Is Business Intelligence Technology Essential for Fleet Management Today?

Gretchen ReeseDecember 2, 2021

Business intelligence seems to be one of those buzzwords that companies throw around when talking strategy and future-proofing solutions, but many find it hard to define – at least in a way that makes sense to the masses. Is it a system? A service? A strategic approach? Yes. To all of the above. But it’s actually more than that too.

Business intelligence (otherwise called BI) is the technology and practice used to perform data analytics and reporting for companies. It offers a view of current, historical and predictive data all consolidated onto one platform. However, the BI used for an overseas shipping company or a major manufacturer is completely different from the BI used for managing fleets. Successful BI implementation is best paired with people who know the ins and outs of the industry and what the data represents. Deep domain knowledge + a platform that helps you visualize your data in a way custom-tailored to your own organization? That’s where the magic starts.

Regardless of the industry though, BI is implemented with one common goal in mind –to help in making informed, data-backed business decisions.

Is Business Intelligence Essential for Managing Fleets Today? | Fleet FYIs Podcast, Season 2 Episode 41

Gretchen Reese (00:06):

Hey there, welcome to Fleet FYIs, the weekly podcast by Utilimarc that reveals how you can make the most of your data for smarter fleet management. My name is Gretchen, and every week, you’ll hear from me and some of the industry’s finest in candid conversations that will shed some light on not only two decades worth of data insights, but some of the industry’s hottest talking points and key metric analysis with the aim to help you better understand your fleet from every angle.

Gretchen Reese (00:33):

But before we begin, if this is the first time you’ve heard our show, thanks for stopping by. I’m so glad you decided to come along for the ride with us. But I’ve got a quick favor to ask you. Once we finish today’s episode, if you could take a few minutes to leave us a review on your favorite podcasting platform, we would really appreciate it. Give us a rating, five stars I hope or tell us what you liked or leave us a comment or a question about what you heard in today’s episode. But if we haven’t yet covered a topic that you’re interested in hearing more about, let us know. We would be happy to go over it in detail in a later episode. If that sounds good to you, let’s get back to the show.

Gretchen Reese (01:17):

Hello, everyone and welcome back to another episode of the Fleet FYIs podcast. I hope you all are having a lovely week and hopefully have all finished your Thanksgiving leftovers by now. I know I sure have. Here in Minnesota, we’re having a strangely unseasonable warm snap lately, which I just I can’t even believe it. It was about 50 degrees on the first day of December. For you Celsius folks, it’s about 12-ish degrees, which in my opinion is totally unheard of. Here I am greatly anticipating the snow, and instead it’s sunshine and rain and a bit of petrichor to start off the month. A weird start to the month of December. But hey, I guess all in good time.

Gretchen Reese (01:55):

But before I get too off topic on the weather, you know, as a true Midwesterner, I tend to do that. For today’s show, I wanted to get into a topic that over here at Utilimarc, we’re extremely familiar with and that’s business intelligence. Now for full transparency, Utilimarc is a business intelligence company that works with a variety of fleets across North America, helping all levels of fleet management derive more value from their data. But a big part of this episode isn’t just to talk about us and our platform, though, you know, of course, we’d be happy to do so. But instead, I’d like to take this opportunity to talk about exactly what business intelligence is, because that’s a huge chunk of it, and why it’s important for fleets to consider a data management strategy like this going forward.

Gretchen Reese (02:39):

To give you a bit of a general overview, business intelligence seems to be one of those, you could call them a buzzword that companies throw around when they’re talking about strategy and future proofing solutions. But a lot of people find it’s very hard to define, at least in a way that makes sense to the masses. It’s, is it a system? Is it a service? Is it a strategic approach? Well, yes to all of the above, but it’s actually a lot more than that too.

Gretchen Reese (03:07):

Now, business intelligence, otherwise called BI. You’ll probably hear me refer to it a couple of times as BI in this show, is the technology and practice used to perform data analytics and reporting for companies. It offers a view of current, historical and predictive data all consolidated into one platform. However, the business intelligence used for, say for example, an overseas shipping company or a major manufacturer is completely different than the BI that’s used for managing fleets. Now, a successful BI implementation tends to be best paired with people who know the ins and the outs of the industry and what the data represents. For example, you know, deep domain knowledge and a platform that helps you visualize your data in a way custom tailored to your organization, that’s where the magic starts. Regardless of the industry though, BI is implemented with one common goal in mind. And that’s to help in making informed data backed business decisions.

