‘Big’ Data Game Changer

Bill Powell

Bill Powell

Department Head of Information Management, ARI

What are the trends that you are seeing in the industry with respect to technology?

Relative to the complexity of fleets, what we are seeing most is the volume of data growth, or big data as they are calling it these days. As fleets become more complex, each significant component of that vehicle is producing data that you have to deal with. Telematics devices provide pings on various vehicle components every two minutes. It is a huge volume of data.  The question is – how do you handle that? Not only how do you just bring in that big data, but also how do you turn it into information we can use to drive efficiencies for our customers?

How do you drive efficiencies for your customers? What are some of the things that ARI is doing?

Right now, ARI is implementing cutting edge solutions for correlating information. Within the ARI information management department is a group dedicated to data integration. Such a team is a differentiator in the fleet management industry.  The group works directly with our customers, their vendors and some of our other business partners to correlate data. As an example, for a customer with vehicles in thirty or forty different countries throughout the world, we’ll correlate all that information for them to produce a true, holistic view of their fleet footprint in an intuitive, instantaneous format.  Partnered with SAP, we developed this solution using unique technology called HANA, which provides an in-memory database and is a game changer not only in the fleet industry but worldwide.

Tell us about this.

What differentiates this database from existing technology is its speed. It allows us to handle large volumes of information as it comes in. In the past as data came in, we’d process it and then work with customers and our internal personal to understand the value of that information. There were limitations with how we turned our findings back over to our customers.  Then as the complexity of fleets continued to evolve and the volumes of data continued to grow, the return time got slower and slower. But now SAP’s HANA technology has changed that. We are now equipped to not only deal with these huge volumes of information to sustain growth, but we can now present that information to our customers in a very effective and easy format.

What type of information are we talking about?

The variety of information we handle covers the full vehicle lifecycle from acquisition through disposition, including vehicle maintenance, fuel, telematics… as well as driver information relative to mileage, safety and behavior.

How exactly does this differ from the way you were doing it before? What is the benefit to the client?

One major customer benefit of this technology is the agility that we can provide.  For instance, if a customer wanted an analysis on its fuel information, we would create a report that generally met the client’s needs at that moment. Then, if the report needed tweaks or changes, we would repeat the process. The analysis itself may have taken a minute to run, or it may have taken ten hours, depending on the complexity and the depth of that data. The new in-memory technology can produce in a fraction of a second what used to take ten hours. Typically with exploratory analysis, one question leads to another, which leads to another. In-memory technology provides our customer with the agility to ask further questions and get quick answers. If you’re not using systems that function in this manner, it can be a very painful process.

Can you give us a real world example of where this technology has made a difference for a client?

In-memory technology is the back-end – the components that process the output.  The front-end system that our customers and our internal teams work with is another SAP product that has been in production for quite some time at ARI called Explorer.  Another customer story starts with us working with them to understand their needs and requirements for a campaign to reduce unpaid violations.  We knew from experience that this customer preferred to take a hands-on approach and be able to work with its fleet data directly.  To avoid the back-and-forth trials in order to get the parameters just right, we empowered this customer by introducing them to the Explorer tool, which allowed them to instantaneously and intuitively look at their expenses and analyze various pockets of information.  We were able to help them identify the anomalies that were truly driving those violations and then come up with an effective plan to reduce those.

Amazing. Give another example besides violations because we’re really interested in this.

A few months ago, we were asked to perform a risk analysis for our own company to identify trends and determine the impact on our business.  When the request came in around 4:00 on a Friday, we first used the existing technology to perform that analysis.  Roughly 24 hours later, the report timed-out.  Needing a more aggressive solution, we moved the information to our new HANA platform and redid the analysis. In just three seconds, we had the data we needed.  So as a comparison, the processing time went from infinity/unknown to a few seconds. Now that is speed!  And the byproduct of that speed is agility. Before the CFO was finished asking for the next level of analysis, we already had the new answer!

What does this do for ARI and supporting its customers?

We have a very aggressive roadmap for 2012 using this technology. The first phase was to get the HANA in-memory database in the back-end. Next, we put in the front-end Explorer application.  Now we’ve begun walking through all other applications to further ingrain a pervasive business intelligence plan.  An example is our Intellifleet® application, which is in the process of being re-written.  We use this application in our call center to manage our customers’ maintenance and repair purchase orders.  A big component of this is applying the in-memory technology to that application so our service technicians are better armed to produce client savings.  This new technology will drive analytics into the call center – to the people that are managing our customer spend without extending call times.

Also on this aggressive roadmap for 2012 is our Strategic Performance Reviews (SPRs).  An SPR is a comprehensive analysis that covers nearly the entire breadth of information that we manage for each customer.  With this next project, we are going to extend in-memory technology to ARI’s client relations and sales teams so that they can make the best recommendations possible for our customers.  Currently the process takes from seven to ten hours to run one analysis, depending on the complexity and volume of the data and the type of analysis we are performing.  Our goal is to bring this processing time down to less than three seconds.

After we have historical information and reporting covered, we’ll being developing tools for proactive or predictive analysis. Up to this point everyone has worked with historical information.  Now that ARI is working at the speed of light, or so it seems, we are in an advantageous position to start discovering opportunities in the very particular, granular information that we are seeing. To truly gain control and drive down costs, you need to not experience that expense. Predictive analytics can do that.  Not only has ARI invested in this technology, we’ve brought on board mathematicians and statisticians to build decision trees and identify permutations.  Soon we will be in a position to tell a customer “unless you change or take a particular action here, you are going to have these costs there.”  In the past, this was just simply impossible to do.

One other thing that we have focused on is delivery methods.  According to Gartner, by 2013 a third of all BI functionality will be performed on some sort of handheld device. ARI is already there. The technology we put in place in the last quarter enables everything that I have been talking about to work every bit as well if not better on an iPad or an iPhone. You can have that instantaneous, intuitive access anywhere you need it.

So, a fleet manager can be sitting in a meeting with their iPad and need something immediately and have it immediately.

In the past, when a fleet manager needed fleet data immediately, he/she would access the vendor’s website and hope that the piece of information is already out there. If not, then the process starts.  He/she would have to request a report, perform analysis and wait for the results. That is not moving at the pace of business; that is moving at the pace of IT.  Now, ARI’s technology allows us to empower the fleet manager on an iPad or iPhone to gather the information, quickly change it, and visualize it until they get exactly what they need.


Bill Powell, Department Head, Information Management, is responsible for setting the direction and execution of ARI’s information management roadmap.  Bill started at ARI in 1991 in the operational segment of the business and transitioned to the IT team in 1995 where he was responsible for expanding ARI’s business intelligence solutions.  In his current position, Bill oversees ARI’s database platforms, its data integration offerings, and ARI’s business intelligence solutions.