As telematics use grows, how can fleet managers overcome privacy concerns and get employees to embrace the technology? Rachel Burgess investigates

Telematics use is growing fast in the business car world as fleet managers wise up to its potential cost benefits. But employees are often reticent to the move towards technology, voicing concerns over lack of trust and privacy. So, how do you get your business drivers on board?

Proven improvement in customer service as a result of telematics is key says Stephen Doran, managing director at Tracker: “Customer service is a key driver. We find the better implementations in businesses talk about a motivation of improved productivity and customer service.”

Doran points out that firms do not need staff buy-in to introduce telematics but admits the better implementations have driver support too.

“We increasingly use technology to help us plan, schedule and aid us. Management must spend time talking about telematics implementation honestly. If fleet managers open up the dialogue and are honest and open about their motivation, this will start to help acceptance.

“A lot of drivers’ initial response is ‘I’m not being trusted’, ‘I’m being monitored’. The only thing that makes that go away is being consistent over time. It does take a while,” adds Doran.

Highlighting the driver advantages of telematics will help get employees’ on board, says Trafficmaster’s Markus Kootz, operations manager of Fleet Director. Benefits of its system include connected satnav with traffic avoidance, making journeys easier and less stressful, hands-free voice communication and emergency and breakdown support. In the event of a breakdown the driver presses a button to be connected to a breakdown provider with a similar scenario for emergency services.

Meanwhile, leasing company ALD Automotive’s telematics system, winner of a BusinessCar Techies 2010 award, gives drivers service reminders and pre-populated mileage reports to simplify the expense claim process. Kootz says drivers must have the opportunity to experience and understand the benefits: “If the company communicates these in an effective way drivers are less inclined to rebel”.

Vital tool

Robin Fellows, product manager at Tracker, says that as telematics grows, it is generally more accepted. “The vehicle is an extended part of the workplace,” he explains.

Andrew Yeoman, managing director of telematics firm Trimble, agrees: “Many companies now use telematics and it is becoming more and more accepted by drivers and technicians that it is a vital tool to both run the business more effectively and provide real-time information to customers.

“If drivers are doing a good job they should never have anything to worry about with telematics – it is there to help not hinder.”

He adds: “It’s not about being Big Brother and it’s also not about penalising workers who drive for their jobs – far from it. It’s about the bigger picture, which is helping increase productivity in a costly environment.”

Health and safety for both company and driver also remains a marked reason for installing telematics. With duty of care issues at the fore these days, companies have an obligation to their drivers to ensure they are not putting themselves at risk with excessive driving, for example.

Doran says health and safety is one of the primary reasons Tracker uses telematics in its own vehicles. “Our technicians have tracking devices as one of our requirements is duty of care reporting.”

There is also the more immediate side of health and safety – if a driver is in a crash or breaks down, the company instantly knows where they are and can send assistance.

Yeoman says: “Lone workers can have it tough out there so knowing their location and status is important.

“Trimble also uses its diagnostic technology to recognise any vehicle faults or anomalies that could cause a breakdown or even crash, and report this back to the office so vehicles can be repaired before the event occurs.”

Systems can also protect drivers from false claims of accidents, says Tracker’s Doran. “We do get reports where a member of the public has called a company and said one of its vehicles was involved in an accident, when this was not in fact the case – telematics can prove this.”

Unsurprisingly, the introduction of telematics almost always improves driving behaviour. “We have seen that once people know they are being tracked, speed compliance improves as do private mileage claims,” says Fellows.

Doran says that companies that reward good drivers often produce more conformity. “Some organisations publish their top 10 best-behaved drivers, from those that have the lightest foot or are the most efficient. An awful lot of conformity comes from rewarding good behaviour.”

Trimble’s Yeoman adds: “There is the option of adding in incentives with telematics for those drivers who are implementing safer or greener driving – although many want to drive greener it can drop down the priority list as the day goes on. If companies start rewarding their drivers for eco-friendly behaviour an improvement can undoubtedly be seen.”

Rebel employees

Some particularly rebellious drivers can react to the implementation of telematics systems by abusing them, perhaps by disabling their capabilities. “We do get some call outs when the system has appeared to have failed or stopped transmitting,” says Doran, when in fact, they have been tampered with. “Those that have something to hide will be the most rebellious.”

The most common occurrence for Tracker is unplugging the system, although it also experiences device jamming where signals are blocked using aluminium.

Trafficmaster also admits all systems are open to abuse. “We have reduced the abuse by adding a profile into eClient, which notifies the dispatcher if the unit has been re-connected. A ‘Power up’ message will be seen in eClient and it can also be followed up by an email. In extreme cases, we can apply anti-tamper paste to the terminals on the in-vehicle unit.”

Yeoman adds: “All technology systems can occasionally be overcome. Making robust hardware that is tamper proof is a first step, but of course we can always identify when a unit has been interfered with and immediately replace it, so it is a futile exercise.

“Once again, it comes back to completely understanding why solutions are required, the business benefits they bring and the advantages that all can reap from the use to try and mitigate this type of behaviour, which is exceptionally rare.”

Privacy remains the number one concern for drivers with a range of telematic companies already having or developing solutions that means motorists are not tracked during their out-of-work hours (see ‘Big Brother’s Watching You’, left).

If this issue is resolved then telematics make a lot of sense.

“Some drivers come into the discussion with a concern that if they are doing things they shouldn’t be, they will get in trouble,” says Doran. “But, really, they are good citizens and a lot of drivers think it is worse than it is.”

He adds that “it comes back to education, consistency and behaviour” to ensure drivers support a move to telematics.

Yeoman concludes: “Telematics technology provides the competitive edge which could be the difference between staying profitable and making a loss. Customer service is also an ongoing concern and telematics provides unrivalled knowledge in this department.

“Knowledge is power and seeing, understanding, managing and even changing what is happening in the field is the only way to stay on top of customer service excellence. If companies want to differentiate themselves or even compete, they will need to take a leap into telematics.”

Is Big Brother watching you?

A person’s privacy is a touchy subject in today’s surveillance world and the introduction of telematics on to a business’ fleet can cause ructions from drivers who feel ‘Big Brother’ is watching them.

ALD Automotives PF2 telematics system concentrates on risk management rather than its add-on feature ‘track and trace’. Stuart Williams, account development manager, corporate sales at ALD, says the majority of its car users are looking at speed and driving hours. Where track and trace is included, employees can opt out. However, it “is generally only wanted by CV operators where vehicle location is key to customer service”. Williams adds: “Having the flexibility to select the functionality appropriate to each fleet is crucial for the take-up of telematics.”

Stephen Doran, managing director at Tracker, also admits privacy issues are the biggest concern. Its answer – a button in the car that drivers select to differentiate between business or private journey – means fleet managers “get what they need” while keeping drivers happy. “They know they can’t be tracked when they press the privacy button,” says Doran. “But the mileage is recorded, so the driver is responsible for that mileage. No other data is reported back.”

Trimble boss Andrew Yeoman says: “Privacy buttons show a level of trust which is vital for most working relationships. They remove the Big Brother tag and give people the chance to take responsibility especially when they are allowed private use of a vehicle.

“It also conforms to legislation to protect privacy as telematics data is subject to data protection – firms need to be aware of this when implementing solutions,” warns Yeoman.