Should You Be Using BI Technology for Fleet Management?

Gretchen ReeseNovember 22, 2020

Business Intelligence technology is coming – there’s no doubt about it. In this week’s episode of #UtilimarcFleetFYIs, I’m joined by Utilimarc CIO, Mike Nowak, to break down just how impactful BI technology will be in the world of fleet. Not only does it allow you to future-proof your fleet, but full-optimize all of your assets, processes and financials to meet your management goals.

Here’s a quick summary of my conversation with Mike:

New to business intelligence technology? It carries massive benefits everywhere. Take a look at this new technology and learn what it could mean for your fleet management strategy.

  • What business intelligence technology means for fleet management,
  • How Utilimarc’s business intelligence platform helps make fleet management strategy smarter,
  • Why data quality is crucial to understanding your data,

  • How YOU can begin to future-proof your fleet right now.

Mike’s most memorable quotes:

“From the inception, Utilimarc was a business intelligence and analytics company. Starting with our first product benchmarking that really extracted the data from fleet management systems and created analytics on top of it, our initial products were really focused on providing more context and more business intelligence to the users that were traditionally leveraging fleet management systems.”

“What we’re seeing in the marketplace, not only in fleet, in other domains as well, there’s just still an immense opportunity for gathering right data, turning it into information, and then leveraging tool sets to actually turning into a knowledge that allows those organizations to become more optimized and to allow them to actually make decisions that are based on certain facts instead of gut feel.”

Mike Nowak, Should You Be Using Business Intelligence Technology for Your Fleet? An Intro to BI Technology with Mike Nowak | Utilimarc Fleet FYIs Podcast

Business intelligence technology is set to be the future, and episode six of Fleet FYIs dove into why that is. If you’d like to have a listen, it’s available to stream on all major platforms – but if reading is more your style, take a look at this episode’s transcript below:

Should You Be Using Business Intelligence Technology for Your Fleet? An Intro to BI Technology with Mike Nowak | Fleet FYIs: Episode 6

Gretchen Reese (00:04):

Hey there. Gretchen here. Welcome to Fleet FYIs, the weekly podcast by Utilimarc that makes fleet management strategy smarter, by bringing to you nearly two decades worth of data insights, industry hot topics and expert analysts together in conversation. Our aim is to help you better understand your data and your key metrics by hosting candid conversations with some of the industries finest. But before we begin, if this is your first time listening to our podcast, thanks for hitting the play button. I’m so glad you decided to come along for the ride and have a listen. Once you’ve finished today’s episode, if you could take a few minutes to leave us a review, we’d really appreciate it. Give us a rating, tell us what you liked or perhaps what you didn’t, or you can leave us a comment or a question about what we’ve covered today. Also, if you have a topic that you’d love for us to cover but we haven’t touched on yet, let us know. We’d be happy to go over it in detail in a later episode. Sound good? All right, let’s get back to the show.

Gretchen Reese (01:05):

Hello. Hello. Welcome back to another week’s episode of Fleet FYIs. How are you guys doing today? I hope well, with all of the holidays beginning to sneak up on us, no matter where we are in the world. I don’t know about you, but I’m a big Christmas fanatic, so I put up my Christmas tree a few days ago. And in asking my family what might be on their Christmas wishlist this year, there always seems to be this red thread of technology appearing in some way, some shape or form. And actually it’s kind of along the lines of what we’ll be talking about today. Not Christmas in general, but definitely the technology piece. I’m sure if you’ve heard of Utilimarc before and you’re familiar with what we do, you’ll have heard the term business intelligence technology in one of our conversations at some point or another. But for those of you less familiar with what business intelligence means, in short – business intelligence, or BI technology, is a technology driven process for analyzing data and delivering actionable information that helps executives, managers and workers at all levels within an organization make well-informed, data-driven business decisions.

Gretchen Reese (02:11):

Now a technology like this can prove to be quite valuable, not just for fleets, but industries worldwide. To help me begin to break down BI technology and the importance of using it to manage a fleet, today we’re speaking with Utilimarc CIO, Mike Nowak. Mike has had a pretty extensive, to say the least, background in IT and all things digital. He started from web design and creating websites and simple coding, progressing during his life and career into software development, followed then by what I know him as, which is one of Utilimarc’s partners and CIO. So without further ado, let’s get into it.

