Verizon’s Fleet Management Push Signals Telematics Importance

Last week, Verizon merged two recent fleet management acquisitions, Telogis and Fleetmatics, with its own telematics business to form Verizon Connect, a single brand that spans connected-vehicle services for large enterprises, small businesses and consumers. The US mobile giant says Verizon Connect represents more than $5 billion in investments.

Verizon acquired the two companies in 2016 and had operated them under their own brands until now. Telogis was a provider of cloud-based fleet management platforms for large enterprises, while Fleetmatics was focused on small and midsized businesses. Verizon also sells some tracking and monitoring services for consumer cars through its Hum device.

Fleet management used to mean little more than knowing where your vehicles were. Telematics was one of the first mobile data applications, pioneered in the 1980s by companies such as Qualcomm, which developed CDMA along the way. With early telematics systems, managers could wirelessly track company vehicles but not much else.

Now those technologies have grown into broad-based systems that can plan the most efficient service routes, predict when parts will fail, monitor employees’ driving and more. Research firm Berg Insight predicted last year that the number of active fleet management systems in North America would nearly double to 13.5 million between 2016 and 2021. Verizon’s acquisitions have made it the global leader by size, according to Berg. Its competitors include specialists such as Omnitracs, which Qualcomm sold in 2013, and Trimble.

The other big US mobile operators also offer fleet management services, either by themselves or through partners.

By combining connected vehicles with back-end analytics and reporting software, fleet management systems are providing new ways for companies to cut costs and comply with regulations. It’s also getting easier for companies to use the data from fleet management systems through more comprehensive dashboards and integration into enterprise resource management software, Jay Jaffin, Verizon Connect’s chief marketing officer, told The Connected Car.

Data streamed from devices in vehicles can feed predictive maintenance software that signals when parts need to be maintained or replaced, which can prevent unexpected failures.

In-vehicle devices can also detect and report on driving behaviors like hard acceleration and braking and whether drivers and passengers have buckled their seatbelts. Automated safety reports from patrol cars to the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Department, near Seattle, helped reduce the number of serious injuries in crashes for the department from 11 to zero last year, Jaffin said. The department used a reward system to persuade officers to be more safe.

Better monitoring of service trucks can help to shrink the time window for things like cable installations, along with using prediction to lay out the quickest routes to cover all customers, Jaffin said.

Verizon Connect’s scope is expanding into overall mobile asset management, which can perform tasks such as ensuring fish stays cold all the way from being caught to being delivered to a restaurant.

Verizon Connect is available in the US and 15 other countries, including the UK, Germany, Australia, Spain, and (through a partner) in China. The services can run on hardware that’s built into vehicles by several car and truck manufacturers.

In the US, all Verizon Connect services run exclusively over Verizon’s network. Fleet management isn’t a very bandwidth-hungry application: Most business customers still use it over 3G, Jaffin said. So 5G isn’t an urgent need for the business-oriented services unless they involve autonomous vehicles. 5G will have an earlier impact on consumers who want to stream more entertainment, he said.

Verizon sees its scale and software expertise, more than its network, as its main advantage in business fleet management. Verizon Connect has machine-learning experts and a team of data scientists to build new types of services using data collected on the road, Jaffin said. “This is really a game of extracting insights off the platform.”

— Stephen Lawson is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. Follow him on Twitter @sdlawsonmedia.

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