With technology changing on an almost daily basis, it can be extremely difficult to stay in the know. Work Truck tapped into industry experts’ knowledge to assist fleet managers in understanding the basics and preparing for a future driven by devices and data.
Explaining the Differences
Hardware and software are two halves of a whole, according to Michael Bloom, VP of Product Management and Marketing for SmartWitness video telematics.
“Think of it like a smartphone. You need the phone to deliver the apps, but without the apps, the phone can only make calls. The same principle applies here,” he said.
In the case of telematics, a hardware tracking device is required to record information like vehicle location, fuel efficiency, idling, and usage data such as over-revving of the engine, rough braking, and aggressive acceleration. Add video telematics, and road- and driver-facing cameras do the work of capturing a 360-degree view of driver behavior and incidents such as collisions. In both cases, the real value comes in the software that analyzes all the data and transforms it into actionable information.
For example, to see where a driver is at any moment, fleet managers need software to display a map with the information. To help them identify problems with a vehicle or determine when to do preventive maintenance, they need a report generated by the software for engine diagnostics. If there’s an accident or other incident, one needs software to flag the event and provide access to video footage to help determine whether your driver was at fault.
“The hardware documents what happened, but the software translates the data into terms that can help fleet managers optimize operations as well as reduce risk,” Bloom explained.
Kinana Hussain, VP of Product Management for Cal/Amp, said when it comes to software and hardware, it’s important to understand the specific needs of vocational fleets, since some may need to track different metrics than others.
“When we talk about hardware, we are usually referring to a connectivity device. For Cal/Amp, our hardware has embedded software; it’s the software that makes hardware useful and enables processing and transmission of data insights,” he explained.
The line between hardware and software is getting blurred, according to Hussain.
“There was a time when all of our data would be localized. Then we had a major shift where essentially everything went to the cloud. But processing everything in the cloud creates a ton of additional data transmission, which is expensive. There’s latency involved due to cloud congestion, and essentially you are not able to make a lot of the real time decisions that you need to make for certain applications,” he said.
Hussain thinks the industry is realizing software and hardware need to work more hand-in-hand, where what you are transferring to the cloud is not just a raw data, but insights processed before being sent there.
Bart Ronan, CEO of TRUX, a software company that assists dump truck owners, contractors, and material producers in managing their work load and finding the work or haulers they need, described hardware as a physical piece of machinery. This includes the tangible components of a device such as the CPU. Software would be defined as the set of code or instructions that tell the hardware what to do.
“Java, C++, and Python are all computer languages just like Spanish, French, and English that different programmers use to code instructions for hardware. Regardless of what type of language the code is written in, it all translates to binary code (zeros and ones) which is the language the hardware interprets and acts upon,” he explained.
Benefits of Software and Hardware
One benefit of software and hardware is they allow vocational fleet managers to drill down into information that will help them run their specific vehicles and equipment better. Hussain gave the example of snow spreaders and plows.
“It’s not just about general fleet management such as wanting to know where the vehicle is or how is it being routed. They need much more insight than that. They want to know which areas have already been salted so they aren’t oversalting certain routes, or which areas their snowplows are most active in. For vocational fleets, those specific data elements become extremely important,” he said.
Ronan stated some benefits that come with using hardware and software include increased efficiency and a better experience for both customers and employees.
“Vocational fleets benefit from more sophisticated dispatching abilities such as route optimization. It helps cut back on waste. Haulers are able to give their drivers a full day of work because they are being more efficient. Customers in this modern era are used to being able to track everything from a pizza to an Amazon order every step of the way. Providing that kind of visibility is vital now,” he said.
When it comes to telematics, beyond basic location tracking and support for complying with electronic logging mandates, the data captured by these systems provides insights into driver behavior and vehicle performance that can help fleet managers improve safety. The technology can identify risky driving behaviors, engine issues needing attention, excessive idling leading to high fuel costs, and many other issues that can be addressed to help optimize vocational fleet operations.
“With the integration of cameras to these systems, video telematics adds the ability to deliver not only the what, where, and when of an incident, but also the how and why,” Bloom said.
