Tag: Telematics


Lessons Learned from a Telematics Deployment

Cut fuel costs, promote safer driving behaviors and improve storm response – these are just a few examples of how fleet telematics that captures and tracks vehicle data can help you run your department more effectively.

But deploying telematics across hundreds or even thousands of fleet assets can be a daunting task if you don’t know what to expect.

UFP spoke with Paul Jefferson, fleet manager at Oklahoma City-based Oklahoma Gas & Electric, who oversees about 2,000 fleet assets, to learn about the utility’s experience with telematics.

Jefferson and his team began working with the benchmarking and telematics provider Utilimarc (https://utilimarc.com) in 2015 with a pilot program that included 30 vehicles. To date, the company has installed telematics on about 1,200 vehicles.

What advice does Jefferson have for other utility fleet professionals when it comes to a telematics deployment? Here are five tips.

1. Define your objectives.
Why do you want telematics? What exactly do you want to track? How will you use that data?

For OG&E, their initial objective was to lower the number of commuters – those who would use business vehicles for personal use – to reduce fuel costs as well as unnecessary miles and wear and tear on the vehicles.

“We had data from our Utilimarc benchmarking study to see how we benchmarked against other similar companies as far as the number of commuters per class of vehicle,” Jefferson said. “We realized that we needed to make a change – that we had a culture where supervisors and managers were giving people vehicles to drive home as compensation instead of there being a real business need for that vehicle’s use. Telematics would help us track that.”

Over time, OG&E’s objectives have evolved.

“We’ve linked our telematics to the [geographic information system] maps, so when we have outages, we can see where our trucks are relative to the outage,” Jefferson said. “We overlay that over our GIS map to help with dispatch. It also helps us keep the mobile mechanics in the right spot.”

Another project Jefferson and his team are working on is integrating telematics with a new fuel management system.

“We’re going to track our off-site fuel purchases on a map where we overlay the telematics to see, ‘Hey, was this asset near where the fuel was purchased?’” he said.

2. Get buy-in.
When you’re attempting to make a cultural change – like what a telematics deployment will bring – expect pushback from various people in the organization who feel threatened by the change. That means you’ll need to work to get buy-in from key stakeholders to help you sell the program to their teams.

“The transmission, distribution and power supply vice presidents all report to an operations vice president. So, we had to go to that upper-level senior VP to get buy-in [for the telematics deployment] from all three of the business unit groups at OG&E,” Jefferson said.

How did Jefferson and his team get that buy-in? They presented a business case.

“The business unit groups are always looking for [overhead and maintenance] reductions, so we presented telematics as a tool that can reduce our O&M,” Jefferson said. “After all, it’s not right to offer commuter vehicles as compensation. If someone needs a raise or more salary, the vehicle shouldn’t be part of their compensation.”

But even when you get buy-in from senior leadership, not everyone is going to like it. The key to working through that resistance is a lot of communication.

“We’ve had a lot of meetings and presented some webinars talking about the benefits [of telematics] – to reduce cost, improve driver safety, recover stolen vehicles. We laid it all out there,” Jefferson said.

3. Avoid surprises.
“If you’re selecting a telematics system, you want to know upfront what it costs to do any custom software because that can add up,” Jefferson said. “We thought about that ahead of time, and that’s one of the main reasons why we selected our provider because they don’t charge us extra for customer reporting unless it gets really wild. Everything we’ve done so far, we’ve never been charged extra.”

4. Determine your rollout strategy.
Work with your telematics provider to determine the optimal rollout cadence for your situation.

“We determined that it would be too much to bite off all at once to do everything at once, so we’ve been adding telematics at a pace of 300 to 400 vehicles a year since 2015,” Jefferson said.

5. Plan for maintenance.
Don’t expect your telematics deployment to be a one-time set-it-and-forget-it project.

“Our rollout took more manpower than I originally thought it would,” Jefferson said. “And it still does to this day. We try to automate as many of the changes as possible, but when you’re adding new fleet assets, or a person retires, leaves the company or moves around within the company, there’s a lot of work involved and a cost of maintenance to update the system.”

The Bottom Line
How can you set up your telematics deployment to go as smoothly as possible?

“Do your homework and think about long-term solutions because once you settle with a [telematics] company, you’re making a long-term commitment,” Jefferson said. “You don’t want to be changing [providers] every year; it’s too much work.”


How Utility Fleets Use Telematics for Preventive and Predictive Maintenance

When utility fleets use telematics as intended, the benefits of the technology can be wide-ranging. Each asset, each mile driven and each minute spent idling generate data and insight that tell a story about the fleet.

And telematics data can be analyzed to determine not only what is currently happening with fleet assets, but also what could happen in the future. That’s why some utility fleets have begun to use the data for both preventive and predictive maintenance. However, where predictive maintenance is concerned, there are some operational hurdles to overcome.

At Baltimore Gas & Electric Co., telematics was implemented in heavy-duty vehicles in 2011 and in all light- and medium-duty vehicles in 2014 when the utility was acquired by Exelon Corp. Now, telematics is available on 1,289 vehicles and about 40 other assets, according to America Lesh, manager of fleet at BG&E.

Every three hours, Verizon provides the mileage, engine hours and GPS coordinates of all enabled BG&E vehicles and equipment. That data is uploaded to BG&E’s fleet management system.

Currently, according to Lesh, BG&E’s “maintenance cycles are relative and based on usage. This means that vehicles with higher utilization are serviced more frequently. Telematics allows us to perform maintenance on a specific asset, as needed, based on the usage [mileage and hours] instead of relying on time alone.”

Having the actual usage data has allowed BG&E to extend preventive maintenance cycles and avoid “performing unnecessary maintenance on underutilized vehicles,” Lesh said.

An added bonus is that the GPS information provided helps prevent the need to look for “trucks that are not at their expected parking location,” Lesh said.

PECO Energy Co., headquartered in Philadelphia, is relatively new to using telematics data for fleet maintenance purposes, according to D. Cooper Colbert Jr., manager of fleet operations for the utility. The fleet has 1,537 total units, ranging from light-duty service trucks to tractor-trailers. PECO installed telematics on all of its 1,247 on-road units in 2013 but has taken a slower approach to using the data generated to identify maintenance issues.