Gretchen Reese (04:04):

So if you’re ready to learn all about business intelligence, what it entails and what it can do for fleets, make sure you stay tuned for the rest of this episode, because I promise this one’s gonna be a good one. Let’s get started.

Gretchen Reese (04:27):

Now, at this point, you might be asking yourself, “What exactly can business intelligence do for fleets?” That’s a pretty valid question to ask. For a fleet manager who isn’t an expert in technology or data analysis, it could be pretty difficult to understand why BI is such a necessary tool for running a fleet today. Because you know, isn’t the old system of Excel spreadsheets and paper still working? Well, in some cases maybe, but in most cases, maybe not. The question remains though, can the right BI platform act as a fleet’s strongest tool? It sure can.

Gretchen Reese (04:59):

For example, the right BI platform can give you the time to actually do your job. So, you know, I’m, I guess I should say I’m sure you know, fleet managers already have enough on their plate. And they’re hired to do what they know, which is to keep a fleet running and also to keep it running smoothly and efficiently. However, this is nearly impossible to do if more than 70% of their time is spent simply shifting through and consolidating data. Not only does this take fleet managers away from their other responsibilities, but it also leaves little time for identifying opportunities and rethinking strategy, which is a huge part of you know, their job and what it entails.

Gretchen Reese (05:38):

Think about it this way, for someone who has been working with bucket trucks or digger derricks for 30 years, managing endless data reports on a regular basis can be pretty tedious, daunting, and frankly, feel, might feel like a bit of a time sink. But where a BI platform fits in here is that helps you do your job, you being the fleet manager in this situation, right? So your data is cleaned, it’s standardized, and it’s framed through a lens that makes sense for each fleet, saving managers hours of trying to make sense of uncategorized data. It takes all of your silo data’s options or all of your silo data streams, I guess I should better call them and it actually stitches them together in one single platform that makes a ton of sense when you’re looking at all of your data represented together rather than trying to make sense of it separately, in a combined sense.

Gretchen Reese (06:27):

Am I making sense here? Well, anyways, it sounds pretty good if you ask me. But moving on to the second piece of this, it also cuts out gray area guesswork, and I’m sure you know what I mean when I say that, too. So any fleet manager knows the vast amount of money that goes into managing a fleet. In fact, it’s actually probably one of the largest expenses that an organization can have, if they do have a fleet that’s part of their operations. Vehicles can cost upwards of $500,000 or you know, whatever currency you’re operating with. Fuel is a constant expense and is always growing in price. And maintenance typically doesn’t come cheap.

Gretchen Reese (07:03):

Now, this is where fleet using BI gains an advantage. I’ll give you an example here. Whilst there’s a huge opportunity for cost reduction, there’s also great probability that you’re overspending in areas that you’re unaware of. You might think that that doesn’t sound like a positive thing like, “Hey, Gretchen great, I’m finding out I’m overspending.” But bear with me for a second. By pointing out specific areas where your team is either underperforming or overspending, fleet managers can turn to statistical evidence to back up their decision to add more vehicles, cut back on personnel or add personnel if it’s necessary, or you can even reduce things like idle time, fuel wastage, you name it. It’s it’s endless, right?

Gretchen Reese (07:43):

Business intelligence actually removes the risk of inconsistencies that are pretty common with manual reporting. I mean, we’re humans, we make errors. It happens, no one’s perfect. But what that means is that ultimately, there’s no more guesswork, and anyone in management in your organization from C suite to garage manager can be incredibly confident in the decisions that are being made, and confident that there is data to back them up, which leads me to my third point here, for what else a BI platform can do for your fleet or any fleet in general, is that it can customize metrics based on the goals that you would like to measure. So the great thing about business intelligence is its ability to be personalized to the person that’s using it, or the fleet that’s using it.

Gretchen Reese (08:29):

A quality BI platform, you know, built for your data and your operations can be set to measure metrics that make sense for your fleet, which is pretty important as no two fleets are the same. You all know this, right? You all have your own fleets that you’re managing. No two fleets are the same, and fleet managers can actually gain insight into how to right size their fleet, optimize the availability of their vehicles, differentiate between good and bad idling, many other things, like I was just talking about a couple minutes ago.

