MANAGING THE TELEMATICS data tsunami from fleet vehicles can present a daunting challenge to fleet managers tasked with improving productivity and reducing waste. The sheer amount of data about a vehicle’s location, fuel usage, maintenance needs, and driver behavior can be overwhelming.
The issue has been complicated by vehicle manufacturers. As new model years arrive, OEMs are building trucks, vans, and cars that produce more and more data with an array of sensors that can detect situational events such as turn signal activation or raindrops falling on a windshield. These granular data points can be manna for driver safety monitoring. Some of this data hasn’t been fully unlocked for fleets, but the wave is gathering on the horizon.
The number of U.S. vehicles on the roads with embedded 3G or 4G LTE cellular technology reached 41 million at the end of 2018, which was a 22% increase over the prior year, according to S&P Global. Automakers are now testing 5G modems with Ford planning a 2022 rollout.
Connected vehicle technology has become standard equipment in many light-duty vehicles, along with advanced driver-assistance systems that require data-collecting sensors throughout a vehicle. Vehicles can now generate about 25 gigabytes of data per hour and as much as 4,000 per day, according to some estimates. This data could be worth $750 million to manufacturers in 2030, according to consulting firm McKinsey.
Telematics service providers are also advancing the ball by developing smarter tools for collecting and analyzing data for fleet managers. An industry that once primarily focused on vehicle location and driver speeding continues to bring new levels of sophistication and granularity around data that can be brought to the table.
Collecting data is one thing; making it actionable is another. Most fleet managers don’t have the resources to spend on analytics. With help from their telematics vendors, fleet managers can focus more on signal and less on white-noise data that’s interesting but less relevant. Use telematics service providers as subject matter experts whose suggestions come from experience working with a variety of fleet operators.
The key is to avoid getting overwhelmed. To combat paralysis from too much analysis, read these seven tips about how to simplify your approach and unlock massive cost savings and efficiency gains in your fleet management plan.
UNDERSTANDING THE DATA LOAD
TELEMATICS SYSTEMS HELP fleet managers improve driving behavior, reduce costs, and increase under-utilized assets. The increased visibility into these areas of fleet operations comes from various sources. Fleet managers need to master the inputs before developing strategies and tactics to address pain points. First, fleet managers need to get their arms around the sources of data. Here are several questions to get started:
• Do you have multiple telematics solution providers? Are they integrating your data?
• If you’re using OEM telematics solutions in a mixed fleet, are you receiving data from several manufacturers?
• Are you receiving data from your fuel card supplier?
• If you manage heavy equipment, are you receiving data from one of those manufacturers?
• Are you receiving IoT data from low-powered asset trackers attached to trailers or other non-powered assets?
• If you hired a fleet management company, how are they providing data?
Data that helps fleet managers improve driving behavior is fundamental to any telematics solution. The “black box” modules or OBD-II plug-in devices collect three kinds of data – telemetry (vehicle location), diagnostics such as engine idling or maintenance alerts, and sensors or cameras that capture driver behaviors such as speeding and lane departure.
Telemetry data helps curb inappropriate uses of fleet vehicles, such as taking vehicles to out-of-policy locations, moonlighting for ride-hailing, or parking in dangerous neighborhoods. Diagnostic data can help reduce costs by helping fleet managers follow the preventive maintenance schedules for their vehicles and identifying excessive idling and other fuel-wasting behaviors. Reducing risky driver behavior can reduce repair costs from collisions and avert a costly legal judgment stemming from an at-fault crash.
LEAN ON YOUR VENDORS AS TRUSTED ADVISORS
TELEMATICS VENDORS ARE in business to sell solutions, but they are also the most authoritative source of information about the solution they’re offering. They process millions of transactions a year and usually have many decades of experience working with data. Set aside cynicism about the purchasing process and tap into their expertise. Your point of contact may be with sales, but some of these associates have deep experience in the industry. These associates also have access to resources such as manuals, whitepapers, and video walkthroughs. They maintain connection points across the organization to help you gather more technical information. With some testing and measuring, telematics advisors can also help you tailor their solution to better meet your needs. After all, they were the ones who built the tools. Telematics service providers have also been offering plenty of resources during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 to help businesses better navigate the health safety policies, financial resources, and senior management approvals needed to implement and maintain a successful telematics program. Fleet managers should also turn for guidance to their fuel card providers and especially fleet management companies, who can help merge data streams.
FIND WAYS TO SIMPLIFY YOUR ANALYSIS
IMPLEMENTING TELEMATICS IN your fleet can be exhilarating, yet somewhat daunting, so take steps to reduce the firehose effect. This reduces friction in the day to day of business and helps people make good decisions. Here are four considerations for reducing complexity:
• GOAL SETTING: Pick one or two goals, while you familiarize yourself with the new system you’ve begun using.