“Fleet services identified the five most troublesome fault codes and is monitoring proactively for additional diagnostic opportunities,” Colbert said. PECO collects data on engine hours, idle time, location, active fault codes and miles driven. In the future, Colbert believes that “adjusting preventive maintenance for vehicles based on engine hours/miles driven as opposed to time-based intervals will greatly enhance the PM process.”

An Imperfect System
Although telematics systems already generate the data to help a utility fleet move from preventive maintenance to predictive maintenance, it is not necessarily a smooth transition.

In general, telematics has its own challenges, according to Lesh. Units that are unresponsive, due to issues such as telematics equipment that is offline or not connecting properly, require staff time in “identifying these units and troubleshooting the issue that causes them to become nonresponsive,” she said. That may include a cellphone dead spot, which causes the lost connection.

Another challenge is the cost of telematics, which is “an investment both financially and in personnel,” Lesh said. “The program requires resources to actively manage and set goals so that we can continue to see the value and benefit of telematics.”

Add in all the data generated in trying to anticipate an issue and, “with the amount of information available, sorting through the noise gets cumbersome and labor intensive,” Colbert said. “Understanding the commitment of resources to proactively contact a user, schedule the vehicle and fit the diagnostic appointment in with existing out-of-service repairs are all challenges that need to be overcome before an effective predictive maintenance program driven by telematics can be successful.”

Still, Colbert sees the potential, especially as telematics users more fully embrace preventive and predictive maintenance applications. “In a perfect world, [the ability to] proactively contact an operator that they will be having a diesel particulate filter or exhaust gas recirculation issue if they do not bring the vehicle in for service will minimize vehicle downtime and increase productivity,” he said.

About the Author: Sandy Smith is a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tennessee.


5G Networks and Telematics
Sometime in 2020, 5G mobile networks will be broadly implemented, bringing with them a potential revolution in just how much vehicles communicate with each other and with other devices.

If you’re not sure what the effect of moving from 4G to 5G will be, you’re not alone. Consider the dramatic impact brought about by the switch from 3G to 4G networks. On 3G, phones were used primarily for calls and text messages, while 4G brought greater internet connectivity, such as the ability to stream movies.

Most experts believe 5G will provide even more connectivity. According to chipmaker Intel, 5G networks will be working with some 200 billion devices, including smart city sensors and Internet of Things (IoT) applications, as well as smartphones.

Aeris – an IoT solutions provider – predicts that telematics systems developers will take advantage of 5G to push forward more vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications, making autonomous vehicles more likely. In the meantime, fleet tracking and other telematics solutions are expected to gain speed and reliability, plus they’ll provide more opportunities for insight.


5 Smart Ways to Use Telematics to Drive Fleet Safety

What does a litigator want to know after a commercial vehicle crash?

Here’s how Jeff Burns, an attorney with the Kansas City, Missouri-based law firm Dollar, Burns & Becker LC, put it in his presentation to fleet managers at the NTEA Work Truck Show in March: “How did the company try to prevent this crash?”

After all, the plaintiff’s attorney is looking for a defendant that offers the highest potential settlement award – and a company is a much more lucrative target than the individual driver who may be at fault in an incident.

One of the things Burns said that companies could do to demonstrate a commitment to preventing incidents is to deploy vehicle tracking technology, like telematics, and make sure it’s being used in ways that support safer driving and equipment operation practices throughout the organization.

So, how can utility fleet leaders use telematics to drive greater safety – and reduce risk exposure for their employers?

1. Keep Score
A starting point is to use telematics to monitor driver behavior so that management can provide objective feedback and coach drivers on any behaviors they need to improve, such as hard braking, aggressive acceleration, hard cornering or speeding events. You also can organize that data into scorecards that show drivers their own trends and how they stack up with their peers.

“When you start to identify for a driver directly what their score is compared to their peers or how they’re trending as far as their overall driving habits, I think the drivers take notice – especially if the scorecard shows that they aren’t the top driver they thought they were,” said Kimberly Clark, telematics product leader with Element Fleet Management (www.elementfleet.com).

2. Integrate Video
Ryan Driscoll, marketing director at telematics provider GPS Insight (www.gpsinsight.com), said that his company is developing a system that integrates forward- and driver-facing cameras with telematics.

“It won’t be livestream video at all times, where you can just check in as Big Brother,” Driscoll said. Instead, the video would be made available based on exception – that is, a driving event that falls outside specific parameters set by management.

How does it work?

“Suppose the driver slams on the brakes,” Driscoll said. “When an exception like that happens, the system records the 10 to 15 seconds before the incident and 10 to 15 seconds after the incident so that you get a full picture of what happened that caused that event to take place.”

What can you learn from that video?

“Perhaps the driver bent over to grab his soda on the ground and took his eyes off the road for two seconds, and when he came back up, he realized he was too close to the vehicle in front of him and slammed the brakes,” Driscoll said. “This insight enables you to more effectively coach the driver on how to avoid doing something like that in the future and decrease his chances of getting into an accident.”

3. Provide Real-Time Feedback
It’s one thing to have data to help you coach drivers a day, week or month after a risky driving event has been recorded. But what if your drivers could get immediate feedback inside the vehicle to discourage high-risk behaviors?

This level of telematics capability is becoming more prominent and useful, Clark said.

“It could be an instance where the driver is speeding, say, more than 10 miles per hour over the speed limit, and that goes against fleet policy,” she said. “The system would issue an alert to that driver in that moment – whether it be a buzz or a vocal command – that they’ve broken the policy. What often happens is that drivers aren’t even aware that they are engaging in certain behaviors. So, it’s helpful to provide an immediate interaction with the driver to say, ‘This behavior is not acceptable.'”

4. Call for Help
A few years ago, Rural Electric Cooperative (REC), a power company serving south central Oklahoma, went to GPS Insight looking for a system that would enable a lineworker to call for help in an emergency.

GPS Insight developed a panic button that REC’s lineworker would wear on their belt loop or somewhere else on their person.

“It’s basically a key fob with a button on it,” Driscoll said. “And when the [lineworker] hits that button, the system notifies dispatch of an emergency to send help to that location.”

