The big picture: How telematics is helping fleets

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The role of telematics in helping better manage global fleets is growing on the back of connected car technology, but centralisation is the key to success. Curtis Hutchinson reports.

Telematics is one of the fastest-growing areas of the automotive sector as OEMs bundle increasing levels of functionality into new-generation connected cars rolling off production lines. This progress is welcome news for fleet and mobility managers around the world.

Telematics in cars has been around for decades, where it has been used to inform diagnostic tests during servicing, maintenance and repair jobs. But now, with added internet connectivity, the way data can be processed has been transformed with real-time analytics on how and where cars are being operated and this is proving to be invaluable to businesses running global fleets.

According to the latest research from Counterpoint, the Hong Kong-based global industry analysis firm, the international connected cars market is expected to grow 270% by 2022 as more than 125 million connected passenger cars, with embedded connectivity, are expected to be shipped between 2018-2022.

In its Internet of Things Tracker research, Counterpoint identified General Motors, BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz as the leaders of the global connected car market and forecasted significant growth across Europe and China over the next five years.

 

Automotive assistance

One of the biggest drivers for telematics adoption in Europe is the rollout of eCall, an abbreviation of emergency call, which is intended to bring rapid response assistance to motorists involved in a collision anywhere in the European Union, a mandatory requirement for all new cars sold within the EU since April 2018.

“In terms of overall penetration, Germany, UK and US are leading the market at present with the highest percentage of total shipments with embedded connectivity sold in 2017,” says Hanish Bhatia, Counterpoint’s senior analyst for IoT and mobility. “Europe’s eCall mandate is expected to change the market dynamics with higher penetration across European countries. The adoption of eCall in Europe is expected to create ripples across other geographies thereby catalysing the overall car connectivity ecosystem.”

A further global catalyst will be the in-car rollout of 5G technology in cars from 2020. Currently 2G and 3G are the dominant connectivity platforms, with 4G likely to gain traction and account for nearly 90% of connected car connections globally by 2022, according to Counterpoint.

After that, 5G technology will kick-in with Japan and South Korea expected to take the lead with higher penetrations compared to other global markets. This rollout of telematics will offer fleets greater management control. Data on driving behaviour can identify the need for driver training as well as help reduce carbon footprint, an important corporate consideration under ISO 14001, the international standard determining effective environmental management compliance.

Also, the benefits of accessing accurate real-time data on how fleet vehicles are performing across borders will deliver even greater asset management insight informing current and future procurement.

 

More than just a car

Whether company car and van drivers like it or not, their vehicles are no longer self-contained metal boxes but highly sophisticated platforms generating, transmitting and receiving business critical data. However, processing this extra layer of data can be a burden for anyone in charge of fleet operations, a job function already awash with data. So what is the best way for fleet and mobility managers to address this?

One of the international leaders in delivering fleet telematic solutions across the world is TomTom, operating in 60 countries across Europe, North America, South America and Australasia. “Telematics is no longer just about track and trace applications. It gives organisations the ability to integrate data for planning their wider transportation needs,” says George de Boer (above), TomTom’s leader of connected car initiatives.

“Fleet and mobility managers are benefiting from receiving and interpreting real-time data on fuel usage and mileages. They are also in a position to act on the early identification of fault codes, enabling vehicles to be serviced before a problem occurs. This is all about using data to achieve the best possible asset management.”

De Boer also advocates centralised fleet management strategies to enable companies operating across borders to get the best results from fleet telematics services, although acknowledging the challenge presented by some corporate structures. “If an international business is set up as a decentralised organisation, where the different countries operate relatively independently, we see them using local suppliers for their fleet telematics,” he says. “They tend to choose their own solution which fits best for their local operations. Whereas organisations with centralised decision-making on purchasing tend to standardise on their fleet and telematics operations.”

 

Heads in the cloud

A deciding factor here is often the way the IT infrastructure is managed across the organisation and whether it has adopted cloud-based solutions. If this is centralised, then the introduction of telematics across the business starts to make more economic and practical sense as data can be consolidated to help better inform company-wide strategic decision making.

“The cloud has prompted a natural trend to centralise some IT functions, especially with packages such as Office 365; the same is happening with telematics,” reveals de Boer. “Running telematics underneath the desk of someone in a local office is almost unthinkable nowadays. Because applications have moved to the Cloud it means organisations are more likely to consider standardisation as they only need a single application to benefit from greater integration and combined data.

“Cloud-based systems can help facilitate a centralised approach to telematics. It enables managers to start comparing data from different fleets across the group and with standardised reporting, it allows higher senior management to get a better overview of fleet operations in different countries.”

The man from TomTom says this factor is particularly important now with the new ISO 14001 certification. “Global companies, with big white-collar fleets and large CO2 footprints, can steer towards improved driving behaviour to help reduce their overall emissions and achieve ISO certification which in turn improves their commercial potential to win contracts,” he says. “By operating a standardised solution they identify the best practices from different countries as they can easily compare the data. That’s a huge benefit.”

 

The impact of GDPR

Another important driver for change, which de Boer believes will increase the rollout of centralised fleet telematics, has been the adoption of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) across the EU from May 2018. These rules will protect the rights of drivers and help remove any lingering thoughts that telematics might be used to spy on them, especially when it comes to personal usage.

“On a European level, telematics adoption has become easier with GDPR as it has harmonised a lot of local rules. The individual has become more important and I think the key word here for everyone that wants to use connected car data is trust. We are living in a world where we see a lot of things that are trying to infringe our privacy and people are looking at that very sceptically and that’s where GDPR comes in.”

