Commercial vehicle operations are making use of increasingly sophisticated telematics systems. Lisa Townshend reports on developments.
IT research and advisory company Gartner describes commercial telematics as fleet- and trucking-segment-targeted automotive information and communication technologies/services that use embedded technology or mobile and aftermarket devices. They support networks between commercial vehicles/fleets and IT applications, and focus on improving productivity, efficiency, profitability, reduced cost (such as lower insurance premiums) and sustainability objectives.
An all-encompassing definition, but what does it mean for fleet and logistics managers? How can all the information gathered assist companies in terms of cutting costs and improving driver performance?
Stephen Watson, head of product at Microlise, sees a divergence in the market. “Telematics means a lot of different things to a lot of people. On the one hand you’ve got suppliers selling what we would call traditional vehicle tracking which is a GPS-based device transmitting a location every few minutes. That is what we were doing around 10-15 years ago.
“Our view of telematics is the actual physical connection into the vehicle and the understanding what’s going on inside the vehicle from the pedals to the controls and the dashboard, what the engine and the gearbox are telling us; that’s where we are seeing a lot of uptake and drive.”
The diagnostic angle is something that Watson feels is very relevant. “A lot of the manufacturing solutions are now looking at a vehicle health and diagnostic offering. We are seeing things evolve that way. Then of course you can use that information to predict future failures – you don’t want your vehicles breaking down, the manufacturers don’t want the vehicles breaking down so activity that leads to a failure or predict where a failure is likely to occur, we can put servicing in place to cut that off before it becomes an issue.
“And this cuts down on downtime – if you’re a retailer of fresh produce to supermarkets and you break down there is tens of thousands of pounds worth of stock going to waste. And thinking about the grocery sector in particular – it’s so competitive, for example Amazon announced recently they are going to introduce a one-hour chilled food delivery proposition and if their vehicle breaks down.. well you just don’t need that.”
Another big driver for the telematics market is changing driver behaviour. This feeds into so many of the issues fleet managers have in terms of timing, cost and efficiency that helping drivers modify behaviour that reduces risk is a concept many are considering.
GreenRoad’s telematics solution is heavily geared towards driver behaviour. The company’s president and CEO, Zeev Braude, explains: “What we are looking at is reconstructing driver manoeuvres. We are able to reconstruct 150 driver manoeuvres in five categories – braking, accelerating, cornering, lane handling and speeding. Let’s say you are approaching a roundabout -we can tell you of eight different errors you could potentially do. Also we tailor it to the particular size of the vehicle – going into roundabouts in private cars is very different to approaching it in a large truck.
“In addition we give real time feedback to the driver; three seconds after an event has occurred. So for example if we detected a harsh braking event we give that driver feedback through a traffic light-style LED – red is a harsh event, yellow is a medium event and green is usually the default light setting.”
Making drivers aware of their driving style has many benefits, the first being to accurately predict the risk your drivers represent when being on the road “Through change of behaviour you get an ROI that is somewhat surprising,” adds Braude.
Predictable way of driving
“It really unifies and creates a predictable way of driving on the road. So if you have a fleet of 50 vehicles you’ll see suddenly they take a right turn or a left turn in a predictable way. So thinking from a logistics manager point of view you have a number of drivers all with different styles and you are not aware of who is a risky driver and who isn’t. Once you put in telematics technology you will know in an objective way who represents a high risk and who represents a low risk. The more events a driver makes the higher the risk they have of an accident or fatality.”
Watson sees another benefit for both drivers and companies – the ability to gather evidence in case of an accident or claim. “In the event of an accident or incident that data can be made available in real time to the risk team or the accident investigation team – what was the driver doing at the time of the incident, what was the state of the vehicle, were there any faults on the vehicle, what gear was the driver actually in, what footage is available from any of the mounted cameras etc. it is very easy to establish if it was your fault or not.
“If it is your fault you’re just as well getting on with it and getting it paid up. You’ve got to get your vehicle back on the road as soon as possible. We heard from a police officer at the Met at our conference last year – the police can keep your vehicle for about a year while the insurance claim is processed and that could be a year you don’t have your vehicle and that can make a serious hole in your fleet. And if it’s not your fault you immediately have the evidence to say we are not blameworthy for this. So it’s about trying to get beyond the incident as quickly as you can.
“In addition, we see benefits when you need to defend against spurious claims. People will phone up our customers, especially when they have liveried vehicles and operate in high residential areas, and say the driver crashed into their car or knocked something off their vehicle. And so the telematics data can assist the team, especially in terms of time and location, allowing the company to ascertain if they had drivers in the area. Then they can look at the vehicle look at the camera footage and build a picture of what happened and be able to say ‘well our vehicles weren’t in the area’ or ‘yes this did happen let us deal with it’.”
Another benefit of telematics data is the strategic use of vehicles, cutting down on empty return journeys and allowing companies to create networks whereby freight can be moved more effectively.
Simon Bunegar, head of business development at Transport Exchange Group, highlights this: “With advances in technology and fast Internet, freight exchanges now offer the ability to create a central platform that can operate seamlessly with multiple telematics systems to achieve true data integration for logistics operators. What this means is there is now an opportunity to bring together information from multiple data sources providing companies with complete visibility of in-house, sub-contracted and partner fleets.
“This added visibility could help logistics businesses fill empty vehicles and trailers through interactive co-operation between business partners. It is making it possible to create trusted networks, boost operational efficiency and increase profitability simply by being better connected. Moreover, with the increasing adoption of smart matching technology there is an opportunity to move visibility away from something that is essentially passive towards a more active and dynamic process.
