Expert Panel: Telematics

In the first of a new panel discussion, we ask our experts their views on how telematics have shaped and driven change within the fleet management profession, and why reluctance to use fleet technology still exists within some organisations

Fleet management has become a profession that is more strategic, advanced and demanding than it has ever been before. Tight budgets, duty of care responsibilities, lowering emissions, and keeping up with evolving technology – and the data it creates – all form part of a fleet managers daily responsibilities. What’s more there is a greater understanding and appreciation of the role that fleets play in an organisation’s overall success.

“Fleet management has unquestionably become a more challenging and demanding job,” says Martin Kadhim from Lightfoot. “Whereas once fleets were seen as a necessary expense, they are now being seen more as an asset which businesses are prepared to invest in.”

Telematics has had a major impact on the profession – and to some extent, has shaped it into the role it is today. Fleet managers went from having no ‘control’ or visibility of their vehicles once they were on the road, to having an abundance of technology that could offer information on all areas – from routes, to vehicle performance and driver behaviour. This new data allowed them to make informed decisions about what changes to make for a more efficient, greener, safer and cost effective fleet. It armed them with evidence to make drivers more accountable.

“Today’s advanced vehicle telematics are having a genuinely transformational impact on fleet management,” says Darryll Finch from O2 Smart Vehicle. “It facilitates improvements in the most fundamentally important areas of fleet management, like operational efficiency, productivity, duty of care and customer experience. And ultimately, telematics offers a host of powerful opportunities to drive down costs and make businesses more competitive.”

“The type of rich, detailed telematics information today’s solutions capture allow organisations to make better, more informed business decisions,” Darryll adds.

Echoing this view, Martin Kadhim from Lightfoot says: “The availability of data has given fleet managers the opportunity to become more scientific in their work and, with that, enhance the contribution they make to their organisations. However, with their increased strategic importance comes increased pressure – with operations, finance, health & safety, environment and CSR teams, amongst others, all looking for outcomes from fleets and fleet managers.”

Mike Hemming from Masternaut agrees that the availability of data has added pressure to the role. He says: “Increased information has created additional pressures on the fleet manager, as the role has become less focused on the purchase of the fleet, but on the fleet as a whole entity and its integration within the business.”

Data overload

With all the detailed information that comes out of telematics, there is a risk that fleet managers could suffer from ‘data overload’ and consequently not act on the inefficiencies it flags up. Making sense of all the data can be seen as a daunting task and an added burden.

Mike Hemming from Masternaut believes that when fleet telematics first started to emerge, this was the case: “In the early days telematics data was not used to its full potential, with many suppliers and users of the data not using everything at their disposal to maximise the possible benefits. However this is now changing as customers are making more informed purchasing decisions around their telematics, and suppliers are keen to ensure that customers maximise their efficiencies.”

Colin Ferguson from Trakm8 believes it is the job of the telematics provider to help fleet managers in this area: “Although connected insights have helped fleet managers to gain a greater understanding of their operations, and how to achieve greater efficiencies, there is a real danger of becoming bogged down in the masses of data available to them. With this in mind, it is imperative that their telematics provider listens to the challenges they face before providing them with the KPIs that are relevant to their goals.”

Darryll Finch from O2 Smart Vehicle adds that fleet managers will need to become more confident in making decisions based on data and analytics, but that the benefits are worth it: “Today’s sophisticated telematics tools are invaluable in helping fleet managers rise to the demands of a their complex and exacting roles.

“Enhanced telematics data sets aren’t just transforming fleet financials. They’re creating a foundation for the increasing importance of fleet managers within the business.”

Corporate responsibility

Whilst fleet management is a lot more involved now, what still remains fundamental is the safety of drivers. The Corporate Manslaughter Act means that employers could be liable should their staff be killed in an accident whilst driving for work. Therefore companies must demonstrate that they are actively assessing the risks involved with driving for work, such as driver hours and journeys, and put in place a health and safety policy.

“Fleets are bound by increasingly strict compliance regulations,” comments Colin Ferguson from Trakm8. “With the government’s increased focus on road safety – such as the new deterrents for the use of a mobile phone and speeding – fleet operators must approach regulatory compliance as seriously as possible. Technologies such as CellControl, driver behaviour monitoring and ADAS are enabling policies to be enforced with ease and sophistication and, in turn, are lowering costs through accident reduction.”

