The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

How to Increase Fleet Productivity Using Telematics

September 2015, by Kelsey Nolan

Photo courtesy of iStockPhoto.com.
Photo courtesy of iStockPhoto.com.

Telematics is here in full force and is here to stay. By now, you may have integrated some version of the technology for routing or maybe to improve safety or remain competitive within your market. But there is more to it than GPS tracking or saving on fuel costs. With telematics software as robust as it is today, there are many features that can help increase your fleet’s productivity.

In a recent Bobit Business Media survey, 59% of fleets said productivity was a major benefit of implementing telematics — falling just ahead of decreased fuel consumption and improved routing. Arguably, nearly every benefit from telematics can result in increased productivity. Overall, 92% of respondents, which included more than 1,000 commercial and government fleet responses from fleets of all sizes, said telematics had a positive impact on their fleet.

Fleets also saw an average of nearly a 12% decrease in labor costs, showing how increased productivity can lead right to the bottom line. Additionally, fleets in the survey cited an average 10% decrease in fuel consumption with some respondents citing up to a 40% decrease. For accident costs, fleets cited an average of a 21.1% decrease.

So how can telematics help improve your fleet’s productivity? Attention to detail, small and incremental changes, and expanding the ways in which you use the software are ways to start. This article outlines seven major areas you can improve productivity in your operations through telematics.

1. Gauging Maintenance

The area where telematics can provide specific, detailed accuracy for improving your fleet’s productivity is maintenance. Though your vehicles may be on a strict schedule for oil changes, that schedule may not take into account how many actual engine hours your vehicles run. Those hours often get overlooked since it isn’t counted on your odometer. Telematics can provide engine hour data to give you real-time metrics about when you should schedule your preventive maintenance, rather than you or your drivers guessing. This can reduce breakdowns, reduce the time the vehicle is out of commission, and can give you a better idea of when to replace vehicles.

Some telematics providers specialize in maintenance with the ability to identify vehicle trouble codes so that you know when a check engine light or tire-pressure monitoring system has come on, or other types of trouble codes that drivers might not notice. This means you can potentially get the vehicle into the shop for service before a major breakdown occurs, saving your fleet time and money in the long run. In the Bobit Business Media telematics survey above, nearly 37% of respondents reported improved vehicle maintenance through their telematics system.

2. Reducing Idling

Davenport Energy, which provides propane, gasoline, fuel oil and kerosene services throughout Virginia, needed a better way to track and manage their fleet of 51 vehicles. During a 22-day period in 2014, from late January to mid-February, the company’s telematics software showed 326 instances of drivers who were idling for 25 minutes or longer, resulting in more than $525 of additional fuel costs.

Knowing your environment can also be a factor in your fleet’s idling times. For example, if your fleet is located somewhere with long winters, realizing that idling costs go up during those snowy months is an important step in cutting costs. Many of Davenport Energy’s drivers would start up the engine when it was cold then go back inside to wait for it to heat up, but this resulted in excessive idling and fuel burn. After asking drivers to reduce their idle time from 25 minutes to 5-10 minutes or less — enough to get the cab of the vehicle to a comfortable temperature — the company was able to reduce idling by 64% in the first month. This will have a positive effect on fleet maintenance, putting fewer engine hours on the vehicles.

Teaching your drivers the correct way to handle their vehicles, which includes shutting off the engine when loading or unloading, working around the yard or when taking a break, is a surefire way to reduce those idling hours. You can further their willingness to cooperate with the software by showing them exact data that shows how much fuel they’re saving the company by using the technology. The productivity benefits of reducing idling is it might not only get them to the job sooner, but the reduced wear and tear on your vehicles will result in fewer maintenance issues down the line, saving you on time and costs when it comes getting vehicles in and out of the shop. But the first step through telematics is to figure out how much your vehicles idle and which drivers could use some additional pointers on how to end the habit.

3. Downsizing the Fleet

Rather than sticking to a set schedule of replacing vehicles based on an assumed or company-imposed timeline, let your telematics software tell you which vehicles are underutilized or not used at all. This way, you can assess whether there are other areas of the business where the vehicle would be more useful or if it would be better to sell it altogether. You might find that a route can be combined, therefore one less vehicle needed to do the job.

You’ll also have a better idea through maintenance and engine hour tracking whether it’s worth revitalizing a vehicle you already own or if it’s more cost effective to purchase new, thus reducing your total cost of ownership across your fleet.

Overall, the data provided through telematics allows you to make these decisions more efficiently and accurately.

4. Better Tracking

The capabilities to better track assets, saves you time and money when it comes to dispatch, field and job tracking, billing preparations, and dealing with theft.

Telematics being as expansive as it is can go into more than just vehicles. Companies have installed the technology in other powered assets like lawn mowers, golf carts and bobcats, as well as in non-powered assets like fuel tanks and trailers. It can even be installed on pieces and parts of snowplows and bulldozers.

Advanced American Construction based in Portland, Ore., is an underwater heavy construction company, of which vehicles and equipment are located on barges. This makes the assets difficult to track by conventional routes. Through telematics, the company can track its assets while on the water or on the road.

