s ability to deliver real-time reporting and analytics and allow customers to instantly approve a variety of operational questions, such as maintenance repairs. Powell says the use of ARI’s existing homegrown mobile applications has more than doubled among customers in the last three years, and ARI expects the number to rise because customers have begun to expect instant insight into their fleet operations down to details as granular as a specific vehicle’s tire history.
“Our industry as a whole has been slow to adopt mobility, which is kind of ironic when you think that we are in fleet management. Vehicles are mobile by definition,” White says. “We see the opportunity for users among our customer base to grow dramatically.”
While predictive analytics and mobility are short-term objectives for ARI, with the addition of SAP HANA, the company’s long-term goals are limited only by imagination. That’s one of the immeasurable benefits of SAP HANA, unlike the tangible benefit of speed, according to White and Powell.
“We’re now challenging ourselves to think about what’s possible,” White says. “In the past, we’d get locked in on the limitations of what we were able to do based on the available technology. This has been an evolution of the ‘Aha!’ moment that opens the possibility of being able to do more while spending less, and that’s a hard thing to wrap your mind around — to see things you didn’t even think about before. It has changed the way we approach our business and what we expect of ourselves in order to deliver the very best to our customers.”