Gretchen Reese (08:58):

The thing is, is that BI puts its user and their goals at the forefront, which is always a very important part of your fleet managing strategy, because what you really want to be able to do is measure the goals that you’ve set and be able to achieve them. At least, that’s what I would think. Now lastly, in this list now, and I should say, granted, this is a very condensed list of what BI could do for fleets obviously. I could talk about this for a very long time, but I’ll give you four points in this show today. The fourth thing that it can do is it can replace disparate legacy systems. Now, many fleet managers are currently using whatever data solution was in place when they took over the role, which makes sense. Your organization is very familiar with that. And if it works, you know, there’s the saying of if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. The fact is, is that some of these legacy systems are likely outdated and sometimes they can actually be unreliable depending on you know, how much technology is involved if it’s manual reporting and say for example, here’s the easiest way I guess I can make sense of this.

Gretchen Reese (10:00):

And it’s a way that I like to talk about a lot. Think about having one person that is responsible for all of the analytics in your company, and they do it on their Excel spreadsheet. Only they’re familiar with the algorithms, only they know how to do the custom analyses. And they’ve been there for 30 years, you rely on them wholeheartedly, and then they retire. Then what do you do? There’s nothing to be able to catch up the next person stepping into the role, unless this person has spent a lot of time training them. But still, even 30 years of experience could be hard to make up for. I mean, the list goes on and on and on.

Gretchen Reese (10:33):

Business intelligence platforms actually replace outdated data management systems, and they allow fleet managers to unify disconnected data streams, such as your FMIS systems, your telematics data, your fuel cards, your drive cameras, ERP software. It allows for much deeper analysis than older systems could handle, namely like an Excel spreadsheet, and they are complete with easy to read reports and visuals that aid in the presentation of your data.

Gretchen Reese (11:00):

Now, the thing to take note of here is because the way that I phrase that might sound like BI replaces your in house analytics team. It doesn’t, and that’s one thing I’d really like to stress. What it actually does is and I should say the right BI tool, what it can actually do is it can turn your in house analytics team into superhumans because no matter what analyst you hire in house, with the right BI platform and with the right team behind that BI platform, you now have access to a ton of domain specific knowledge and you have that protection, I call it future proofing, that you’re able to transfer all of this knowledge to the next analyst that comes to your team. And it doesn’t matter if someone retires or quits, or someone new just joins. You have that reference point that you can always look back to, which can be a massive benefit to any organization, not just fleets, right?

Gretchen Reese (12:05):

That talking point actually leads me into the next segment of this episode as well, which, you know, a huge question in this space aside from what a BI solution can actually do for fleets is, is it should be something that’s outsourced or should it be in house? Well, I’ll say this, fleet managers have plenty on their plates on a day to day basis. We’ve already touched on that, right? And that is no matter the size of their fleet, it could be any shape, size, region, whatever it is, whatever your asset type, fleet managers have a lot on their plate.

Gretchen Reese (12:36):

And in addition to keeping company executives happy and meeting goals each quarter, fleet managers handle all of the moving parts that go into ensuring their vehicles are on the road, their assets are on the road, between constantly pushing to optimize fleet operations, keeping track of vehicle maintenance schedules, as well as overseeing route planning and driver management. Fleet managers wear a ton of different hats. But the thing is, is a data analyst shouldn’t be one of them. With the amount of data constantly coming in from telematics systems, fuel cards, drive cameras, ERPs, you know the drill by now, it is completely unsurprising that fleet managers spend over 70%, 70%, 7-0 percent of their time simply trying to consolidate their data into something comprehensible, which sounds like a headache in a handbag if you ask me. Now, this leaves barely any time for drawing actionable insights from this data, in addition to carrying out all of their other duties. This is all just time spent consolidating it into something that’s readable.

Gretchen Reese (13:35):

So why not have a portion of this work done externally? Well, outsourcing data management and business intelligence is an option that can drastically free up any fleet manager’s time, leaving little room for mistakes or missed opportunities. It’s that whole future proofing thing that we were talking about a couple minutes ago. But still, not everyone’s on board with the idea, which is understandable. But let’s talk about why that is. If we take into some of the common worries or roadblocks when it comes to outsourcing BI, anyone specifically fleet managers in this case, but anyone can have a ton of hesitations when it comes to entrusting a company that is external with their fleet’s data.

Gretchen Reese (14:13):

For many again, it can be due to a if it’s not broke, don’t fix it mentality. But the flat, the fact is, is that some fleet managers don’t even realize how their legacy systems are outdated. And it can result in a vast amount of missed opportunities. One of the things that say for example, you know, a BI company like us, but really any BI company hears a lot, the first is that no one knows our X, Y, Z like us. So in our case, no one knows our fleet like us. Lack of domain knowledge can be a major concern for fleet managers looking to outsource business intelligence, and I get it. I completely get it. Most data is pretty useless if you don’t know enough about its context to tell a story with it and to be able to understand it.