• CUSTOMIZATION: Work with your telematics provider to set up easy-to-navigate dashboards. Use visualizations that summarize data instead of running reports that require digging.
• AUTOMATION: Set up specific alerts tied to your goals that don’t blow up your phone around the clock.
• COMMUNICATIONS: Request emailed reports of analysis that can be viewed without logging into the cloud-based portal. Keeping data analysis in check is a time management tool that will help you concentrate on other important tasks.
SET A GOAL TO ADDRESS A SPECIFIC CHALLENGE
RATHER THAN TRYING to solve every challenge at once, set a goal to deal with a specific issue. Set up key performance indicators (KPIs) so you know when you achieve the desired result.
Do you suspect drivers of spending too much time at restaurants or bars? Set up geofences for suspected locations and see how often drivers visit. Your KPI could be for how much you plan to reduce visits to a certain location over a day or week.
Want to reduce engine idling across your fleet? Pair charts and alerts from your dashboard to monitor idle times. With a targeted approach like this, you may be able to cut idling by 30 minutes per week for most drivers.
What if you suspect that drivers are using company vehicles to moonlight on ride-hailing services? Monitor times the vehicle is in motion and circle back to those drivers who are operating at odd hours or on the weekend. Perhaps your goal is to reduce the amount of time vehicles are used after 10 p.m. or on weekends by 10%
Being targeted focuses the entire operation on addressing a shortcoming and reduces piecemeal or fragmentary approaches to dealing with problems.
AMPLIFY A TEAM ENVIRONMENT TO REDUCE OVERLOAD
DRIVER SCORECARDS ARE a great way to provide specific feedback to the riskiest drivers in your fleet, but gamification features and rewards-based programs can leverage peer-based motivation. Perhaps the safest drivers earn rewards such as access to vehicles with satellite radio or gift cards for popular restaurants. Encourage more collaboration by sharing key metrics between drivers. Create a central repository where drivers can compare their scores against an anonymized benchmark of the top performers. Be sure to include these ideas in a comprehensive fleet policy that can be circulated to drivers, senior management, and perhaps your commercial insurer. It will help bring various stakeholders onto the same page. A clear fleet policy establishes expectations about the use of company vehicles and sets responsibilities for managers, drivers, and others. Here are tips for creating an effective fleet policy:
• Write a policy with input from all stakeholders.
• Merge all elements into one document.
• Keep the policy up to date.
• Make the policy widely available.
• Ask for written compliance from drivers.
• Use a consistent approach to enforce the policy.
Above all, create a safety culture that enables drivers to point out shortcomings that need to be addressed without retribution.
TUNE OUT DATA THAT ISN’T RELEVANT
CLOUD-BASED TELEMATICS PLATFORMS have revolutionized the way fleet managers approach decision-making. Many offer a flurry of data points and a multitude of ways to slice and dice data points. In some cases, it can offer too much choice.
Eliminate reports that require a complex process for piecing together data. Put your faith in the automated alerts you’ve set up to follow your goals. If you’re monitoring fuel usage, you probably don’t need an alert every time a driver fills up using premium fuel on a Saturday morning. If you’re trying to reduce premium fuel use, aggregate a week of data and focus on the repeat offenders.
Strive for a single dashboard view, which may not be possible for larger fleets with multiple vendors. Discuss with your telematics service provider ways the various data streams can be merged, so you can view it all in one place rather than needing multiple logins.
TAKE ACTION AND MONITOR PROGRESS
WHEN YOU HAVE set up your KPIs, set a time every day or week to monitor progress. Do it as a team so everyone feels included in the process and can take credit for the achievement. When you can reduce ego-driven decision-making, you’ll get more buy-in from every corner of your fleet operation.
As the fleet decisionmaker, give yourself a set amount of time each day or week to review your data. Or set a calendar flag to do it between a set time window each week. Managing your time spent on this will help keep the focus on other important tasks.
Using a targeted, disciplined approach will help you reduce operating costs, which have been on the rise.
Operating costs increased slightly in 2019, according to a survey by Automotive Fleet.
The cost of operating a full-size van that logged less than 24,000 miles a year on a cost-per-mile basis was 25 cents, which included 20 cents for gasoline, 1 cent for oil, 0.98 cent for tires, and 3.27 cents for maintenance and repairs, the trade publication reported.
Between 5% to 10% of the annual budget for most fleets can be chalked up to waste in operating expenses, according to Automotive Fleet.
If you can take action and reduce up to 10% of your hidden costs, you’ll significantly improve the financial drain that managing assets can take on company balance sheets.