Pushing the Telematics Boundaries
Fleets adopt new tools to take advantage of the data “fire hose.”
February 2014, TruckingInfo.com - Feature
Most large fleets have extensive experience with telematics: GPS location and mobile communications systems that collect data and communicate it back to a server where the fleet can access the information. As the amount and kind of data has increased in recent years, fleets have adopted tools to make sense of all that information and use it across their operation.
A truck’s telematics unit acts as a communications hub, transmitting data from various sensors and systems on the truck. While they send the collected data back to the fleet, they also receive data such as driver instructions, or commands to various devices such as the refrigeration unit.
“When you think of traditional telematics, it’s just dots on a map,” says Ryan Barnett, director of market development at XRS Corp. Today, it’s much more.
Norm Ellis, vice president of sales and marketing at Omnitracs, agrees. “In the early ‘90s we had about four applications, primarily positioning and messaging. Today we have about 50 applications.”
The technology has allowed fleets to do a much better job at improving their mpg and operational efficiencies, but fleets are looking for more.
“People have squeezed out efficiencies by doing the mpg, mileage, compliance aspect,” says Tom Flies, chief operating officer with Cadec. “They are looking at the next wave of how to reduce cost,” and the next wave is to have the telematics feed operations other management systems in real time.
For example, dynamic routing that would consider traffic, weather, new customer demands, truck performance, hours of service and many other factors to alter routes. “A routing system in a private fleet or a dispatch in a for-hire fleet, those systems have to be able to incorporate that data – the back-end systems have to evolve as well,” Flies says.
In many ways, a truck’s telematics system is a hub, according to Brian McLaughlin, president of PeopleNet. One trend: “the expansion of the amount of data you can actually get has been exponential,” he says.
In addition to the information such as mileage, mpg and GPS location that has long been available, many telematics vendors partner with other systems providers such as tire pressure monitoring, lane departure/collision warning, in-cab cameras and more to integrate their alerts in their data feed.
“Our goal is to capture as much rich data as we can to make decisions,” McLaughlin says.
Telematics give fleet managers better visibility, not only of their rolling stock, but also of their drivers, maintenance and many other parts of their operations.
“When you look at customer problems, what they are often saying is, ‘I need better operational awareness,’” says Mark Wallin, vice president, product management with Telogis.
“The telematics platform is about collecting the right data and getting all that right information in the right place.” Wallin says customers are looking at applying technology beyond a single area. “We’re seeing a trend where customers are really looking at solutions and technology that allow them to take it across the whole organization, from planning to compliance to mobile applications.”
Refrigeration unit data, including temperature, fuel level, door openings, alerts and other information, can be transmitted via a truck’s telematics system. Alerts can help prevent possible cargo losses due to a malfunctioning unit.
Fleets have long used location information on their trucks to improve efficiencies and cut out-of-route miles. Many now also use this data to improve performance when making deliveries or pickups. For example, fleets can use automated alert functions to let them know when a truck is within a certain distance of a delivery location to send automated text message to the dock foreman so he has his people ready when the truck arrives.
“For some customers, this means deliveries are happening faster, and they are making more deliveries each day because they are saving minutes at each delivery,” says Ryan Driscoll, marketing director, GPS Insight.
Fleets are finding their telematics data helps improve driver safety and efficiency. “What’s great about looking at driver safety is that you can improve it,” Wallin says. Fleets can collect the data that not only allows them to identify unsafe or unproductive drivers, but they also can use the information to reward good drivers.
Wallin says there has been a growing trend for fleets to push driver performance data out to the driver so they can see right away how they are doing and where they need to improve.
Watching the load
Telematics isn’t just for the power unit. Trailer tracking products help fleets monitor and manage trailers – whether attached to a truck or not. Many dedicated trailer-tracking products can also report on cargo status when coupled with cargo sensors. This data can be collected for analysis.
SkyBitz, for instance, recently introduced a dashboard application that collects historical data for business intelligence and analytics.
Telematics systems not only make use of data a driver inputs, but they can also push all kinds of information back out to the driver, including driving instructions, route adjustments, weather information or even training videos when the truck is parked.
Other devices, such as those from Tyco Integrated Security, not only monitor loads, but control the vehicle, according to Don Hsieh, Tyco IS director of commercial and industrial marketing. “Typically, with a lot of the tracking solutions, you know that the load is moving along, you have geofencing. Our system can then act on that information,” he says.
