Accurate location data builds the foundation for all routing and navigation solutions. These solutions are essential to the transportation industry and help drivers get to the right place at the right time; allow back-office staff to calculate accurate driver availability and mileage costs; and provide shippers with updates on the status of their freight.
We’ve previously featured experts on why commercial mapping solutions are so critical from a navigation standpoint; but what all goes into developing such an accurate and industry-specific solution? Spoiler alert: massive amounts of data!
Rishi Mehra, director of operations and strategy at Trimble Maps, shared more about how the division’s recent enhancements to its Places API is creating a new industry standard around commercial location data, how this information is improving routing and mileage calculations for carriers, as well as what his team has on the horizon.
What brought you to Trimble, and what do you and your team work on in your current role?
I have been with Trimble for eight years now.
Back when I joined, Trimble Maps was known as ALK Technologies, and it presented a great opportunity for me to help bring a new product to the market – our current Maps platform. Right from the start, I had a good feeling about it that was immediately validated in connecting with colleagues and leadership. I really like operating in an agile startup mentality – that mindset of “Let’s deliver solutions to solve customer problems quickly and iteratively.” In the end, that’s what brought me here.
Throughout the years, I’ve held a variety of roles with the Maps team, starting as a senior product manager, to my position now as director of operations and strategy.
It’s been a fun ride. Being an engineer at heart, I enjoy trying to solve problems and working with customers to demonstrate our technology. It doesn’t seem like it’s been eight years – I feel like I’m part of a family; it’s a great work environment!
Anything particularly exciting you’re working on right now?
The transportation industry is going through a major transformation right now. Whether you’re talking about access to technology, optimizing operations, improving efficiency, etc. – the pandemic has really expedited transportation companies’ investment into technology to help solve the problems they are facing and grow.
One of the major industry problems we’re addressing right now is standardized commercial location content. How do we ensure that carriers and shippers are all working from the same precise location data? It happens all too often that Carrier A may have a location’s address listed as one thing, and Carrier B has the same address, but with an entirely different zip code that’s miles away, and neither match the true location of the customer.
Many folks may be familiar with our PC*MILER solution, which when it entered the market, calculated highway mileage from zip code to zip code. Then, it evolved to add street-level detail, and further updates included many other features like HAZMAT routes, toll information, etc.
Now, we’re at the next stage of data evolution with more precisely pinpointing those commercial locations. We know this is a pain point for the industry, so we embarked on our current mission to enhance our Commercial Places data and build a standardized library.
Tell us more about that -- this idea of standardizing commercial location data – what all goes into it and why is it so important?
We really want to be at the forefront of creating a new standard in the industry. Data remains our core strength at Trimble Maps: analyzing it, providing solutions that utilize it, enhancing it, and bringing new data to the market. I’m a pretty big “map geek” – I look at data and it tells me a story.
So, when we started digging into this idea of “what is a location” – it’s more than just a point on a map with a circular ring around it. In an ideal world, commercial vehicle drivers should be routed not just to an address, but to the precise right location – the gate of a facility, the service drive, entrance point, etc.
But is that it? What about what they should do when they arrive, are there any actions they need to take? There are often automatic events triggered by passing through the geofence around a facility – perhaps a notification is sent to the back office that the driver has arrived, or their ELD may switch to off-duty status, etc.
Many mapping solutions place a “pin” at a location with a mile-wide radius around the address. However, as you know, that’s not actually accurate if the driver crosses that geofence with another mile before they actually reach the facility. And in this current capacity crunch, every minute of a driver’s day counts! Eliminating frustrations like this around inaccurate location data goes a long way in keeping drivers happy.
Ultimately, what we implemented is an actual polygon-shaped boundary around the true, actual border of a location (Place) – also known as a Geofence – instead of that standard circle. What this allows is more accurate navigation to the actual entrance of a facility, more accurate ETAs, mileage calculations, driver availability and more.
What kinds of data are you collecting about each location and what insights can be gleaned from that information?
We’re populating our Places data by capturing as much data as possible about more than 4.5 million commercial locations in the U.S. We have highly skilled Geographic Information System (GIS) and data teams who use some of the top industry tools to gather this information, and we also source a great deal of information from the actual location owners themselves – rest stops, gas stations, warehouses and more.
We leverage all of this data to create very precise polygons around the perimeter of a location and feed that into our solutions for drivers and back-office staff for optimal accuracy when it comes to navigation, notifications and asset activity. Users can also create custom notes, provide contact information for locations and more.
With that information, we can help fleets track many different types of metrics – one of the most common ones would be arrival and departure times at a location. Finding ways to reduce dwell time is currently a huge topic of conversation in the industry, so having this type of data – and knowing that it’s actually accurate – could have massive impacts on driver uptime and utilization.
Another benefit is improved routing and ETAs – because drivers have access to the most accurate information about a location, such as which entrance to use, there are fewer delays due to incorrect directions, and less likelihood of risky driving behaviors caused by stress and confusion. And because the locations in the Maps platform are precise, carriers can more accurately calculate actual mileage and costs, ultimately improving the bottom line.
There are so many ways this data can be leveraged! We are looking forward to continuing to roll out innovative new features to our customers to optimize efficiency.
What sets Trimble Maps’ solutions apart from others on the market?
Everything we do is rooted in data – but not just any data, it’s data that comes from commercial vehicles. We did not start by trying to solve problems for consumer cars on the road. We deliberately focus very uniquely on serving the commercial vehicle market and build our solutions with that specific niche in mind.
And that’s very critical – truck drivers and dispatchers need to know about every bridge height, every weight restriction, and much more. There are so many consumer applications that do not have this data – and many new entrants to the market every year that try to enter this space. But it’s not easy to do – you have to start with the right foundational data, which we do well.
We are also highly customer-focused and delivery-focused when it comes to our solution. What I mean by that is that we break larger strategies down into smaller chunks to deliver solutions quickly and show how they’re making an impact – even if it may be smaller to start. We’re always aiming to build the trust of our customers and demonstrate that we’re their technology partner for the long run that consistently and continuously delivers on our promises.
Trimble Maps is also part of the broader Trimble ecosystem -- whether it’s our own solution or an integration with an external partner, we have all the pieces that the commercial transportation industry needs to be successful, running operations effectively and efficiently.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’d like to end with the idea that the Maps group is on a journey. I’m a big sports fan, so if you compare our journey to a baseball game, we’re in the bottom of the third inning – not even close to the end of the game.
We’ve really just started this journey, and it’s going to be an exciting one. We have some cool things coming down the pike!