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Telematics is an ever-evolving industry that incorporates the instant transfer of data by way of telecommunications with the “Big Data” potential of informatics. So far telematics has made managing fleets much simpler by integrating routing, geo-fencing, navigation, two-way communications, vehicle diagnostics, and many other invaluable features that provide critical data about vehicles and drivers. Trends in the telematics industry point toward change at an exponential rate.

As the fleet industry’s understanding and use of telematics grows, so too will its application to vehicles in general, including the ability to trend out data and come up with predictive as well as responsive analytics models. These solutions will provide more ways to reduce time spent and labor costs, increase operational efficiencies, further emphasize safety and make more automated decisions.

Trends in the telematics industry will not only impact fleets, but also the general public as more consumer-facing programs hit the market from insurance providers and OEMs. Fleets may be expected to implement basic features that increase the safety of the communities they work in as the public becomes more familiar with telematics as well.

In a 2015 survey of more than 1,000 commercial and government fleets, just over 52% of respondents currently use telematics within their operations. That means there are still millions of fleet vehicles running without this beneficial technology. As the ROI becomes clear to the rest of the industry and as the technology improves by making it easier to implement and manage the data, the adoption rate will continue to increase.

Faster Networks & Hotspots

With the fall of AT&T’s 2G network coming by Jan. 1, 2017, any technology using this network will need to upgrade to 3G and 4G networks. While telematics providers are already making this move to ensure devices are up to date and compatible with 3G or 4G networks, for fleets it means that you’ll benefit from greater bandwidth and faster data transfer rates. In the past, many customers have only utilized GPS tracking alone; however, with an upgrade to a faster network, they can expect new benefits such as real-time driver safety coaching, improved transparency over vehicle maintenance, video functions, and other productivity tools. 

To put this upgrade into perspective, the difference between 2G and 4G technology is the difference between barely being able to send a text message and being able to stream full-length movies on your mobile device.  

This move also addresses a newer but increasingly common fleet request, which is to turn vehicles into a Wi-Fi hotspot. The telematics device serves as the hotspot, using its 3G or 4G connection so that a driver or field worker, for example, can use mobile devices and ensure online connectivity when at a job site or going out on a service call.

Integration and APIs

Perhaps one of the strongest benefits of telematics comes from integrating with other systems, allowing it to automatically push out data to other software. As more software companies in general use open platforms and offer an Application Programming Interface (API), it’s making it easier to integrate information across each program. The ability to integrate programs and share data across these once disparate systems allows fleet management software to team up with telematics, for example, creating transparency between systems and alleviating manual reports or data entry.

GPS data and vehicle diagnostics from telematics combined with a company’s dispatching software can allow businesses to automatically dispatch the right vehicle for the job, time and time again, without hesitation or mistakes. Integration helps to streamline data and gain a more complete picture of operations. For example, integrating with a CRM or HR program can help make sure the information gets to the right place faster and more accurately.

Demand for direct integration between a company’s fleet solution and other software systems continues to grow. Once reserved for the largest, enterprise fleets, now mid-size and even small fleets can start to take advantage of this ability. While still in its infancy, expect to see more and more integration possibilities with other software.

Source: Bobit Business Media Telematics Survey, Summer 2015

Source: Bobit Business Media Telematics Survey, Summer 2015

Mobile Technology

The genesis of the tablet revolution began in 2010 with the public release of Apple’s iPad. What was first thought of as a fad has quickly evolved into a business staple that allows managers and employees to do their job on the go. Telematics companies picked up the next logical course of action, integrating the two modern technological titans with each other. Because the majority of people have smartphones already, many providers now offer an app that allows fleet managers to monitor and control their fleet from a tablet or smartphone on the go.

Although still a novelty, eventually you may even see integration with wearables.

The Role of OEMs

As telematics devices have become a necessity in fleet management, some OEMs have responded to the change in market by offering vehicles with them already installed.

The downside of this is data standardization across a mixed OEM fleet and overall depth of information received, which varies from each OEM-provided solution. Plus, OEM telematics aren’t available in every vehicle so at this point is not likely a viable option in terms of fully replacing a fleet’s aftermarket solution. For a fleet to get the most out of an OEM solution, a third-party provider would need to consolidate and standardize the data. This will be an area to continue to watch as the OEM-provided solutions grow.

In-Cab Video and Alerts

Through in-cab video recording devices, fleets are using this video as an additional method to coach drivers on poor driving behavior. The benefit coming from these types of coaching methods is the ability to put this footage right in front of the driver, allowing them to watch their own behaviors versus being told about a behavior.

Another benefit coming from video integration with telematics is driver exoneration. Through in-cab video, fleets have potential evidence to clarify any faulty claims against their drivers and helps speed up the accident investigation process. Video integration allows managers to pinpoint the exact incident to get a better understanding of what happened.

Outside of video, other in-cab telematics features are also helping fleets with driver coaching, such as audible feedback after a harsh braking event.

Source: Bobit Business Media Telematics Survey, Summer 2015

Source: Bobit Business Media Telematics Survey, Summer 2015

User Experience

The overall improvements to usability really surround automation and how easy it is to identify the data you need. Improved and customizable dashboards, event notifications and reports via email are all examples of how fleets are getting a more user-friendly experience. Telematics companies are continuously trying to make technology easier for the end-user by making systems more autonomous.

While dashboards are becoming more visual than ever providing powerful mapping and graphs, analytics and benchmarking are also becoming a larger part of the package. Telematics companies are providing more analysis and industry benchmarks for fleet customers, taking some of the load off the fleet and giving them a better idea of key performance indicators both within their own fleet as well as compared to other operators.

Telematics providers are also trying to cut back on the time a driver spends navigating on their interface by keeping the clicks to a minimal. Voice recognition options are also becoming more commonplace as well. 

In the social aspect of telematics through the likes of gamification, incentives and rewards programs, it’s important that fleets can extrapolate what they need from the data and move on. Some telematics providers have even integrated multiple gamification techniques into dashboards and reports so that fleets don’t have to gather this information.

With an initial setup, a telematics solution today can run on its own whether it is sending out alerts or scheduling reports or pushing data to another software system — the current evolution in fleet telematics.

The Impact of Electronic Logging Devices

A final rule on electronic logging devices (ELDs) was expected to be published by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) on Oct. 30, 2015. While final language is still pending, this rule will likely affect all fleets and drivers regulated by the Department of Transportation’s Record of Duty Status (RODS).

The impact of the final rule will likely be significant, potentially affecting 3 million vehicles. Even drivers who only occasionally need to complete a RODS will likely have to install an ELD. This means that many light- and medium-duty commercial vehicles could be affected.

On the positive side, in a 2014 analysis by the FMCSA, the change to ELDs could help reduce crashes caused by fatigued drivers — preventing about 20 fatalities and another 434 injuries annually, which adds up to an annual safety benefit of $394.8 million. Others cite benefits including a healthier work-life balance and an improvement in productivity because of the increased transparency.

Many of these ELDs are being offered and integrated into existing telematics solutions, in addition to other software providers. The integration of telematics with an ELD brings the benefit of putting all that information, from driver hours to behavior and fuel reporting and maintenance, all in one place.