From the choice of fleet fuel amid air quality concerns through to the impact of Brexit – fleets are always grappling with change.

One area where change has been pretty constant in recent years is in the field of telematics – a combination of GPS and remote diagnostics – which is now becoming a vital part of fleet management. The telematics industry has seen double-digit growth in recent years and is projected by industry analysts to continue growing at 15-20% per year.

The monitoring of car data via telematics provides fleet managers with the ability to monitor their drivers, enhancing efficiency and safety like never before and leading to better control of their fleet as well as significant monetary gains.

Albert Chu, vice-president of strategy at telematics company Masternaut, tells BusinessCar: “Telematics is now a well-established way to run a safer, more efficient fleet. The core value proposition for fleet telematics is simple: you become more data-driven in the management of your mobile workforce in order to improve driver safety, operational efficiency, and ultimately customer satisfaction.

Growing and changing

Despite some controversy surrounding the monitoring of fleets via telematics, a survey by LeasePlan, one of Europe’s biggest vehicle leasing groups, concluded that resistance to telematics is diminishing, even among drivers of company cars and commercial vehicles yet to be faced with monitoring. The survey concluded that 50%, in fact, would feel comfortable with telematics monitoring the way in which they drive their fleet cars.

This is a good sign, as a recent report compiled by the AA and BT Fleet discovered that a total of 59% of fleet managers indicated that they are likely to increase their spending in this area in the future. Better known for its vehicle recovery services, the AA has begun investing significantly in telematics support for its customers.

It has recently formed partnerships and joint ventures with telematics companies such as Intelematics and Trakm8 to investigate how telematics and the connected car will influence the industry in the future.

Stuart Thomas, head of fleet services & SME at the AA, tells BusinessCar: “There is a key focus on telematics and the connected car in the industry right now, and we are talking directly to larger fleets who are well versed on telematics and its benefits to keep on top of this trend and ensure our fleet customers and their drivers are experiencing the multiple benefits offered by telematics.”

For the AA, Thomas explains, telematics is set to significantly improve its repair services to its customers as well as benefit customer satisfaction: “Our increasing use of telematics enables fleet managers to collect and analyse data to determine the location, speed, fuel levels and condition of vehicles. It also allows us to offer various services – from spotting when a battery is about to fail to recommending nearby fuel stations.”

Multiple benefits

Telematics is bringing about a new era of driving to fleets and has been giving more insight into how drivers are operating their vehicles, helping fleet managers to home in on behaviours that are impacting fleet efficiency and causing excessive fuel usage among drivers.

In the same breath, telematics can do more than just improve emissions. Fleets can also use it to keep an eye on their vehicles and ensure they are adopting safe driving practices, helping to reinforce safety and even keeping maintenance costs down.

Leasing company Arval, which operates a fleet of almost 90,000 company cars and vans in the UK, says it is speeding up its investment in telematics and has already started rolling out initiatives across the globe. The company offers an intuitive telematics platform called Active Link to support its fleet customers. The platform can be tailored to the needs of the fleet, providing clear summaries of important data and alerts based on defined requirements.

Benoit Dilly, managing director at Arval, explains: “Anyone running a fleet will know how important is it to ensure staff are driving their vehicles safely and responsibly, and telematics is introducing opportunities for fleets to save money as well as improve their overall efficiency.”  

Dilly explains that Arval introduced its telematics solution to fleets one year ago as a way to retrieve data and provide the customer with recommendations on either journey optimisation or driving behaviours: “Our telematics offering is in line with the changing times and how vital this type of driver monitoring is becoming at changing bad driving behaviour for the better.”

The aim of Arval’s fleet telematics solution is to spot abnormal behaviours in fleet drivers. “Our job is spotting this kind of behaviour and then it is up to the fleet manager to decide what he wants to do with that information,” says Dilly. “We aim to provide the necessary support and information and we therefore have a chance to improve safety significantly.”

Big brother concerns

In spite of its benefits, telematics concerns include its ‘Big Brother’ connotations, which can encounter resistance from drivers. “It is a common misperception that the aim is to monitor the drivers,” says Masternaut’s Chu. “Monitoring individual drivers would hugely increase the managerial workload of a company. Instead, we at Masternaut focus on engaging drivers – for example, with our In-Cab Coach that gives immediate feedback, or via our mobile app.”

On a company level, Chu explains the aim is to use insights from vehicle location and driver behaviour scores to run a better business, both in terms of profits and in terms of employee safety. “You cannot run a good business blind – telematics gives decision-makers, from fleet managers to operations directors, data and insights on where they should focus their efforts,” says Chu.

When asked whether he thinks collecting telematics data is likely to be accepted by fleet drivers, Dilly says: “We see the collection of data via telematics as a prime opportunity to increase safety, which will always have a positive impact on drivers. The purpose of this is not to argue whether the driver is right or wrong but to highlight bad behaviour, which can ultimately make safety and emissions lower and drive down costs. It’s a win-win situation.”

In fact, Dilly believes the minute drivers know they’re being watched their behaviour will inevitably adjust: “We think that more and more drivers are now accepting that their data is being collected for this reason and it is no longer seen as a bad thing.”

A sharing society

Dilly argues that mindsets are changing: “People are now used to sharing their data on where they’ve been and what they’re doing via their smartphones and are doing it voluntarily. It’s becoming less of a problem with younger generations and will enable safety to significantly improve.”

John Pryor, chairman at the Association of Car Fleet Operators, highlights to BusinessCar the importance of clarifying to fleet managers how the data will be used to their benefit, and that doing so minimises resistance: “Fleet managers want clarity on what the issues are; they want to understand how suppliers such as vehicle manufacturers and contract hire and leasing companies will access and use ‘big data’; and, critically, they want to know what the law is in respect of managing and using ‘big data’ sourced directly from their ‘intelligent’ vehicles.”

In fact, as well as utilising and monitoring the data for safety and efficiency benefits, Pryor explains that fleet managers should be focused on taking action on data that is highlighting inefficiencies in their fleets versus key performance indicators. “This is vital as there could even be financial consequences if data highlights that a vehicle is not being driven or used correctly and the fleet manager isn’t analysing the data properly,” he says. “These could include higher fuel and in-life operating costs, as well as possible loss on the subsequent sale price.”

For fleets the arrival of telematics and ‘big data’ means transformational change. The technology is already able to take away fleet operational uncertainty and significantly improve driver behaviours that can result in negative outcomes. “For now though, the major hurdles are fleet adoption and mindset changes,” explains Arval’s Dilly. “In the future, however, I have no doubt that this area will grow. It is clear that the right telematics solution can deliver quite amazing benefits, including a reduction in fleet costs and risks, and a significant improvement in customer experience.”