The timing couldn’t have been better for REC. About five months after deploying the panic button system, a lineman had to use it.

“It was in an area that had been plagued by wildfires, and the lineman pulled up to a location to change a transformer,” Driscoll said. “He didn’t take notice of the tall grass around the truck and went up into the [aerial] bucket to start working. But shortly after, while in the bucket, he looked down and noticed the grass was on fire next to his truck. By the time he got down from the bucket, the truck had caught fire, with his cellphone and radio inside the cab.”

But the lineman had the panic button on his belt, which he pushed. And the telematics system pinpointed his exact location and alerted dispatch to send help immediately.

5. Collaborate on Safety
When initiating a large-scale telematics deployment, it’s important to garner support from stakeholders in various departments across the organization to ensure the rollout goes as smoothly as possible, Clark said.

“Changing driver behavior also requires changing the culture, especially if you have a significantly high accident rate or recently had an unfortunate incident, such as a death or serious injury of one of your drivers,” she said. “In that case, you’re really changing a culture. And that means you need the whole team – the drivers, their managers, HR, legal and so forth – all there working together to build a strong safety culture.”

The Bottom Line
While telematics can’t prevent all incidents, you can use it in smart ways that help you significantly improve driver safety and your company’s bottom line.


How to Avoid Big Data Overload

Telematics data offers the modern utility fleet vast opportunities to gain insight about their operation and take action. But the sheer number of those opportunities can be overwhelming, and deciding what data to study – plus how to make it meaningful – can be a struggle, like attempting to sip water from a firehose.

Beth Daiber, CPA, fleet administration supervisor for Ameren Illinois Company, has found that for her organization, it helps to both track and share data that ties into corporate initiatives. “There are a lot of things that I could supply data on, and analysis that I do behind the scenes,” she said. “I’m trying to make sure that I’m not overwhelmed with all the information that I could collect.”

Ameren focuses its telematics data on idling and speed for its 3,500-unit fleet. The company’s plan from day one was to focus on one or two initiatives first and build from there, Daiber said. Monitoring both idling and speed tie in with corporate initiatives and support the project’s ROI.

Even with such a narrow focus, there can be too much of a good thing, especially when it comes to reporting results to leadership. So, rather than simply track vehicle idling, for instance, Daiber provides reports that show idling as a percentage of operating time. “It seems to be a better reflection of how the assets are being used compared to total hours,” she said.  

Additional charts compare idling hours based on class of the asset. A top 20 list of the most-idled vehicles helps the operations team know where to focus its efforts. According to Daiber, “That has made a big impact.”

Starting Points
While Ameren has been able to focus its efforts on two data points that align with its goals, clearly there is a wealth of telematics data available today for those utility fleets that use the technology. So, how does a fleet know how to choose the data that will most benefit their operation?

Chris Ransom, solutions engineer for fleet management tracking provider Verizon Connect (www.verizonconnect.com), suggested a few starting points. “Almost all mobile businesses can benefit from tracking core metrics around safety (speed and harsh maneuvering), productivity (utilization, time spent on-site) and vehicle health (trouble codes and preventive maintenance intervals),” he said.

Ryan Driscoll, marketing director for telematics provider GPS Insight (www.gpsinsight.com), recommended looking for data related to a “high-impact issue or challenge. The fleet manager or operations manager for the utility has a lot more to do than just manage the data from telematics. The information needs to be easy to understand and in a format that allows them to take action quickly.”

Action Steps
Data has perhaps become overwhelming, at least in part, due to the addition of new features from telematics providers. But rather than simply activate a new feature when it becomes available, both Ransom and Driscoll advised performing regular evaluations.

Ransom encouraged a semiannual look at the data that’s been provided and what is needed. “Businesses should evaluate whether their solution is helping them obtain their projected ROIs and if their provider is continuously driving value to their operation,” he said.

Driscoll suggested going “back to the drawing board with all the key stakeholders in the businesses to determine what their current challenges are.” Once that list of challenges has been compiled, “they should determine the impact of those challenges and then focus in on how vehicle and location intelligence can solve those challenges for the business,” he said.

It is possible that a utility fleet’s telematics provider has already made that data available, and a quick conversation with the account manager may help to “keep pulling ROI from the existing telematics solution you have,” Driscoll said.

That conversation also may uncover needs that the utility wasn’t aware it had, Ransom said. “Generally speaking, most businesses understand the importance and potential ROI of tracking vehicles, but there are lots of less obvious needs, such as asset tracking and visibility into their workforces, that they may need help uncovering.”

About the Author: Sandy Smith is a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tennessee.


Emerging Data Points
As telematics providers continue to improve their data collection capabilities, a greater abundance of potential information is uncovered. So, what new data points are utilities likely to begin tracking in the future? Ryan Driscoll, marketing director for GPS Insight, and Chris Ransom, solutions engineer for Verizon Connect, offered their predictions. 

Driver safety data. Driscoll anticipates driver scorecards that “rank drivers based on driving habits to highlight your best drivers and flag your most at-risk drivers.” This will allow for more targeted driver coaching.

Visibility into vehicle health. “Diagnostics and usage information alone may provide increased ROI for fleet managers,” Ransom said. “For instance, tire pressure status gives drivers and fleet managers the ability to address issues sooner, helping save fuel and extending the life of the tires. The value of this expands exponentially when we add vehicles over an extended period of time.” Despite the value in tying telematics to maintenance, “it has surprisingly little adoption,” Driscoll said.

Safety metrics in real time. Many fleets already collect driver data related to actions such as speeding and hard braking. Getting the data in near real time provides additional benefits, Ransom said. A dashboard or scorecard lets a driver know where they rank, and lets managers know who might need additional training.

Employee performance. “Using telematics data to verify payroll is a critical data set to look at to significantly reduce labor costs,” Driscoll said. And according to Ransom, using location and job information can help “assign jobs to the correct workers and vehicles, furthering the benefit of gathering, analyzing and acting on these job insights.”


The State of the Fleet Telematics Market

A lot has happened in the fleet telematics market the past year that could impact utility fleet operations. Major telecom firms have expanded their footprint in the fleet sector with Verizon’s acquisitions of Telogis and Fleetmatics, while AT&T has established key partnerships to provide branded telematics services such as AT&T Fleet Complete and AT&T Fleet Manager. And more and more telematics providers have inked deals with automakers in recent months.