Colin continued: “Fleet managers have access to a range of tools, from those that minimise driver distraction to tachograph analysis, and features that enable vehicle safety checks to be conducted remotely – all of which can be used to identify risk and minimise collisions and downtime.

“Fleets that can demonstrate a commitment to improving safety are seeing dramatic reduction in insurance premiums, with some fleet managers reporting savings of 15 per cent from driver behaviour monitoring alone.”

Better drivers

“As driver behaviour technology is used more and more, fleets will become safer as a result,” comments Mike Hemming from Masternaut.

But the technology can also be used to make the drivers more fuel-conscious, which will result in CO2 and fuel cost savings.

Telematics systems can help achieve this by sending data back to head office on how staff are driving – whether they are speeding, or braking and cornering too harshly, or leaving the engine idling in between jobs. Many systems give real‑time feedback to drivers too so they can modify their driving style whilst on the road.

Data on driver performance allows managers to give the appropriate training to staff, and in some cases, provide incentive schemes that reward safe and fuel-efficient driving.

Darryll Finch from O2 Smart Vehicle says:“We all know that poor driving styles like excessive acceleration waste fuel. But with today’s telematics solutions, fleet managers can easily identify the worst culprits. Then they can configure in-car audio alerts that warn drivers when they need to correct their behaviour. The benefits are considerable – not just a saving in fuel costs but potentially lower insurance premiums and less costly unplanned maintenance.”

Martin Kadhim from Lightfoot believes that working with the driver and using real‑time telematics to improve driver behaviour is a real way to make improvements. He explains: “At Lightfoot we focus on working with drivers, in real-time and in their vehicles, to give them the necessary tools and motivation to solve poor driving at source. This results in just a quick check each week by the fleet manager to ensure that each driver is hitting their KPIs, rather than having to invest valuable time and resource in retrospectively monitoring reports and then addressing poor driving behaviours.”

Efficient operations

Greener and more conscientious drivers result in improved efficiencies, and this is further enhanced by route optimisation. Telematics can help fleets to understand which routes are the most efficient in terms of traffic and length, which vehicle is right for the job, and real time tracking can make for more punctual logistics.

Colin Ferguson from Trakm8 says: “Unique algorithms are now used to assign vehicles, drivers and schedules in the most efficient manner. Not only do these algorithms reduce a fleet’s mileage and CO2 emissions but can also increase vehicle utilisation by 20 per cent.”

Darryll Finch from O2 Smart Vehicle also sees the benefits telematics can bring to scheduling and logistics: “Telematics allow fleet managers to gain a single comprehensive real-time view of driver and vehicle status. This makes it easy to select the nearest or most suitable vehicle for a job. Or to dynamically plan and optimise routes according to the demands of a job, the type of vehicle required, and so on.”

Reluctance

There has been a perception in the past that telematics are typically used by large corporates operating a large fleet of vehicles. And research has indicated that some SMEs are not fully aware of the benefits that telematics can bring them. So do our panelists believe there is a reluctance amongst some to adopt telematics?

For Darryll Finch from O2 Smart Vehicle, it is the “overtones of big brother” or the view that telematics is “a cost that won’t yield a Return on Investment (ROI),” that is concerning some organisations. However, he adds: “I’m seeing those attitudes decline as it becomes evident how much value vehicle telematics can offer – not just to fleet managers but throughout the business.”

Colin Ferguson from Trackm8 believes there are two main reasons why SMEs and small business are reluctant to adopt telematics. He explains: “Firstly, many SMEs and small businesses do not consider their fleet to be large enough to experience the benefits of installing telematics. Secondly, many of these businesses wrongly believe telematics implementation is costly and struggle to see a positive return on investment.”

Martin Kadhim from Lightfoot believes that reluctance is often down to fear: “Fear of culpability, fear of the impact it may have on daily operations, fear of damaging relationships in the workplace and fear that they won’t be equipped to deal with the output. There is also sometimes a reluctance to face up to corporate responsibility and duty of care.”

Darryll Finch O2 Smart Vehicle urges those with concerns to have a fresh look at the benefits of today’s solutions. He says: “I think businesses would be surprised at what they’d gain from telematics in terms of cost savings, operational gains and HR improvements. Or by how today’s solutions present actionable, easy-to-understand information.”

Giving advice to fleets that are considering telematics, Mike Hemming from Masternaut says: “Companies considering telematics should bear in mind two key aspects. The first is that the business case for telematics is proven. It is not just a tool for a fleet manager or depot to use to see where their vehicles are, but a tool for a business to measure itself, manage inefficiency and improve service delivery.”

