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Fleet Telematics: Technology on the Move

When it comes to onboard vehicle technologies, it is easy to forget how far we’ve come in such a short period of time. We’ve advanced from rudimentary tachographs and not-always-reliable engine control modules to globally connected, high-tech telematics that provide real-time data and automated maintenance solutions.

Before the telematics boom, many of us looked to those little black boxes installed in vehicles that monitored oil, coolant and fuel levels, engine temperatures and pressures, fan usage and exhaust emissions.

As that monitored data changed, the black box would automatically adjust and optimize engine performance to maximize performance efficiencies. Should the engine experience a performance problem, the data would be stored to a central fleet user function and the little black box would alert the driver to the mechanical issue. The device would also put the engine in “limp-in mode” to help reduce added mechanical failure while at the same time giving the driver the ability to get the vehicle to a location to be serviced without exacerbating the failure.

However, as any fleet manager who used those pre-telematics technologies would likely tell you, the technology was far from refined and had its fair share of bugs. Issues with consistency and reliability were common, which made it even more difficult to justify the technology costs. It would take several years for the technology to advance enough to provide more reliable and comprehensive fleet management solutions that fully mitigate the expense.

When the federal government opened up GPS satellites to civilian use in the mid-1990s, we saw real, meaningful growth in telematics technologies.

By the mid-2000s, telematics technologies had grown to feature theft-deterring automatic shutdowns, remote fuel usage monitoring and vehicle operation tracking – all providing cost- and risk-reducing solutions that helped fleet managers project fuel costs, schedule OEM maintenance, and decrease insurance and vehicle replacement costs. Yet, even with those advancements, telematics systems were still hindered by a lack of available vehicle data and fast, reliable mobile data delivery.

Modern Technology
Today’s telematics are now more akin to the technology found in modern aircraft. OEMs have begun building in more advanced vehicle performance tracking ability by adding new hardware and more direct-wired sensors to vehicles. Additionally, high-speed mobile data technology has become a dependable and affordable solution.

Now, telematics systems can provide global access to real-time vehicle location and activity data, automated logging, mobile workforce tools, camera integration and more. With ongoing real-time engine performance monitoring, maintenance planning can shift from the utilization of vehicle usage milestones to condition-based maintenance.

And should urgent repairs be needed, telematics can improve the efficiency of the process. By automatically alerting your maintenance team or local dealership about the required repair before the vehicle arrives, a bay can be open and waiting with the necessary maintenance crew members and parts when the vehicle pulls in to the lot.

The value of telematics extends to fieldwork performance as well. Lifts and digger derricks depend on properly inflated tires as an integral part of their stability systems. With tire pressure-sensing technologies, workers can quickly assess whether or not tire air pressure is at safe levels, and then correct any issues prior to beginning work. Furthermore, dispatch has more data to work from to reduce fuel costs and maximize productivity.

Telematics Implementation Tips
Telematics has provided the ability to support safe work methods, lower maintenance costs and extend vehicle life cycles. However, it is vital that any fleet management professional approach a new telematics implementation with a thorough understanding of how to maximize its value and offset its impact on the bottom line. Following are five tips to help ensure your telematics implementation is successful.

1. Build extended warranties into the management process.
Implementing a new technology into a business process requires patience and an understanding that wrinkles may need to be ironed out along the way. To account for this, make sure you build sufficient warranty periods into the purchase.

2. Track value with a cost-benefit analysis.
Telematics systems costs have decreased over the years. For instance, a device that used to run $7,000 per vehicle may now be available for less than $1,000. Regardless, the technology is still a significant investment that needs to be justified. Make sure you keep records of the benefits gained, including thoroughly detailing the performance, maintenance and efficiency improvements that occur as a result of using the new technology. Don’t forget to factor in the value of increased vehicle and equipment availability and usage benefits.

3. Do your homework by determining internal needs.
There is an abundance of fleet telematics solutions in today’s market. To ensure you choose the best technology for your organization, you need to understand the solutions needs of those who will benefit from its implementation. Recruit leaders from maintenance, dispatch, the field and any other affected department. Get them involved in the selection process by asking them to provide you with the ways they envision the technology will help their respective departments or teams.

4. Think outside the little black box.
When an experienced fleet professional applies his or her innovative, application-specific perspective to a new technology implementation, new ideas often arise about how to maximize its value. Always look for new ways telematics can bring added return on investment. Think beyond the ways the manufacturer suggests you use the solution – within the realm of usage that is covered by the warranty, of course – and find ways to employ the technology for your organization’s specific needs.

5. Make sure users are trained to use the technology – and commit to using it.
The value of any tool can be diminished when it is not used properly or not used at all. Make sure all users of your telematics are thoroughly trained on how to maximize their value, and also ensure that users commit to capitalizing on that value by continuously using the tools. The best way to accomplish this is by taking time to explain the ways the technology will benefit them professionally as well as how the organization as a whole will benefit.

By proving the value of telematics and establishing its return on investment, you will have more success dealing with political and cultural resistance to the new technology within the fleet structure.

About the Author: John Dolce is a fleet facility and maintenance specialist employed by Wendel Companies, an architectural and engineering firm. He is an active consultant, instructor and fleet manager with more than 40 years of experience in the public and private sector. Dolce has written three fleet-related textbooks and teaches fleet management courses at the University of Wisconsin’s Milwaukee and Madison campuses. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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