 

Managing fuel data

One of the most useful data fields available to fleet managers is fuel usage; analysis here across global fleets can help shape current driver behaviour and future procurement policies. Paul Holland, chief commercial officer of FLEETCOR, the corporate fuel card provider which operates in 53 countries across North America, Europe, Asia and Africa, believes the best way to interpret and manage data is to look at the bigger picture.

“While data gives us invaluable insight into how fleets are performing and driver behaviour, it’s important to remember that data is only as good as its source,” he says. “Fuel consumption directly from the vehicle, for example, is unlikely to be accurate all of the time. The same goes for analysis over shorter periods of time, such as one fill of the tank. If you calculate fuel consumption figures using the month’s mileage versus fuel purchased, for example, it will be unclear how much fuel was in the vehicle at the start. Similarly, human error can lead to discrepancies; the cashier at the fuel site may input incorrect mileage when refuelling, or a driver may note the incorrect mileage in their reports.

“Overall, it’s better to use insights as an indicator of use, rather than as an absolute final reporting metric. Fleet operators could keep a rolling view on consumption figures, or work from reports that include many months of data, which would help to focus on the bigger picture when it comes to managing costs and fuel consumption.

“Understanding data is key to identifying areas of the fleet where there are issues that need to be addressed, but it’s important for operators to remember that they need to have the management time and resources available to manage the problem effectively. Operators should create a strategy to take back control over time, rather than trying to target every issue on day one; it’s simply too complex a task to do.

“Data gathering is key for businesses and has the power to transform fleet operations; the richer the data available, the more a vehicle operator can get control over their expenses. By harnessing the data available to them, fleet operators can drive a better fuel management policy and give themselves the potential to unlock reductions in fuel consumption.”

 

Potential for start-ups

Another fleet vendor operating across borders is UK-based In-car Cleverness, the telematics arm of Accident Exchange, which distributes its solutions to parts of southern Africa, Iberia and areas of the Nordic states. With GDPR now in place, Paul O’Dowd, head of sales, highlights the importance of having secure processes in place to protect data gathered from telematics.

“In light of the new GDPR framework, best practices in data management should remain a key consideration for fleet managers working across borders,” he says. “All telematics data should be encrypted when it arrives with the customer. Although telematics providers will receive the data, they are not at liberty to comment on driving performances unless given specific permission by the customer. In turn, it remains the sole responsibility of the employer to rectify and improve their fleet’s driving behaviour.

“Fleet managers should remain alert to the risks of data breaches and third parties getting hold of their telematics data,” adds O’Dowd. “To safeguard against this, it’s a good idea for fleet managers to set out contractual agreements with their telematics suppliers stipulating their data will not be shared with third parties. In addition, it is now standard practices that any data received by telematics suppliers will remain encrypted and unreadable to external parties.”

Finally, O’Dowd highlights the importance of factoring in the specific requirements of geographical localities, citing the extreme conditions presented by parts of Africa and the Nordic countries. “The needs of fleets vary considerable depending on their functions and the areas in which they operate in. For areas of Africa where there are vast expanses of landmass, accurate mapping is often a priority for fleets. Managers need to be able to accurately pinpoint where their vehicle is at all times, ensuring the safety of their drivers. In these parts of the world, a detailed mapping system to compliment telematics data is essential.

“Especially pertinent for delivery firms operating fleets in more urban areas and in locations with more extreme weather, telematics is key in highlighting mechanical faults and ensuring the general health of the fleet. Particularly hot or cold countries can see vulnerable vehicle parts degrade over time, and it’s here when telematics can help pre-empt issues before they can impact day-to-day business. Telematics can also prove critical to helping fleets keep their vehicles driving on the most efficient routes with appropriate loads.”

With telematics having a growing role to play in fleet management, in terms of improving efficiencies and achieving regulatory compliance, global companies can only reap the full benefits through the increased centralisation of their operations.

 

Managing fuel data

One of the most useful data fields available to fleet managers is fuel usage; analysis here across global fleets can help shape current driver behaviour and future procurement policies. Paul Holland, chief commercial officer of FLEETCOR, the corporate fuel card provider which operates in 53 countries across North America, Europe, Asia and Africa, believes the best way to interpret and manage data is to look at the bigger picture.

“While data gives us invaluable insight into how fleets are performing and driver behaviour, it’s important to remember that data is only as good as its source,” he says. “Fuel consumption directly from the vehicle, for example, is unlikely to be accurate all of the time. The same goes for analysis over shorter periods of time, such as one fill of the tank. If you calculate fuel consumption figures using the month’s mileage versus fuel purchased, for example, it will be unclear how much fuel was in the vehicle at the start. Similarly, human error can lead to discrepancies; the cashier at the fuel site may input incorrect mileage when refuelling, or a driver may note the incorrect mileage in their reports.

“Overall, it’s better to use insights as an indicator of use, rather than as an absolute final reporting metric. Fleet operators could keep a rolling view on consumption figures, or work from reports that include many months of data, which would help to focus on the bigger picture when it comes to managing costs and fuel consumption.

“Understanding data is key to identifying areas of the fleet where there are issues that need to be addressed, but it’s important for operators to remember that they need to have the management time and resources available to manage the problem effectively. Operators should create a strategy to take back control over time, rather than trying to target every issue on day one; it’s simply too complex a task to do.

“Data gathering is key for businesses and has the power to transform fleet operations; the richer the data available, the more a vehicle operator can get control over their expenses. By harnessing the data available to them, fleet operators can drive a better fuel management policy and give themselves the potential to unlock reductions in fuel consumption.”

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