Gretchen Reese (14:55):

This is why having that right team behind the right BI platform that understands your company’s goals is absolutely essential in making the most of your data. Because we all know this at this point, a data analyst is not the same as a fleet data analyst. Big difference there, even if it’s just one word. Many companies choose to keep this role internal, which is, again, understandable, which, you know, that comes to designating that one person or that one team like we were just talking about to breaking down data analytics for their fleet. But again, this carries the risk of that person leaving the company or retiring and having to onboard a new person from the ground up when you need that data right now. And that can be really, really difficult for fleet managers that are one, you know, trying to manage all of this data, but then also trying to train someone in new when you need the, the analysis right now.

Gretchen Reese (15:46):

A second common, I guess you could call it a roadblock, but the second common statement that a lot of people deal with is we are too busy right now to outsource. Because, you know, sometimes there’s that um turnaround time of trying to uh figure out how we can work with the data. And then there’s a proof of concept. Well depending on the right BI company, there’s no ramp up time. And it’s almost immediate, say we’re talking like weeks or just a couple months here rather than a year of working with the data to find out results.

Gretchen Reese (16:15):

A lot of fleet managers for this reason avoid adopting business intelligence with the excuse that they just don’t have the time. But in reality, it actually ends up that they’re spending far more time wrestling their own data on their own, rather than what they would be if it was outsourced. The idea of implementing an entire new system can be really overwhelming, especially for a fleet that’s been using the same solution for years, even decades and you know, thinks that it works great.

Gretchen Reese (16:43):

But I’ll give you an example with Utilimarc’s platform. Once data flow is established, fleet managers can expect to see a custom dashboard in that timeframe like I was just talking about, just within a few weeks, and instantly, it alleviates them of hours of tedious work, which I think is kind of cool, but not just because I’m with the Utilimarc team.

Gretchen Reese (17:02):

Now, the third roadblock that we see a lot is that this isn’t right for my fleet, or my X, Y, Z product, whatever it is when it comes to BI. But the thing behind this misconception is that with many fleets, the idea that business intelligence is not suited for their specific fleet is actually a bit inaccurate. Because business intelligence can be applied to any fleet situation, it just depends on how you choose to apply it. Fleets can serve a very different function and contain a wide variety of vehicle makes and models, and some fleet managers feel like if their fleet isn’t uniform, then implementing any type of new system would be a completely complicated process, not necessary and too much time to actually see the benefits. However, again going back to that, a good business intelligence solution is malleable and will adapt to the needs of the people in the organization it serves. No fleet is “too unique” to benefit from BI. Now a quality business into intelligence tool can be constantly updated, and it should be constantly updated and scalable as your fleet grows and evolves, which in my opinion is again, pretty cool. And it’s a cool part about this technology too, because as your fleet scales and grows and evolves, your metrics might change, your goals might change and business intelligence can adapt to that as well.

Gretchen Reese (18:31):

But alongside the challenges, you know, it comes with the territory of any new technological element. I mean, you know, we’ve all heard the, the, I could call it years old now, oh my gosh, I repel technology. Sometimes I class myself in that category too. Point is, is there’s plenty of benefits that just might outweigh the challenges that you might experience. For example, and this is my favorite one, you can save a ton of time and a ton of money.

Gretchen Reese (18:58):

Two of the greatest selling points for outsourcing business intelligence are the long term savings of time and money. I mean, that’s pretty easy to see. Handing over the data management to a team of dedicated fleet analysts relieves a huge pressure off of any fleet manager’s shoulders or any executive’s shoulders and gets rid of an inefficient process, I guess you could say potentially inefficient process that often leads to slip ups or just manual human error. A BI platform is also key in pinpointing areas of improvement within your fleet, like we were talking about earlier in the show, along with the missed opportunities, again in areas where you could potentially be overspending. That’s where that cost reduction comes into play there. When you’re dealing with such a high cost asset type, any missed opportunity could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars of overspending, which ew, that’s a big number, but bi utilizes the information from a fleet’s various data streams to ensure that nothing is being overlooked, costs are being kept at a minimum and waste is highly reduced.