So, what’s driving these trends? And how might they shape the future of telematics and connected fleets?

UFP spoke with experts from C.J. Driscoll & Associates, GPS Insight, Telogis and Element Fleet Management to get their market outlook.

Telecom Expansion
Why are major telecom firms expanding into the fleet telematics industry? Will this trend continue?

“With landline subscriber bases shrinking and the mobile phone market saturated with declining marginal value, the connected vehicle offers a new market opportunity that allows the telecom companies to capitalize on the need for the vehicle to communicate to the OEM, driver, surrounding infrastructure and other third-party services through cellular networks,” said Kimberly Clark, telematics product leader for Element Fleet Management (www.elementfleet.com). “It also allows them to expand and sell additional products, including in-car applications and infotainment solutions, as this technology becomes mainstream within new vehicles.”

Clark said that telecom expansion into the fleet market will continue for the foreseeable future and “benefit utility fleets through new innovation possibilities, increased pressure on direct OEM connectivity solutions and lower communication costs as part of their service offering over time.”

Ryan Driscoll, marketing director for GPS Insight (www.gpsinsight.com), agreed that more telecom companies will enter the fleet market but said that existing large, privately held telematics firms will remain strong.

“Verizon has invested a ton in telematics, and I believe that AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile are watching to see how successful it is before getting more aggressive and following suit,” Driscoll said. “I believe it is only a matter of time before all the major telecoms are in the telematics space. Although they are large brands, telematics isn’t a primary focus for them, nor a specialty, so they will certainly still be going up against the larger privately held telematics companies that specialize in fleet management.”

Kelly Frey, vice president of product marketing for Telogis (www.telogis.com), which is part of Verizon Telematics (www.verizontelematics.com), said that Verizon’s foray into fleet telematics, which started in 2012 with its acquisition of Hughes Telematics, is part of a larger strategy to become an industry leader in the broader internet of things (IoT) category.

“Connected vehicles and assets empowered by telematics are very good examples of ‘things’ that pertain to the internet of things,” Frey said. “These things inherently need to be connected to a reliable and secure network that supports the mission-critical operations powered by IoT and telematics. There are approximately 1.2 billion vehicles on the planet – including about 330 million commercial vehicles – that could benefit from being connected to the internet to improve maintenance and performance and enrich the lives of the drivers with improved safety and reliability. And telecom providers, like Verizon, are focused on making this connectivity easier and more enriching with compelling solutions that drive business value as well as consumer value. The trend will absolutely continue on a global scale.”

Partnerships with Automakers
In recent months a growing number of telematics providers have announced partnerships with vehicle OEMs. Does this mean that OEM partnerships will be necessary for telematics providers to continue to grow by the end of this decade? Or is there still room for telematics providers to prosper in the future without OEM partnerships?

“It’s necessary for telematics providers to partner with OEMs to survive and thrive if the telematics providers and OEMs are interested in maximizing the end fleet customer value,” Frey said. “Manufacturers such as Hino Motors already provide built-in telematics that provide advanced engine diagnostics and maintenance alerts along with a fleet management portal and mobile app. Several other manufacturers – such as Ford, GM, Volvo, Mack and Isuzu – offer built-in telematics already and there will be more in the very near future. Telematics providers such as Telogis will continue to invest heavily in OEM partnerships by offering broader platform capabilities such as route and schedule optimization, commercial navigation and mobile applications that are tightly integrated with back-office capabilities, workflow optimization and automation.”

Clem Driscoll, founder and principal of C.J. Driscoll & Associates (www.cjdriscoll.com), a market research firm that covers the telematics industry, said that although automaker partnerships offer telematics providers an efficient sales channel to expand their customer base, those relationships don’t appear to be a requirement to succeed in the fleet telematics space.

“There are companies like Geotab, which has 400,000 to 500,000 units in service or more and isn’t the primary telematics partner of vehicle OEMs in the U.S. but is growing at a fast rate,” he said. “And GPS Insight is another example. They’ve done very well and don’t have, to my knowledge, any OEM relationships but haven’t needed them in order to prosper.”

But as more and more OEMs adopt telematics, what role will there be for third-party telematics providers?

Since automakers don’t have expertise in fleet management, that’s where third-party telematics firms will continue to bring value, according to Clem Driscoll. “So far, especially if you look at the heavy-truck manufacturers, they haven’t gone much beyond offering remote vehicle diagnostics-related services,” he said. “That’s because it’s difficult for the vehicle OEMs to say, ‘Well, we’re going to offer a complete fleet solution.’ Since most fleets are not homogeneous, with vehicles from different manufacturers, [fleets] will probably hesitate to adopt a single telematics solution from the vehicle manufacturers.”

Clark with Element Fleet Management agreed. “OEM-embedded solutions do not solve all of the needs for [fleet] customers such as driver identification, satellite access in remote areas, panic buttons and electronic hours-of-service monitoring, as just a few examples. And there are questions on how much paperwork will be involved in the future to connect a car, as some may require driver consent. And OEMs will likely not provide a web-based platform for a fleet user to get easy access to the data, so they need both telematics companies and fleet management firms to provide this accessibility to the data for fleet customers into the future.”

The Future of Telematics
So, what does the future look like for the fleet telematics industry? What new telematics capabilities and/or use cases will emerge in the next three to five years that could impact how utility fleet professionals run their fleets?

“Over the next few years we will start to see more developments around IoT connections leveraging in-vehicle Wi-Fi hotspot capabilities,” said Frey with Telogis. “We will see a lot of advancements with [advanced driver assistance systems] to assist the driver with safety and performance related to efficiency and fuel economy. And there will be significant movement towards vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication, and ultimately autonomous vehicle capabilities built into vehicles that telematics providers will leverage to continue to improve efficiency, safety and productivity.”

According to Ryan Driscoll with GPS Insight: “Fleet management will continue to become more decentralized, which means that mobile apps will become more and more critical for fleet management, ultimately being the primary tool used. And there will be more integration with back-end systems so that fleet management and drivers can be much more efficient overall and deliver more value to their customers than they have in the past.”