“In particular, we are already seeing active members of the Haulage Exchange reduce levels of empty running from an industry average of around 30 per cent to less than ten per cent. This better use of available capacity is having a dramatic impact on revenue growth, operational performance and lower environmental impact.”
Environmental considerations are at the forefront of discussions involving fleet management. People need to find ways to cut their carbon footprint, reduce wear on vehicles and reduce fuel consumption for better resource management.
Braude thinks that fuel consumption is the first benefit noticed with telematics. “Through a driver change programme offered with our telematics our customers get very simple performance score that every driver can understand and every manager can understand. As you start driving scores lower that means less red events. What you see over a short period of time is an improvement in fuel consumption. Secondly you will start to see improvement in the wear and tear of the vehicles. The biggest pain is when you have to take the vehicle offline for repair.”
Watson agrees. “The transport team are responsible for managing drivers and that is when the driver performance element of telematics comes in. This type of data includes fuel economy, harsh braking, speed, harsh cornering; these sorts of elements are used by the transport team to support driver training. That then benefits the driver – it gives the driver a more relaxed workload, a more relaxed experience of the vehicle. This of course reduces fuel, reduces wear and tear, and reduces the chance of accidents.
“You then have the engineering data which goes to your fleet management team. If you can get the vehicle health data for example the mileage and the vehicle driving hours, it helps the schedules, it helps to understand faults before they occur and it helps them manage their schedules.”
However, obstacles to implementation can sometimes outweigh the benefits of using telematics in a fleet of vehicles.
Cost, of course, is always a consideration. “Often the return on investment for smaller fleets has failed to justify the on-going cost of telematics,” says Bunegar. “There are many acknowledged benefits, but many are not truly measurable and there is sometimes a perception that significant internal resources are required to maximise the potential of the technology. However, by integrating vehicle tracking with a freight exchange there is an opportunity to increase the value proposition for these operators.”
Watson believes that some companies cannot perceive the value of the investment in telematics. “Cost is inevitably a factor – some operators just don’t value what they could get from it. As an example, earlier in the year we installed a system for Royal Mail in more than 2,000 vehicles. They’d never had vehicle tracking or telematics before and I was gob smacked! Usually if we win a new large fleet we are replacing an older system. The Royal Mail fleet is the largest fleet I’ve known that didn’t have a system already installed. I don’t know why but some people just don’t see the need for the visibility.
“A lot of smaller companies don’t even have computers. We did a survey of more than 800 hauliers a few months ago and roughly 88 per cent of respondents still use a paper-based system for their compliance. And that is something you have to do legally for every journey so even doing it on a tablet would make the job easier.”
Braude thinks complacency is part of the problem. “One issue is the fear that an IT system will create additional work, where this is usually the opposite, it creates more efficiency in the business. People who have never experienced driver behaviour technology like ours are not always in tune with how critical it can become in terms of safety – they always say ‘it’ll never happen to me’. It’s a very natural thing to assume but once they take it on they realise the benefits.
“It is not a disciplinary tool it is a coaching tool. It is a coach that drives with you 24-7 and look at it as a trainer that helps you identify drivers that need additional training.
“I think that safety is today a premium capability. Tracking etc is a commodity these days, so when you are buying technology today you need to say to yourself ‘how am I equipped for my needs in the future’ and the new generation of telematics needs to have some kind of driver behaviour component otherwise you are looking at an older generation of technology.”
So, in terms of telematics technology, how far can it go? Autonomous trucks undoubtedly are paving the way for a new breed of technology and the continued integration of technology into people’s lives will see further acceptance of telematics across the board. Social media too is a huge driver – one example is the story of a snack truck company using telematics technology to inform followers on both Facebook and Twitter of its trucks’ location – information for hungry loyal customers and potential new followers.
Smartphones on wheels
Hayder Wokil, director quality & uptime at Volvo Trucks, sees trucks of the future as ‘Smartphones on Wheels’. “In a few years, for instance, the truck will be able to monitor its own health in real-time, promoting easier and quicker service which leads to higher productivity for all concerned – drivers, workshops and haulage firms.
“Service will be synchronised with the truck’s operating timetable and will be booked at the nearest workshop at a time when the vehicle would not normally be in operation, for instance at night or when the driver has to take a legislated break. Using online connectivity the truck will also be able to carry out simple self-repairs remotely.”
Nonetheless, this level of synchronicity is not without challenge, concludes Simon Bunegar: “You will increasingly hear technology companies referring to the internet of things, which is the creation of a network of physical objects associated with sensors to enable them to collect and exchange data. The real benefit of this approach is that it is now possible to connect objects, such as vehicles, securely over public networks and get them to talk to each other and relevant management systems. By gathering, analysing and sharing this data, there is a huge opportunity to track and monitor assets to greatly reduce waste, loss and cost.
“However, the real potential is massively curtailed when you are faced with bringing together so many disparate telematics systems. There are at least 15 significant suppliers, with comfortably over 100 providers in total. With little or no industry standards within the telematics sector, there has to date been no means for logistics partners to share vehicle positioning and other useful data unless they are using the same tracking tool (and even this would require costly integration of some kind).
“Operationally, the lines between fleets are increasingly getting blurred, which is absolutely fine when you are only interested in your own vehicles, but becomes much more of a challenge when there is a need to view those of sub-contractors and industry partners. Therefore, multi-telematics provider integration is even more necessary moving forward if we are to gain and benefit from true supply chain visibility and control.”