The hardware and software work in conjunction to eliminate unnecessary disputes with drivers over issues like harsh braking and rapid acceleration by showing when these behaviors are necessary due to road or traffic conditions. In others, it means exonerating drivers involved in traffic incidents from expensive insurance claims. That in turn reduces disputed claims, claim frequency, legal fees, and overall risk.
Software and Hardware Challenges
A vocational fleet can have the best technology in the world, but if it’s implemented on top of broken processes, there will be a bad end result, according to Ronan. It comes down to a combination of people, process, and technology.
“On the people side, there’s sometimes resistance to change and adoption,” he explained.
To aid in smoothing the transition, Trux has produced a downloadable guide available on its website that has helped truck businesses adjust and earn buy in from their employees.
It’s also important to select vendors that will stick with you every step of the way.
“If you’re going on this journey, you have to pick the right partner; someone who has proven, field-tested technology. There’s more to it than just technology - there’s all the professional services and support that come along with it,” Ronan said.
On the telematics front, Bloom stated the biggest challenge in relation to hardware involves the sunsetting of 3G networks from AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon in 2022. Many telematics tracking hardware devices have 3G modems inside. Once the 3G networks are shut down, those modems will not be able to communicate the data they collect via the cellular network. That means fleets will need to allocate funds to upgrade to 4G devices.
Many vendors are offering upgrade promotions or incentives to help lessen financial burden, but there are two additional wrinkles, according to Bloom.
“One is that many device manufacturers are experiencing massive component shortages due to COVID-19 related supply chain disruption, raising the possibility 4G devices will be hard to come by. The other is inflation, which may increase device prices. Upgrading sooner rather than later will help protect fleet operations as well as budgets,” he explained.
When it comes to hardware in video telematics, one major challenge is false positives. Today, many systems cannot distinguish between a pothole and a collision; a sharp curve and a collision avoidance maneuver; an expected acceleration and an unsafe speed increase; or braking required for downhill driving and harsh braking that is indicative of aggressive driving behavior. This creates a flood of false alerts that require unnecessary manual reviews and driver coaching sessions, and also lead to driver frustration and poor morale. Vendors are working to solve the problem with artificial intelligence (AI) technology that reduces false alerts by as much as tenfold.
The cost of video telematics cameras used to perform AI analytics is another issue. Some vendors do all AI processing to identify false positives on the edge – that is, on the camera itself. The benefit is these systems can also alert drivers in real time if they are compromising safety by using their phones or driving aggressively (a benefit, Bloom said, that will shrink with the adoption of 5G cameras with faster data transfers enabling rapid remote processing).
The drawback is this significantly increases camera costs, both in the initial install and by forcing fleets to replace hardware to take advantage of software updates. Cameras that instead send data to the cloud for processing are smaller, less expensive, and do not need to be replaced to update AI capabilities because the processing power does not reside on the hardware.
Preparation for the Future
Hussain said the best way for vocational fleets to prepare for the future of software and hardware is by understanding what type of operational challenges they want to solve. They may have a good sense of what their key operational pain points are, but it’s often a long list.
“What would be beneficial for these companies is to have a better sense of what is really driving operational inefficiencies in how they’re running their business. That will essentially allow for a company like Cal/Amp to provide them with a roadmap and solution that addresses their top priorities. A lot of times, the problem becomes too big to handle and enterprises will get overwhelmed. Quantifying problems, sorting them by priority, and then coming to a company with a list of things they want to futureproof for is vital,” he explained.
The benefits of new technology in respects to both software and hardware is an increase in fleet manager productivity enhanced by better technology functionality and improved driver morale and retention at a time when the industry is suffering critical driver shortages, according to Bloom. Vendors are also developing self-installing hardware that can further reduce costs by eliminating the need for installation by third-party service providers.
Investing in your people now will help set you up for future success. Ronan said technology helps employees streamline processes and provide better customer service.
“One thing you can do to prepare is to invest in training. Make sure you cultivate an environment of continuous process improvement; take recommendations from those that are actually doing the work and tie them back in to your processes and improve. Becoming a tech enabled business is a journey. I think just having that mindset will prepare you,” he explained.