If you are building a technology-based company, among the most important hires are the “data guys.” They are the ones that drive product development, and they are the ones can take the millions of data points available and turn them into useful solutions. If you can hire someone who was integral in helping Uber build out its ride-sharing model, that is a coup.
KeepTruckin, which has grown from a small startup to a powerful fleet management solutions provider with more than 800 employees across six offices, recently nabbed the talents of Jairam Ranganathan, formerly Uber’s senior director of product. Ranganathan serves as vice president of products for KeepTruckin, joining co-founder and chief technology officer Ryan Johns and Kush Kella, head of product, in helping push the company’s technology innovations forward.
“There are lot of interesting similarities between what I learned at Uber and what [we can do] at KeepTruckin,” Ranganathan told FreightWaves.
Calling himself a “data guy,” Ranganathan is excited for the opportunity to grow KeepTruckin. He noted that he sees trucking as similar to other industries in that it is trying to incorporate all the available data into useful nuggets of information. The key is “how to use the data effectively,” he said.
Prior to Uber, Ranganathan spent three-and-one-half years at Cloudera as senior director of product management and before that more than 10 years at VMware, a cloud infrastructure and digital workspace technology company. He has spent most of his career looking at data problems. At Uber, he worked on artificial intelligence (AI) and data solutions, favorably comparing the problems Uber was trying to solve with those in trucking.
“If you think about how Uber makes its model efficient, it wants to keep drivers engaged more often,” Ranganathan explained. “If you drop prices you will actually get more passengers, which fills up empty time and you will make more money.”
Noting that simply dropping prices is not the solution in every mode, Ranganathan said the way Uber solved this problem – through data – is how trucking can attack its problems to become more efficient and profitable.
“Those kinds of things actually [are similar] to trucking. How much data can be used [to solve problems],” he said. “If you start thinking about what is possible, you can drive a lot of efficiencies. The data can tell you what makes sense, what can be profitable.”
Before making the decision to switch industries and join KeepTruckin, Ranganathan said he learned about trucking.
“I spent a bunch of time learning about the history of trucking,” he said. “It’s interesting to see how fragmented the industry is … and it’s surprising how little data there is [being used].”
Saying that fleets are “operating in the dark,” Ranganathan believes he can help unlock some of the doors data can open during his time at KeepTruckin. “As we are able to do more with this data, we can drive more efficiencies in the market,” he said. “That was what really got me excited about KeepTruckin.”
On a broader scale, without getting into views on autonomous vehicles, Ranganathan does believe that some of the technologies that underpin these vehicles, such as cameras and sensors, should be used more regularly by fleets today.
As to any specific mandate in his new position, Ranganathan simply said it is “to ensure we build the most robust fleet management system” and use data insight to help truckers and fleets make better decisions. Some of that may include AI, but he cautioned that AI is not the solution to all problems.
“Artificial intelligence is a way to extract better data,” Ranganathan said. “If you look at a graph … AI is really about optimizing that line you would draw to make things perfect. I think that is going to [grow] in trucking over the next few years. It’s very easy to draw a line between two variables or three variables, but it’s very difficult to draw that line across 10,000 variables.”
He pointed to pricing as one area where AI might have a big impact.
For now, Ranganathan is settling into his position and working on the next step in fleet management solutions.