Commercial freight and trucking businesses are facing an ever increasing amount of challenges when it comes to running an efficient and cost-effective fleet of vehicles.
Recent disruption across many of the world’s major economies has forced these businesses to operate within wafer-thing profit margins in-order to secure work contracts and stay ahead of their rivals. Fuel costs have also become fairly turbulent as conflict in oil-rich countries cause spikes in petrol and diesel costs, requiring managers to find ways to cut-down on fleet fuel consumption.
Equally disruptive to businesses in these sectors are new regulation changes; ranging from revised carbon emissions rules to regularly updated standards for commercial vehicle drivers. New legislation can spark the need for a business to completely overhaul it fleet, often involving the replacement of vehicles or reworking the way the fleet is operated.
And these challenges are not likely to become less prevalent in the near future. However, technology and data could hold the answer in removing the administrative problems that these industry changes and disruptions can propagate.
Data driven business
Thanks to innovations in computing and digital storage technology, many businesses are becoming very data-driven, exploiting the major technology trend of ‘Big Data’. In essence, Big Data is the term used to define the collection of vast amounts of data relating to the operation of a business, which can then be analysed so that a company may assess its commercial performance on a micro and macro scale. The use of such data has led to businesses finding ways to cut costs and ensure that maximum commercial and logistical activity is achieved.
Telematics is the trucking and automotive industries’ response to Big Data trends and is the key to collecting valuable fleet and vehicle data that can be used by operators to make insightful decisions that ensure the current and future success of their commercial operations.
Technology and telematics
As a concept, vehicle telematics is the convergence of on-board electronics, telecommunications and IT software. In real-world terms, telematics involves the combination of electronic recording hardware and tailored fleet management software.
On the hardware side, telematics requires the use of a recording device similar to the ‘black box’ flight recorders found in the aviation industry. These recorders are attached to a vehicle’s CAN-bus – the nervous centre of a vehicle’s electronics -and extract and log a wealth of data from the vehicle’s systems and sensors. Given the amount of electronics, microprocessors and diagnostic units found in the components of modern vehicles, the data harvested via telematics can reveal information such as fuel consumption, maintenance requirements, driver behaviour, and GPS location.
This rich seam of data can then be fed into fleet management software that enables fleet managers to get detailed information of the performance and operations of their vehicles without the need to research and manually input information into a fleet database.
Thanks to improvement in telecommunications, such as the advent of 3G and 4G networks, telematics data can be relayed remotely from vehicles to a central server or fleet HQ, where it can be viewed and disseminated via management software in real-time.
As technology advances so has the adoption of telematics by major businesses such as DHL and UPS. However, since its inception there have often been problems with integrating data from varied telematics hardware found in fleets containing vehicles from different brands, into a single fleet management system. To combat this problem, third-party telematics specialists, such as Geotab.com, can provide fleets with both telematics hardware and counterpart fleet management software that bypasses any issues with incompatible data formats and assorted vehicle fleets.
Essentially a plug-and-play solution, these all-in-one telematics solutions dramatically simplify the process of integrating telematics into a fleet and allow operators and managers to focus on putting the relayed data to use.
Enhanced fleet operations
The core of benefit of telematics is visibility, essentially giving fleet operators clear a clear picture of where their vehicles are, what they are doing, and how they are performing. Taken at face value having such an overview might put the use of telematics as a nice-to-have but not essential tool for fleet operators. But it would be wrong to overlook the benefits that telematics can deliver to even the most successful of fleet-based businesses.
Having a detailed and real-time view of a fleet’s operation means areas all manner of actions can be taken to enhance a fleet’s performance both immediately and in the long term.
With modern telematics systems processing and relaying information in real-time, actions can be taken to cut-out fleet inefficiencies with immediate effect. Common problems that blight the performance of many vehicle fleets, such as trucks being driven in a dangerous manner, component faults, traffic-clogged roads and excessive fuel consumption, can be rapidly identified.
Actions taken to address these issues as soon as a problem is identified; for example, recalling a vehicle to its depot to prevent a fault causing a breakdown, or alerting a driver before a dangerous manoeuvre is carried out. The net result is a fleet that benefits from a fleet operator having immediate insight into any issues that can erode performance and escalate operational costs.
While real-time data helps enhance the day-to-day performance of a fleet’s vehicles, telematics also have a part to play when it comes to driving long-term fleet efficiency. Telmatics suppliers allow for recorded fleet information to be saved and archived for later analysis. This enables fleet operators to get a clear overview on the macro performance of their vehicles over a period of time. Such information can help fleet managers identify areas of their operations that can be optimised, for example certain routes could be avoided for particular freight assignments in-order to speed up activity and cut down on fuel consumption.
When it comes to upgrading a business’s fleet, archived telematics data can also help fleet owners assess if their older vehicles are regularly performing below par and need to be replaced to ensure that day-to-day fleet optimisation is further enhanced with updated machinery.
With both technology and communications improving at an unrelenting pace, it is likely that telematics systems will continue to evolve alongside. As vehicles become more connected and sophisticated, and data collection and dissemination advances, it can be predicted that the adoption and use of telematics will grow exponentially, penetrating beyond the trucking and commercial freight industry and further into the passenger car and consumer vehicle sectors.
While future technology will likely empower telematics, the systems available today are already helping fleet owners and managers to maximise operational efficiency and reduce costs, thereby bolstering profit margins and the opportunity for future commercial success.
Written by Roland Moore-Colyer. Writing on behalf of Geotab.com. Roland is an automotive and technology writer. Combining those interests, he writes about products and systems that have the potential to impact on the car and trucking industries.