As location-based technology and work scheduling tools merge into a neat mobility package, what role does telematics play in fleet management? Mark Glover asks if the technology has lost its way or does it have the future mapped out?
My research into this article had me scouring the Field Service News digital archives, and while I didn't go back too far, my eyes ran across an article from 2016. Telematics: the revolution has already begun... set out, like this piece, to forecast the telematics future: Connected cars and app-based out of the box solutions were referenced - not a bad prediction then - but as we go into 2020, we enter another period where telematics is fundamentally changing fleet management and conversely service delivery as we know it.
This feature will take a longview of the technology and try to plot its current and future role in service. When looking forward however, it can be useful to look back briefly and to begin, with I want to re-visit the '60s when a directive in driver safety led to a pivotal moment in the telematics' journey: the tachograph.
Utilised primarily to measure vehicle speed and distance, the tachograph's role was a health and safety one used by HGV drivers to ensure they took legally required rest stops, a legal obligation that was introduced in the late 1960s. Initially drivers would record their breaks on pad and paper but the process was found to have various flaws mostly in accuracy and honesty. To remedy this a mechanical tachograph was produced eventually canvassing out to fleets in 1985. However the analogue nature of recording continued as the the system was essentially a wax-paper disc inside a metal mechanism which was again vulnerable to tampering and damage. Since then, various advancements in the systems's design took place but its real breakthrough came in Europe in 2006 when EU regulation required all tachograph devices to be digital in format, a ruling that ensured accurate monitoring and a positive effect on road safety.Of course, the telematics evolution is more than the blanket enforcement of tachograph digitilisation. Any decent history of the technology has to acknowledge the role of GPS which relies on telematics to collect and interpret the data beamed down from orbiting sattelites.
"This new format of location-based technology is forcing telematics solution providers to focus again..."
There's no doubt that Sat Nav systems revolutionised the way we navigate on our roads and its role in fleet management has been just as significant. That said, Sat Nav hardware, the once ubiquitous device on a vehicle's dashboard is quickly being replaced by the just as ubiquitous smartphone equipped with powerful navigation tools like Google Maps. This new format of location-based technology is forcing telematics solution providers to focus again on vehicle tracking and vehicle performance; classic telematics traits that can analyse driver behaviour and vehicle management, which allows the user to optimise delivery routes and enhance efficiency. But given the choice of dedicated scheduling management solutions that exist, many of which include a telematics and GPS offering, what role do telematics providers have in 2019?
To help me navigate the present and future of the technology, I sought input from three key voices: Beverley Wise, Webfleet Solutions' UK and Ireland Director; Stephanie Voelker, Vice President of Enterprise Solutions at Geotab; and Derek Bryan, VP, EMEA at Verizon Connect. All three kindly agreed to participate and all three kindly responded to that that initial tricky question: what role does telematics play in service given the choice of dedicated scheduling management solutions on offer? "Savvy fleets need both," Voelker. "Scheduling tools to create optimised routes and telematics to compare what the assets actually did during the day." She continues, spotting a chink in a scheduling tool's armour: "A fleet can have the best routing tools available but a driver may re-arrange the route based on their own personal wants or needs. All of the efficiencies the fleet thought they had gained are lost by driver choice in this instance."
Bryan meanwhile says a telematics solution can help field service providers appease elevated customer expectation levels influenced by Amazon and Uber. "One of the great benefits of telematics is its ability to provide a holistic solution," he says. "Not just across the vehicle-centric part of the business, but also the operations and the people parts of the business."What this means is that field service businesses can get greater operational visibility both in terms of job execution - allowing them to identify negative behaviours, implement management and escalate issues - and, in terms of data, in the form of condition monitoring and asset tracking. Analysis of both these areas is critical to improving the productivity and efficiency of every aspect of field service operations."
"What we once knew as conventional fleet management is changing fundamentally..."
Rather than choosing one solution: service professionals, Wise suggests, should also consider a telematics solution that works in tandem with a workforce scheduling platform to enhance efficiency. "By feeding accurate GPS location, traffic and route data into specialised, standalone routing and scheduling software, operators can benefit from smarter dynamic planning. Such an approach may even encourage some operators to think outside of standard working hours in order to help improve efficiency and productivity."
She adds: "And not only is it important for mobile workforce data to seamlessly integrate. Field service businesses should also be asking whether their ERP software talks to their CRM? Does their CRM talk to their accounting software? And does their telematics solution talk to all their data-driven systems?"
Collecting and then driving data is contributing to another variable in telematics: digitalisation. In service, the process of converting text into a digital form for computer use is paramount if the sector is to retain the knowledge existing in the many paper-based instruction manuals. In transport, regulation forced the hand of tachographs to shed its analogue past and GPS has contributed to the near-extinction of hefty road atlases. But by packaging navigation, monitoring and connectivity into one smart, digitalised, portable device, what we once knew as conventional fleet management is changing fundamentally."We are currently seeing a shift in emphasis from traditional fleet management to smart mobility, empowered by an explosion in connected vehicle and driver applications," Wise continues. "This advent of smart mobility is reflected in an exciting roadmap for the telematics marketplace and in tech developments that have the potential to revolutionise and disrupt fleet operations – catapulting workflow efficiencies to new levels. Indeed, as we look to the future, we can expect to see telematics data underpinning the emergence of Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS).
"As we move towards a data saturated future, OEMs will embed sensors at the early stages of vehicle production..."
Uber's impact on service has already been reference here, but it also plays a key role in this Maas 'movement', a shift that could see vehicles and transportation used on a subscription-basis rather than through an out right ownership of vehicles. As Webfleet Solutions' UK and Ireland Driector says, it has "the potential to revolutionise and disrupt fleet operations".
We know that disruption will be fuelled by data. Big data will be harvested faster by powerful servers and modelled by intelligent, smart platforms; platforms that create innovate features like smart-virtual assistants, such as Amazon's voice-activated Alexa, a feature that Bryan thinks could have a positive affect on mobile workers . "I think we'll see voice dictation replace typing in the majority of online queries, the Verizon EMEA VP says. "Improved voice recognition will prove a powerful tool for the mobile worker, enabling hands-free input of data, activitation of tasks and communication with managers. It will allow mobile workers to do their jobs more effectively, without having to take their eyes off the task at hand. This will especially be useful in the fleet space, creating a better, safer field working experience."
As we move towards a data saturated future, OEMs will embed sensors at the early stages of vehicle production to create cars that are even more connected. Those with a fleet management responsibility will have access to an even more comprehensive overview of their vehicles. According to Voelker however, it's a scenario that relies heavily on the strategic flexibility of telematics firms, who need to keep pace with this information influx. "Companies will need to be able to adapt and take in data from a variety of sources to ensure that fleet managers have one holistic view of their entire fleet, the Geotab VP says, before identifying the increase of EVs (Electric Vehicles) and the significant changes firms will have to consider. "EVs require a completely different set of data to run their fleets safely and efficiently," she continues, "In these cases, range replaces Miles Per Gallon. Making sure that adequate charging infrastructure is in the right place and making sure time is built in for how long it will take to recharge the battery for the next run are all important factors to consider."
While electric vehicles, big-data and MaaS present challenges for firms going forward we've seen telematics previously ride out waves in technology's volatile ocean. What is certain is the next five years will be another interesting period in its evolution and if the road ahead is a congested one, telematics will find the best way through,