Clark with Element Fleet Management predicted the following: “Telematics systems will allow for opportunities for utility network providers to put together truck-sharing networks of vehicles made possible through use of real-time visibility and new mobile applications. This could enhance customer service by allowing utility customers experiencing an issue or outage to get visibility to real-time truck deployment activity. There will also be better sensors for tracking real-time bucket usage status through OEM and aftermarket supplier solutions. And analytics will be drastically enhanced to provide opportunities for predictive analytics in storm-surge planning using weather and historical pattern activities, and improved prescriptive maintenance diagnostics tools to reduce downtime.”

The Bottom Line
The fleet telematics landscape appears to be shifting, as telecom giants expand into the market, more automakers seek to grow their telematics offerings, and emerging connected-car technologies unleash new capabilities that could boost fleet productivity, improve worker safety and cut costs. Stay tuned.


Anti-Theft Technologies to Protect Your Heavy Equipment

In 2014, heavy equipment theft cost U.S. companies about $400 million, and only 23 percent of stolen machines were ever recovered, according to a report by the National Equipment Register and National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Beyond a utility fleet’s loss of a machine itself, the fleet manager also has to factor in the costs associated with short-term equipment rentals, project delays and valuable personnel time consumed by dealing with the incident.

So, what can you do to protect your equipment and your organization’s bottom line? Here are three anti-theft technologies to consider.

1. Keyless Ignition System
Equipment manufacturers have traditionally opted for a one-key-fits-all approach that makes it convenient for equipment operators at job sites to operate any one of a number of similar machines without having to carry numerous unique keys. But this approach also makes it much more convenient for thieves, who can easily purchase these keys online (see www.ebay.com/bhp/heavy-equipment-keys as just one example). Then they can go to the nearest job site, find an accessible machine and drive it onto a trailer to haul it away.

How can you make it tougher for thieves? Consider a keyless ignition system.

One example is Start-Smart by Keytroller (www.keytroller.com), which provides a hidden wireless relay installed in the starter circuit that – when the relay is disabled – cuts off power to the starter, preventing a key or even an attempted hot-wire of the machine from being able to start the engine. The operator then uses the Start-Smart programmable keypad ignition to input a valid code or radio-frequency identification card, which enables the wireless relay and provides power to the starter circuit. At that point, the user can press start on the keypad and the engine will fire up.

2. Telematics
Think of a keyless ignition system, like Start-Smart, as a first line of defense against theft. But what if thieves are still able to find a way to take a piece of your equipment? And how will you know when it has been stolen if no one is at the job site at the time of the incident?

One answer is telematics, which uses wireless GPS technology to capture and transmit equipment location, condition and performance data via satellite or cell signal to authorized employees, who can then access that information through a website or have it sent directly to their smartphone as a text message or push notification.

Most telematics systems provided by equipment manufacturers or third-party vendors offer the option to set up geofencing alerts, where you create a virtual perimeter around a specified area on a job site. This way, when a thief attempts to move a machine outside its authorized area, you’ll know instantly and can respond quickly to give law enforcement the real-time tracking information they need to recover the unit before it’s too late.

3. Radio-Frequency Tracking
Although early detection through telematics is helpful, one of the downsides of GPS tracking is that these systems require line of sight with satellites or cell towers to transmit signals. And that means the tracking device needs to be installed on a highly visible area of the machine, which makes it easier for thieves to locate and disable the system.

So, now what? How do you recover your stolen asset?

That’s where a radio-frequency (RF) tracking device, such as the LoJack Stolen Vehicle Recovery System (www.lojack.com), comes in. Since RF signals don’t require line of sight with satellites or cell towers, the LoJack system can track stolen equipment in places where GPS and cellular devices can’t – even if the machine is hidden in a parking garage, a heavily wooded area or a container on a ship. This also allows the LoJack transceiver to be installed on a discreet area of the machine, making it harder for a thief to find and disarm it.

The Bottom Line
There’s no one silver-bullet technology that can completely protect your equipment from theft. But any one of these three types of systems can at least help improve your odds of not losing valuable assets in the field. And a combination of all three would seem to cover all your bases – from theft prevention to instant notification to fast recovery.

Photo: LoJack


Top Targets for Thieves

By Category:
• Light Utility Vehicles/Work Trucks and Trailers
• Backhoe Loaders/Skip Loaders/Wheel Loaders
• Generators/Air Compressors /Welders (Towables)
• Skid Steers

By Brand:
• Ford
• Bobcat
• John Deere
• Caterpillar

Source: 2013 LoJack proprietary theft and recovery data


Top Trends in Utility Fleet Telematics

What’s next for fleet telematics? Utility Fleet Professional talked to a few experts in the field to see where it is trending in the coming years. The conclusions? By 2020, better data analysis, broader connectivity across platforms and devices, and more choices could mean increased safety, improved efficiencies and lower costs up and down a fleet’s hierarchy.

Data Analysis
“The most significant trend we’re seeing is the investment in data analytics,” said Tony Candeloro, vice president of product development for ARI (www.arifleet.com).

Fleets are being swamped with the amount of data their telematics systems are delivering, but fleet managers have to know what data is important and what data is not. “Telematics solutions without data analytics to assist in trending, predicting and engaging with the outcomes will have minimal impact in how a fleet operates,” Candeloro explained. “Aggregating telematics data with vehicle life-cycle data, operational data and historical business data opens up tremendous opportunity to find operational efficiency opportunities.”

In the near future, predictive analytics – i.e., using data to predict what will happen next – will have a significant effect on fleet safety by identifying risks sooner than is currently possible, noted Kimberly Clark, product leader with Element Fleet Management (www.elementfleet.com).

“Fleet managers will be looking at a broader array of data than has been available in the past, with the goal of preventing accidents,” she said.

Usage-Based Analysis
Clem Driscoll, principal with C.J. Driscoll & Associates (www.cjdriscoll.com), a consulting and research services firm, predicts that over the next five years, more utility fleets will adopt usage-based safety analysis, which assigns risk and premiums based on a driver’s real-time habits rather than past performance. The result will be reduced accident risk and insurance costs.

