Fleets large and small are realizing the benefits that telematics systems offer, though it’s not as easy as “plug and play.” Here’s a look at the issues fleets face to reach the holy grail of ROI.
Time and effort to implement.
While some fleet managers find systems integration seamless, others do not. “The hardest part is hardware installation by far,” says one fleet manager, who has had problems with hardware incompatibility with various models as well as issues with switching existing hardware into new vehicles. This fleet manager is eager for OEM integration that would allow purchase of a telematics system from the factory as an upgrade.
Another issue is configuring the system to return the data you need. “Nothing completely off the shelf will meet a fleet’s needs,” says Abe Stephenson, fleet and administration manager at DISH Network. “The first reporting can be lumped together or there are too many different scenarios. You need to slice and dice and get into data a little more. You’ll spend a lot of time working with the vendor to get what you need.”
It should be noted that these two fleet managers are using their telematics systems in very large fleets on a “power user” level in various areas and are realizing a substantial return on investment.
Understanding what data returns the most value.
So much data at your fingertips can become too much noise. Good systems – along with good vendor support – are able to filter the noise to deliver exactly what you want to see. After that, you need to understand the information that is truly predictive to future incidences based on your fleet.
Which is more important to you: speed alerts of a driver going 75 miles per hour in a 65 mph zone or the driver that does 55 mph downtown? Is harsh acceleration within the speed limit more predictive of risk than a simple speed limit alert? Some say hard cornering data is more valuable, as it shows the driver is “overdriving the road” and is “on the ragged edge.”
You’ll work through this with experience — by analyzing historical data of different types of alerts with actual incidences. Good telematics systems providers can consult from their volumes of data as well.
Vendor consultation and collaboration.
No longer the domain of the trucking industry or mega-fleets, companies with smaller, localized fleets are realizing the benefits of telematics. But you’ll often hear that after installation, getting help from the provider to tweak the system to the small fleets’ parameters is difficult.
For a vendor with 100 clients with an average of 35 vehicles, the difficulty lies in having the manpower to tend to 100 unique situations for a total of 3,500 tracked units. The key is automation and scalability. Providers are working to give systems the flexibility and ease of use for fleets of any size.
A report with no narrative or commentary isn’t valuable, as it does not provide any direction on how to action the results. Telematics systems have evolved from Excel-like lines of data to “dashboard” reporting, giving customizable sets of information delivered in a graphically pleasing way with the ability to drill down into different data sets as needed.
Luckily, there are no more dumps of spreadsheets of information, at least from the vendor side. For a telematics provider, a good dashboard becomes a competitive advantage.
Exception reporting? Don’t let exceptions set the rule!
Processing so much data necessitates managing the anomalies, but it’s important to not let those exceptions set policy. It’s easy to think you need to change a process to “fix” an exception.
For example, if you’re trying to identify legitimate fueling from fraud, how do you flag off-hours fueling activity? A fleet that sets off-hours fueling alerts from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. will catch some fraud at 8:30 p.m., but there may be too many false positives. This could put a disproportionately higher burden on your reporting. It could take some time to refine your process to identify the highest percentage of true exceptions.
How much “real time” can you handle?
More than one fleet manager has complained that real-time idling and speeding alerts drove them crazy. The alerts started to seem like spam. Vendors don’t disagree.
But again, it’s a question of refining the alerts to your situation. Good systems are able to disassociate excessive idling in a maintenance facility when the truck is being serviced or define speed alerts by streets to red flag a driver doing 55 mph in your office park.
Liability – what you don’t know can hurt you.
Some companies hesitate on installing a system over potential liability. If you install a system and see all the bad things your drivers are doing, won’t that open you to greater liability when a driver causes an accident and you didn’t act to mitigate his transgressions?
That viewpoint has shifted among forward-thinking fleets to the notion that there’s no point in keeping your head in the sand, and no use worrying about greater punitive damages for knowing and not acting. The great majority of incidences are insured events anyway. “From an insurance perspective, nothing beats a picture,” says a fleet manager. “If [data from your system] can tell you which way to settle a claim, that’s gold.”
When telematics systems started to permeate the general commercial fleet market from the trucking industry, the specter of “Big Brother” was raised. The issue has waned, as implementation grew and both management and drivers became comfortable with their systems and their ability to improve efficiencies. There are latent issues with public fleets and unionized fleets in how telematics data is used to discipline drivers, though there is little recourse to actual system removal on company-owned assets.
Privacy issues have now moved to the ability to track the driver independent of the vehicle, with GPS-enabled field service devices and smartphones – especially those devices owned by the driver.
Ability to action the data.
This point speaks to the difference between large and small fleets. A large fleet has a dedicated fleet manager whose job function, in part, is to assess, install and manage a telematics system while working with the company’s procurement, risk management and IT departments.
The manager of a small fleet is often the company owner or another manager who is equally busy with other job duties. An owner of a successful plumbing company is a good plumber and businessman, but he probably isn’t trained, or too keen on, disciplining drivers for all these speed alerts he’s now seeing. All this information is only valuable if someone in the company knows what to do about it.
Realizing the all-mighty ROI.
The stakes are high when you choose to install a telematics system, as hardware, installation and monthly service costs can add up to a significant capital expense. And yet managers of fleets large to small will freely admit that they are not using their telematics systems to their fullest capabilities.
A return on investment might be realized by simply knowing what your drivers are up to, but today’s power users will tell you it also needs to be viewed and used as a comprehensive fleet management solution.
You will need some time to understand your system, implement its many functions and refine them for your fleet. But this is inherent in using your system to improve driver productivity — and this is the key to maximizing its potential.