Business Intelligence #1: Defining Data Elements

If you’ve worked in Transportation, you are undoubtedly familiar with the following request:

What is our __________ Per Mile?

This is a core metric that almost every carrier measures for pricing with customers, pay for drivers, cost and profitability analysis, and more.

The first step to answering this question is the hardest.  We need to determine the definition of the data elements involved and how we will derive them from the system to ensure they represent the information requested.

Most agree that seems an obvious jumping off point and immediately start thinking ahead to what the “__________ ” is and how to obtain it.

But defining the data elements requires agreeing upon all of them.  And the question contains a seemingly simple one that rarely gets any thought.

Which Miles?

For many carriers, miles are the unifying measurement which ties their metrics together.  It’s so universal that there is very little thought given to categorizing miles beyond “Loaded” or “Empty”.  In fact, the answer to “Which Miles?” is usually “Oh, use Loaded Miles.”

However, there is a lot more granularity to mileage definitions in a complex system like TMWSuite.  To illustrate, here’s a simple example of some of the potential miles that can be derived from TMWSuite as answers to the above question.

LOADED MILES
A trailer is hooked to the Tractor and contains freight.  Usually computed through a standard mileage interface internally based on route points (e.g. ALK PC-Miler 28 Practical).

EMPTY MILES
A trailer is hooked to the Tractor and does not contain freight.  Sometimes overlaps with the definition for Bobtail and Deadhead Miles below.  Usually computed through a standard mileage interface internally based on route points (e.g. ALK PC-Miler 28 Practical).

BOBTAIL MILES
A trailer is not hooked to the Tractor.  Sometimes overlaps with the definition for Empty Miles above.  Usually computed through a standard mileage interface internally based on route points (e.g. ALK PC-Miler 28 Practical).

DEADHEAD MILES
A Tractor is en route to a pickup without freight.  May have a trailer or may pick up a trailer when arriving.  Sometimes overlaps with the definition for Empty Miles above.  Usually computed through a standard mileage interface internally based on route points (e.g. ALK PC-Miler 28 Practical).

BILLED MILES
Miles billed to the customer for the movement of freight.  Usually computed through a standard mileage interface based on agreement with the customer.  May use a different interface than preferred internally due to customer requirements.  May overlap or be wildly inaccurate for Less Than Truckload Moves (you travel 50 miles, but bill 100 miles, because you are billing two shipments at 50 miles while the truck moves).

ODOMETER MILES
Actual miles derived from the Tractor Odometer during the start and end of the movement.  Can be skewed if the odometer reporting technology is not used correctly (driver does not send mobile communications messages in a timely manner, etc…).  Influenced by Out of Route percentage, which can be beneficial or detrimental depending on intent. 


As you can see, there are numerous ways to define miles, and many more than are represented in the sample above.  It’s not uncommon to discuss “Loaded” miles and determine that in reality a customer wants to see every “Billed” mile instead, because if they are being paid for a mile they don’t care whether there is freight in the trailer or not.

Most importantly, the key takeaway is not that there are complex definitions for Miles but that to provide data for analysis we must fully understand the sourcing of that data, and agree upon the definitions, or we cannot gain meaningful information from the results.

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