From Fleet Owner Magazine: Wendy Leavitt
Following the development of telematics today is like watching a robotic machine weave an enormous carpet of many colors and complicated, interlocking designs. Skeins and skeins of yarn (or data streams) wound onto countless shuttles (telematics devices) fly back and forth across the software loom forming intricate, interwoven patterns of blended shades and tones—nuanced information, surprising insights, subtle distinctions, and endless possibilities.
Telematics, like that carpet, is an amazing transformation of many small, individual elements into a dazzling, almost magical whole that, in the case of transportation, can take companies to places they have never been before—as long as they don’t get tangled up in the process.
“Both the telematics providers and users have evolved so much,” says Dyan Finkhousen, mobile resource intelligence strategy leader for GE Capital Fleet Services. “There have been big changes in just the past five years. People are thinking in terms of ‘telematics-based business intelligence.’
“We are seeing lots of investment in telematics solutions, more than ever. Companies also have more choice and more leverage with providers,” she adds. “Some buyers are already very focused on using advanced analytics to help support decision processes. Others focus on various telematics feature sets.”
“Today, you really can’t compete anymore without telematics,” observes Norm Ellis, vice president of sales, service and marketing for Enterprise Services. “Telematics makes the impacts of various things (like delays) visible. Telematics information has already had a profound effect on trucking—on areas such as safety, driver retention and efficiency.”
TREND: Data Integration
Talk with almost anyone in the telematics business and it won’t be long before the subject of data integration comes up. The theory is that by combining different data streams from a variety of sources, companies can discover valuable information that would have been much less useful or even invisible without the interweaving of other, relevant data.
Everybody wants information now, not data,The goal is to bring all the data together from vehicles, handhelds, fuel cards, sensors, diagnostic systems, GPS devices and everything at our disposal.
RAIR, a division of DriveCam, helps DOT-regulated companies comply with safety regulations. The ability to combine disparate data from multiple sources is making that a whole new ballgame. Think about holistic evaluations/scoring of drivers, offers RAIR spokesperson Stephanie Wagner. “We can combine equipment usage data (mpg, idling, rpms), productivity data (on-time deliveries), responses to emergency dispatches, safety data (like hard braking and speeding) and compliance data (HOS, accidents and citations) into a single picture.”
Fleet Managers and company owners want more kinds of information. Medium and large customers don’t want to have to go to a providers user interface page either to get the information the company provide. They want to have that product interface with the fleet management systems they already use—with McLeod Software or with TMW Systems or others. The very large companies just want the data pushed to them. And everyone is asking, “What else can you tell me from the devices I already have?”
Information is the product in some senses; and while that definitely rings true, the decisions that are driven out of that information will be what really matters. Customers are looking for information in order to make a decision. That means our job is to generate decisions. A good telematics company strategy is to produce the answer based upon real data and deliver that.
One thing enabling this automated decision making is the expanding ability to “flow” data automatically from all sorts of disparate systems and devices to the people who need to see it. Business process automation frees users from monitoring by automatically routing documents to appropriate queues based on defined rules. To put it another way, established thresholds [for various functions and outputs] automatically initiate standard sets of responses. The system is managing the data for you.
TREND: Constantly Connected
Delivering decisions, at least timely decisions, requires that companies be virtually connected all the time. You can’t run a business like a black box where you put decisions in the top and just hope everything comes out all right. Today, you have to know what is going on all the time and constantly be optimizing to deal with changes.
What if a truck breaks down or a driver gets sick or a customer changes his mind? All those things used to be handled manually by a dispatcher [and a driver over the telephone]. Now telematics can identify problems and re-optimize automatically.
I still like the ‘war room’ analogy…Even if you are not in the military, you still have to run your business that way. You have to be looking at the most relevant information all the time. I’ve often heard that having a war room or control room changes the psychology of a business. Something positive happens when you post actual, mission-critical information where everyone can see it.
Lots of utilities, for instance, have a central control room and they like to show it off to visitors. It says, ‘We know what is going on. We know what we are doing.
Making sure that everybody in the company has a window on that “control room” is also an emerging function of telematics. It is absolutely correct that information is becoming the product of telematics. The challenge everyone has is how do we disseminate that information throughout the organization to the people who need it when they need it?
The big push now, of course, is getting information to the driver in the cab. You have to make sure, for instance, that what the driver sees and is held accountable for is the same thing that the back office is measuring and evaluating—whether it is customer service, driving habits or out-of-route miles. Everybody has to be on the same page at the same time regarding how the driver is performing.