“Usage-based insurance for fleet operators is in the early stages,” Driscoll said. “But even today, many insurance companies provide a discretionary discount of about 5 percent to fleets using telematics. Usage-based telematics programs are expanding in the consumer sector, and the commercial sector will follow.”

Broader Connectivity
Utility fleets also should be looking at ways to connect all divisions of their organization because the trend toward greater connectivity across multiple platforms and devices will increase safety, improve efficiencies and lower costs, according to Tim Taylor, chief success officer with Telogis (www.telogis.com).

“Our focus as an organization is on how the truck, mobile worker, work, organization, customer, mobile device and software platforms all connect to drive improvement in safety, efficiency, sustainability, asset utilization and customer service,” Taylor said. “Our language has changed from ‘telematics’ to ‘connected intelligence,’ or mobile resource management. Telematics implies data from the vehicle, which we do for sure, but mobile resource management encompasses a much broader picture of the connected, optimized and automated mobile enterprise.”

In five years, that interconnectivity will include the infrastructure, Element’s Clark said. Ford Motor Co. is working with onboard systems that read road signs and automatically adjust a vehicle’s speed, but that is just a lead-up to RFID sensors that beam speed restrictions to the vehicle’s system, she noted.

Related to broader connectivity, collaboration between and among the telematics providers, fleet management companies and OEMs will allow for quicker, more informed decision-making by fleet managers, according to ARI’s Candeloro. “Whether it’s reduced total cost of ownership, improvements in driver safety or enhanced operational efficiencies, fleet managers will see a true return on their investment regardless of the telematics solution they choose,” he said. “Fleet managers will also see opportunities to not just impact the bottom line by reducing costs, but actually see opportunities to help their businesses increase top-line revenues.”

About the Author: Jim Galligan has been covering the commercial truck transportation sector for more than 30 years and has extensive experience covering the utility fleet market. In addition to writing and editing for magazines, his background also includes writing for daily newspapers, trade associations and corporations.


Factory-Installed Telematics: Good or Bad?
Experts predict that over the next few years, commercial fleets are going to see more OEMs and third-party suppliers in the telematics arena. But choose suppliers and platforms wisely, or you may end up with the telematics equivalent of the Tower of Babel.

“The line is starting to blur when it comes to companies that provide telematics services to fleet customers,” said Tony Candeloro, vice president of product development for ARI. “There are independent telematics companies, fleet management companies and, in some cases, OEMs that are all playing some role. In fact, it is not uncommon to have all three parties partnering together to provide the customer with a comprehensive solution. We are anticipating, however, that all of the various providers will eventually begin to develop the capability to offer and support a single-sourced solution. There are certain [OEMs] that have already integrated their entire telematics product offering.

“One particularly valuable role the OEMs will play in the future will be in streamlining the telematics device installation process,” Candeloro continued. “The more vehicles that can come off the line with a telematics device already installed, or line-fitted for a device, will drastically improve the supply chain overall.”

While that may make it easier for fleets to add onboard telematics systems, it presents a mixed blessing for utility fleets, said Ryan Driscoll, director of marketing for GPS Insight (www.gpsinsight.com).

“One of the biggest problems with OEM-installed [GPS] solutions is that they do not work for mixed fleets,” he said. “It is very unlikely for a business to have just one make of vehicle or all new vehicles throughout their entire fleet. So if you do have other vehicle types with varied ages, you will end up using multiple OEM solutions to track those vehicles. Using multiple GPS tracking platforms is complicated, expensive and will waste valuable time.

“It is also important to remember that GPS tracking solutions are not created equally, and it is certainly the case when discussing OEM solutions and third-party GPS-tracking software,” Driscoll continued. “OEM solutions are typically a one-size-fits-all solution with zero customizations available based on your business model. Software development is not a focus for vehicle manufacturers, so OEM solutions are typically very basic and [often] fall short of expectations.”

Driscoll recommends that fleets investing in GPS tracking to help solve business challenges ensure that they choose software that has the capability to do so.


Data is Driving Utility Fleet Maintenance Decisions

Maintenance schedules based on “the way it’s always been done” are trending downward. Instead, more utility fleets are relying on the operational data they collect from onboard technologies to set maintenance intervals and equipment specs.

That’s the biggest trend today in fleet maintenance, according to Chris Shaffer, partner at Utilimarc (www.utilimarc.com), a Minneapolis-based consulting and benchmarking firm. “[Utility fleets] are using actual engine hours or miles to trigger service.”

That collected operational data also is driving changes in equipment specs with the goal of reducing maintenance costs and improving utilization, Shaffer added.

“There is pressure to rightsize the fleet, and to do that successfully [fleet managers] have to spec the vehicle to improve utilization. They’re trying to be leaner, meaner, and that means they have to better spec the vehicle,” he said.

Sherry Pinion, director of fleet services for Cobb EMC, an electric cooperative in Marietta, Ga., said that was the idea behind some of the changes the fleet made to its specs.

“We’re trying to do a better job designing the vehicle for the job use,” she said.

“In the past, all of our trucks’ bed configurations were different,” explained Chris Hardy, Cobb’s fleet services coordinator. “We are standardizing our bed configuration, material quantity, even the material location in an effort to improve inventory tracking, worker efficiency, safety and weight distribution on each chassis,” all to improve utilization and reduce maintenance costs.

Indianapolis Power & Light Co. (IP&L) has been using telematics from Telogis (www.telogis.com) for several years to improve truck specs and reduce the turnaround cycle on their trucks, said Les Gose, fleet maintenance manager.

“We’re trying to retire equipment before it becomes burdensome on our costs,” he said. Better spec’ing has meant reduced downtime and better utilization, which has enabled IP&L to reduce manpower by about 30 percent, Gose added.

Meeting Standards and Sharing Data
A current challenge facing utility fleets’ maintenance departments are the changes required to meet greenhouse gas emissions standards, said Charlie Guthro, vice president of North American fleet management for ARI (www.arifleet.com).

“As OEMs adapt and change their engines to meet new regulations, operators continue to struggle to keep their vehicles on the road,” he said. “It can be a combination of maintenance requirements or operator education and awareness. As engines become smarter and more fuel-efficient, they become more complicated with increased [onboard diagnostic] warning lights and readings that drivers and maintenance technicians need to diagnose to keep vehicles on the road.”