Installing telematics on equipment can help you to know which piece of equipment is available for dispatch and where it is, increasing efficiency and utilization. You can also monitor when equipment is running and performing billable hours. Telematics eliminates the guesswork from knowing when a vehicle was out on the road or making a delivery and provides accurate data. This aspect of tracking also means that the billing process and validation can be far more efficient.

Smaller fleets or fleets that let employees take vehicles home can also use it to crosscheck timecards and when a driver actually arrived to and left a job. Hurley and David, a full-service air conditioning and heating contractor located in Springfield, Mass., saw a 10% decrease in employee overtime after installing telematics, which will continue to save the company significantly on labor costs.

All the while, installing telematics on vehicles and equipment can also help prevent theft as well as recover assets should any theft arise.

5. Improved Routing

Better tracking ties directly into more efficient, accurate routing. The municipality of Georgetown in Central Texas tried using cell phone GPS tracking but had a hard time

tracking its 65 vehicles, partly due to drivers not always bringing their cell phones. So the company decided to go with a vehicle-based telematics system instead. By knowing exactly which vehicle is nearby a service event and what that vehicle is capable of, the entire municipality was able to respond quicker and in a more productive way. Fleet visibility throughout their 220-square-mile service area, no matter where the manager, field supervisor or dispatcher is at any given time, allows the City of Georgetown to answer calls and increase customer service, responding to requests faster and more efficiently than before.

For other types of fleets, improved routing to a job site or delivery can mean avoiding congested areas, or routing around construction or other hazards.

Improved routing can even mean squeezing in more time for the job and less time on the road. Food rescue program Second Harvest was looking to increase the productivity of its seven refrigerated trucks and one van. After one year of implementing a telematics system into its fleet, the company increased its distance driven per day by 4.5% and increased the average total deliveries by 7.6%.

Photo courtesy of iStockPhoto.com.
Photo courtesy of iStockPhoto.com.

6. Monitoring Safety

Driver safety should be one of the biggest priorities for your fleet. Without proper safety regulations and training, your drivers could be causing preventable accidents and incidents. What’s worse is that they may not even know what they are doing wrong.

Tracking metrics like hard-braking, speeding and seat belt use can help prevent incidents or help clear up disputed events between your drivers and other vehicles out on the road. Additionally, depending on the telematics provider, companies can also use the data to help clear up any “he said, she said,” or false claims of vehicle damage. Maybe your vehicle was parked or stopped at a light when your driver was rear-ended, for example. This information, which is available immediately, can reduce the time it takes to investigate an accident and close the case altogether.

For IT services company Tolt Solutions, bringing down the fleet’s high accident rate was the main objective. Greg Spohn, director of operations and fleet for Tolt, knew after a fatal accident involving one of his drivers that the safety culture needed to be adjusted. Spohn found a telematics solution allowing him to pinpoint a driving incident down to the exact day and time. After installing the telematics system, the company’s accident rate reduced year-over-year by 21%. That’s less time and energy Tolt has to spend dealing with accident management, paperwork and insurance. 

Safer driving also means more efficient driving when considering the time spent on the roadside after an accident. By using the data to improve driver behavior, you’ll spend less time managing these incidents and more time focusing on your company’s success.

7. Gaining Employee Efficiency

All these factors are important in improving your fleet’s efficiency. However, none of it works without employee buy-in and support. Educate your drivers about how their work affects the company by sharing metrics like how idling costs the company. They’ll have a better idea about why the new parameters were put in place and better understand that these decisions aren’t arbitrary. Making it a healthy competition and providing incentives to employees to maintain the safest and most efficient driving record can also be a good way to boost employee buy-in.

Getting employee buy-in makes finding efficiencies through telematics a lot more productive. For example, integrating sales or delivery metrics into your telematics software can help you and your drivers learn how to maximize the quality of stops. If a particular delivery usually takes 30 minutes but starts taking your driver longer, you know to investigate why and come up with a solution. Knowing this information can help you better predict stop times and ensure you’re getting the most from the day.

8. A Tool for Productivity

If you’re not entirely satisfied with the way your telematics serves you or feel like there is an aspect of your fleet’s data you’re missing, invest some time in researching your different options. While the telematics industry is constantly making improvements to what’s available and whether your needs are around maintenance or needing a mobile hotspot or a driver behavior-focused solution, there’s a system out there that will meet your needs. With more productivity comes easier communication internally and externally, and a better bottom line no matter how you slice it.

Integration: Making Telematics Work for You

Get more out of your software by fitting it to your fleet’s needs. Not only can you use the technology as is, but you can work with your provider to integrate other types of software to provide even more insights into your operations. Integration simply means that data is shared and pushed out to other programs, such as collision or mobile resource management or even CRM programs. This integration gives you more comparative information from additional angles when integrated with your telematics data. This way, you’re able to make the existing system work for you, rather than you trying to fit your processes around it. By the end of the day, a fleet manager might end up using four or more different software programs, so talk to your telematics provider to see what type of integration they might be able to offer your fleet.

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