Gretchen Reese (02:46):

Hi, Mike. Welcome to the podcast. I’m so glad you had a time for a quick chat today. I’d love to kick things off by expanding on your career background a little bit. Can you tell me how a career in computer science led you to Utilimarc, and honestly, to Minnesota of all places?

Mike Nowak (03:03):

So after my work with the NBE, which is a company that does microchips for DARPA, NASA and Army, I did technology consulting for Fortune 500s and mid-market companies here in Twin Cities. And I met a lot of talented people in this space, and crossed paths eventually with Chris Shaffer, our CEO, and Tom Nimmo, our CFO. And we started engaging actually on the benchmarking project. That was really our initial focus. How do we deliver the benchmarking product to the marketplace? So that was really our starting point of the relationships between me and Utilimarc.

Gretchen Reese (03:49):

Interesting. So when we’re looking at the benchmarking software, because, as you mentioned, that’s where Utilimarc kind of got its start in terms of software products, I’ve noticed there’s been an evolution into this focus on business intelligence, or BI technology, at the company over the last few years. Why do you think there’s been that shift? Is there a need for it in the market?

Mike Nowak (04:12):

That’s a really interesting question. In some sense, really from the inception, Utilimarc was a business intelligence and analytics company. Starting with our first product benchmarking that really extracted the data from fleet management systems and created analytics on top of it, our initial products were really focused on providing more context and more business intelligence to the users that were traditionally leveraging fleet management systems. Then it evolved to telematics, and our journey in telematics was also really focused on being the users of this data, the telematics data. We were never interested in telematics for telemetics sake. We were interested in seeing what data is generated from telematics.

Mike Nowak (05:11):

And that was really what allow us to differentiate in the marketplace, because when we started analyzing telematics data at that point. It was about year 2012, 2013, it was really the beginning of our journey with telematics. We saw that there’s a lot of data quality issues, there’s a lot of telematics providers that really were more focused on dots on the map, AVL type use cases. But when we started digging into metrics that are really essential for fleet managers, such as meter data, odometer engine hours, others, the quality of that data was just really, really low so you couldn’t make decisions. Our obsession with being actual users of this data really led us onto multiple journeys. One of being one of the leaders in data quality of telematics devices and IOT devices. Two is really focused us on really reporting and creating analytics, and KPIs, and metrics and models that we’re leveraging higher quality data.

Mike Nowak (06:31):

And then the last part of our journey, the newest one, is really bringing it all together and realizing that the data progression from it being data, to information, to knowledge and how Utilimarc actually fits into really focusing on the quality of the information and being able to make decisions on top of this information is something that lived with us from the inception. And in some sense, we’re just re-articulating our core focused on our core principles.

Gretchen Reese (07:07):

Sure. So I love this point about data quality that you bring up, and I think that that seems to be a key point to BI technology, not just for Utilimarc, but for fleet management as a whole, affecting other fleets nationwide, or even internationally depending on whoever uses it. Can you expand on why data quality is so important?

Mike Nowak (07:27):

Yes. It’s really the foundation that allows us to make information actionable. Without understanding of data quality, we would not be able to make proper business decisions on top of this information and on top of this data. And I think that there’s a lot of providers in the marketplace that, again, they’re not analytics users, they’re not analytics companies, they focus more on generating the data and more on cases that allow users to see dots on the map. Since our focus from the inception was on analytics and business intelligence, it was not possible for us to make valid statistical models or any sort of analytics without understanding the data quality. And so that’s why we became really our focus does not deal only with telematics data, that actually deals with telematics, with fleet management system data. It also pertains to fuel data and others.

Mike Nowak (08:41):

And then what’s even more interesting, another area for us is really, we’re not viewing the world of fleet as these buckets of fleet management systems, telematics systems, fuel systems, we’re seeing it as holistic fleet. And so we’re breaking down these silos by integrating the data, and that’s where data quality issues can compound even more. And without, again, proper cleansing, and understanding and having a good business context, as well as good statistical context and good tooling that allows us to deliver this analytics, it becomes extremely hard to create meaningful analytics without those foundational steps.

Gretchen Reese (09:28):

Sure. So when we’re looking at the foundational steps, like you said, so data quality and making sure this data isn’t siloed, do you think that all fleets, even those outside of the utility space, because that’s a primary client of Utilimarc’s, do you think they could all benefit from integrating BI technology into their fleet management strategy?

