By now, it’s safe to say telematics technology is here to stay. But the nature of the technology, and moreover, the creative uses of it, aren’t standing still. What started as a way to track vehicles using GPS has become an ever-evolving staple of fleet management, helping shape safer, greener, more efficient, and more cost-effective fleets.
Adding Geozone Tagging
Geofencing is a popular use of telematics. If you’re not familiar, geofencing allows users to determine a territory in which a truck can operate. If the truck leaves the area, the device issues an alert. This can help fleets prevent theft and misuse of company vehicles.
Geozone tagging is similar, but also lets fleet layer on additional information to yield actionable insights. For instance, Steve Wells, founder & CMO, ClearPathGPS, said his clients use geozone tagging capabilities to understand the type of work being done, then use that information to bid jobs more precisely.
“Our clients saw that inaccurate bidding was leading to less profitability. We enable them to geozone job sites and tag them with the type of work completed, then run a geozone tag report to continue to hone bids,” he explained. “This helps the companies bid more accurately.”
Wells said geozone tagging can also be used to improve customer service. “Another creative use is to geozone tag your most important clients and pass them along thank you gifts/notes when they hit certain milestones,” he added. “For instance, the note could read, ‘We’re grateful to have completed 500 hours of work on your projects this year.’”
Using Forms with Embedded Photos
People often think of telematics as it relates to vehicles and tracking only vehicle-related information, but Verizon Connect has solutions for mobile workers that enable them to work efficiently in the field, providing them with the ability to upload photos related to their work to customized forms.
“Embedding photos within a field as proof of delivery is pretty standard, but many customers have used forms with photo capability in interesting and innovative ways,” said Chris Ransom, associate director of solutions engineering, Verizon Connect. “For instance, some of our customers send forms with photos of potholes on roads and runways to relevant departments for repair, and forms with photos used at accident sites to document damage and other relevant information can be sent to the back office or stored.”
Ransom also said forms are often used to show proof of job completion for trash emptying and landscape maintenance. Depending on the usage, embedding photos can lead to improved efficiency, cost savings, and increased safety. For the customer using forms to capture photos of potholes, it resulted in reducing pothole repair time and ultimately reducing wear and tear on vehicles.
Instituting a Blind Period
Telematics innovations also apply to the implementation process. Adam Bruttell, VP of sales and marketing, MiX Telematics North America, said MiX Telematics has been working with new customers to institute a blind period, where telematics devices have been installed, but drivers aren’t being actively alerted or coached, and managers aren’t yet viewing related data.
Drivers are aware the device is installed but can ease into the idea of their driving behaviors being tracked. After a few weeks, MiX turns on the alerts, begins coaching drivers through proactive calls, and starts tracking results. They also open the portal so managers can view the data.
Traditionally, all tracking and monitoring is turned on at installation. The challenge with that approach is that fleets can’t know for sure whether drivers have always been driving that way or if device installation changed their behavior. Instituting a blind period allows fleets to see a before and after scenario.
“We’ve now established a behavior baseline before the alerts go on. Fleet managers and drivers can see marked improvements once the alerts go live,” Bruttell explained. “Feets can see that there are real, measurable results on lowering risk for unsafe driver behavior, decreasing idle time, decreasing fuel bills, and extending vehicle life through maintenance reminders. Fleets spend significantly on telematics systems and need to see a real ROI. This blind period approach helps prove the need.”
Fleets today often use telematics to prevent theft when trucks and equipment are idle. Now, solar trackers allow fleets to see where unpowered assets are located. Beyond theft, Wells said using solar trackers helps ClearPathGPS customers maximize utilization as well.
“Many of our clients loan their equipment out when it’s not being used,” he said. “By putting trackers on their unpowered assets, they can easily locate their equipment when they need it — even if it’s not on a job they’re on.”
Shifting Driver Perspectives with Video
Smart Care Equipment, a major commercial kitchen service organization in the U.S., understands that while driving is not their main business, it’s a critical component of technician’s day-to-day responsibilities.
“In field services and construction, safety is always a priority on the job, but that emphasis can sometimes fall short when getting behind the wheel after a job is complete,” said Dave Riordan, chief client officer at Lytx. “Increasingly, fleets in these industries are adopting video-based telematics to gain deeper insight into their overall business operations and foster a safety culture that goes beyond the jobsite and into the cab of their vehicles.”
Initially, Smart Care used GPS data from another telematics provider and results from internal driver analysis to create the company’s own driver safety program. The company saw some success, but it wanted greater visibility into its fleet and to enhance their coaching capabilities. That’s when they sought out Lytx’s video telematics technology. Their goal? To reduce adverse driving behaviors that led to rear-end collisions, which represented about 65% of the company’s collisions overall, and the claims associated with those events.
But first, the company had to shift the way technicians thought about the driving aspect of their jobs — and in a way that would make them better drivers for the long-term.
