Improving driver performance with telematics
Written by: Laurence Doe | Published:
Bretts Transport has a telematics system that records data before and after an incident for insurance purposes

What’s so special about the magic black boxes becoming ever-more common in fleet vehicles? Laurence Doe looks into telematics’ advantages for businesses

If your company operates a fleet of vehicles, be they HGVs, vans or company cars, it’s possible to drive improvements in productivity and safety while cutting costs by gathering telematics data and using it to boost drivers’ performance and fuel efficiency.

More than two-thirds (68 per cent) of UK businesses are saving money on vehicle fuel bills because of their use of telematics, according to a survey of 500 companies by the RAC. Its telematics MD Nick Walker breaks down the cost-saving benefits of telematics as up to 15 per cent off fuel bills, a reduction in maintenance costs of 25 per cent, up to 42 per cent less accidents and a decrease in insurance premiums of 20 per cent.

“Telematics could identify that fleets operating at below 70 per cent utilisation probably have more vehicles than they need,” says Walker. “This means businesses can make informed decisions about their operations and whether they need to scale back or expand.”

But it isn’t just about operational efficiency, explains Steve Smith, sales director at Masternaut, which recently installed its telematics solution in more than 200 trailers belonging to logistics company Europa. Smith believes the benefits of telematics extend beyond cost savings.

“It’s about positioning the business much better to win tenders by being able to respond quicker to customer needs and expectations,” he explains. “Saving money is a by-product of a telematics solution. You can’t manage what you can’t measure.”

Telematics also allow fleet managers to “load balance” if they face a scenario where one depot has low utilisation but another has lots of short- term hires to meet high demand, says Walker. “Telematics enable the fleet manager to identify efficiencies through vehicle deployment as they get a much clearer understanding of the best vehicle for the type of work required. For example, the performance of the vehicle in areas such as fuel usage can be monitored by telematics, so that fleet managers will know what vehicle is best suited for which task.”

Best practice
Since Europa started using Masternaut Connect, which offers an advanced API (application programming interface) solution to allow integration with any system, it can share live information with its sub-contractors. The technology also provides location data to automatically calculate scheduling of jobs and populate dispatch systems with live vehicle locations.

Europa has linked Connect with its transport management suite and also uses Masternaut’s system within its Dartford branch office to display the locations of HGV trailers on screens. The API also means managers spend less time providing other departments with information and can concentrate on managing the fleet.

Additionally, Europa’s hubs have been geo- fenced to alert the depots that they may be receiving trailers. This transparency is improving operational efficiency by streamlining scheduling, unloading and reloading.

Another firm exploring telematics’ enterprise capabilities is Paragon. The routing and scheduling optimisation company concentrates on fleets of lorries and other large vehicles, and its software enables transport planners to have real-time visibility of schedules.

“This ability to see what is actually happening as the planned routes are executed allows transport operations to reduce their mileage, fuel costs and CO2 emissions,” explains David Shaw, strategic partnerships manager at Paragon Software Systems. “An integrated approach provides an early warning system; alerting transport planning or customer service teams of possible delivery delays or missed time windows.”

Transport managers can then respond quickly and effectively to the situation by reducing the impact on schedules and customers – warning them through a service team, automated email or SMS alert.

But it may be a diversion from task rather than route that causes the driver to be late. Therefore, being able to track your workforce makes it easier to detect when drivers go against plan.

“We’ve had examples where we’ve seen a vehicle stationary in a lay-by, just 10 miles from the depot, and they’ve been stationary for 20 minutes and it’s not a planned driver break,” says Shaw. “After that 20-minute pause they’ve restarted their journey. The reason behind this behaviour is that the delay means that when they get back to the depot they’re too late to start their second trip and go out with another lot of work.”

Employees often change their behaviour when businesses deploy a telematics initiative. For example, more than half (58 per cent) of the firms in the RAC survey claimed they saw a reduction in speeding incidents and fines.

“Telematics deployment involves a change in company culture and data privacy is a key requirement,” comments Walker. “The added intelligence gained by telematics can affect finance departments, HR departments, fleet, and management structures. Best practice is to involve all areas of the business but responsibility usually lies with the fleet manager, as they will have greatest involvement in the day-to-day management of the system and the drivers using the technology.”

It was also claimed by 52 per cent of those surveyed that there had been a reduction in accidents involving staff, and 11 per cent said insurance premiums had decreased as a result of installing telematics.

Keeping on track
A company must analyse data to make the most of it, and processing telematics is the bread and butter of Pie Mapping’s business, which aims to use data from an entire fleet to assist companies.

“The data gathered from vehicles helps us to create services, scores and metrics and provide this back to companies, such as creating a scoring system for the drivers,” says Urtzi Alfaro, product manager at Pie Mapping. “The businesses can then approach insurance firms and show how good or bad the drivers are.”

There’s a correlation between adoption of telematics solutions and company size, according to Alfaro. Pie Mapping is now trying to bring to market a simpler version of its system for smaller fleets. Alfaro and others in the industry have noticed that telematics can even be beneficial to fleets of under 10 vehicles.

“Those managing it can have visibility of where the vehicle is and how well it is operating in terms of fuel efficiency, and judge how good individual drivers are,” explains Alfaro. “They can then use this to create their own processes and driver coaching because the main issue for insurance premiums is how preventative drivers are being. The key factors are harsh breaking and accelerating as you are not thinking ahead in order to stop correctly.”