Mike Nowak (09:49):

Yes. I think that all the fleets that have a fractured systems that leverage fleet management systems, and telematic systems, fuel systems, are perfect examples of organizations that would benefit from it. I think the only ones that might not immediately are really small fleets that leverage some sort of consolidated tool that really puts and integrate all of this data together. This does not scale really well to large fleets, and we can talk a little bit about that too. You do need variety of systems and there isn’t one singular monolithic application that captures all of this data for large organizations. But all fleets that are over a certain size would absolutely benefit from that strategy.

Gretchen Reese (10:50):

Yeah, that makes sense. So when we’re talking about instances where someone might come across the opportunity to bring in this BI technology, if it’s one of the larger fleets that you’re saying would probably benefit the most from it, a lot of people are focused on that short-term turnaround, the short-term results, but it’s one of those cases where people need to not just focus on the short-term, but they need to look at long-term effects and results as well. So, I guess my question is, how would you say that BI technology for these larger fleets that you were describing future-proof fleets in your opinion?

Mike Nowak (11:30):

That’s a great question. I see two major paths in here. One is where you have a diversity in systems. And again, focusing on larger fleets where you do have the telematics provider, which is different than your fleet management system provider. You’re going to have some fuel cards, ERP systems, and so on, so forth. There’s variety of systems that come and go. There’s also variety of vendors that appear in the marketplace and have really interesting solutions. So one portion of that is really having the ability to react to the new solutions in the marketplace and being able to swap those underlying providers. And would be a really tough to really have the same set of solutions for a very, very long time and stay competitive. And what I mean by this, is there’s always new telematics providers. There’s a lot of innovation in that space.

Mike Nowak (12:35):

There’s very exciting, new fleet management system providers that provide new types of functionality. And I think that a healthy fleet organization is going to be able to swap the systems and have a capability to do that. Another view is that there’s going to be some sort of consolidated vendor that basically vertically integrates all of it, where fleet management system data on telematics fuel, ERP data, it’s just one big mono limbic system. One, we’re starting to see that some organizations are trying. But why, I think from my perspective, it’s really unhealthy for the fleet is because you’re putting all the eggs in one basket, and also it’s very hard to become a leader if in those specific areas if you’re just trying to consolidate this. That’s why I think that layer of business intelligence on top of what I call a healthy diversity of those underlying systems is a better strategy.

Mike Nowak (13:43):

And that allows, to come back to your questions, that really allows fleets to, again, migrate from one system to another. It allows them to continue their analytics, and reporting, KPI journey through this process, and really smooths out, it removes friction from the underlying processes because it’s very hard, it’s very tough to switch systems underneath. But the BI technology actually smooths out this whole process. So it’s much easier to migrate from one provider to another if you have a healthy data integration patterns and if you basically have a BI layer on top of your systems.

Gretchen Reese (14:32):

Sure. And I love this analogy, the, all your eggs in one basket. It’s one I use even quite frequently myself. But when we’re talking about how you said different vendors might come up with an interesting solution, just because I think that’s a fascinating thing to expand on, if you had say, for example, one vendor that then maybe disappeared as fast as they appeared and you had a fleet that really relied on it, maybe they found another vendor that could do something similar, but not quite the exact same solution, how would that affect their management process or their ability to understand data if all of the sudden one of their vendors were to just vanish into thin air?

Mike Nowak (15:13):

Yeah. And again, I think that would be a very hard scenario for the fleet. The portion that I think that is key, is that the interface between management in the world of fleet, there’s a lot of interfaces with safety operations and other stakeholders as well, and obviously fleet itself. That is basically a set of dashboards, reports, KPIs, analytics, and that is really the junction that allows you to swap the different providers. So I think that to kind of answer that question, it is just important for us to give our customers and our fleets that work with us the capability to swap from one vendor to another, and I think that this BI layer allows us to do that.

Gretchen Reese (16:17):

So on the topic of these KPIs, or key metrics otherwise known, can fleets use BI technology to truly be able to understand all of their key metrics? I mean, most fleets, obviously they have more than one, sometimes even more than 10. But for example, would they be able to visualize it, maybe create some sort of custom reporting to explain their data to all levels of management, or even say, for example, someone that works in the garage to C level type executive management?

Mike Nowak (16:51):

Yeah. I mean, on one hand you can’t measure everything. I think that that’s a trap that a lot of organizations are in as well. But most organizations are actually not leveraging the data they already have. And what we’re seeing in the marketplace, not only in fleet, in other domains as well, there’s just still an immense opportunity for gathering right data, turning it into information, and then leveraging tool sets to actually turning into a knowledge that allows those organizations to become more optimized and to allow them to actually make decisions that are based on certain facts instead of gut feel.