For instance, if a truck is off-route and possibly stolen, the system can remotely slow the speed of the truck and bring it to a stop.
“It takes the telematics information to another level; now it’s actionable.”
Hsieh says the system can also be used to control speeds, with fleets able to change the maximum speed remotely. This comes in handy when a truck crosses state lines and the speed limit changes. The system also monitors seatbelt usage to make sure drivers are buckling up.
The system monitors the trailer lock, and the lock can be set to only open at a specific location and time. Even the driver can’t unlock the trailer. Individual pallets can also be tracked. Typically this entails covert tracking, Hsieh says. “It’s usually because they are having issues and they want to track certain parts of the load.”
Truck refrigeration vendors also provide telematics tools for monitoring loads. The kinds of data refrigerated fleets typically want access to include cargo temperature, trailer locations, unit parameters, alarms, fuel levels and engine operating hours, says Gayatri Abbott, director of smart products and telematics with Thermo King. Fleets use this data to improve equipment performance, manage maintenance schedules and help ensure fleet compliance.
At Carrier Transicold, its refrigeration units have the ability to interface with telematics equipment of all types, says Mark Fragnito, product manager – electronics. Carrier’s DataTrak application allows microprocessor information from the refrigeration unit to be extracted via the fleet’s telematics system.
The immediacy of the data received can help avert load loss. Users can remotely monitor and control the unit: starting it up, selecting temperature setpoints, defrosting units or running diagnostic routines. Fragnito says remote data transmission also automates recordkeeping for the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points monitoring.
While monitoring temperatures is standard across lines, options include monitoring door openings, setpoint changes, alarms or alerts to unexpected events that may indicate fuel or cargo theft, he says.
Increasingly, fleets are using their telematics data combined with other information for use in their business analytics and other back-office chores.
Vikas Jain, vice president of product management and software as a service at Omnitracs, says there has been an evolution in how businesses have used this data.
“It starts with reporting – you capture the data and report it. You are looking back to see what happened,” he says. Then there is analytics, or examining the data to find out why it happened. The next step is that the dashboard will gives fleets a look at what is happening now. Then on to predictive analytics, which is looking at what will happen.
“A few years ago, fleets were happy to get the data so they could look back and see how they had done,” Jain says. But with more data available and modern analytic tools and models, fleets can take it to the next level, where they don’t just “measure and look back, but measure and predict what is going to happen.”
Tom Fansler, president of PeopleNet’s Vusion division, says much of back-office work, such as pricing lanes and determining how the pricing may affect productivity, are things that would not be possible without telematics information: knowing where the truck has traveled, who was driving it, how many stops it made. Gathering this data allows fleets to account for variances within the organization. Plus, telematics gives the truck “in-cab intelligence,” he says. “You get the ability to build intelligence within the cab to identify critical events – either engine or driver behavior – for transmission, and not transmit the firehouse of data, but only the critical data.”
Because telematics allow real-time communication with the engine, it is becoming a key tool as fleets try to minimize downtime.
Truck makers are tying on-truck telematics systems in to their dealer networks and fleet back-office and maintenance software.
Many vendors offer telematics packages on mobile devices, which allow fleet managers to monitor alerts or other information from anywhere.
Volvo, for instance, has delivered more than 12,000 trucks equipped with Remote Diagnostics, which monitors a set of critical fault codes and sends detailed information about the severity of the issue in real-time to the customer.
Navistar this year will debut its OnCommand Connection remote diagnostics system, a portal that uses an open architecture system to work with fleets’ existing telematics providers.
Based on the success of its Virtual Technician product, Daimler Trucks North America last year added another level of telematics. The new Detroit Connect On-Board Tablet works with Virtual Technician and with Detroit Connect Visibility fleet software, which monitors and delivers real-time data on the entire fleet to track the status of one or all trucks. Plus the tablet can be used for electronic pretrip inspections, hours of service, navigation and feed all that data into the telematics mix as well.
Telematics systems are offered by a wide-range of vendors and include everything from full-featured systems with hard-wired devices inside the cab to limited-function systems that use a driver’s smart phone capabilities for positioning and messaging. But even full-featured vendors are developing mobile device capabilities.
Telogis’s Wallin notes that open platforms on an Android or Apple iOS device provide fleets with more flexibility when deploying telematics system.
Smart devices combined with a telematics system give fleets unique ways to offer their customers additional services.