The upside to this and certain other maintenance-related challenges is that, more and more, fleet maintenance departments don’t have to face them all on their own. There is now a growing trend among utilities to share operational and maintenance data gathered from onboard vehicle technologies between the two departments.

“Sharing information between them is very resourceful,” said John Davis, fleet management consultant for Dossier Systems (www.dossiersystemsinc.com), a maintenance software provider headquartered in Burlington, N.J. “We’re seeing improved communications between the two because everyone is now looking at the same data. Having the [truck’s operational] information at their fingertips means better decisions, and that means saved money.”

Sharing that kind of data gives both the operations and maintenance departments a better understanding of how vehicle use affects maintenance, said Jeffrey Schneider, fleet manager for Louisville Gas and Electric Co. The company will be installing GPS and telematics systems in its fleet of more than 1,800 vehicles with the goal of reducing both operational and maintenance costs.

“We’re trying to bring maintenance and operational groups closer together to share more of the vehicle maintenance [data] with the operational side,” he said. “The addition of telematics will give our operational people a better idea of how the truck is used.”

About the Author: Jim Galligan has been covering the commercial truck transportation sector for more than 30 years and has extensive experience covering the utility fleet market. In addition to writing and editing for magazines, his background also includes writing for daily newspapers, trade associations and corporations.


Maintenance Infographics

Source: Utilimarc

Maintenance-related wages and work among utility and municipal fleets have not varied much from 2011 to 2014, the latest data available, according to Utilimarc. Data is based on annual surveys of 55 to 60 companies with approximately 150,000 collective units.

The mechanic’s average straight wage increased a total of about 6.5 percent from 2011 to 2014. As shown, the average billed hours and outsourced work dropped slightly from 2013 to 2014.

A total of 32 percent of utility companies pay mechanics between $33.57 and $36.59 an hour, while 70 percent of municipalities pay mechanics less than $33.56 an hour, according to 2014 data, Utilimarc said.

It’s notable that the average days between preventive maintenance intervals jumped 41 percent in 2013. Many utility and municipal fleets were able to buy new equipment beginning in 2013 after several years of spending freezes, which might account for the extended intervals. Similarly, the average days between unscheduled maintenance also increased from 2011 to 2014, perhaps reflecting the influx of new equipment into the fleets.

-Jim Galligan


Is a Telematics System Right for Your Utility Fleet?

The benefits of advanced telematics systems are widely known today. They can help fleets deploy resources more efficiently, increase the number of jobs completed each day, reduce costs and more. But even so, having an awareness of these benefits is often not enough to convince fleet managers that an investment in telematics is worthwhile. To discover if a fleet-wide system will truly deliver value, fleet professionals must first take the time to identify their business challenges, set criteria and pilot different systems.

To identify the business problems a telematics system could potentially solve, fleet professionals should study their fleet’s productivity, fuel and labor expenses, safety concerns and quality of customer service. The fact is that a number of utility fleets are unable to answer important questions about these operational areas that make a big impact on a utility’s bottom line. Gaining a better understanding of the primary challenges the fleet faces is the first step toward building a business case for a telematics system implementation.

Gathering Input is Key
After identifying challenges, setting criteria is the next step in the process. To ensure a telematics system meets the requirements for an entire organization, two things need to happen. First, fleet managers must consult with key stakeholders within the fleet department to build a wish list of all the features they want the system to have in a perfect-world scenario. In particular, a utility fleet will want to make sure the telematics system has the appropriate features and functionality to successfully address the organization’s business challenges. Second, fleet managers must also solicit input from stakeholders in other departments who will use or be affected by the use of the telematics software from the time of implementation. This will help to ensure that no functionality required by another department is overlooked when evaluating potential telematics providers.

Once all stakeholder input has been compiled, fleets should share this information with the telematics systems providers they are considering partnering with. And managers shouldn’t be afraid to hold back; sharing even seemingly outlandish ideas gives that provider the opportunity to make suggestions regarding how the system can be used to achieve the fleet’s goals. The provider may even be able to add custom functionality to its platform to meet needs.

Keep in mind that it is ideal for utility fleets to seek out a telematics provider that is available 24/7/365 to answer technical questions, offers educational resources to help customers get the most of their telematics system and provides a dedicated, proactive account management team. These team members can interact with fleet managers in person, over the phone or via video conferencing to discuss how to best use the telematics software, enabling fleets to realize the most significant return on investment (ROI).

It is also important to note that it can be a mistake to set a price point for a telematics system before figuring out what functionality is truly required to solve a fleet’s specific business challenges. All systems are not the same and do not offer the same functionality. Deciding to go with a telematics system just because it is the least expensive may result in a fleet missing out on key features necessary to make the investment in the technology worthwhile.

Test Before You Buy
There is nothing that will build more of a business case for telematics than cold, hard facts about how the technology will improve operations and even help generate revenue. By testing a telematics system before opting to implement it, fleets will have the opportunity to discover whether or not the software and service are the best fit for the company. Questions to ask during the pilot phase include:
• Is the system user-friendly and easy to navigate?
• Is customer service readily available when needed?
• Is the system’s functionality reliable and does it work as promised by the provider?

Without piloting a telematics system, utility fleets will have to rely on the claims of the provider, which may end up falling short of expectations. The only way to know for sure if the system will be an asset to a specific fleet is to test it out firsthand.

Perhaps the most important reason to pilot a telematics system is to gather the data needed to understand the type of savings and ROI to expect. Based on the metrics monitored throughout the pilot phase, fleet professionals will be able to collect useful information about how the software will reduce costs, improve driver behavior, increase efficiency and productivity, and more.

The results of each pilot and the quality of service the telematics companies provide should help narrow down the best provider with whom to partner, if any. This process should also give management the confidence that enough due diligence was done before deciding if a telematics system is right for their business.

About the Author: Jenny Malcolm is the content marketing specialist for GPS Insight (www.gpsinsight.com).


The Art and Science of a Telematics Deployment

A growing number of utility fleets are turning to telematics to improve driver behavior, cut fuel consumption, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and uncover numerous cost-saving opportunities throughout their fleet operations.

