The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

State-of-the-Art Fleet Technology: Telematics

February 2017, by Chris Wolski - Also by this author

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.com.
Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.com.

Editors Note: This article is part of a four-part package that addresses state-of-the-art fleet technology. Read related articles that offer an in-depth look at fuel, safety, and on-the-horizon techology.

Once used exclusively to track the position of vehicles, telematics/GPS technology now allows fleets to monitor vehicle health, driver behavior, and much more along with its traditional role of positioning and routing.

Today’s state-of-the-art telematics technology has evolved into a powerful tool to aid fleet managers in overseeing their fleets and keeping operations running smoothly and safely.

State-of-the-Art Technology

Today’s state-of-the-art technology takes many shapes, but the experts note that “Big Data,” video, the integration of telematics technology into vehicles from the OEMs, and the increasing expansion of safety technology, among others are going to be the most important state-of-the-art features for 2017.

Bernie Kavanagh, senior vice president of Large Fleet for WEX noted that state-of-the-art technology exists in a tension of being simultaneously of its time and a little ahead of it.

“It’s anticipating the needs down the road and developing products and functionality to anticipate and meet those needs now,” he said. “Anybody can look and see what’s happening and try to solve a problem today. But if we can see what has been happening, see what’s happening today, and use the technologies in place to prevent things from happening down the road, I think that’s more state of the art.”

At a Glance

Telematics and GPS technology have evolved from a technology that allowed fleets to keep tabs on their assets to one that can be used to monitor behavior, improve safety, and serve the bottom line. Among the state-of-the-art features on today’s telematics systems are:

  • The ability to capture vehicle and 
  • behavior data.
  • The convenience of built-in systems.
  • The use of video to capture and 
  • analyze data.

Fundamentally, it’s perhaps not the technology that has become state of the art but how it’s used.

“The — mostly hidden — blackbox, Big Brother approach is dead,” said Torsten Grunzig, director of sales for TomTom Telematics North America. “State-of-the-art telematics technology delivers real-time data and driver support, for instance, providing driver behavior training and traffic avoidance.”

Integrating Data

Grunzig of TomTom sees integration and Big Data as the driving forces in today’s telematics.

“This year will be the year of integration and Big Data usage to improve overall fleet performance,” he predicted. “The time of standalone solutions is gone. Fleet management will serve as a data source not only to help improve driver performance and vehicle utilization, but also to facilitate the delivery of data for insurance savings, ERP, and CRM systems.”

What makes this development particularly important is that the delivery and integration of data can happen automatically, Grunzig added.

This increased level of integration will have a number of practical benefits for fleets.

“One example of this integration is real-time fleet optimization using Big Data and cloud computing to help fleets become more efficient and revenue focused as things change throughout the day,” said Rob Donat, founder and CEO of GPS Insight. “If you have a list of orders and determine that 25% of the remaining work for the day could be reallocated to different drivers based on the number of drivers that have fallen behind and those that are ahead, that will help the business maximize efficiency and therefore profit on a day-to-day basis.”

Pete Allen, executive vice president of sales for MiX Telematics North America, also sees data integration as a key part of today’s state-of-the-art telematics technology.

“From my perspective, the most exciting fleet telematics technology coming down the road is the ability to integrate additional safety technologies with traditional telematics. This would include in-cab video monitoring, collision avoidance, and fatigue detection technologies,” he said. “Integrated in-cab video provides the fleet with a single solution which triggers short video clips based on the same driver behavior alerts from the traditional fleet management telematics solution. Previously, many fleets were purchasing standalone video solutions and installing them next to their fleet management solution requiring them to manage two systems.”

Adding Video

Surprisingly, video may be one of the biggest developments in transforming traditional telematics into its next iteration: video telematics. But simply adding a camera to the mix isn’t creating this new form of telematics cautioned Kara Kerker, executive vice president and chief marketing officer for Lytx.

“Video telematics integrates data from both the telematics sensors and the video, analyzes the integrated data, and delivers effective insights that can be used in coaching drivers. It’s a powerful and precise solution for safety,” she said. “In today’s world, telematics technologies cannot be considered state of the art without video and the integration of the video-related data. It’s simply not possible to optimize your business and measurably lower claims costs with data alone. When you need to know exactly what happened and why, video adds truth and certainty to data. Video telematics is the most valuable way to understand the truth about fleet operations; it provides increased visibility into what’s happening on the road and inside the cab, including further insight into fuel efficiency, fleet tracking, risky driving behaviors, why they’re happening, and more.”

Allen of MiX continued that video is only one part of the transformative changes that are giving birth to the next generation of state-of-the-art telematics technology. Safety technology is also playing its part in the telematics equation.

“Like standalone video solutions, collision avoidance systems have been around for a while. Fleets are now asking for these systems to be integrated into their fleet management system,” he observed.

Coming as Standard Equipment

For 2017, state-of-the-art telematics technology will likely be ubiquitous since a number of the OEMs will be equipping their vehicles with telematics technology at the factory.

“I believe 2017 has the potential to be one of the first years where there is wider adoption of telematics connectivity via OEM-installed technology,” said Todd Ewing, Director of Product Management, Fleetmatics. “Many vehicles produced over the last two to four years have been embedded with the technology, and the partnerships between OEMs and telematics software providers are really starting to bear fruit for customers.” 

Building on this observation, Kelly Frey, vice president of product marketing for Telogis, added that the built-in 4G modem or Wi-Fi hotspot is another transformative state-of-the-art technology that will be increasingly available.