The second piece of advice that Mike gives is for businesses to concentrate on one or two benefits in the initial period: He says: “In many cases this will be focusing on driver behaviour and idling, as this for the majority of customers will provide a cost neutral ROI for the business. Cement these within the business first, then introduce new measures from the system, such as utilisation, as these are harder savings to realise and will need a little more time.”

The future

Technology is evolving constantly and there will always be new ways technology can make people’s lives and jobs easier. There has already been great strides made in researching and trialling autonomous vehicles, and connected vehicles have created a shift in the way we travel – with options like car sharing and car clubs growing in popularity. So how do our panelists see telematics developing in the future?

“One of the biggest areas where I expect to see an impact is in how engine and vehicle diagnostics will help businesses make better decisions about vehicle purchasing or leasing,” says Darryll Finch from O2 Smart Vehicle. “Detailed historical data about individual marques, models and even individual parts can help fleets evaluate what will be the best performers for their businesses in future. These insights can also help fleet managers negotiate better rates with manufactures and leasing companies based on a wide variety of telematics-based evidence. That could mean price reductions for models that cost more to maintain, or bulk discounts for fleets that make a greater investment in a more fit-for-purpose vehicle.”

Colin Ferguson from Trakm8 believes the cost of telematics will come down. He says: “As connected car technologies become commonplace, the cost of telematics systems will tumble, whether this is down to the reduced requirement for third party installations, or the increasing presence of devices fitted by OEMs. Technologies are also beginning to merge, again acting as a catalyst for further cost reductions. For example, dash cam and telematics technologies are becoming increasingly available as all-in-one units, removing the downtime and cost of purchasing and installing these systems separately.”

Martin Kadhim from Lightfoot sees the natural progression for telematics is to become a fully integrated platform for data collection, transmission and sharing in order to streamline aspects such as preventative maintenance schedules which will, in turn, reduce vehicle downtime. He explains: “Telematics systems will identify that, although the recommended service is not due for another 2000 miles, because of how the vehicle has been driven, it may be that it actually needs that service much sooner. Not only will the telematics system be able to pick up on this, but it can then cut out the ‘middle man’, reducing the administration needed to get the vehicle booked into a service centre.”

Mike Hemming from Masternaut agrees with the point about integration: “As telematics becomes more widely used in the fleet industry the emphasis will focus increasingly on the integration of data. Connecting telematics with complementary data sets will ensure that the customers get more out of all of their fleet‑related systems. This could be as simple as sending CANbus derived odometer readings to a customer’s fleet provider, or a more complex solution of transferring high volumes of data to and from a job management system.”

Expert final thoughts

Darryll Finch

One of the biggest areas where I expect to see an impact is in how engine and vehicle diagnostics will help businesses make better decisions about vehicle purchasing or leasing. Detailed historical data about individual marques, models and even individual parts can help fleets evaluate what will be the best performers for their businesses in future. These insights can also help fleet managers negotiate better rates with manufactures and leasing companies based on a wide variety of telematics-based evidence.

Colin Ferguson

While the connected car is still in its infancy, the telematics industry thus far has done an excellent job in increasing the efficiencies, improving the productivity and reducing the emissions of fleets. The growth of IoT and the disruption of autonomous vehicles will undoubtedly automate the compliance aspect of a fleet manager’s role. Autonomous vehicles will think for themselves and be programmed to drive as safely and efficiently as possible, informing owners of maintenance and service requirements automatically.

Martin Kadhim

Despite all this amazing technology, the driver, as a human, can’t be overlooked. They have a massive impact on fleet operations and the efficiencies achievable. That’s why at Lightfoot we are focusing on the driver and introducing rewards and incentives to ensure they are motivated to want to be better in the first place. This includes our unique Fleet Driver of the Week award, sponsored by Allianz, which sees one of our fleet drivers earn the title of “Fleet Driver of the Week” and win a prize.

Mike Hemming

As telematics becomes more widely used in the fleet industry, the emphasis will focus increasingly on the integration of data. Connecting telematics with complementary data sets will ensure that the customers get more out of all of their fleet‑related systems. This could be as simple as sending CANbus derived odometer readings to a customer’s fleet provider, or a more complex solution of transferring high volumes of data to and from a job management system.

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