Staying ahead of Mother Nature: interview with John Bosse
Drivers and fleets can't control the weather, but John Bosse of The Weather Company believes that, with a little help, they have the ability to effectively plan for it.
It's wintertime, and the truck driving is far from easy. For fleets and drivers, January means delays, safety hazards, and general misery across a large swath of the country. With that in mind, The Weather Company, which provides solutions to help businesses—including the world's airlines—minimize the impact of the elements on their operations, established a program tailored to the rig warriors.
In an interview with Mark B. Solomon, DC Velocity's executive editor-news, John Bosse, The Weather Company's offering manager, travel and transportation, talked about the Atlanta-based business's approach to helping truckers cope with the weather, the role of the Internet of Things in its value proposition, and the cost of weather-related accidents on the supply chain.
Q: You were acquired by IBM Corp. in 2015. What did IBM purchase?
A: IBM acquired our business solutions group, our advertising business that is now Watson Advertising, and The Weather Channel's digital properties, which include The Weather Channel app, Weather.com, and Weather Underground. IBM did not acquire the Weather Channel broadcast network.
Q: Truck fleets for years have traditionally relied on National Weather Service (NWS) reports and other sources of secondary research to help plan routes and driver schedules. Can you describe how your service works and how it differs from what's already out there?
A: Our operations dashboard complements the data provided by the National Weather Service with weather information tailored to specific customers. Additionally, we go beyond zone forecasts and can provide temporal and spatial resolution, offering a forecast over more than 2.2 billion locations around the entire globe. This means that drivers can understand what is ahead of them no matter what their destination.
Q: How do you define ROI (return on investment) for your service, and can you provide an example of how a customer has benefited from using it?
A: When we look at ROI for trucking, we consider two key issues: accident prevention and delay mitigation. Combining both issues, here's an example of potential ROI for a 5,000-truck fleet. There were over 430,000 large-truck accidents on U.S. roadways in 2014. That means accidents affected about 4 percent of the estimated 11 million large trucks on the road that year. Using that ratio, an operator of a 5,000-truck fleet can expect 200 accidents a year. By arming drivers with advance knowledge of expected hazardous weather, they are able to plan around it or at least be adequately prepared for it. This knowledge can reduce accidents by at least 5 percent, at an estimated cost of $148,000 per accident. This results in a $1.5 million savings for the company.
When it comes to delay mitigation, it is estimated that the average cost of congestion is $5,664 per truck in the U.S. With advance weather knowledge, coupled with our traffic flow and incident data, we are seeing at least a 5-percent reduction in delays. This converts to $1.3 million in annual savings for the same 5,000-truck fleet.
Q: Can you describe a solution that you would provide to a carrier?
A: A typical solution would involve a combination of services. Drivers and driver business leaders would have access to our "Operations Dashboard" app to track weather and traffic on their routes before they drive. This situational awareness would help them select the right routes, maximize their hours of service, and increase safety. In addition, driving alerts are designed to notify drivers via their in-cab telematics systems when hazardous weather is reported on the road ahead. This lets the driver stay focused on the road but anticipate conditions that will impact both travel speeds and safety by giving them time to change or pull off the road if conditions warrant. Additionally, drivers can combine our weather and traffic data with their own dispatch and asset tracking displays.
Q: What non-IT tips would you give to fleets to help them get ahead of the elements?
A: We like to say that drivers should "brief before you drive." Pilots don't enter a cockpit without a weather briefing, and neither should drivers. With the tools available today, drivers can be better prepared for what lies ahead if they take a minute to review traffic flow, traffic incidents, and the expected road weather conditions before getting in the cab. A quick review during a drop-and-hook or after a fuel stop can improve situational awareness for the next several hours.
Q: What was the catalyst to extend The Weather Company's reach into truck transport?
A: For 40 years, we have worked with global airlines to provide the foundational weather tools used in their daily operations. The extension into surface transport seemed natural, especially with IBM's deep roots serving the industry. The two industries parallel each other more than is visible, and it has everything to do with route optimization, enhanced safety, and maximized performance and efficiency. Ground drivers are the pilots on the ground; they have the same needs when it comes to potential weather conditions. Add into the equation that there are other drivers on the roads causing traffic, and you begin to get a clearer view of why solutions are needed that can help reroute drivers and get them to their destinations with the same safety and efficiency parameters as those given to aviation.
Q: Is the module available to shippers and third-party logistics service providers (3PLs) that work with truckers on behalf of their shipper customers?
A: Yes it is. The service is available across all corners of the industry.
Q: Do you have any data to quantify the cost of bad weather on the trucking ecosystem?
A: Bad weather costs the U.S. trucking industry more than $14 billion annually. According to the Department of Transportation, 22 percent of all U.S. traffic accidents are weather-related. Additionally, we know there were 438,000 large-truck accidents in 2014. So approximately 96,360 of those accidents were likely to be weather-related. If you look at the average cost per trucking accident, which we believe to be $148,000, and the number of total weather-related incidents in a year, it calculates out to more than $14 billion in costs.
Q: Can you describe the role that the Internet of Things (IoT) plays in your weather forecasting model for trucks?
A: IoT is a critical piece of improving the driving experience because data collected from vehicles greatly deepens the volume and quality of real-time observations. This detailed understanding of the road state will move us far beyond the few thousand Road Weather Information System (RWIS) sensors that report today, enabling the monitoring of more roads and improving road-surface forecasts.
Q: Can truckers use these tools for nonbusiness-related purposes?
A: Absolutely. Our dashboard has all of the standard weather features and information that you would see on television or on the Internet. In fact, The Weather Company supplies most of the weather data and graphics used by local broadcasters. This means truckers can plan for short and longer road trips in their "off-time," as well as look for daily and weekly weather conditions.
About the Author
Executive Editor - News
Mark Solomon joined DC VELOCITY as senior editor in August 2008, and was promoted to his current position on January 1, 2015. He has spent more than 30 years in the transportation, logistics and supply chain management fields as a journalist and public relations professional. From 1989 to 1994, he worked in Washington as a reporter for the Journal of Commerce, covering the aviation and trucking industries, the Department of Transportation, Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court. Prior to that, he worked for Traffic World for seven years in a similar role. From 1994 to 2008, Mr. Solomon ran Media-Based Solutions, a public relations firm based in Atlanta. He graduated in 1978 with a B.A. in journalism from The American University in Washington, D.C.
More articles by Mark B. Solomon
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