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Navistar CIO looks to big data analytics to fuel turnaround

Clint Boulton | Dec. 1, 2015
The trucking company is using analytics software to detect potential maintenance issues that could ground its trucks, says CIO Terry Kline. The new IT strategy comes as the company struggles to stem financial losses.

Analyzing the data isn’t Kline’s biggest challenge, however. Navistar engineers must normalize the data it pulls from 13 telematics systems, each of which pulls data at different intervals, and use different descriptions to render data. That’s a semantic nightmare with which the Navistar data engineers regularly grapple as they groom the information and render it more accessible for the business. Navistar has good company in this struggle. According to research from the Economist Intelligence Unit, 41 percent of 55O senior executives surveyed said maintaining data quality is a concern for their enterprises.

The role of OnCommand Connection will get even bigger if Kline has his way. Navistar will eventually build an online portal that integrates telematics data with additional GPS data and parts inventory information, allowing fleet owners to locate the nearest dealer service location where the necessary part is in stock, as well as service locations that have available technicians and bays. The company is also considering offering an analytics service that would enable smaller fleets to acquire operational data about their without ponying up the cash to build their own systems.

Reprogramming truck engines, iPhone style

Big data is a big part of Navistar's comeback attempt, but hardly the only way to increase the amount of times trucks are on the road instead in repair bays. The company early next year will begin reprogramming its trucks engine control modules (ECMs), essentially the on-board computer that control fuel efficiency, track shifting patterns and other performance metrics, over the air. Rather than bring a truck into a shop to be fixed, the trucks' ECMs will be reprogrammed on the fly, similar to the way phone and tablet makers such as Apple push out operating system updates to consumers' devices. “It’s like getting an upgrade to your iPhone,” Kline says. Navistar expects to launch this capability in February or March next year.

Over time, the over-the-air (OTA) capability will provide calibration updates for specific engines and other components, body control module updates and future cellular capabilities. It will also recalibrate engines for new usage patterns, such as mountainous terrains or heavier loads, to make the vehicle more efficient.

The OTA reprogramming is the result of a company-wide innovation call, inviting employees to pitch ideas new products and services in a one-page summary, which they uploaded via a corporate SharePoint site. The company will also host a hackathon soon to allow developers to build new applications designed to boost the business. “The secret sauce is how to keep that innovation going,” Kline says. “It’s what you're going to do with it and the services you're going to provide with it that are the next steps in the process.”


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