“We needed real insights into our technicians’ driving behaviors and an established coaching workflow to help us get our technicians on track and reward them when they show improvements or do everything right,” said Kevin Kelley, safety health & environmental director, Smart Care Equipment Solutions. “We were very honest and proactive at the forefront, letting our technicians know that driving safety is an expectation of employment at Smart Care and the new Lytx program would be a tool to help get them there.”
Management established from the start that the DriveCam event recorders were not there to watch their every move but to help make them better drivers and keep them safe. “This upfront communication from Smart Care management to its technicians went a long way in fostering enthusiasm around the program,” Riordan said. “We’ve even had instances where Smart Care workers have personally thanked us for offering this service to their company, completely unsolicited.”
During the six-month trial of Lytx’s Driver Safety Program and Fleet Tracking, Smart Care experienced a 62% reduction in coaching events, reductions in distracted driving, and improvements in the severity of incidents such as hard braking, rolling, and incomplete stops.
“The visual component of our telematics program has been a game-changer. Our old solution didn’t offer video, so we had no context for events or risky driving incidents, making them easy to forget or dismiss,” Kelley said. “Video allows us to see the full story surrounding an incident. Videos of coachable events are organized and delivered to our managers’ dashboards each morning in Lytx’s online workspace. There, managers can view profiles of each of their technicians containing historical information on past driving events and behaviors so they can personalize their approach for each and track improvements.”
After the trial period, the team implemented Lytx’s video-based Driver Safety Program and fleet tracking on 600 service vehicles across 50 states.
“Smart Care has gained deeper insights into operations and technicians’ driving behaviors, allowing for more personalized coaching efforts,” Riordan said. “In addition to having a positive impact on driving performance, collisions, and claims costs, this dedication to safety often translates to improved customer service and a protected reputation in front of both existing and potential customers.”
Adding New Stops Efficiently & with Ease
Parks & Sons, a family-owned and locally operated waste and recycling hauler in Sun City, Ariz., used to rely heavily on CB radio and cellular devices to communicate the physical location and destination of their drivers across 50 to 65 different routes. Implementing telematics helped them eliminate overlapping routes and unnecessary fuel costs.
When Parks & Sons experienced substantial growth and an expanded footprint across the Phoenix area, it meant greater complexity. As new stops were added to routes, assigning them was a manual process and one that didn’t account for route overlaps. That’s a major inefficiency, as route overlaps extend the amount of time it takes to complete area pickups, as well as extending the usage of the vehicle and the fuel it takes to operate the vehicle.
“The route inefficiencies were addressed through the GPS Insight route replay feature, which allows dispatchers see the routes for multiple vehicles at one time,” said Jenny Shiner, communications manager, GPS Insight. “Fuel is their company’s fourth highest expense — so any marginal change in that cost significantly affects their bottom line.”
With route efficiency, Parks & Sons achieved significant fuel savings in addition to improving productivity by reducing the amount of time relaying key location data between drivers and dispatchers.
“We were able to identify route overlapping with ease; it’s all there on a single screen for us to see,” said Shawn Parks, business manager at Parks & Sons. “Making our routes more efficient has never been easier for us.”
By correcting route inefficiencies and improving overall vehicle usage, Parks & Sons saw fuel savings of $150,000 in the first year alone, far surpassing the initial return on investment. Implementing telematics has also made a significant impact on the day-to-day operations for Parks & Sons.
Getting a bird’s-eye view of where their trucks are instead of relying on phone calls or CB radio communications to relay a driver’s current location or destination significantly reduced the dispatchers’ time spent on these tasks. Instead, they can now focus on revenue-generating tasks, such as taking more orders or expanding service to customers.
United Road Towing, which operates a fleet of 550 vehicles across seven locations and completes 40,000 tows each year, uses telematics for improved routing and dispatching. They used the latest technology, such as big screen TVs, tablets, and APIs, to give telematics insights a larger presence in their operation.
“They equipped each dispatch office with a big-screen TV displaying the Teletrac Navman fleet management system’s map view so that when dispatchers get a time-sensitive call, they can quickly see where each truck is and identify the nearest driver,” said Marco Encinas, product manager, Teletrac Navman. “Dispatchers put assignment details into their integrated dispatching software, connected through an API, and the job is automatically pushed to the driver’s in-cab Teletrac Navman tablet, avoiding having to call each driver directly.”
Real-time insights and communication from Teletrac Navman has also helped United Road Towing meet service-level agreements (SLAs), getting on site in the agreed upon amount of time. It also serves as a system of record, logging each call that comes in, when it was communicated to a truck, when that truck was in route, and when it arrived. If clients question if the SLA was met, these reports serve as proof.
More Innovation Ahead
Sometimes telematics innovations emerge because of new technology. But more often, they are spawned by fleet business needs. As fleets work with providers to leverage the technology to their specific goals and challenges, it’s likely creative solutions will continue to materialize.
“Innovative usage of telematics solutions is happening every day with different companies in different industries,” Ransom said. “What works for one business might not work for another, but there’s almost always a solution that can be used as-is or modified in a way that can be useful and lead to greater efficiency.”