It has been nearly nine months since we welcomed SmartDrive to the Omnitracs family!
Our vision for a converged, end-to-end platform that prioritizes safety, productivity, workflow, routing, dispatch, and compliance is the same today as it was on that optimistic day. With SmartDrive now a part of Omnitracs, our former dream is now quickly on the path to real transfiguration.
To celebrate our milestones, we sat down with Ray Ghanbari, Chief Technology Officer at Omnitracs, for his thoughts around convergence, our industry’s evolution, and everything in between. With over 25 years of technology and leadership experience, Ray brings with him unparalleled insight in the transportation-technology arena. Here’s what he had to share!
Hi, Ray! Tell us a little about yourself.
Hello! I’m the Chief Technology Officer at Omnitracs, and I joined with the SmartDrive acquisition last October, having been CTO at SmartDrive for nearly four years. My professional background is primarily with industries that have gone through large-scale data and analytics transformations — from online marketing to healthcare to financial services.
One of the things that attracted me to transportation was the sense that this industry was just beginning the kind of transformation that other industries have gone through.
How will SmartDrive joining the Omnitracs family impact customers and our industry?
I think it’s a fantastic opportunity to bring together different aspects of the transportation business into a unified platform, operating at an industry scale. At SmartDrive, we focused on understanding driver and vehicle behavior and putting that all together so that more good things and fewer bad things happened. With Omnitracs, we’re able to bring together more data and more insights to better enable and drive the strategic objectives our customers are trying to optimize. We have insight into driver schedules, what routes they should be on, how they perform, how their vehicle is performing, and how those elements tie together with different obligations and objectives that a customer has concerning their fleet. We can also look at everything holistically, so our customers can manage the business outcomes they’re looking to achieve in a much better way.
As we tie our edge and cloud systems together, we’ll better understand what’s happening to the driver and vehicle in real time. We can take advantage of that visibility to connect the dots on their behalf and leverage analytics and machine learning to provide material business outcomes for them and downsize risks they previously had to accept. By doing this all with a unified platform at an industry scale, we’re in a unique position to make a massive impact for our customers and the markets they serve.
How do data and convergence connect?
Convergence has several different aspects. The obvious one is it reduces complexity. Why have three black boxes connected to the vehicle that have to be installed, managed, and maintained? Wouldn’t it be better to have one telematics box that could enable everything you need as a transportation business?
An analogy I always turn to is the smartphone example. When smartphones came on the market, we realized we didn’t need a GPS application, a flip phone, a camera, and all these different aspects of connection separate from another when we could have them together on a single device. But convergence is more than that.
From a data and artificial intelligence (AI) perspective, convergence is entirely game-changing. If you’re not careful, 80 to 90 percent of your time will become trying to figure out how to compare all these incompatible data points from different systems. Often, the data you are comparing are between different systems that just don’t match (timestamps, names, places, etc.), making a meaningful analysis almost impossible without a lot of work. With convergence, you have a single pane of glass through which to see all the critical data in your business. That also means you have a coherent and internally consistent set of data to do data analysis for performance measures and machine learning, so you can automate being proactive in managing your business.
Just like other industries that have gone through similar transformations enabled by data, analytics, and connectivity, convergence is setting us up to have the same strategic benefit for our customers in understanding what’s happening with their vehicles, loads, and drivers, steering things toward the better in real time.
How is Omnitracs spearheading convergence in the data world? What benefits are you seeing/foresee?
One of the most encouraging surprises is that the data and analytics strategies of legacy Omnitracs and legacy SmartDrive are so complimentary. Omnitracs has made significant investments to take all the business insights from our application platforms and really understand — from the macro-level to the micro-level — what’s happening to our customers and our industry as a whole. Legacy SmartDrive leaned heavily into real data streaming and analytics, with embedded analytics and machine learning to drive business objectives and outcomes. The combination of legacy Omnitracs and SmartDrive means we not only can understand business objectives and outcomes, but we can apply that understanding to manage and optimize those objectives in real time.
The benefits we can bring to our customers with an integrated data fabric from the cloud to the vehicle and back are amplified even more still when we can operate and learn from the collective experience at an industry level. Now, we can measure data across hundreds of thousands of vehicles and billions of miles. We can also help managers answer the questions:
- Are my drivers doing well or not doing well?
- How can I help them to do better?
When one of our customers makes their drivers safer, doing so on the Omnitracs platform means they’re helping make all drivers in our industry safer. We’re in a position to help the entire industry lift all boats from an operational and efficiency perspective as we pull all this together.
Where do you see the future of transportation intelligence going?
There are many layers to that. It’s all about making it easier for the right things to happen for our customers and their customers. At the end of the day, our customers want to deliver items from point A to Point B. They want to deliver these items as safely, efficiently, cost-effectively, and predictably as possible. As we gather more insight, we’ll be able to help them fine-tune their processes further.
We’ve all experienced how e-Commerce has evolved over the last 20 years. That’s really been enabled by supply chain, logistics, and online catalog systems coming together so everything can be hyper-optimized. Our journey in transportation is really about that hyper-specialization and enabling that for our customers to deliver their best to their customers.
The arch we are traveling along will be very similar to the e-Commerce transformation. Things will just get progressively easier, more relevant, convenient, and set to a higher and higher standard.
What does it mean to be a successful leader in the transportation technology space?
It’s important to be pragmatic whenever undergoing a transformation. You don’t just shut everything down, work on the future for ten years, throw on a light switch, and then everything magically happens. It’s a co-evolutionary process. By doing things better now, we get permission from our customers to help them do something even better tomorrow, and together we climb the ladder to industry evolution. This is an incremental, step-by-step process that’s as much about listening and understanding as it’s about internalizing and doing. Collectively, we have to figure out when to zig and when to zag to connect the dots between where we are and where we will want to be five years from now.
How would you define successful innovation?
For me, philosophically, I’ve always been an impact person. I believe you measure the worth of your life by the impact you have had and the impact you leave behind. Successful innovation is making a meaningful difference in how people work and what they’re able to accomplish. Innovation is effective when people look back and can’t imagine ever going back to the way things were done before. Innovations that matter are those which help people do things in a fundamentally different and better way.
When innovations make it easier to do the right thing, people fight to keep those innovations, leverage them, and get better. And that drive to evolve is what continues transforming the industry over and over again. It’s what keeps that co-evolutionary process moving forward.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about your role and insight?
I’ve told this story to a couple of people, but I appreciate a chance to share it with everyone. When I first joined SmartDrive four years ago, we sat down and penciled out our strategy and vision for convergence and an industry-level data and analytics fabric. To help us keep things grounded and real, one of the things we brainstormed was if we could work with one partner to make this vision a reality, who would it be? That partner, even back then, was Omnitracs. We believed that even back then, the trust that Omnitracs has, along with the insights to be successful in this industry, would be the perfect complement to realize and actualize the convergence vision we were formulating. So, four years later, it’s been wonderful to dust off those notes with my fellow Omnitracs colleagues and get to work in making it real.
We sincerely enjoyed chatting with Ray and hearing his insightful perspective! For another spotlight of one of our other fearless leaders, check out our conversation with Omnitracs Chief Marketing Officer Amy Barzdukas.