ARTICLE

How to use mobile data to improve fleet management.

With modern telematics, businesses collect and analyze fleet data, make informed decisions, and improve productivity—all while cutting costs.

Telematics may not be a pretty word or one that rolls off the tongue, but it is one all fleet managers and owners need to keep on their short list of go-to expression when talking about modern fleet management.

Translate "telematics" into everyday language and what you get is data. Not just any data – data that you can use to improve every aspect of your operations by increasing the efficiency of everything from the routes your drivers take to the way they drive. It allows managers to enforce policies like no-idle as well as ensure safety

Another important aspect of telematics is gaining insights into what your drivers and vehicles are doing. Do you ever wonder where your drivers are or what they're doing? In the event of an accident, did your driver brake hard just before an impact – or not at all?

All of these questions can be answered today easily, quickly, and in real-time through the use of in-vehicle telematics.

Past, present, and future

A brief history of telematics and a look ahead.

The telematics industry as we know it today began in the 1960s when the U.S. Navy deployed six polar GPS satellites to track its nuclear missile submarines. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the U.S. military expanded and upgraded the system until 1994 when the last of 24 satellites became operational. Since then, more satellites have been added, bringing today's total to 31.

In 1983, the U.S. government made GPS data available for civilian use. But it wasn't until 1996, when GPS was designated an international utility and the data became free, that usage took off. This led to an explosion of location-tracking devices and mapping services. From early hand-held devices that displayed nothing but coordinates on a black and white LCD to today's Google Maps and in-car navigation systems—all of this functionality is based on GPS satellite data.

Today's telematics solutions rely on third-party hardware devices to collect and send data. As more cars and trucks arrive network-connected from the factory, it is expected that by 2025 manufacturers will take over this role from device makers by offering vehicles with integrated telematics.

This will allow telematics service providers to focus on data analytics, supplying customers with the high-value insights and intelligence they need to make better decisions faster about everything from optimizing operations and fleet management to improving customer service.

“In the past, companies have embraced telematics technology to solve for a problem in routing or scheduling or fuel efficiency. Businesses today are having to reinvent themselves—to be disruptive or, if not, to be disrupted.”

Colin Sutherland EVP, Geotab

This is good news for fleet managers. Initially, the value of telematics came from locating assets anywhere on the globe to within a few tens of meters. Today's vehicles are rolling sensor platforms, and GPS accuracy is measured in centimeters. All of the data regarding vehicle health, location, maintenance, acceleration, seatbelt usage, speed, braking, oil pressure, hydraulic systems, air pressure, and a range of other variables is now readily available from factory-installed sensors.

With advanced communications networks like 5G rolling out in the coming years, network latency is expected to all but disappear. This will open up the market for even more interactive and feature-rich services between the vehicle, driver, customers, and operations.

Data analytics also will play a bigger role going forward. As more data is collected from more vehicles and fed into analytics engines, fleet owners will have the insights, intelligence, and benchmarking data they need to fully optimize operations by combing historical trends and real-time information like up-to-the-minute weather and road condition reports.

And, with the electronic logging data (ELD) rule compelling commercial fleet operators to electronically track HOS, driving time, and monitor information such as location, engine hours, vehicle movement, and miles driven, adding telematics to make the most of this data is the next logical step for many fleet operators.

Why use telematics?

Using telematics to improve operations.

Many companies that run medium-sized fleets—typically those with 30-to-35 vehicles—have yet to embrace telematics because they don’t know there are solutions on the market that will work for them. Or they believe that only big trucking companies or freight forwarders like UPS can benefit from telematics.

But that’s not the case.

T-Mobile has teamed up with Geotab, one of the largest providers of telematics devices and data to some of the biggest logistics companies in the world, to bring telematics within reach of every fleet operator regardless of size. This partnership puts enterprise-class software and analytics into the hands of even the smallest fleets.

From a technology standpoint, deploying telematics can be as simple as plugging the 16 pin plug-and-play data collector into the OBD2 port and then accessing the data from the cloud via any device. On-site software options also are available. And software development kits (SDKs) and open application programming interfaces (APIs) mean telematics data and functionality can be easily imported into existing fleet management software.

From a customizable dashboard, fleet operators can see where their drivers are in real-time, the health of their vehicles, and make sure their employees are driving safely. Are they wearing their seat belts? Are they hitting the gas and braking hard? Are they speeding?

If drivers are not adhering to corporate polices, in-vehicle alerts can remind them to buckle up or slow down. This not only helps keep them safe and your company out of hot water, but it also helps reduces vehicle wear and tear so you get more miles of reliable service from your existing fleet.

“If there’s an accident, I’m going to want the read out on the accelerometer. I want to know what the outside air temperature was, whether or not it was snowing at the time, and if the windshield wiper blades were going at the time.”

Colin Sutherland EVP, Geotab

Precise, real-time location tracking also can improve customer service. For example, if a customer calls wondering about their delivery, the fleet manager can see where their driver is, call them to get an ETA, and confidently reassure the customer their package is on its way. For service fleet operations like plumbers or carpet cleaners, knowing where their crews are at any given moment allows them to efficiently re-route them to deal with emergency calls—potentially beating their competition to the job in the process.

Fuel consumption can also be minimized by tracking driver behavior, decreasing idle times, optimizing route selections, and improving dispatch decisions.

The advantages

Four key benefits of telematics.

Wondering whether your company should be utilizing a fleet management solution? Here are some of the benefits to consider:
 

Productivity.

Increasing productivity is one of the biggest benefits of telematics.

How productive are your vehicles today? Are they sitting in traffic? At a customer site? What roads are they using? What is the most efficient way to get from A to B? Telematics can help you answer these questions to make the most of your fleet resources.
 

Safety.

Are your drivers speeding? Braking too hard? Wearing their seatbelts? Keeping drivers from un-safe behaviors not only protects them, but it also helps keep the public safe. How will your customers feel if they see one of your vans speeding down the street when their kids are outside playing? The repercussions of safe driving go well beyond property damage or personal injury. They can directly impact your brand, as well.

Insurers also are interested in this data. While large fleets often self-insure, most small-to-medium fleet operators insure with commercial carriers. Providing insurers with accurate safety data can help lower premiums by showing them that you are serious about managing risk.
 

Management.

While most small fleet operators can track maintenance with a spreadsheet, using telematics solutions is more efficient and effective. Telematics allows you to benchmark the health of your vehicles against similar companies with similar equipment so you can understand what you do well and where you need to improve. This allows fleet managers to influence driver behaviors, minimize long-term equipment damage, reduce operational costs such as fuel consumption, and extend the maintenance intervals of heavy-wear parts like brakes and tires.
 

Compliance.

With the ELD mandate, all commercial motor vehicle carriers working across state lines will all have to use electronic devices to record HOS records by December 2019. There are many benefits of doing this for fleet managers, including establishing an easily traceable audit trail for regulators, and eliminating paperwork and error-prone manual data entry processes.

Thinking ahead

Use telematic technology to your advantage.

It’s no secret that we are living in a time of great disruption fueled by digital technologies. The way companies work tomorrow will be very different from how they work today. Digital technologies from data analytics to mobile devices and the internet of things (IoT) are changing almost every aspect of how businesses are run and managed.

“The problem that companies, large and small, are trying to put their finger on is how do we remain relevant as a company into the next decade? To do that, your company needs to be a data company.”

Colin Sutherland EVP, Geotab

Companies that ignore these advances may find themselves struggling to keep pace with more nimble competitors who embrace technology to modernize and optimize their operations. By embracing modern technologies like telematics and making the most of change, forward-thinking companies can stay one step ahead of the competition.