The word telematics comes from the combination of telecommunication and informatics. It was originally used to describe a wide range of technologies in computing and engineering but is now mostly used specifically to describe the gathering of data from vehicles. Vehicle telematics started being a major topic of discussion in 1996 when US President Bill Clinton signed a directive making GPS a free utility available to civilians around the world. While efforts for telematic fleet management systems existed in the late 1990s, it was only with the more recent spread of smartphones and improved mobile networks that telematics has become affordable for most fleet operators. Modern telematics systems provide many benefits for fleet operators, allowing them to reduce fuel costs and dangerous driving, while keeping customers updated about the progress of their deliveries. According to market research analysts Technavio, the UK led the European market for commercial vehicle telematics in 2017, and is expected to show a further 25% incremental growth.
However, the technology is still not without its limitations. With a high up-front cost, loss of usefulness in areas with limited network coverage and pushback from drivers, are the benefits of the technology enough to see it become an industry standard?
Basic telematics devices – often known as a black box - mostly gather information on the movement of a vehicle: speed, acceleration rates, braking speeds and GPS location.
By gathering data on the speed individuals drive at and whether breaks are taken, fleet operators can gather insight into the behaviour of an individual and guide business and personal decisions, for example further training and advice. Some say that simply having a black box encourages better driving.
The telematic devices used in lorries and HGVs are far larger than the ones in personal cars, not only because there is more space for them, but because they need to gather and send out far more data. This data can be used for a lot of different things, but most importantly for cuttings costs. Telematics providers don’t hesitate to make bold claims about savings - TomTom’s fleet telematics system claims to ‘generally save up to 20% in costs.’ Examples include those below:
Fuel is one of the major costs for fleet operators. Telematics offers a variety of ways to reduce fuel usage, giving substantial savings in the long term - as well as a smaller carbon footprint. Driver profiles - similar to the ones that insurers use for calculating premiums - can be used by fleet operators to track driver behaviour and help drivers learn to drive more efficiently by reducing hard braking and frequent acceleration. They can also help root out dangerous driving behaviour and make keeping track of work hours a breeze. Telematic devices also allow fleet operators to track the fuel levels of their vehicles in real-time, allowing accurate cost predictions and better route planning. FleetGo’s telematics system saves all trips automatically into a tax-compliant triplog, allowing expenses to be tracked in real-time with even taxes factored in.
Telematic devices can track a wide variety of data from vehicle engines, allowing fleet operators an accurate, real-time view of the health of their fleets. Engine problems can be diagnosed early, and costly engine failures and delivery delays avoided. Vehicle maintenance can be planned out for each vehicle individually, saving time and costs. By keeping trucks in good repair, there is less danger of minor mechanical problems becoming larger, more expensive problems that may also impact productivity.
Devices track GPS location, allowing fleet managers to know the exact position of their vehicles in real-time. This allows easy planning of the most efficient routes, as well as providing drivers with real-time traffic information. The technology also provides a great sense of security for fleet operators as they never have to wonder where their vehicles or cargo are. Customers or clients can also be provided with accurate delivery time estimates, making it easier for them to plan their day around their deliveries, creating happier customers as a result.
Telematics providers claim that tracking driver behaviour greatly reduces instances of dangerous driving. In a case study with KBC Logistics, TomTom claimed to have reduced speeding incidents by 95%. Telematics systems not only make trips safer, but can report incidents when they do happen. Teletrac Navman’s telematics system claims to recognise and report road incidents instantly to the fleet operator. This allows the fleet operator to get in touch with the driver to provide assistance, as well quickly co-ordinating a corporate response to the incident.
While the advantages of telematics are hard to ignore, there are still some major limitations to the technology.
Upgrading an entire fleet with telematics can carry a substantial cost, which many fleet operators cannot justify despite the long-term cost savings that telematics can provide. Tracker’s Locate Manager device costs £462 per installation. As the technology improves, prices will inevitably fall, but it may be some time before every fleet operator sees telematics as a worthwhile investment.
HGVs drive long distances, often in areas of patchy network coverage and telematics devices will always be at the mercy of network connections if they are to send out real-time data. While the devices they use are built to have a much stronger signal reach than the ones in personal cars, occasional connection issues are almost unavoidable in many isolated areas. The worst-case scenario is that fleet operators end up paying to install expensive devices that don’t manage to record enough data to be useful.
While telematics provides many great benefits to fleet operators, drivers themselves often see telematics as increased scrutiny without any benefits. Fleet operators will have to sell their drivers on the advantages that telematics offers the business, and focus on rewarding good driving behaviour rather than only penalising bad habits.
Telematics is taking the transport industry by storm, and with good reason. Saving costs in fuel and vehicle maintenance, reducing the carbon footprint and unwanted driving behaviour, all while keeping customers happy makes telematics an attractive option to fleet operators. However, there are still challenges to overcome with the technology. Prices for telematics installations will reduce as the technology develops and as vehicle manufacturers start building the technology into vehicles as standard. Network connections will become less and less of an issue as network coverage expands and even isolated and rural areas gain better signal strength. But the biggest challenge is convincing drivers that telematics will make their jobs easier and safer. If these challenges are overcome, telematics is bound to continue shaping the future of the transport industry.