The bare necessities of telematics
10 July 2018
Author: Jack Carfrae
For all its merits, the sheer amount of data generated by telematics can make deciphering the results a gargantuan task. Jack Carfrae finds out how fleets can slim down the admin.
'Can you just.' is a contender for the most hated phrase in the workplace. It's innocent enough by itself, but you can more or less guarantee it's a precursor to a heap of stuff you could really do without.
You can apply it to one of the most popular areas of modern fleet management: 'we're going to install telematics; can you just have a look at the data and tell us what's going on?'. The chance that any fleet operator has the time to examine a full suite of reports, covering all areas of vehicular activity, then address each problem, is slim to none, and the slog that is processing the results is among the biggest turn-offs for businesses considering the technology.
That's not to say fleets should deliberately give it the swerve on admin grounds, as the systems have proved their worth time after time. Drowning in data is, however, a very real possibility, and it's worth knowing how to make the best of it in the least amount of time elapsed.
"You can fill somebody's inbox and life with data," admits Mike Hemming, UK Catalytix director at Masternaut, "but actually, you've got to make it usable in order for telematics to bring in the benefits that are needed. There are several ways in which you can start to address the problem: one is to try not to achieve everything as soon as the system turns on. Have your priorities and your key elements that you focus on, whether it's driver behaviour, utilisation of stock, finish times - whatever it might be."
"Any telematics provider worth their salt will offer whittled down reports."
For those embarking on telematics, having as clear an idea as possible of the specifics you want to flag up is a good start. Not everyone has, though, and even those that do may find the data shines a light on hitherto unknown areas that require attention.
"Invariably, what ends up happening is people don't understand what they've got and they don't make best use of what they have," says Beverly Wise, sales director at TomTom Telematics. "One of the things we say is 'let's put something in for, say, three months, trial it and set a benchmark, so that you can actually see what is happening and the areas that you want to delve into'.
"It's really easy to then be able to set the parameters and say, 'I want to look at anybody having more than five driving events in a day,' for instance. And then you can refine it.
"If you find that, actually, five is too many, you can either bring the parameters up or take them down accordingly."
That's the clincher, because any telematics provider worth their salt will offer whittled down reports that limit their focus to only the most relevant aspects for that business. Though you first have to go through the motions and establish exactly what those aspects are, once you have, any surplus data can be discarded, which saves rather a lot of time.
"Having a system that allows you to customise the data you receive is key, then you can make sure you're only seeing bits of information you need to react to, and that is going to give you the biggest return on your investment," adds Hemming.
It's also possible to segment reports via department, so those analysing them end up with a broader view of what's going on, rather than scrutinising each driver's results - though it's still possible to see what individuals are up to if necessary.
Such a practice makes sense when a company is large enough to be fragmented into subdivisions, potentially with multiple employees accessing the data, but it also has the knock-on effect of allowing management to get a good idea of each department's behaviour on the road.
"Often, the supervisors themselves simply won't bother to log on and check how their guys are doing, and sometimes, those supervisors might be the worst drivers," says Andy Walters, managing director at Quartix.
"They will often have been promoted up from the team they're now responsible for, and top level managers go to those guys at the bottom level and say 'hang on, you're driving at 85mph,' and they'll get the response: 'I'm not going to do anything about it until my supervisor stops overtaking me on the way home'.
"There's a huge amount of that - not wanting to grass up their former mates - and that's why it's really important to have a hierarchical approach in the reporting, so that the people at the top, instead of looking at individual drivers, are looking at this region in comparison with that region or how this supervisor's guys look versus that supervisor's."
Hierarchical reporting can also save time. What Wise describes as a "fully managed service" means the telematics provider manages the data, the reports and communication with drivers.
"We will set it up to text drivers and advise them of their scores, look at their improvements and look at what they're doing," she says "You can set that up at depot manager level, for instance, or at regional manager level, so the regional manager only gets the reports around his drivers and then the area manager will get them on his regional managers.
"That also gives you piece of mind that something is being done every day and every month, and if ever challenged, you actually have the proof that these texts and this information are going out."
If you operate a separate fleet management system and it's compatible with your telematics data, then get the two paired up sharpish; it'll save no end of time. Again, worthwhile specialists will know this and likely advise you accordingly, because it's an absolute no-brainer. "If you are able to configure and administrate the system into your fleet management software - whether it's Jaama or something similar - then you are cutting down on the time the fleet manager spends doing that, and hopefully giving them the opportunity to look at other areas of data," says Hemming.
It's not unheard of for businesses already operating telematics to reach a stalemate. They've set the systems up properly and have some good results, but they eventually think they've got everything they can out of it or that they're spending too much time perusing hefty reports. "We come across it a lot, where people have started on one particular area and they might report back that 'I don't see any benefit any more'," says Hemming.
"We do encounter that," adds Stephen Watson, product director at Microlise. "Maybe they've had situational changes, HR changes, staff changes that mean that the system's perhaps not being used in the same way as it used to be, or maybe we need to tweak some of the parameters because a bit of complacency has got in."
If that sounds familiar then the advice is to lean on your supplier. Once again, the best specialists will usually offer consultancy services and attempt to pick up on low or poor usage, but if you don't think the data is much cop - or the results you're receiving are overwhelming or irrelevant - then throw it back at the supplier. If they shrug and grimace then remember that at contract renewal time, but the good ones will make an effort.
"Get back in touch with your supplier and say 'Look, this isn't working for us, why not?'" adds Watson. "If you have any concerns that you're not getting the value you think you ought to be, you should be back onto your supplier, and hopefully your supplier should be on to you."