For any business that relies on its fleet for delivery, field service, supply management or logistics, choosing a telematics solution is one of the most important investments your company can make.
There are hundreds of telematics providers to choose from – locally, nationally and internationally. So how do you know where to get the right balance of hardware, software, service and support to maximize the return on investment for your fleet?
In many cases, this will depend on your specific circumstances and needs. You may need a high level of management or just a light-touch solution. You may be considering a hardware refresh, adding new functionality such as connected cameras to an existing system or looking to make a wholesale investment where future-proofing will be a core requirement.
Below, we cover a few fundamentals surrounding telematics, as well as a wide range of tips to help you select the right telematics solution for your fleet.
What Is Telematics?
Telematics is an electronic device that captures data from a vehicle or driver and communicates this critical information via the cloud. All telematics solutions, from the simplest to the most sophisticated, require three key components:
- A GPS-enabled telematics device which needs to be installed in each vehicle. This uses the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) network to give information on location, vehicle speed time and direction.
- A GPS internal or external antenna for the accuracy and location of a device.
- A mobile network and SIM card to wirelessly transmit data to a central hub where it can be monitored and analyzed by authorized personnel.
How Telematics Is Used
When combined with other business data and the right analytics, telematics solutions are a powerful business tool that can help you better understand your field and transport operations, optimize resources, mitigate risk, support commercial success and exceed your customer satisfaction expectations.
It does this by providing continuous visibility of your fleet in the field, revealing valuable insights that enable you to make better, faster and considered decisions to drive real improvements in operational efficiencies and cost within your business.
Using apps, telematics vendors’ software and specialized fleet management systems, data from telematics devices can be analyzed to determine critical information for businesses, fleet managers and their drivers.
The main use cases for telematics data are:
Operational Tracking and Fuel Efficiency
With live vehicle tracking, a fleet manager can immediately identify where their vehicles are at any given time, helping to manage route optimization, geo-zones, schedules and fuel costs.
Insurance and Risk
Telematics is becoming increasingly popular as a tool that can help cut auto insurance premiums by reducing a commercial fleet’s occupational road risk. Through the correct management and use of data, telematics technology delivers powerful insights that can easily identify which drivers are most at risk. This data, when used in conjunction with the appropriate intervention and training, can greatly reduce a company’s overall occupational road risk incidents.
Safety and Compliance
Telematics devices can be used to ensure compliance and monitor driver behavior in near-real time with retrospective exception reports, driver feedback devices and apps. This can include rest periods, driving hours, speeding violations, axle weights, etc., ensuring operators remain road legal and able to meet state and federal requirements.
Maintenance and Vehicle Health
Many of the latest-generation telematics devices can also help diagnose a vehicle’s health and condition by providing engine diagnostics for predictive vehicle maintenance. This can prevent unforeseen business disruption, vehicle breakdowns and the expensive costs of recovery and repair.
Active and Passive Systems
In passive systems, data is downloaded post-use and all information is processed historically. This is often used in driver training applications. More modern and widely adopted solutions tend to be active, or real-time systems, where data is transmitted as it is gathered so that analysis can be based on actual events as they occur. This is vital for instantaneous and highly responsive services such as collision reporting for insurance and for alerting third-party services, including emergency services breakdown or roadside rescue services.
19 Tips for Selecting Telematics Solutions
Below, we’ve put together the following discussion points to help you define your telematics selection strategy.
Before Getting Started…
1. Canvass your internal business stakeholders. Seek feedback from functional heads to ensure that you capture all requirements. Then decide exactly what you want to achieve with your telematics system – what issues you want to tackle, efficiencies you want to gain or costs you need to control. This will determine the type of hardware you should consider, the data you need to manage, how it is to be used within the business, who will have access to it, how often will it be accessed and how quickly you will need it.
2. Talk to your drivers. They will have the single biggest impact on your fleet’s efficiency and safety. How do they feel about telematics? Will they embrace it? Some may see it as invasive or as a spy in the cab. It’s vital that you communicate effectively about why you are investing in telematics, what it will mean for drivers and the business, and most importantly, what you intend to do with the data. You should also engage HR at the earliest possible stage, particularly if any disciplinary processes might arise from the use of the data.
3. Create evangelists. Meet any challenges head-on with complete transparency, identify champions and evangelists who will help embed an accepting mindset to the technology and encourage drivers to adopt the technology.