“So that’s opening up a lot of opportunities, not only for the consumer of the vehicle, the driver, or the technician that’s in the vehicle,” he said. “But it’s also opening up an opportunity to include Wi-Fi-enabled sensors. So you could consider those to be IoT sensors; things like a door sensor, a cargo sensor, an onboard weigh-scale system, camera, and vision system. Increasingly, we’re seeing this push towards a 4G Wi-Fi hotspot in the vehicle that’s allowing for this increased connectivity of peripheral devices and technology solutions around the vehicle.”

Impacting the Bottom Line

As much as data integration and safety systems are crucial in keeping telematics state of the art, perhaps even more important for commercial fleets is that telematics continues to help fleets serve the bottom line by decreasing costs and increasing business efficiency, according to Scott Sutarik, business development, OEM sales manager for Geotab.

“Through gathering and analyzing vehicle diagnostic data, fleet managers have full insight into the health of the vehicles within their fleet,” he said. “With this information, fleet managers can directly contribute to the overall profitability of their business by optimizing their fleet operating budget with proactive scheduling of preventive maintenance. This avoids costly repairs and improves driver safety, taking your fleet from a ‘cost to the business’ to a ‘profit driver.’”

Donat of GPS Insight sees route optimization as a means to impact the bottom line directly.

“Any fleet willing to take the time and effort to integrate their work order management system with a telematics provider that offers real-time route optimization in order to provide optimized plans for the day, as well as re-optimized plans, and adapt the daily schedules of their drivers will be more efficient and see a big savings spanning across many metrics to include customer satisfaction since they will be taking care of their customers on a more timely basis. This applies to most fleets in the service industry,” he said.

Becoming Autonomous

Invariably, the subject matter experts looked over the next horizon to discuss what state-of-the-art telematics technology may look like in the future, particularly with the advent of autonomous technology. According to the experts, telematics will definitely have a part to play in the age of the autonomous vehicle.

“Autonomous driving and emerging connected car technologies have dominated headlines for what to look for in 2017,” said Greg Hill, senior director of product management for CalAmp.

For Hill, it’s aftermarket technology that will continue to impact and evolve the telematics market in relation to connected car technologies, which will impact a number of segments of the market beyond traditional fleet users, particularly the growing insurance telematics market.

“Dealers benefit as new aftermarket connected car applications are developed to improve inventory management and improve productivity on the lot as they can be notified of low battery, tire pressure or other vehicle diagnostic information,” he said. “For the consumer, these applications are tightly integrating their vehicles with their connected life and provide an array of safety features. Finally, for insurers, fleet telematics enhancements in 2017 include the ability to automate first notice of loss and first notice of injury through applications like instant crash notification as well as the ability to automatically generate damage and bodily injury estimates to streamline the claims process and increase policyholder retention rates.”

Kerker of Lytx made the case that telematics makes as much sense for the autonomous vehicles of the future as the driven vehicles of today, and offered a vision of what this future might look like.

“We believe AVs on the roads will increase the need for — and value of — telematics data, especially as humans are asked to go from active drivers to ‘pilots’ called on to make quick decisions,” she said. “Looking ahead to the transition period of AV adoption, our video telematics platforms can take in as much relevant information from as many sources as possible, analyze that data and use the insights to improve driver performance to be relevant to the technology environment in which they operate.”

Frey of Telogis believes the next five years or so will see the continued integration of vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure connectivity, aided by telematics.

“I don’t think in five years, we’ll see a lot autonomous vehicles on the road. But all of the infrastructure needed for autonomous vehicles will start to be there; meaning things like advance routing and navigation, advanced collision avoidance, lane departure capability, so ADAS is speeding the autonomous vehicle revolution,” he said.
While Frey doesn’t foresee autonomous vehicles on the highways anytime soon, he does see another element of the high-tech mobility future sooner rather than later.

“What we absolutely will see, within five years, is the vehicle-to-vehicle connectivity,” he said. “So vehicle-to-vehicle infrastructure will be there and also vehicle-to-infrastructure. Within five years, if I’m coming up to an intersection and there’s nobody else at that intersection, there’s no reason that my vehicle won’t be able to communicate to that stoplight. And that stoplight will give the green, so I can go through and then someone else will be coming the other way and it’ll go back red, because it knows there’s no other vehicle and that vehicle will go through.”

This “smart” infrastructure will affect all aspects of the cityscape, including neighborhood lighting that will be activated when a vehicle or pedestrian passes by.

“So you’ll see that vehicle-to-infrastructure, I think, be a big area of improvement because it satisfies the needs of society at large,” said Frey.

Sutarik of Geotab sees the future of telematics as both pivotal in the connected future, but also continuing to serve the bottom line in a safer environment.

“We believe that the telematics device will be a conduit to a variety of mobile apps, software add-ins and hardware add-ons that build a safer, personalized connected-car experience for fleets and their drivers,” he said. “Additionally, telematics solutions will offer invaluable data that businesses can use to benchmark against industry standards to further improve processes and their bottom line, while aiding the betterment of roads and society for all. We’ll understand more about traffic congestion patterns, potential road hazards, and real-time weather information, and relay that back to cities, building a safer transportation system for everyone.”

The Future is Now

But the future may already be here in a sense. Ewing of Fleetmatics noted that the telematics technology that will be available within the next five years will be individualized to the user experience, a demand already put on much of the technology we use in our daily lives.

“I think the next five years will bring more focus on design and user experience, to ensure the customer has the solutions they need to solve problems where and when they need them — but not features they don’t ever use,” he said. “Solutions will also eventually become more predictive of trends in a fleet or driver workforce, rather than just relaying historical data. This will involve research, machine learning and business intelligence tools that are coming online as we speak across the industry.”

Donat of GPS Insight sees mobile apps as a big part of the future of telematics.

“Fleet management will continue to become more decentralized, which means that mobile apps will become more and more critical for fleet management, ultimately being the primary tool,” predicted Donat.

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