Telematics '13: Fleet's Road Ahead
Read about the latest in telematics trends and innovations.
Photo via iStockphoto.com
The business case has been made: Telematics offer organizations a proven way to see exactly how their fleet is operating and how to run it more efficiently. But that doesn't mean telematics technology can rest on its laurels. Instead, telematics providers are continually finding innovative ways to use the technology, and inventing newer, better solutions.
Innovations in telematics are everywhere — from changes in the way telematics devices look and work to how they're used to influence key business metrics. It's clear they're an important business tool fleets can't overlook.
Here's a look at the latest in telematics trends and a peek at what's to come in the future.
DEVELOPMENTS FOR DEVICES
There's no single solution when it comes to telematics. Today, telematics offer a multitude of choices to fit each fleet's unique business needs. These are just a few.
New Networks Outdate Devices
A major change is coming that will affect telematics users nationwide: Over the next few years, cellular providers will be sunsetting 2G networks and upgrading to 3G. With 2G being the standard mobility operators introduced several years ago, many devices in the field today are 2G. That means in just a few short years, older equipment will no longer be supported — and users will have to upgrade their equipment. Obviously this can mean a major investment for fleets.
Fortunately, many devices are already 3G capable, so some fleets are in the clear. For those preparing to buy new devices, it's more important than ever to ask vendors if their devices are 3G capable — and if the fleet is protected from a box swap far into the future.
Improved User Interface
With ever-increasing datasets at their fingertips, users of telematics require easy-to-use interfaces that can be viewed at a glance and can go anywhere. Whether data is inputted by a driver, viewed via a dashboard, or reported on, user interfaces have risen to these challenges.
More and more drivers are relying on portable devices to input data that will be integrated with telematics data. For these users, a wide array of devices has been developed to match the specific job function.
For instance, some devices can be bolted to the dashboard so they're not left behind. Others are smaller, making it easy for drivers to take a device with them as they get in and out of the car. Still, others may need touchscreens that can be operated while wearing work gloves. Today, telematics devices are matching the practicality of the job.
For drivers, interface has to be simple so they can keep their eyes on the road. Now, some devices include a voice kit so drivers can interact with them hands free.
For fleet managers back in the office, dashboards need to make sense of the data points most important to them in that moment. Now, users can create and save a number of dashboards. For instance, a fleet manager could have one dashboard for dispatching information, one with just maps, one with just graphs, and one with maintenance information and utilization data.
Many interfaces also allow drag-and-drop functions for specific tools or data, making the most frequently used items easy to locate.
Vehicle location reporting has come a long way as well. For large fleets with hundreds of vehicles on the road, viewing vehicles on the map has become much simpler. With group clusters on the map, instead of seeing hundreds of little dots, users can now see the number of vehicles in a region and dive down to see individual units if needed.
Some interfaces can even create storylines from telematics data by comparing fleet metrics against benchmarks and industry metrics, then revealing opportunities for improvement.
And finally, fleets can overlay information on top of their telematics data to make informed decisions. For instance, fleets can overlay weather or Doppler maps on vehicle location, giving a dispatcher the ability to re-route a driver heading into dangerous weather conditions, sparing them from slower — and unsafe — driving conditions.
Fleet managers used to have to run three different reports to find three different data elements, but can now locate data faster and easier.
Today, fleets can build custom reports based on their varied business needs. Reports can be pulled faster than ever. Now, a huge report for hundreds or even thousands of vehicles can be pulled in just a few seconds. The more accessible the data, the more likely a fleet can make good use of it.
Information on the Go
As society trends toward data on the go, fleets are no different. The desktop user interface is no longer the primary interface for fleet tracking. As managers are increasingly mobile, they need reporting and updates on their phones as easily as they do at their desk.
Fortunately, more telematics providers offer the capability to get alerts and reports on mobile interfaces like iPads, iPhones, and Android devices. These days, many fleet managers don't spend their entire day at their desks — they're in meetings, on the road, and checking up on people.
For these reasons, fleet data is pared down so it can be viewed on the smaller screens of tablets and smartphones and fleet managers can see their fleets at a glance.
With tablet and smartphone technology, drivers can also work more productively. Instead of checking in at the office, they can use mobile apps to check in and out for the day, accept jobs, and let the office know the status of their jobs. Not having to check in with the office means a reduction in fuel spend and a more productive employee. Both of these results directly affect the bottom line.
The last thing fleets want after making a large telematics investment is to learn their solution can't handle future growth. For this reason, telematics providers have dedicated themselves to scalability. Now, telematics solutions can handle increased data, added features, and can communicate with external serial devices.
In the past, as fleets grew and data size grew with them, some systems couldn't handle the increase. Reports would crash, data would be unavailable — and fleet managers would be frustrated.
Today, software architecture is scaled for reporting and administration of very large fleets, so if computing gets intensive, the software can handle it. As fleets grow, the software grows with them, keeping fleet management simplified and organized, no matter how large the fleet may get.
