How to buy vehicle telematics
Written by: Sam Fenwick | Published:

While vehicle telematics systems are increasingly commonplace, procuring them can be frustrating. Wise Procurement’s Phil Murphy speaks to Sam Fenwick about how it can be made far less stressful

The benefits of telematics systems working in concert with managers who can take the data they generate and use it to help improve their drivers’ performance are many: a typical fuel saving of 10-15 per cent from less idling, reduced harsh acceleration/braking, less wear and tear and fewer speeding incidents.

Phil Murphy, managing director of Wise Procurement – a specialist in fleet and mobile technology procurement – says his company does a lot of work with construction firms, which benefit from the extra visibility that tracking systems can provide. “Say if they’ve priced a job for 10 days, but the staff are arriving late, they’re popping out to suppliers a few times during the day and they’re leaving at 4pm, so they’re probably on site for only five hours rather than eight. That could be a 12-day job, and the job starts becoming less profitable and has a knock-on effect on all the other jobs that are lined up. Ensuring productivity and that the guys are there when they’re supposed to be makes a massive difference.”

He adds that every hour spent idling a vehicle typically consumes two to three litres of fuel, and that repairing “bumps, scrapes and knocks to the vehicle”, which could be avoided with telematics systems’ effect on driver behaviour, takes a lot longer than the time spent installing such systems. Speaking of which, telematics systems typically take 45 minutes to install and, because of their rapid payback, the loss of income from time off the road is rapidly recovered. There are also some trackers that can be installed without the aid of experts.

Murphy says most suppliers now include installation within their overall telematics package and that many of the installers he deals with will work at the weekend at no extra cost.

He explains that one other reason for companies to install telematics is the greater accuracy of mileage data. This is important if you want to avoid expensive fines from HMRC – “if there’s perfectly rounded-up mileage, it’s always sort of a flag to HMRC and they’ll investigate further”.

According to an article by Fleet Industry News, some of the fines recorded range from £21,875 (for inadequate mileage reporting relating to two company cars) to an eye-watering £10 million, which on appeal was reduced to £1 million (for mileage record discrepancies associated with around 1,000 drivers).

Wise Procurement is carrying out research into telematics procurement. Murphy says “the data is showing us that searching through all the options is the least enjoyable part of the process. There are so many options available and it’s difficult picking the right system first time.”

He recommends finding out from telematics salespeople “what fleets of a similar size, in a similar industry, are using their product and ask them to arrange a reference call or site visit”.

“I would encourage the customer to ask what features of the system have helped them realise efficiencies, how easy is it to use, what was the training and ongoing support like, and so on. I would also ask what would you like the system to be able to do that it can’t do. That company will have already been through the procurement process so will have a better understanding of the market and what’s available, saving lots of time and effort.”

Murphy adds that one key requirement for any telematics system is that it provides “management data that is presented in a format that is quick and easy to use. Take speeding, for example: driver A may show 50 incidents of speeding in one week; driver B may show just five incidents in the same week. However, if driver A is doing a few miles per hour over the limit on the motorway, but driver B’s incidents are all at 45mph in a 20mph zone, you’d want your system to highlight the latter. It’s severity that matters, not just the number of events. Not many people have time to sit there deciphering endless reports and data, they need key information available on demand.”

He says telematics technology is constantly evolving and, because of this, “companies need to think of the telematics box more as a communication platform.

“Buyers need to ask themselves how their industry is changing and how the best suppliers in our market will be delivering their service in three years’ time; then build their telematics procurement with that timeline in mind.”

In addition to being able to send back engine data and fault codes from the vehicle and defect checks from the driver, he says that it can also connect tablets, allowing two-way communication between drivers and the office and capturing signatures from customers to confirm receipt of delivery, resulting in reduced debtor days and improved cashflow.

This last point is particularly acute for travelling engineers who might be on the road for a week at a time. Without such a system, they had to come into the office the following week with hand-written notes. But now the company can invoice as soon as the engineer completes each job.

One example of this kind of deployment was the fitting of ruggedized Android tablets (one is shown above) across Eddie Stobart’s fleet of more than 2,000 vehicles by Microlise as part of an upgrade of the company’s telematics system. The tablets give access to truck-specific maps, journey information, two-way messaging and cost-effective and safe hands-free voice calls.

Murphy notes that a large proportion of companies are looking to replace their existing telematics systems either because their current system is not performing as expected or because their requirements have changed and they are looking to do more, such as integrating fuel card data, using dynamic route planning or providing two-way communication with their drivers.

Procuring the right solution is not enough – for businesses to get the full benefits of any telematics system, they need to take the data they provide and work with their drivers to address any issues that are flagged up. Murphy says driver resistance to telematics systems used to be a big problem, but this has become less of an issue now that they have become so commonplace. He adds that to reduce this issue, companies can stress the duty of care they have to their employees, saying: “‘We want to make sure that you get home safely to your family every night, we need to monitor to make sure that we’re not asking you to do too much, by tracking what you’re doing day in, day out.’”

Murphy believes that one innovation that will help reduce drivers’ resistance to telematics is gamification, which is designed to make altering driving behaviour in response to telematics-generated feedback “a bit more fun and rewarding”, while also increasing healthy competition between drivers as they can log in and see each other’s driving scores.

“I am very excited by gamification, this industry is ready for it and it’s going to be huge. I have been very impressed by the apps from Ctrack and Microlise,” Murphy says, adding that such apps can be used by drivers to highlight personal and business use at the end of each day, “saving a lot of time doing it manually. The cost of the apps is minimal, so they are certainly worth considering.”

With the UK’s productivity in the doldrums and telematics systems (when carefully selected and supported with driver engagement programmes) offering impressive benefits, there seems every reason for fleet operators to invest some time and money in getting the right telematics system. Just make sure you have the best possible idea of how your needs might evolve before you sit down at the negotiating table.

In the public sector...
Public sector organisations in the UK looking to procure telematics systems can do so under the Crown Commercial Service Vehicle Telematics Framework, reducing the complexity of the process. The framework claims that telematics can save £3 for every £1 spent and notes that most telematics suppliers are SMEs.

It also points out that equipment is typically leased and recommends that users consider what level of tamper-proofing is required, any possible system integration issues that might arise and whether a gain share agreement might be appropriate.

The Framework includes a list of 17 vetted suppliers that are accredited with Cyber Essentials or ISO27001. They all have a quality management system (QMS) in place, can provide contract examples showing their ability to provide telemetry goods and services, and have demonstrated their ability to provide web-based data systems, while meeting a range of other criteria set by the Framework.

Dos and Don'ts

  • Do think about how your industry is changing and how your service will be delivered in the coming years
  • Do consider the telematics box as a communication platform; what else can be integrated?
  • Do seek advice from others in a similar industry successfully using a telematics supplier
  • Do document the key issues you are experiencing and understand what you need to achieve
  • Do understand the supplier’s record on innovation
  • Do involve the staff who will use the system in the decision-making process
  • Don’t buy on price – it’s worth paying a little bit extra if a supplier can add value and share best practice
  • Don’t assume you’ll have to take your vehicles off the road for installation
  • Don’t underestimate how badly suppliers want your business
  • Don’t disregard that some staff may be uncomfortable with telematics. Assure them
  • Don’t miss the opportunity to engage with staff by recognising and rewarding improved driver performance

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