August 30, 2023

Making big insights count through little data


As the physical world becomes more interconnected with the digital sphere through the convergence of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT), there is a growing overlap between technology, data and people.

OT and IT convergence are “creating friction around risk, around safety, because we’re merging two things that have, historically, been very different,” said Mollie Breen, CEO and co-founder of Perygee.

The Internet of Things (IoT), or a network of hardware devices that are interconnected and transmit data with other systems and the cloud, is helping to merge OT and IT. It’s enabling OT systems, especially used in fields like manufacturing, to collect data and transmit it to other systems that control them.

When applied to the trucking industry, think about autonomous vehicles. While traditionally semi-trucks have had self-contained systems, the technology involved within autonomous vehicles is changing that. Through sensors, autonomous vehicles are constantly capturing a wealth of data about the world around them and the vehicle itself. Then, that information is shared with another system through the cloud.

Because there is so much information being gathered and exchanged within a network of devices, it’s impossible for a human to process it all without some help from AI. It’s important to leverage this data coming in across OT and IT systems; the more touch points there are, the more exposure to security vulnerabilities. 

Breen joined Antwan Banks, director of enterprise cybersecurity, during the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA)’s July cybersecurity webinar to discuss all of that data, “big data” and particularly why “little data” is needed to help make it actionable.

The NMFTA knows the importance of protecting your data. It has a long history as a trucking membership organization focused on helping to elevate trucking businesses through standards and classifications. Now it is pushing forward awareness and education of cybersecurity so businesses in the transportation industry can protect themselves in the digital age, including through research, resources and its annual trucking cybersecurity conference.

What is big data?

Today, each device connected to the internet collects a vast amount of data and, as technology advances, it is only projected to grow.

Big data refers to an extremely large amount of information, in a variety of forms, that is constantly being gathered. It’s an impossible amount of information for  humans to analyze on their own and even for traditional computing systems to handle, so specialized platforms are needed to process it. 

Big data can be especially useful to help find security vulnerabilities, identify changes in and improve performance, and inventory management.

As an example of big data, consider a security camera — or, similarly, a dashcam. 

“From the feeds that a security camera is constantly taking in, you can use algorithms on top of that big data to be able to finely tune what filters you’re using so you get a better image,” Breen explained.

Big data can be used across multiple pieces of equipment, such as machinery in a shop that are all collecting performance data. Through gathering and computing big data, anomalies can quickly be found.

“A human may not be able to notice the difference of just one machine going outside its baseline, but if you have a broader understanding of how all these machines are performing, a computer can easily detect that one machine is going outside of its baseline,” Breen added.

Once a system has identified a problem, however, the next step is to take action —  but to effectively do that, little data is required.

Little data, big significance 

If you’re the person responsible for taking action to respond to big data insights, you need little data to truly make it usable. 

That is, you need very specific information surrounding the device or equipment, which is up to your organization and the people within it to track. This information is needed to quickly respond to issues, decrease cybersecurity threats, get more out of tools and otherwise use it to improve efficiencies.

You likely use little data every day. To better understand it, Breen said to think of little data as answers to one or multiple of these questions: 

  • Where is the device located?
  • Who is the asset owner?
  • What’s the vendor’s contact information?
  • What’s the end of life or support status?
  • Is there a replacement?
  • Does it need to operate 24/7?
  • What’s the maintenance schedule?

Though it may seem straightforward, it can be hard for stakeholders to find answers to these questions. A lack of proper storing of little data can significantly hinder a company’s ability to use big data insights.

For example, you need to find out whether a vendor may or may not support patching the device, or where the device is located because it can impact quality and precision, and you need to know the asset owner to know the maintenance history.

It’s hard to find answers to little data because they are either stored in disparate locations, unstructured and up to the end user to standardize or undocumented and only stored in employees’ memories.

“If we’re going to try to get better about tracking little data, we have to be embrace that fact that what we’re doing under the hood is breaking down silos,” Breen said.

Best little data practices

Breen recommends the following best practices to better track and manage little data:

  • Plan. Pick one process to improve and map out what data you need ahead of time.
  • Integrate. Integrate systems to work off shared data as much as possible.
  • Embed. Embed data collection in your processes so it can scale over time.
  • Refresh. Create a community channel or recurring meeting to identify new or improve existing little data collection.

Implications for the trucking industry

Just like all industries, trucking receives a wealth of data from its network of devices connected to the internet. 

Whether that is telematics devices, laptops, tablets, phones, truck dashcams, facility security cameras, etc., there is a vast amount of information on a network, and it’s only continuing to grow. As it does, it will be all the more necessary to have little data in check.

Ultimately, taking action about big data an organization collects, especially to identify anomalies in order to get ahead of security weaknesses, is paramount to protect a business against cybersecurity threats. As time goes on, and the world of IT and OT continue to converge, this will likely continue to become even more relevant for the trucking industry.

“I believe one day in the trucking industry we’re going to feed data from our trucks into a SIEM and we’re going to watch for anomalies in our trucks, whether they’re breaking, communicating with bad IPs, communicating with bad domains, things of that nature,” said Banks, the host of the NMFTA’s cybersecurity webinar.

To learn more about how cybersecurity is becoming increasingly vital to the trucking industry today and in the future, attend the NMFTA’s upcoming Digital Solutions Conference in Houston from Oct. 22 to 25. The conference is free to supply chain and trucking IT, maintenance and cyber professionals as well as visionary CEOs. 

It is the trucking industry’s only cybersecurity conference and focuses on both asset and enterprise security. Attendees will gain perspective on how cybersecurity topics can impact not only their core systems but also the very trucks that their businesses rely on.

To learn more about the NMFTA, click here.


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