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Enterprise-scale IoT is all about data — not tech

Max Eversfield Profile picture for user Max Eversfield November 23, 2022
Today's fleet vehicles are bristling with connected technology that produces mass amounts of data. Before businesses brag about being data-driven, they have to make the right decisions based on those connections, writes Samsara's Max Eversfield.

the Earth world map surrounded by cardboard boxes, a cargo container ship, a flying plane, a car, a van and a truck with shopping cart with gps location on brown background 3D rendering isometric view © Jokiewalker - Shutterstock
(© Jokiewalker - Shutterstock)

When it comes to bragging rights, the freight, logistics and operations industry surely has a claim to being one of the largest and most complex internet of things (IoT) enterprises on the planet.

Lorries, vans, trucks, buses and coaches no longer simply ferry goods and people from A to B. Today, these vehicles are bristling with technology that constantly collects data before uploading it to the cloud.

Sensors and chips connected to the engine, cab, tyres, trailer, doors, and refrigerated units — and plugged into a connected gateway device — constantly monitor a commercial vehicle's vital signs.

AI-enabled cameras — some providing a 360o view as well as those focused on the driver and the road ahead — add another layer of IoT sophistication. While GPS-tracking sensors allow fleet managers to pinpoint the location of every single vehicle in real time.

Now multiply that to include just about every vehicle in physical operations — in areas such as construction, the supply chain and last-mile distribution — and it quickly becomes apparent that this is IoT on a colossal scale.

To provide some measure of the scale, Samsara’s own Connected Operations Cloud is responsible for collecting more than 4.6 trillion sensor data points a year from its customers. It's a figure that is only set to climb as more and more operators embrace connected technology.

Actionable data is key to success for vehicle operators

That, though, is only part of the story. Having millions of sensors — and trillions of data points — may be impressive. But it's the meaningful data they produce that is of real interest. And it's the business decisions that can be made because of the data that is produced — that's where the power behind IoT lies.

It's a point touched upon by Samsara’s GM and VP of Product, Alexander Stevenson, when he was interviewed for a story by diginomica earlier this year. He said: 

IoT as a buzzword has been around for a while. I think the difference, in some ways, was that for a while IoT meant trying to connect all sorts of hardware for the sake of connecting it.

Today, though, IoT isn't simply about connecting things. It's about gathering data and using this information to help solve concrete problems for customers.

A recent anonymised deep data dive by Samsara of some 400 logistics and field services businesses in the US showed the extent to which fleets have reduced costs and improved safety within the first year of uptake.

Data drives decisions and improved business performance

In total, these companies racked up more than 793 million driving miles over the last 12 months. According to the data, these firms recorded:

  • 47% reduction in crashes: Those firms that combined both vehicle telematics and video-based safety solutions saw a 63% drop in crashes within the first year of adoption.
  • 40% decrease in idling: Assuming a price of $5 per gallon of fuel, that’s equivalent to roughly $2,500 per vehicle per year.
  • More than 20% improvement in vehicle utilisation by allocating vehicles properly and using real-time data for preventative maintenance.

At a time when business leaders are under pressure to make every penny count, the study shows that when data is collected and acted upon, it can make a real difference in terms of efficiency, productivity and safety.

For instance, US-based telecommunications utility company, Uniti Fiber, employs a fleet of more than 400 light and heavy-duty vehicles, 150 construction trailers, and 150 pieces of construction equipment to build and maintain the 1.3 million miles of cables in its network.

The telco is adamant that knowing the exact location of its fleet — and where it's heading — contributes to the efficiency of its business.

Improving dispatch efficiency with real-time GPS data

With a network that is spread across more than 20 states, primarily in the Gulf Coast, Midwest and North Atlantic regions, field engineers experience what is colloquially described as “windshield time” — unproductive time that technicians spend driving to and from sites to complete a job.

They may drive for two-plus hours to get on-site for a 30-minute job. Now, though, real-time data from its IoT platform allows managers to coordinate jobs as they come in while engineers are en route helping to maximise productivity.

It means the dispatch team can now add new install jobs and outage check-ins to the field team’s schedule on the fly. Uniti Fiber manager Lindsay Hunt said:

If we’re putting personnel on the road for that long, I’m trying to hit as many things as I can within that path. I don’t have to bring somebody else in to go do the same thing because there’s also an opportunity cost associated with that. Any time you pull somebody off another project, you’re causing a delay.

As a result, the business has increased dispatch productivity by 76% thanks to enhanced visibility and improved efficiency, something which directly impacts their bottom line. Hunt added: 

Being able to increase performance is a big deal for us. The improvement we’ve seen comes from process refinements we’ve put in place and how smart we’re being with the personnel that we have. 

Physical operations — firms working in transport, logistics, the supply chain and construction — may be operating within the largest enterprise-scale IoT ecosystem on the plant. Their vehicles may be mobile data generators brimming with tech.

But it's what you do with the data to enable smarter, safer, more sustainable and more efficient operations that counts. When firms start to do that — at scale — that's when they will really have something to brag about.

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