Gretchen Reese (19:56):

Second is that it can really help you make competent decisions. So the right BI tool will give fleet managers reliable insight into their data that leads to confident decisions. And that means the right BI tool for you because BI isn’t a one size fits all. It has to be customizable to your fleet. But again to talk about what Utilimarc is up to and what we end up doing with our BI tool. In addition to that top quality tool that is used for fleets from utilities to municipalities to construction all, all over the grid there, Utilimarc offers a dedicated team that will understand your fleet’s needs from A to Z. With the two paired together, like I said, fleet managers access their data through custom dashboards and scheduled reporting that’s easy to understand, and confidently act on with any further digging or without any further digging. Additionally, decisions are super easy to explain, because you have the data behind them that you can say, “See, look, here’s how I figured this out. And here’s how I can justify this.”, because it’s backed by the data and you can see it. It’s easy to understand. And it’s easy to explain to anybody from C suite, again to garage manager to anyone that is within your organization.

Gretchen Reese (21:09):

Now, the third piece of this, and I’ve touched on this a few times is the ability to unify your data streams. So at this point, we all know that we can’t manage what we can’t measure. I got that quote from one of my favorite people that has ever interviewed for Fleet FYI, is Mr. Dave Meisel. If you haven’t, if you haven’t listened to any of his episodes, you absolutely should. He’s always a favorite to have on the podcast.

Gretchen Reese (21:32):

But the thing is, is if you can’t view all of your data streams in one place, it can lead to complications throughout your fleet management strategy. A business intelligence technology layer over the top of your data sources provides a multitude of benefits, from future proofing your fleet to full optimization of all fleet assets, processes and financials to meet your management goals. This leads me to my last point of this list, which is the ability to future proof your fleet. And we’ve talked about this a little bit, the whole you know, trying to avoid the one person you rely on retiring or the small team leaving, you know what I mean. But the thing is, is with data requirements growing, there’s far more to keep track of and measure within your fleet today than ever before. The great thing about investing in a quality business intelligence tool is its ability to adapt and, and constantly adapt to the changes without the need for upkeep on the manager’s behalf. The team behind the tool should do it for you.

Gretchen Reese (22:29):

Similarly, once BI is outsourced and implemented, it’s the team of analysts’ job behind the tool again to keep up with the changes to the industry and ensure that your data is still actionable whilst partnering with the analysts on the organization side. This is where that whole superhuman out of an analyst point comes into play. And it’s important to note because many managers view telematics as a sunken cost when in reality, if it’s used to its highest potential, it can greatly contribute to ongoing ROI for your entire organization, not just your fleet.

Gretchen Reese (23:13):

So the question you have all been wanting to know the answer to, at least I hope if you read the title, you’d be wondering this question is an outsourced business intelligence solution really worth the money at the end of the day? Well, at the end of the day, the data that your telematics devices, FMIS and other various sources collect can only have as much power as you allow them to have. Without a thorough BI tool, there is plenty of untapped potential hiding away in disparate data streams and siloed data. But when you take advantage of the power of BI and refine your data and make it actionable, it allows for impact and massive added value across the board.

Gretchen Reese (23:53):

Fleet management teams become free to focus on the day to day upkeep of their assets, and they can be confident that their strategy and operations are fully optimized and as cost effective as possible. But I’d love to hear your thoughts. Are you engaged with the business intelligence company right now? Do you like the idea of BI? Does it interest you? Do you hate it? Tell me what you’re thinking. You guys know how to get in touch with me by now but just in case you don’t, you can always tag me on LinkedIn, send me an email or use the #utilimarcfleetfyis. I always like to scroll through that hashtag see what you guys are saying and see what’s going on in the fleet industry world. But until next week, because as you know, we do have a short episode coming out every single Monday, which is my fleet management podcast in a bite size 10 minutes or less, though I never actually stick to the 10 minutes. Sorry, spoiler alert. It’s usually right around the 12 or 13 minute mark, point being we always put out one of those episodes on Monday and we have our longer episodes like this one coming out every single Thursday. So make sure you are staying tuned for the Monday episode that’s coming out next week and I will see you then. Ciao.

Gretchen Reese (25:02):

Hey there, I think this is the time that I should cue the Virtual High Five because you’ve just finished listening to another episode of the Fleet FYIs podcast. If you’re already wanting more content, head over to, which is Utilimarc with a C, U-T-I-L-I-M-A-R-C-C dot com for the show notes and extra insights coming straight from our analysts to you. That’s all for me this week. So until next time, I’ll catch you later.

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Gretchen Reese

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