Mike Nowak (17:39):

And so, the one layer of that is visualization and it’s very often underrated. I think everybody focuses on putting and integrating all the data together and eventually creating some sort of report, but how you visualize and what you’re visualizing is really a beautiful junction of art and science together. Because you need to know the domain very well, you need to know fleet, you need to know operations, you need to know safety, and so on and so forth in order to tell a story. And I think that the proper visualization is really key element that translates certain pieces of information into something that might be an insight that could really change and positively impact your organization.

Gretchen Reese (18:30):

So if you had to think off the top of your head, what do you think one example would be where fleets could find this visualization tool to be really useful?

Mike Nowak (18:40):

I think in all core metrics, because without visualization of the data, it’s almost impossible for most people, unless there are people that are extremely analytical and they could look at broad data or maybe even summarized data. But I think most of us really benefit from actually understanding data through visualizations. There’s old saying that picture’s worth a thousand words, it just is much more effective to communicate data that way.

Gretchen Reese (19:20):

Yeah, I agree. And do you think, or I guess I could say, where would you say it would become useful for fleets then to not just be able to visualize this data, because obviously, like you said, pictures are worth a thousand words and visualization is so powerful, specifically when it comes to understanding your data, your key metrics, but where does it become useful to have a fleet’s data connected within one platform?

Mike Nowak (19:49):

Yeah. Again, I think that any fleet that has multiple systems, there’s just such a tremendous amount of work that is needed in order to have proper extraction from all these systems. And there’s just a lot of underlying work that most fleet organizations have to do currently themselves. And when you extract the data, you need to also prepare it, you need to understand its quality, you need to really get it into an environment that really prepares for creating KPIs and analytics, and then eventually data visualizations. There’s just a lot of steps. And that requires a lot of talent, because if fleets want to bring this capability in house, it requires really an internal IT partner that gets this information in to the fleet’s hands. But then it actually requires someone who has a tremendous understanding of fleet domain to be able to properly massage the data and prepare the data, understand what are the issues with it, and eventually create the metrics that are relevant to the fleet ops safety and other, again, stakeholders. And then there comes the visualization itself.

Mike Nowak (21:25):

So when you’re all done, you realize that you will need a handful of business intelligence IT folks on your team, you’re going to need potentially a data scientists on your team that has a deep fleet domain experience, and then you also will need someone who is good in visualization. So again, it’s just very tough to not only bring that team together one time, but just to keep that team continuously providing that value. And so any organizations that are in the world where maybe they don’t have continuous IT involvement, maybe they do not have data scientists on their team, maybe they have data analysts that do not have specific fleet experience, and maybe they don’t have experts pertaining to focusing on visualization and dissemination of those reports, that’s where those fleets would hugely benefit from having a consolidated BI environment.

Mike Nowak (22:36):

Another use case here is, again, moving from one vendor to another. We see that all the time. Fleets that don’t do this and stay with the same vendors for 5, 10 years often suffer from not being able to really leverage the newest technologies that actually would hugely benefit them. And the organizations that move constantly from one vendor to another are also increasing their costs, because it’s extremely, extremely hard to continue similar from one vendor to another. So there’s a balance there, and it’s really important to, if you’re moving from one vendor to another, to really smooth that process out. And in order to do that, you need data. So those elements really allow you to future-proof because there’s just a lot of changes coming to fleet. Electrification, one of the largest tectonic shifts happening here in our careers.

Mike Nowak (23:36):

I may just think of it as an analogy of us working with physical cameras, with film and digital cameras. I think there was a period of maybe two years or three where everybody was using one type, and then at some point everybody was using digital cameras. And if you ask within a three-year period, it would be bizarre for people to use an old film camera other than enthusiasts. And this analogy for EV vehicles is going to be longer, because the life cycle of leveraging a vehicle is much longer than digital camera. Nonetheless, this shift in here, I believe in my career is just going to be one of the most important elements happening in our industry. And so, what happens with that, is that EV vehicles come already with telematics devices, so now you’re connecting with variety of year, make, model combinations through APIs.