XRS’s Barnett says one of their customers, a food distributor that services a large restaurant chain, began having its drivers use their smartphones to take pictures of the restaurants to verify for the customer that each store was displaying the right specials and offers.
These images were then transmitted back to the home office and on to the customer.
“It turns out, the food distributor had the largest number of people going in and out of these stores on a regular basis, so they became a data collection agency and not just a food distributor,” Barnett says.
The mobile applications “allow people to move away from bulky hardware,” says Thermo King’s Abbott. “With mobile apps, a driver can react immediately to a specific reefer unit alarm or fuel issue.”
And mobile apps can make use of location-based services to find the closest dealer when trouble arises.
Charles DeMaris, DeMaris Transportation, a Cincinnati-based expedited carrier, uses the Sylectus fleet management system and iPads to manage 35 units.
For a small operation such as his, it’s important he has access to fleet information anytime and anywhere.
“If I have to leave the office, I can still respond to customers,” he says. Sylectus reported in October that 30% of its customer base had adopted or were testing its mobile application.
Case in Point: Customer service and driver performance at Valley Proteins
At Valley Proteins, based in Winchester, Va., one of their operational challenges is that they “pick up product instead of delivering it,” says Paul Batista, corporate transportation project manager.
The company collects and recycles used restaurant grease and animal byproducts from processing plants. It runs about 450 trucks over an area from the Mid-Atlantic to the Southeast to the Southwest, serving some 56,000 retail customers and a number of large poultry and meat processing plants.
The company is starting to use the data they get from their onboard system to proactively update customer information. “If a driver picks up 100 pounds, we don’t have to wait for him to get back to prepare an invoice. We are populating that with the Cadec data the driver inputs.”
Drivers also have the ability to interact with the system, offering their opinion on whether the type of container should be changed, or the pickup frequency changed.
They just began using data on driver performance, Batista says. “We are trying to get our drivers to declare what they are doing at any point,” he says the system gives the drivers the opportunity to make corrections themselves with onboard warnings, for instance reminding them to record why they stopped.
“It reminds them to do the things they should be doing, and our managers are dealing with only exceptions – those few who don’t do what they are supposed to do.” Warnings include over-rev, over-speed and others.
Other areas where they are looking to use their telematics include activity-based pay and handheld technology linked to the onboard computer so the drivers can get signatures.
They may also look at having drivers take pictures in case containers are damaged or other issues arise. “We are looking at it to see if there is value in it. A picture is worth a thousand words,” Batista says.
Case in Point: Business analytics and driver coaching at Maverick
At Maverick USA, based out of North Little Rock, they are “kind of pushing the envelope” with their driver portal, says Wayne Brown, vice president information technology. The portal allows drivers to communicate with other drivers, family and friends via Facebook and Twitter and also gives them access to “some of the analytics we do on the back side. They can log in and look at their metrics, mpg and other KPIs [key performance indicators].”
An Omnitracs customer, Brown says they have been pouring the telematics data they get into their own database.
“We are able to do more with the data now,” he says. “Some of the new tools have allowed us to take all that information and put it together in meaningful ways.”
The company collects critical events, operations and trip data along with other information.
“Every trip we get today, we are actually getting all that ECM data – over speed, hard braking, etc.”
They use the data to coach drivers and also use predictive analytic tools that blend the telematics data with other driver data to predict which driver is most likely to have an accident or be a retention issue. “Based on that, we take proactive measures to coach these drivers.”
The results have been better performance, Brown says. “It has created a bit of a competitive situation among the drivers, their having the ability to see those KPIs. It’s created a better environment.”
Brown notes his company had made a lot of progress over the years with telematics and integrating those with active safety devices.
A challenge, however, is proprietary data.
“If all you can do is see it and you can’t use it, it’s useless data.” Having proprietary data on the ECM means there’s a risk the company could lose the visibility of some critical data. “If there is a piece of data I can’t pull off because I’m using a different telematics, that’s a problem. Everybody should be able to play together well.”
In terms of customer service, Maverick has developed dashboards that identify loads at risk of being late. Telematics allows them to “monitor the product from the time we pick it up to the time we deliver it.”
The GPS aspect of the telematics system allows Maverick to set geofences around delivery locations so they know where their trucks are and how long they are dwelling at each location.
Managing by exception – only looking at those data points outside of pre-set parameters (speed, idle time, etc.) or critical event reports, cuts through the mass of data, Brown says.
“In the past, we would look from screen to screen to try to figure it out. With these tools we are able to make meaningful patterns among the data.”