Not everyone gets as excited about sitting in front of a screenful of numbers as Eddie Garza does. For Eddie, safety manager for LeFleur Transportation, getting a fresh batch of new driving data is like Christmas morning.
It wasn’t as if Eddie set off to conquer the world with spreadsheets. It was more like his natural curiosity kicked into overdrive when he got near data. But he knows not everyone shares his enthusiasm. So, over his six-year career in transportation, Eddie’s developed a few tactics to get folks who don’t find numbers particularly fascinating to care about analytics.
This is the story of how one data geek got drivers and managers of his company on board with safety analytics. It all started a few months after Eddie was hired in 2011 as a field auditor for LeFleur Transportation, a passenger transportation company based in Ridgeland, Miss. Eddie began looking at the driving data his company was collecting. Over time, he started to see patterns in the data—spikes and outliers, numbers that are so far afield that they stuck out like sore thumbs. He began to play with the numbers so that he could spot more sore thumbs, then try to find out what caused them.
When Eddie moved into the company’s IT department a couple of years later, he started to send data reports to managers, including his “Speeder of the Week.” Up until then, the speeding data had been raw, and few at the company paid much attention to them. “I started setting parameters so I’d get only data that’s above a certain threshold to generate my reports,” Eddie said. This exercise became a lot easier when the company switched in 2013 to Lytx’s DriveCam, which gave him more-relevant data to work with.
“For some managers, it was new for someone like me to give them data on their own people,” Eddie said. “After the first couple of reports, nothing really happened. But after four or five reports, people started to see patterns, and they began to pay attention.”
But while Eddie loved data, he learned that data can also make folks wary, partly because people don’t always fully understand it and partly because it implies change. So rather than demand action, Eddie took a softer approach.
“I made it a point not to tell managers what they should be doing in their operations to solve their issues,” he said of his early years as a member of the IT Department. “My role was to bring them information so they can make their own decisions. To make analytics more than just numbers on paper, I need to get the information into the hands of people who can do something about it at the operations level, day to day. But I try not to get too involved in how they leverage the data; otherwise I’d find myself in gridlock if managers might feel I’m challenging how they do things. For me, it’s not about doing their job for them. I want all management to understand I’m bringing a new tool for them to use, a tool that has a lot of science behind it, not my thoughts or opinions.”
Eddie also invested a lot of time making his reports relevant, interesting and simple. He designed his reports to call attention to two or three key areas rather than putting out a lot of numbers about everything. “I had to sell the data by calling attention to the most important areas that they should be paying attention to,” he said. “The worst thing I could do was to give them a spreadsheet with a bunch of numbers.”
After a steady barrage of reports, top managers at LeFleur started to buy in, asking for more details and information, or for deeper analyses.
This was good, but Eddie wanted to go further -- he wanted to reach drivers, too. After all, drivers have ultimate control of their vehicles. But generally drivers didn’t receive data reports at the time, so it was new territory. “Drivers are often dismissed in our industry as not being interested in or unable to understand data,” Eddie said. “But I argued that data is only hard to understand if you present it in a difficult manner. Everyone can understand data if it is clear and to the point.”
So he began his talk with a single turn at an intersection that every single driver at his company take as they drive back to the office from their daily routes.
“That one turn generated the single most number of events geographically for our company,” Eddie recalled. “It was a fast-approaching turn after exiting the freeway near the office. Drivers were still braking hard while they were in the turn due to the speed and distance. It comes up so fast that many of our drivers didn’t realize they weren’t braking adequately before changing direction on their wheels to turn. When I showed drivers the data, I saw people’s lights turn on. There was understanding.”
Thirty days after Eddie made his presentation, the speeding and hard cornering dropped by half.
“Just getting the information to drivers changed behavior,” Eddie said. And that, in a nutshell, is the power of data.
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