If a fleet wants to start with a basic tracking device, it can take this first step, then add more features as needed. These scalable devices can add on components like a terminal for hours of service tracking, a Garmin unit for simple dispatch and navigation, temperature probes for refrigerated tracking, as well as passing through custom data from a third-party piece of hardware, like a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) reader or data from a snowplow control.
Communicating With External Devices
Input/Output Expandability (IOX) lets fleets expand the capability of their telematics solution without increasing costs or the size of the device. With a port that allows for other IOX expanders to be connected to it, telematics devices can communicate with external serial devices, read digital on-off signals, and read analog signals.
IOXs are easy to install and let fleets advance the functionality of the system with as many IOXs as needed for a single device. Examples of IOXs include Garmin interface, driver ID, iridium satellite, RFID, and digital auxiliary.
With IOXs, fleets only have to pay for what they need to add on, thereby reducing costs. They also reduce in-vehicle hardware space, since there is no need to include another device in the vehicle.
DO MORE WITH TECHNOLOGY
Just as telematics providers offer more options for hardware and interface, so too are they offering more ways to work with telematics data. Integration with other business applications and in-cab technology are just a few of the areas in which fleets can do more with telematics.
Looking at data in isolation only goes so far. The ability to overlay various metrics makes it easier to turn telematics data into action. From fueling information and productivity to safety, there are endless opportunities for improvement when data is integrated.
When vehicle location is integrated with fuel card transaction data, fleet managers can identify when the assigned vehicle was not at the fuel site when its assigned card was used. They can also use telematics-based mileage to divide against fuel transaction gallons to get a true MPG from objective data points. Both help prevent fuel theft and slippage.
Planning and Scheduling
Telematics data can also be integrated with planning and scheduling tools to monitor the status of activities against a schedule. This information can help dispatchers inform customers of estimated arrival times, as well as status updates.
When data on stop time — reported by telematics devices — is integrated with sales and productivity metrics, it can help fleets optimize stop times and improve sales. For instance, if the average stop time to make a delivery to a retail store is 20 minutes but data shows it's twice that on certain days, the fleet manager can work with the driver to improve that metric. This can have a major impact on business by improving total throughput and ensuring the vehicle is always used productively.
Through data integration, fleets can also develop more robust driver profiles. By combining telematics data with Motor Vehicle Records (MVRs), training records, on-road driver observation reports, and documented one-on-one interventions, fleet managers can have a much deeper understanding of driver behavior and can leverage this understanding to improve driver safety.
Armed with this data, fleet managers can make a direct, one-click connection between seeing a risky behavior in the telematics data and assigning appropriate training. Or, they might take a more global look at the data and realize they need improved driver screening. However the data is viewed, it allows fleet managers to make better-informed decisions about drivers who improve their fleet's overall safety.
Telematics are also being integrated with workforce management applications. This can provide real-time visibility for dispatching on both work orders and vehicles simultaneously. It can also authenticate and compare reporting of onsite time between a technician's hand-held application and the vehicle's telematics device. This can also help fleet managers understand the standard time duration of work orders for the purposes of planning and budgeting.
With the ability to measure productivity, performance, safety, compliance and maintenance — not to mention countless other metrics captured through other business solutions — integration helps fleet run at the pinnacle of efficiency.
In-cab technology has seen major advances in the world of telematics and can now provide real-time information on driver behavior.
In-cab video is one way fleet managers can see exactly what's happening in the cab. With in-cab cameras that continuously record driver behavior, video technology captures footage of drivers when the system is triggered by a G-force event like hard braking, fast cornering, or rapid acceleration. At that time, the system captures 60 seconds of footage before and after the event, and a fleet manager is alerted in real time.
This means no more sifting through footage — fleet managers see the exact snippets they need to understand an incident, and can use it to appropriately coach drivers or learn the cause of a crash.
In-cab technology doesn't stop with video. Now, drivers can also get real-time feedback on their driving. Instead of coaching drivers weeks or months after the behavior happens, fleet managers can receive alerts and close the loop immediately with real-time communication flowing back to the driver as an unwanted behavior occurs.
For example, systems allow a fleet manager to see if a driver is between 5 mph and 10 mph above the speed limit for longer than 15 seconds, and automatically deliver an audible in-cab warning. Oftentimes correcting the behavior is as simple as that — the driver doesn't need to be punished, the supervisor doesn't need to be involved, but there just needs to be that in-cab reminder and the driver will self-correct.
If that doesn't work or if the driver is more than 10 mph above the speed limit, systems can issue an alert to the supervisor and have the violation go on the driver's record. Audible alerts for behaviors like turning too hard or harsh braking — anything telematics technology can sense or record — can also trigger automated in-cab warnings.
Continuing to Meet the Need
With so many advances in telematics technology, it's clear that as business needs develop, telematics will rise to meet them. So if it appears a solution doesn't exist for whichever fleet improvements you seek, ask a provider first — there's likely a solution for that and more out there.