Trend: Specialized and Customized
But what actually needs to be on that “same page” is not the same for every fleet, and that is the genesis of another trend in telematics—creating systems that provide fleets with job-specific information.
Different markets have very different needs. On the private fleet and vocational side there is even more variety [than among for-hire carriers]. There is a ‘learned standards’ capability for private fleets with pretty regular routes, for instance, that helps to constantly improve performance along lanes. Fuel management, on the other hand, is a concern common across all markets.
Telematics providers are taking at least two different approaches to the challenge of specialized needs. The first is to offer job-specific tools. The other choice is to offer standardized telematics platforms designed to take care of the common basics, but also make it relatively easy for fleets to customize some data fields in order to capture and analyze data specific to their own operations.
Say you are a lumber company with 100 various class trucks operating on five lanes. You need to know things about board feet and weight and have a vehicle deployment hierarchy that a packaged dry goods carrier probably doesn’t worry about.The key really is how easy you make it for people to slice and dice their own data.
TREND: Advanced Analytics
If there really is magic in telematics, then advanced or predictive analytics is where it quietly resides.Information that might be useful elsewhere may not be visible. Broad data integration and the use of predictive tools are really the way forward. It is a major telematics trend.
Trucking companies are sitting on a mountain of answers. The job of vendors is to unlock the secrets of the mountain. There will be as many or more opportunities down the road [as we have discovered so far]. There is a lot of modeling going on in fleets now, for instance, around letting drivers use their time more efficiently. Inefficiencies create dissonance for drivers [and contribute to job dissatisfaction not to mention adding cost].
Over the past several months, companies have also used advanced analytics to help fleets better manage fuel purchasing. To do that, they pull more data from the J1939 data bus on a truck, including fuel tank levels. Then bump that figure up against the fuel purchase history, actual fill events, and other factors. This allows a company to tell the fleet how much fuel the truck could take and how much should actually be pre-authorized for a particular purchase.”
For example, it is now possible can tell a fleet why the fuel economy of a particular truck equals X. That requires analyzing data from the engine control module, velocity data, data about the driver’s habits, maintenance data and vehicle specs, along with data from other outside sources. Using parallel processing—multiple threaded processing—like Google or Facebook does. That allows a company to get answers much faster.”
It is now also possible through Risk Advisory programs to deploy advanced predictive analytics to give fleets new insights such as concerning which drivers are most likely to have an accident in the near future.
Today’s telematics companies can build models that look at historical data versus what really happened and know what a baseline safe driving behavior looks like and then spot even subtle changes—higher speeds, poor shift timing, hard-braking—the things that lead to accidents.
By looking for patterns it helps to see who is apt to have an accident and why and we want to see that in time to intervene.
TREND: OEM-Installed Telematics Platforms
Some fleet executives will tell you that they can’t wait for the day when truck OEMs provide standard, open architecture telematics systems that can interface with just about anything the aftermarket develops while still protecting the integrity of the electronic and computer systems the truck itself depends upon. Many telematics providers view that as the ultimate goal as well.
Less than five years ago, that seemed like a very distant possibility. That has changed, according to the latest report on telematics from C.J. Driscoll & Associates. Truck makers are becoming much more involved in the telematics revolution, generally in partnership with trusted telematics suppliers.
“In late 2011, [Daimler Trucks North America] began providing its Virtual Technician solution [developed with partner Zonar] as standard equipment on new Freightliner trucks with Detroit Diesel engines,” notes Driscoll. “Today, Paccar, Volvo, Ford, Navistar, Isuzu and Hino are also offering optional factory- or dealer-installed telematics solutions.
“The primary focus of truck OEM telematics solutions is currently on vehicle diagnostics and maintenance,” Driscoll adds. “However, some OEMs indicate that they plan to offer a broader range of fleet management features in the future.”
Making it all happen
Like the warp threads on that imagined carpet, there are a number of other, very significant changes taking place in the telematics space that provide the framework for other developments, including the rise in the number of handheld devices, improved and simplified user interfaces and a movement (some of it regulation-driven) toward greater standardization in order to achieve greater integration.
Perhaps most importantly, there is an explosion of cooperation and collaboration among suppliers, truck makers, fleets and others. That includes a growing number of mergers and acquisitions, but also a growing number of partnerships.
The user group conferences sponsored by many telematics providers are an acknowledgement—no, a celebration— of the power of team effort to achieve things through telematics beyond what an individual supplier or fleet could do alone. The energy crackling around telematics today is palpable—and it is highly infectious.
For more information and a consultative analysis on your fleet, company needs and concerns, contact Vincent Rush, VP of Business Development for Lynx Telematics. (513) 965-6318 or email@example.com