“If your peak periods mean you have to scale up with short-term contract drivers then you still want to be able to track your entire workforce and measure the same KPIs,” notes Shaw. “A stock of ready-linked portable or plug-and-play tracking devices to give to temporary drivers is one way of approaching this.”

Telematics technology should be used to gather the maximum information possible, “even if the fleet manager does not need all of the information on day one, he probably will over time,” explains Walker. “That means having a device installed that monitors driver behaviour, detects crashes, records vehicle journeys and location, and tracks vehicle health.”

According to Stephen Watson, director of product at Microlise (a fleet telematics company that recently rolled out a system across 90 heavy goods vehicles in Bretts Transport’s fleet), there are three main users of telematics systems.

The different groups can be described as vehicle maintenance specialists, who look at telematics from a vehicle wear and tear perspective; safety officials, who use telematics for data on driver behaviour and incidents; and driver trainers, who utilise telematics information to improve fuel efficiency and safety.

Although this may seem like a lot of individuals to involve in a telematics strategy it can be reduced by some using smartphone apps, says Watson. Microlise is doing this by encouraging drivers to view the data and self-evaluate, rather than a member of management hold the driver to account for their actions.

“That’s really giving the driver direct access to their performance information, driving style, and improvement opportunities,” explains Watson. “So they don’t have to feel they’re in a conflict situation with a manager or transport supervisor.

“They can look at the data in their own time and put plans in place to improve their performance without going through a discussion forum. From the operator’s perspective, they know their drivers are engaged – they can see them using the apps – and it becomes a positive conversation.”

Bretts Transport’s new telematics system features a safety module, which includes an incident data recorder to provide granular- level information about exactly what the driver and vehicle were doing 30 seconds before and after an incident.

The system has been implemented to quickly resolve any insurance claims processes and resolve disputes, reducing time off the road for the vehicle involved. But what also saves times is ensuring that software can do a job that would otherwise require a large team.

“When [telematics data is] linked with route planning software there are a number of real gains,” says Shaw. “Firstly, added visibility ensures a transport operator knows exactly where vehicles are in relation to the schedule and whether they are early, on time or running late.

“It enables analysis of what is happening on a day-to-day basis against key performance indicators, allowing businesses to target continuous improvement and create more accurate plans for the future. An integrated approach also provides an early warning system for customers and employees.”

Keep a lens out for trouble
The use of video footage often provides unequivocal evidence in the event of a crash, and Tim Sagar, business development manager at dashcam technologies company Thinkware, views such devices as a way to control driver behaviour in the same way telematics can.

“From an insurance perspective [dashcams] provide evidence to shorten the time it takes to settle claims,” says Sagar. “To this end, they are appearing with integrated cellular modems to retrieve footage as quickly as possible after an accident.

“They are also being integrated into eCall systems [an e-Call-equipped car can contact emergency services in the event of a crash] where the accident footage is automatically sent with the emergency call made by the vehicle.”

“Some dashcams are available with locking boxes to prevent drivers tampering with the SD cards,” comments Sagar. “If they’ve had an accident the first thing they’re going to do is try and reformat the SD card and claim ‘it wasn’t working’, or some other excuse. But if drivers know they can’t tamper with it they’re going to try [to drive] that much better because they can’t destroy the evidence.”

If a company doesn’t want to manage the masses of data that come with video, Thinkware is currently working with insurance and telematics firms to provide a managed service, rather than businesses requiring in- house expertise. It is expected to be ready in the first half of 2017.

When vehicles talk
The benefits of telematics don’t just cover human beings. Allowing autonomous vehicles to exchange information on traffic and road conditions could help to address some of the current barriers to driverless cars.

HERE, a cloud location mapping company that Nokia sold to an automotive industry consortium last year, claims to have made a “significant step forward” in efforts to drive a global standard for vehicle-to-cloud data.

Following long discussions with international automotive and mapping companies in Europe, the US and Asia, HERE has submitted the design for a universal data format called SENSORIS to intelligent transport systems partnership ERTICO- ITS Europe, a European public/private partnership for the development of intelligent transport systems. ERTICO has agreed to evolve SENSORIS into a standardised interface specification for broad use across the automotive industry.

Hermann Meyer, CEO at ERTICO, comments: “Defining a standardised interface for exchanging information between the in- vehicle sensors and a dedicated cloud as well as between clouds will enable broad access, delivery and processing of vehicle sensor data; easy exchange of vehicle sensor data between all players; and the enriched location-based tools that are key for mobility services as well as automated driving.”

To date, 11 major automotive and supplier companies have already joined the SENSORIS Innovation Platform. They are AISIN AW, Robert Bosch, Continental, Daimler, Elektrobit, HARMAN, HERE, LG Electronics, NavInfo, PIONEER and TomTom. More organisations are expected to join in the coming weeks.

“Standardised vehicle data exchange will enable the crowdsourcing paradigm to spread across the fragmented automotive ecosystem, leveraging the synergies between connectivity and sensor data to provide smart mobility services such as real-time traffic, weather and parking spaces in the short term while holding the promise to power self-driving cars with high accuracy real-time mapping capabilities in the future,” said Dominique Bonte, MD and VP of B2B at market intelligence company ABI Research.

While fuel prices may be a long way from their pre-financial crisis highs, the pressure on fleets to deliver incremental improvements hasn’t disappeared. Many business customers expect subcontractors to help them outstrip the competition in terms of sustainability, safety and service delivery. Telematics can give fleet operators a competitive edge through delivering easily-measured improvements – but only if they adjust their business practices to take full advantage of the insights provided by such systems.

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