But it’s not the GPS data itself that makes telematics so useful; it’s how fleet and senior management use that information when managing their people and processes that ultimately determines the business case for the technology.

How can you use telematics to more effectively manage your drivers and their use of your equipment? How do you handle potential pushback from employees who might be wary of “being watched”? How can you integrate telematics with other technology systems to help your organization improve vehicle uptime, emergency dispatch response and overall service to customers?

The fleet team with utility contractor INTREN Inc. has wrestled with questions like these since deploying GPS technology in approximately 700 vehicles over the past five years. And they’ve come up with some innovative solutions and interesting insights that might help other fleets get the most out of their own telematics deployments.

Started in 1988 as a small trenching company in Union, Ill., INTREN has grown into a full-service utility construction contractor with more than 1,000 employees and offices in Illinois, California, Wisconsin and Missouri. Today, the company serves major electric and gas utilities and private corporations nationwide.

As INTREN expanded, so did its equipment requirements. That’s what drove the company to look into GPS technology as a tool to more effectively manage the increasing number of drivers and equipment assets.

Jim Bishop, director of fleet services at INTREN, said that the company started a telematics trial with 50 units about five years ago, and then gradually rolled it out on additional vehicles to the point that today “we put it on every licensed piece of equipment and certain high-dollar off-road equipment.”

The company had clear goals that it wanted to achieve with the technology. “While we’ve viewed telematics as a tool to green our fleet [because of tracking capabilities that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions], a major factor in our decision to go with telematics was to drive down our operational costs like fuel expense,” said Pat Williams, INTREN’s senior director of supply chain.

Handling Pushback
Despite the value proposition for management, telematics initially was a cause for concern among INTREN’s drivers.

“When we initially rolled out GPS, our field personnel had significant concern with the idea of Big Brother watching them,” Bishop said.

In situations like this, when you’re encountering resistance on telematics deployment, how do you handle it in such a way that drivers don’t feel like the technology is being shoved down their throats?

“Include drivers in the process by getting their input and feedback,” Williams advised.


Take idle reduction, for example. It’s nothing new that telematics can help fleets monitor excessive engine idle with real-time alerts and reports, acting as a tool to hold drivers accountable for cutting down their engine idle time and eliminating fuel waste. But if drivers perceive that the technology is there strictly to catch them doing something wrong, this could have a negative impact on their morale and productivity.

INTREN’s fleet team was sensitive to this risk and decided to take a more collaborative approach with drivers.

“We wanted drivers to know that telematics isn’t just Big Brother watching,” Bishop said. “So when we focused on idle reduction, we sought feedback from the field as to specifically why they were needing to idle. Some of the feedback we got was that their trucks needed to be running because of the power drawn from their four-way flashers, strobes or the power inverters inside the vehicle.”

Instead of coming up with a directive of, “Hey, you’ve got to change your habits to bring down your idle time or you’ll be penalized,” the fleet team looked at potential equipment spec modifications that could address management’s objective to reduce fuel costs, while also considering the drivers’ concerns.

“We took their feedback, ran some tests, found out what the average draw was and realized that, in some cases, an incandescent bulb could run the vehicle batteries down quickly,” Bishop said. “So we switched over to LED stoplights, turn signals and strobe lights. Now, even on a 15-degree day you can run that equipment for six hours, and the truck doesn’t need to be running.”

According to Williams, “You can use the telematics to spot a problem. But then you need to get to the cause. And in many cases, the best way to get that information is to talk with your people and find a solution that satisfies concerns across the board.”

Increased Visibility and Productivity
With GPS technology, fleet managers can get real-time and historical data on the status and location of their vehicles. That’s a nice feature, but what does it mean in terms of real-world impact on your business?

“For our road service technicians, location data eliminates a lot of phone calls and helps speed their response,” Williams said. “When we alert the tech that a truck is broken down, we don’t have to give them an address. They just type in the unit number on their mobile device, find the truck location on the GPS and get directions to get there.”

It also helps with mobilizing and coordinating storm response teams.

“We may send up to 200 people out on storm response,” Williams said. “Without telematics, you can’t really see what’s going on with all those units, where they are, whether any of them are having any mechanical issues and so forth. Now, we can immediately see what assets we have available, where they are and can more efficiently coordinate them.”

Real-time location data also facilitates safety audits in a way that minimizes impact on staff productivity.

“Our crews are all over metro Chicago, San Francisco and other areas across the country. GPS helps us to supervise and audit our crews more efficiently,” Williams said. “If you’re trying to track down a four-man crew, a phone call is a difficult way to find those guys. For example, the safety department is not directly supervising the crews, but they are responsible to go find and audit them. With GPS location data, they can locate the crews without phone calls – just find them on GPS.”

The Next Level: Mobile Fleet Technology
While these benefits offer a compelling business case for GPS technology, what if you could take the power of telematics to a higher level: to maximize its impact – and value – throughout the organization? That’s what Williams said INTREN is doing with a proprietary system the company has dubbed “Mobile Fleet Technology,” or MFT.

With MFT, INTREN is integrating telematics data with the company’s in-house back office and vehicle maintenance software systems to help the fleet department more efficiently manage maintenance schedules, accelerate repair times and boost overall vehicle uptime and productivity.

“MFT is what we’re using with our technicians to record all of our repair services, so we can measure our costs better and really try to improve our speed of repair,” Bishop said. “How fast can we, as an organization, respond to a piece of equipment that is down? This helps us improve our utilization rates because we’re reducing the number of spares we need to keep in our fleet.”

“We’re also using the system as a repair and maintenance scheduling tool,” Williams said. “How should you go about scheduling your preventive maintenance, your road repairs, your in-shop repairs, third-party repairs? How do you manage all those repair schedules [for nearly 1,400 pieces of equipment] in a way that operations will optimize uptime on the equipment? That’s what MFT is intended to do.”

The Bottom Line
The key takeaway from INTREN’s experience with rolling out GPS technology itself is only half the equation. The other half is the human element. Fleet managers must be able to work through and with people to build acceptance of telematics and be able to think analytically about how the data can be integrated with other systems in ways that contribute maximum value for the fleet and the business as a whole.

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