New telematics tech for fleet and asset management

New telematics tech for fleet and asset management

Telematics for fleet and asset management is a rapidly expanding field, both in terms of technological advances and a broader embrace of technology within the industry. Telematics has evolved from basic tracking to integrated navigation and now to back-office integration and driver-assistance systems for safety, reports Franck Leveque, vice president at business consulting firm Frost & Sullivan: “Already a better understanding of driver behavior [is allowing us] to provide the necessary training to improve the way they operate the vehicle and reduce costs.”

Driver behavior directly impacts fuel consumption and vehicle wear and tear, as well as safety and the probability of accidents, and “All these elements are increasingly integrated under the telematics umbrella,” Leveque concludes.

However, as impressive as these new telematics capabilities may be, the second component of the industry’s current growth has perhaps the greatest overall impact. More and more companies, even smaller businesses, are using telematics to control their fleets, according to Dr. Philipp Von Witzendorff, director of vehicle management for Daimler FleetBoard, a European commercial vehicle telematics company. And among those already using telematics with their fleets, “We see a much more intense use for logistics, a value chain penetrated by telematics,” he explains. Telematics data from vehicles is just the first step in controlling and steering the whole system. (For more on fleet telematics, see The impact of eCall on fleet telematics, Cloud computing and fleet management, Mapping fleet and asset management’s future and Why green means ‘go’ for fleet telematics.)

Manufacturers make it possible

What’s “changing the landscape dramatically” and encouraging this broader integration of telematics in fleet management is that most vehicle manufacturers are now putting telematics components in their vehicles as they produce them. Right now it’s mostly the high-end vehicles that come equipped, but this at least begins to “position telematics as the standard,” says Leveque.

Some hurdles remain, and manufacturers are taking a risk. Many of today’s fleets include a mix of vehicles from various manufacturers, and telematics systems from different OEMs are unlikely to integrate well enough to provide a valuable service. FleetBoard may operate on Mercedes vehicles, but the Volvos and other trucks in the fleet will need aftermarket devices. Nevertheless, Leveque believes “many vehicle manufacturers will gain shares and penetration and advancement in the market, thanks to this long-awaited decision.”

Customization makes it appealing

So if offering sensor-equipped vehicles isn’t enough, what else is needed? Cost is bottom line in the world of fleet and asset management, so demonstrating the financial value of telematics is also essential to their adoption. Therefore, rather than a hard-sell, one-size-fits-all approach, service providers in this sector need to embrace the open-platform example set by Apple or Google’s Android elsewhere in the marketplace, suggests Leveque. From a standard platform, build in the features that fit the challenges of your client’s particular business. This allows you to “micro-segment the market in a way no other technology could have enabled,” he says. (For more on open platforms, see Telematics and app development: The advantages of open innovation.)

Von Witzendorff agrees with this strategy—one that FleetBoard is already implementing with services available for buses, coaches, and vans. Using a “raw, IT-based technique” gives telematics providers an opportunity to fit their services to “a very wide range of customer needs,” he says. “Everybody’s interested in finding their weak points,” he adds. “How can I save costs?”

Applications make it work

Advancing technology makes more and more data available through various onboard sensors and, as TSPs continue to work to create the platforms to deliver it, the real key is integrating this data and presenting it in a useable format.

For example, in the interest of saving money, many fleet managers are now, through telematics, carefully monitoring the driving habits of their drivers. Do they brake hard? Do they drive at a constant speed? How often do they turn the engine on and off? How much fuel are they using? This information is helpful in determining which drivers are performing well and which could use some additional training, but it may also be incomplete.

A heavily loaded truck going over hills through the countryside will use more fuel than a comparable vehicle cruising on the highway, notes Von Witzendorff. “You need all that information linked together so you don’t just see fuel consumption,” he says. “You need to see why.” Appropriately integrated and clearly presented data means “you can easily see where you a have possibility to change things.” An effective telematics platform means you don’t have to read through pages of figures and make those connections yourself.

Even simpler features like seeing your vehicles on a map via an iPhone or iPad also make handling a fleet much easier—even a small fleet. Send your driver a text message if you need to request a change in his driving habits or ask a question. Some vehicles are now equipped with a screen where such information can be received without being a distraction—along with bar code scanners and even printers, as telematics becomes increasingly tied to logistics throughout the supply chain.

A sensor on the gas tank can alert the home office when it’s being opened, perhaps giving them an opportunity to prevent a fuel theft. Remote access to tire pressure information via sensors saves time and energy versus checking them all by hand, and it also enables on-the-fly correction of the problem to increase fuel efficiency. It’s yet another way integrated data provides value.

Data makes it cost-effective

In the coming years, these experts predict continued growth in both aspects of the current surge of telematics in fleet and asset management: advancing telematics applications and increasing penetration of telematics into the market. Currently, much of the discussion about telematics is centered on the North American and European markets, notes Frost & Sullivan’s Leveque. But he points out “a great opportunity for growth” throughout Central Europe, Russia, Turkey, India, Latin America, and beyond. (For more on emerging markets, see Special report: Telematics and emerging markets.)

Leveque also predicts that telematics will continue to move beyond the cab. There are at least twice as many trailers and containers as trucks, he notes, so sensors to help locate these items, as well as monitor their contents, create another huge source for data that can be integrated into the telematics platform. (For more on telematics and cargo, see Telematics and cargo: Cracking down on theft, How telematics keeps cargo management on track and The impact of eCall on fleet telematics.)

It’s really just a matter of determining what you want to achieve with telematics, explains Von Witzendorff. And almost always, “for management, it’s a cost reduction,” he says. As fleets grow larger, managing them without technology grows more and more challenging—and with the latest advances and increasingly integrated data, telematics can offer cost savings even to fleets that remain relatively small, he explains: “So telematics gets more interesting for everyone.”

Jessica Royer Ocken is a regular contributor to TU.

For more on distracted driving, visit Telematics for Fleet Management Europe 2012 on March 26-27 in Amsterdam.

For more all the latest telematics trends, check out V2X Safety & Mobility 2012 USA on March 20-21 in Novi, MI, Content & Apps for Automotive 2012 on April 18-19 in Germany, Insurance Telematics Europe 2012 on May 9-10 in London, Telematics Detroit 2012 on June 6-7, and Insurance Telematics USA 2012 in September in Chicago.

For exclusive telematics business analysis and insight, check out TU’s reports on In-Vehicle Smartphone Integration Report, Human Machine Interface Technologies and Smart Vehicle Technology: The Future of Insurance Telematics.

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