Mike Nowak (24:34):

There goes further expansions of data streams that are going to be flowing to your organization. There’s just a lot of innovation happening with fleet management systems. We’re seeing some really cool new providers in the marketplace that are doing amazing innovation. There is also innovation happening from payment perspective. So, I see that the one way to future-proof is to really decouple the underlying elements of transactional systems, like your fleet management system, telematics system, and so on and so forth, from the overall goals of the organization, which might be improving utilization, improving availability and serving your fleet customers better. This is key. It’s absolutely key to at least think about decoupling those two layers.

Gretchen Reese (25:34):

Yeah. And absolutely. And BI technology, I think can just absolutely benefit just the fleet industry in so many ways, just from that perspective. Like you were saying, with the innovation, with the introduction of all of this electric technology, it’s not just on the horizon, it’s coming and we all know it is. So that’s kind of an interesting thing to almost keep your – metaphorically speaking – finger on the pulse of. But before we wrap up, do you think that there’s anything else that we haven’t yet covered that you would like to speak to?

Mike Nowak (26:09):

I think that just to summarize, the volume of the data is increasing as we had this discussion. It’s pretty evident, especially with electrification and also with hardware-less telematics solutions, OEM embedded telematics. The complexity in systems is increasing. And there’s just this pressure to make data-driven decisions. It’s unacceptable anymore for fleets, and actually, honestly, other parts of the organizations in modern enterprises to be making decisions purely on their gut feel. They’re usually, we need to have some sort of data and information to make a decision. And so Utilimarc really fills this need by being the domain specific business intelligence and analytics provider. We’re extremely excited about it from the perspective that, from the beginning of Utilimarc we were delivering this huge value to our customers by providing context for the first time with a benchmarking tool.

Mike Nowak (27:18):

It really put the fleets on the map to see how they’re doing. It provided really in-depth, useful telematics analytics without introduction of our telematics. And with analytics, it really put everything together where we broke down the silos of the variety of systems, really focused on foundational quality of the data, creating proper models. Our 20 year experience in creating meaningful analytics for fleets and putting it all together in a platform that really optimizes your fleet. And by optimization, we don’t mean just cost cutting. By optimization, we mean actually enabling completely new capabilities that were never possible before. And breaking down those silos is extremely powerful, and we’re very, very excited about being a provider in this space.

Gretchen Reese (28:17):

That’s awesome. So Mike, we’ve covered a lot today, both on Utilimarc and BI technology and innovation as a whole. But if our audience has any questions after today’s episode, where could they find you outside of Fleet FYIs, if they wanted to get in touch?

Mike Nowak (28:34):

The best way is just to reach out on LinkedIn or through Utilimarc, and I’d be happy to talk to everybody. I always love when people stay in touch. So I would say best way, LinkedIn or Utilimarc website.

Gretchen Reese (28:49):

Awesome. All right. Well, thanks again, Mike, for taking the time to talk to me on the podcast today. I’ve really enjoyed having you.

Mike Nowak (28:58):

Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Gretchen Reese (28:59):

Whether or not you’re looking to implement BI technology for your fleet, or even if you’ve already done so, I hope this episode was insightful for you. Personally, I think that the idea that technology, specifically with that business intelligence layer that Mike was speaking to, having that ability to help future-proof fleets is pretty incredible. I’d love to know what you thought, though. Are you, or perhaps your organization, considering the investment into business intelligence technology in the future? Have you already done so? Let us know. You can tag us on LinkedIn using the hashtag utilimarcfleetFYIs, or just doing the at mention for Utilimarc to start up a conversation surrounding BI technology and the impact that it will surely have on the fleet industry in the future.

Gretchen Reese (29:42):

Now, before I wrap up for the week, I just wanted to let you know that there won’t be a podcast next Thursday. It’s the Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S., so we’ll be spending our time here at Utilimarc hopefully with some good food and good, even if virtual, family company. We’ll be back the following week with an exciting episode on the evolution of product for fleet. So that will be a short overview of idea conception all the way through the go to market phase. And I can promise you, you won’t want to miss it. However, if you can’t or don’t want to wait until the 3rd of December for our next episode, you can always take a peek at the Fleet FYI’s archives to catch up on any episodes you might have missed, or you can head over to our site, which is, spelled out for you, for more content. Or you can always find us on social media with the user handle @utilimarc on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram. But until next time, that’s all from me. I’ll catch you later.

If you or someone you know is interested in being a guest on Fleet FYIs, please email our content manager with your request.

Gretchen Reese

Growth Marketing Manager

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