4. Don’t forget data protection. Operators should carefully consider how they and their third parties store and use the recorded data and should take professional guidance on the potential implications.
When Choosing a Supplier…
5. Find a true partner. Most telematics vendors sell heavily on price and, all too often, it is considered a transactional sale. Don’t think of telematics as a commodity purchase. Instead, treat your telematics supplier as a long-term business partner.
6. Make sure they have the knowledge you need. It’s usually wise to have a provider that has been established in your sector for some time – one that understands the challenges of commercial fleets, the nuances of your industry and is ready and able to answer any questions you may have.
7. Consider the vendor’s business model. Are they a Tier 1 vendor or localized reseller/dealer? Sometimes resellers may be less concerned with matters beyond the initial sale and installation of the hardware, as the software and service are often delivered by a Tier 1 vendor.
8. Check out support services. Establish what the potential vendor’s customer support structure looks like, such as the out-of-hours response times which may very well be critical to your business. Do they offer 24/7 support? Is this support in-house or outsourced?
9. Understand standard SLA terms and financial penalties for non-compliance. Do they have an auditable fault reporting system such as Zendesk or Salesforce? Do they have a dedicated customer account team including on-site monthly or quarterly operational review meetings? Do they have exceptional circumstance conditions in their service contract such as allowances for churn or reduction of hardware volumes? What pre-defined penalties are there for non-compliance to their SLAs (service-level agreement) or for you to terminate the contract early?
When Assessing Hardware and Software Solutions…
10. Make sure all software costs are clear at the outset. Ensure you fully explore any costs for accessing the data or additional users, increased location update frequencies (PING rate) and costs for more regular updates. Vendors often promise the ability to customize the software during the sales process and then levy development charges once implemented. Make sure you define any unique requirements before committing or that there are a pre-defined number of development days allowed.
11. Plan your installation carefully. It is important to consider the fees for de-installation, same-day same-location installs, no-show or canceled installs. Some vendors will allow a certain percentage of canceled or no-show installs at no extra cost.
12. Find out about software and hardware update policies. How are upgrades enabled, via over-the-air programming (OTAP) or is a site visit required? Also investigate what servicing if any is included or required and any associated ongoing costs.
13. Sense check “promised” savings. Treat claims of fantastic fuel savings with a degree of caution, as this can vary wildly by application. Conservatively, and only if managed well, fuel savings are typically in the 7%-12% range. Similarly, treat claims of receiving large insurance premium discounts with telematics devices with a degree of caution. Whilst some insurers do offer nominal premium reductions on certain brands, for commercial fleets, most do not.
14. Seek a Pilot or Proof of Concept for volume purchases. Ensure that this is not one that simply offers you free devices for evaluation. This will not be a proper, project-managed Pilot. Unless both parties put reasonable financial and operational support into the project, then it will almost certainly fail. Agree on realistic, achievable and measurable success criteria, document it and be clear on the outcome – regardless of whether success criteria are achieved or not.
15. Check your hardware warranty. Whilst most modern devices are built to withstand the rough and tumble of daily use, they can go wrong. Make sure you discuss warranties, extended options, licensing conditions and guarantees. Where hardware is being installed, ensure that the installer has the necessary qualifications and discusses positioning, wiring and antenna location with the vehicle manufacturer before installation.
16. Ensure the hardware is futureproofed to take additional inputs like sensors as your business environment or new business regulations evolve. Check with your vehicle supplier on any conditions that may apply to the installation of third-party sensors. This is particularly true of heavy-duty vehicles as CANbus installations are required to adhere to manufacturer guidelines and risk invalidating the vehicle warranty.
17. Ensure the devices are fit for your environment. If hardware is being used in environmentally challenging situations, such as utilities, chemicals or construction, ensure that it conforms to all regulatory or safety requirements.
18. Explore mobile access. Having smart devices linked to your telematics systems can streamline workflows between drivers, field workers and field supervisors. If you are a field service or delivery-based business and need field-to-field comms linked to telematics, make sure your new system supports the solution on a mobile app or mobile-friendly website.
19. Make sure your telematics data is usable. Collecting data is easy. Using it to deliver smart insights for your business is much more difficult. All devices generate huge volumes of data which, if not managed correctly, can quickly overwhelm your systems and staff. Good event filtering and risk analytics software with telematics integration will help to eliminate false readings and automate much of the data processes that are vital for today’s modern fleets.