Get off on the right foot


The number of technological devices that is currently at the disposal of the trucking industry can be overwhelming. Even more so, the amount of data that comes from those various devices can feel like a terabyte tidal wave crashing down on your computer system.

ELDs, GPS, telematics, remote engine diagnostics…the list of what’s out there is endless.

Though technology is intended to make a person’s life and job easier, and more often than not does just that, it can also cause a lot of confusion and unnecessary headaches if not used properly.

Larry Jordan, vice-president of product management at Zonar Systems, says the key to getting off on the right foot is to do your research.

“It is not about who is the first certified ELD supplier,” Jordan says. “It’s about having the best and the ones with the resources and compliance experts to support you and your fleet’s needs.”

Daimler Trucks North America director of telematics Matthew Pfaffenbach agrees, and says companies looking to integrate more technology into their operations should investigate what their preferred truck OEM has to offer from a factory-installed, standard offering perspective.

“Most truck OEMs offer integrated, factory installed remote engine diagnosis capabilities as a standard feature with their proprietary engines,” Pfaffenbach says. “These OEMs also generally have partnerships with telematics service providers, whose fleet management services – vehicle location, miles travelled by state, fuel consumption, idle time and other critical information – are enabled by the same hardware as the OEM’s remote diagnostics service.”

Jordan added that when it comes to the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate, fleets must partner with their ELD supplier to ensure that the pre-installed device on their trucks will be compliant with the new regulations.

Jordan also said companies must not overlook the customer service and training component when it comes to implementing new technology, and that during the early days utilizing a new application, they must lean on their provider heavily to get over the inevitable hurdles ahead.

“A trusted partner with experts on staff can best prepare you and your drivers outside of the actual hardware and solution to understand how the additional ELD requirements pertain to driver harassment, device malfunctions and short-haul drivers,” Jordan says.

Kirk Altrichter, vice-president of maintenance for Crete Carrier Corporation, addressed the concern of information paralysis during Newcom Business Media’s Canadian Fleet Maintenance Summit (CFMS) in Toronto earlier this year.

“Everybody in this room could look at the same data and see something different,” Altrichter said, adding that maintenance professionals must pinpoint what needs attention, what’s important and what is actionable.

Altrichter said choosing the right software is an important starting point for any company looking to collect data, as there are various products on the market that do a myriad of different tasks.

For Pfaffenbach, one of the most vital technological components companies operating heavy-duty trucks should be employing is remote engine diagnostics.

“Remote engine diagnostics services, such as (Detroit Connect) Virtual Technician, help keep fleets informed about their vehicles’ health and help them make more informed decisions regarding when and where their vehicles are repaired,” Pfaffenbach said. “For instance, Virtual Technician categorizes fault events so that, with less severe issues, they can keep the truck running and bring it into the shop at a more convenient time. This improves vehicle uptime by keeping it on the road and avoiding untimely trips to a shop.”

Altrichter said that a proper preventative maintenance schedule is important to avoid the issue becoming chronic and needing to be brought into the shop for repairs.

“How do you even know if you have a chronic repair? How do you know that you even have a problem?” Altrichter questioned. “And how well do we do at identifying them before they become problems?”

Altrichter said the collection of data is something that one fleet to the next does very differently, adding that some companies need to establish a standard for data collection, where goals, future vision and growth are all taken into account.

“There are basic programs and very complex programs,” he said, “and it’s up to you to decide which one you really need.”

Altrichter said fleets must also be ‘ready and willing’ to use new technologies, like ‘flash over the air’ updates, which, like remote engine diagnostics, provides updates to software remotely so that the vehicle does not have to come into the shop.

“My objective in life is to touch the truck as little as possible and have it on the road,” Altrichter said.

Jordan said when choosing which technologies to utilize, companies must look at those that are designed to help them achieve smart fleet management, while keeping the business’ goals in mind.

Some of the key areas Jordan said companies should consider are the health of the fleet and happiness of the drivers, preventative maintenance scheduling, reduced fuel spending, simplifying hours of service, driver productivity, asset protection and keeping customers happy.

One thing Jordan said companies should avoid when it comes to considering the use of technology is looking at it as a cost versus investment scenario.

When you look at cost, you can end up with a bunch of disparate parts,” he said. “When you invest you can end up with a uniform solution including hardware, software and operating systems that are standardized across the board instead of multiple applications being used for the same functions.”

Altrichter said people must be conscious of how many different types of software they are integrating into their lives, as he said each outside shop could use a different type of software, which leaves the fleet maintenance manager with the task of wading through the varying packages.

“How many of these separate packages are you willing to look at every day?” Altrichter said, adding that even with the four that he analyzes daily, it can be a lot of different data to monitor.

Pfaffenbach reiterates the importance of knowing what your preferred OEM offers factory installed.

“Some folks do not understand that in many cases, telematics-enabled hardware, along with remote diagnostics and access to other services, already comes with their truck,” he said, “and they go out and install third party communications hardware, when their factory-installed option might have addressed their needs in a more simplified way.”

Jordan says another mistake some make when it comes to technology is understanding that managing change is a process.

“They will want to partner with a vendor that knows how much customer service matters,” Jordan said. “Technology is great, but who do you talk to when you have questions? And who is invested in keeping your fleet running as efficiently as possible?”

Altrichter believes it all comes down to setting realistic goals, and fleets must take the time to consider what software option is right for the type of data they wish to obtain.

“We all need to work together to drive efficiencies into the system,” said Altrichter. “Without everyone voicing their concerns, we’re not going to get there very fast. It should have been done four to five years ago.”

A university graduate with a degree in English, I have worked in the media and trucking industries as a writer, editor, and now as western bureau chief of Today's Trucking and I have several years of management experience in journalism, as well as hospitality, but am first and foremost a writer, both professionally and in my personal life, having completed two fiction novels.

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