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The Importance of Data Integration and Interoperability

Without a strategy to enable data sharing, there can be little-to-no visibility into information created and stored in disparate computer systems.

For many companies, the proliferation of systems needed to run a modern fleet operation means an ever-increasing need to share information between fleet, operations, financials, and other systems. And without a strategy to enable data sharing, organizations run the risk of perpetuating a process where data silos are created, with little-to-no visibility into information created and stored in disparate systems.

Thus the “foundational component” of data management is the sharing of data within the organization – and a critical component of this process is to collect, synchronize, and convert data into actionable information that can then be used by the maintenance and operations teams.

Many of today’s progressive organizations are moving, or thinking about moving, beyond the basic point-to-point integration strategy that has been used for years.  For some, they are increasingly searching for more efficient and reliable ways to share data across systems, including the consideration of the use of integration layers or integration hubs to tie together both legacy and newer systems. 

For some fleets – particularly truckload and less-than-truckload fleets that have profitability goals and metrics tied to fleet performance, and midsized-and-larger private fleets that are expected to operate as if they were profit centers – an enterprise-wide integration strategy is often desired and needed. 

Central to such an enterprise-level integration strategy is a need to consider how and where data from fleet maintenance, operations, and back-office systems are currently accessed and stored, whether in local or remote databases, data warehouses, or in the cloud, and how such information can best be accessed and disseminated across the organization. In order to accomplish those lofty goals, it’s important to consider how an organization’s systems are designed, and in some cases, work together. 

This is where the conversation often turns to integration and interoperability. 

So to achieve desired cross-functional visibility, the old way of cobbling-together discrete, point-to-point integration must be replaced with a more strategic plan that offers migration paths that include provisions for future upgrades and software patches, consistent functionality with future versions, and scalability for future growth. 

This process includes the development of an IT framework to establish a complete, 360-degree view of a fleet operation, including information from drivers, fuelers, technicians, and fleet and operations management. Such information can come from a wide variety of sources, including vehicle condition reports, repair orders, driver log information, engine control units (ECUs), engine control modules (ECMs), along with other monitoring and diagnostics computers. 

This creates a need for increased visibility, collection, and management of a wide variety of data. Examples include such information as current equipment condition and availability, work statuses, location, and performance information to maximize overall fleet efficiencies and effectiveness.    

Also, the use of pre-built software connectors using such tools as application programming interfaces (APIs) and software development kits (SDKs) are available to make data sharing easier and more reliable. In addition, built-in connections for applications on newer, web-based and distributed component architecture that can include pre-defined connectivity for specific tasks are increasingly being used.

For many organizations, desired interoperability can be accomplished by considering the use of integration layers or integration hubs, and/or designing new or updated systems with native interoperability elements into the company’s IT [information technology] stack. Such an effort is generally a major undertaking, however, so it’s important to evaluate your data management needs thoroughly. 

Maintenance and operations teams should work closely with IT partners to better understand and plan for future waves of functionality, and budget appropriately, from a monetary, time, and other resources perspective. Such an evaluation will require a thorough review of the way the company’s financial, maintenance, operations, and other back-office systems work to truly understand how to best make them work together more effectively for the benefit of all company stakeholders. 

The good news is that the timing may right for fleets to incorporate integration and interoperability initiatives into their systems upgrade projects. Many organizations are taking advantage of the current robust economic conditions to invest in their systems, as they are due (if not overdue) for major upgrades or replacements. 

Such initiatives can be a catalyst for introducing new opportunities to take advantage of the interoperability inherent in many of newer solutions available.  Each upgrade also offers new opportunities to migrate from ad-hoc, point-to-point integration to true interoperability via integration layers or hubs. And when a higher level of data sharing is achieved, the entire organization can benefit from increased visibility into various performance metrics.

 

—Ed O’Brien is a market researcher and writer with background experience that includes over 25 years of fleet management roles ranging from an apprentice truck mechanic to an ASE-certified master technician to fleet management positions in shop and corporate roles. O’Brien has undergraduate and graduate business degrees from Boston University and Bentley University, respectively, as well as a Class A commercial driver’s license. He’s also a member of SAE International. 

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