The idea of a central repository of fleet operating data is not new, says the founder of a pioneering maintenance management solutions company. Charles Arsenault projects governments eventually calling on such data collections to help justify or even formulate regulations, but this is only part of the concern expressed by the Association of Equipment Management Professionals (AEMP).
“The potential ramifications of a central repository are staggering, and go well beyond governmental oversight,” says Pat Crail, CEM, vice chair of AEMP’s technology committee. “For example, if a particular manufacturer were to be able to view the entire population of a particular class of machine, they might theoretically pinpoint markets with high concentrations of high-hour machines ripe for replacement, creating a potential competitive advantage. Or, imagine if an end user was able to review the data of a competitor.
“These potential scenarios illustrate the point that it is in the best interest of AEMP to proactively discourage any attempt to create a central data repository for machine operation data,” says Crail, of the Cincinnati-based materials producer and construction contractor John R. Jurgensen Companies. “Further, a keystone for AEMP is the equipment triangle, wherein the end user, OEM and distributor work on a level playing field. A central repository might be considered in direct conflict with that philosophy.”
Arsenault, CEO of Arsenault Associates, stresses his comments about government involvement made during a recent speech to the 21st annual gathering of users of his company’s Dossier fleet management software are not endorsements of such policies, but rather projections based on trends he sees. As one of a half-dozen “originators” of fleet maintenance management solutions, Arsenault says the seeds for a central data repository were planted long ago. “We’ve often talked about the idea of, ‘What if?’ ” he says, “and that ‘What if?’ takes in all kinds of ideas. One of them has always been the idea of a central data repository of information, where people could access and bounce their information off the central database.”
Having spent time himself in the public sector as a former mayor, Arsenault has received feedback from various levels of government over the years indicating to him the idea of a central data repository has public-sector interest. “What we find is that they are constantly looking for ways to validate,” he says, citing safety and environmental issues as examples of government data competence. “When it comes down to operational however, there’s not a whole lot out there, because quite honestly they’re not really on top of that piece. I can perceive a day, and these individuals I was talking to could also perceive the day, when some of this information might be required to be shared with the government,” he says. “Not on a cost basis, not on a basis of giving away company secrets, but rather to see this information and data. Much as you would register your car, you would register some data at the same time: Same idea.
“The idea of a central repository allows anyone – the government or anybody – to slice and dice information as they deem fit,” says Arsenault. “I came up with a saying a while back that, ‘Maintenance is like golf.’ By that, I mean you don’t play against an opponent, but you play against your best last score. Unless you have a computer system in place, you don’t know what your best last score was, let alone being able to measure against it. I can see the day when the government will be able to do the same type of thing, and I believe they will start with bits and pieces where it is related to existing rules and regulations, such as safety and environment, and then eventually identifying areas and moving on to other values that are important at that time.”
Initially, government's use of data would be for validation of existing regulations, stresses Arsenault. “They are not going to come out with new regulations and technology requirements at the same time – there would be too much pushback – and they won’t require all the data, just data slices.” As more expense-conscious companies acquire software for maintenance – being the last place for even small companies to “squeeze the onion,” he says – the level of government involvement could evolve. “I could see where government regulators could say, ‘Gee, we see that such-and-such type of equipment within a certain industry has very poor miles-per-gallon or gallons-per-hour consumptions. What can we do about that?’ ”
The entire scenario of a central data repository is concerning for members of AEMP, says Crail. The association “promotes privacy in the accumulation and use of equipment data. End users have a right, and a duty, to treat such information as proprietary in the same way that they would financial or bid information,” he says. “That is one of the key working philosophies of AEMP’s technology committee. Their ongoing telematics initiative, which is working with the major OEMs to standardize delivery of data from the OEM to the end user, does not include any plans for information to be housed in a central repository or data aggregating service. Rather, it is information that is to be shared between each specific OEM and end user.
“AEMP believes this data is private and privileged communication between the OEM and the end user, and should be treated as such,” says Crail. “Neither OEMs nor end users want this information shared with competitors, and both parties have a duty to treat this data as confidential.”
The potential of government involvement is a threat to the core value and origin of organizations such as AEMP, says Crail. “Associations are a uniquely American creation, the first having formed over 200 years ago. A key reason for their creation was a desire by groups of individuals with common interests and common cause to police themselves without having governmental intervention and oversight. AEMP believes it has a duty of responsibility in this regard, and will continue efforts to keep competitive business practices for the individual construction fleets and OEMs where they belong: In private hands.”