Using Telematics to Make ‘Smart Fleets,' Save Taxpayer Dollars

The relationship between governments and taxpayers, while symbiotic, can be easily strained. Governments are compelled to invest in new plans that encourage growth, but taxpayers want to be sure their dollars are wisely spent. Telematics has the unique attribute of giving government procurement officers tangible ROI among their vehicle fleets, an advantage that can’t be overstated when using taxpayer dollars. The case studies speak for themselves – just take a look at how the state of Utah decreased costs across the board by partnering with a telematics provider.

At the same time, the advancement of eBidding platforms gives procurement officers the upper hand to choose companies that can scale their technology to a government’s budget and diverse fleet needs. Whether a fleet has five vehicles or 5,000, partnering with a telematics provider is a solution that results in substantial savings for governments. The efficiencies are immediate, too – Eastern Municipal Water District saved an estimated $354,000 in just six months of introducing telematics and making improvements based on its data. Below are just a few ways governments can similarly save with telematics.

Easier maintenance

No two government vehicles can be treated the same, and this diversity of requirements can create a real headache for fleet managers. Telematics data not only helps create a checklist for a vehicle’s unique needs, but also functions for preventative maintenance – catching problems before they become costly. By taking the guesswork out of maintenance, fleet managers know the exact condition of each vehicle, avoiding needless repairs and diagnostics.

UPS is a good example of the power of telematics when it comes to preventative maintenance. The company experienced a 50 percent decrease in vehicle inspections, going from 240,000 to 120,000 inspections per year. The cost benefit from this reduction is obvious, but what might not be obvious is the increased knowledge fleet managers can gain from this information. Insights on the failure trends of certain vehicle models or the ability to provide support for warranty claims gained from telematics data will only serve to keep increasing efficiencies over the years.  

Increased accountability

While HR professionals and fleet managers always seek qualified drivers who will execute their job ethically, there is always the risk of the unknown. Telematics provides some transparency into these risks by implementing feedback systems to keep drivers accountable. Telematics picks up on certain driving behaviors, such as speeding, harsh braking, or hard cornering, and government fleet managers can use the data to address poor driving before it results in an accident or vehicle damage.

In 2012, the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department used telematics to identify unjustified high-speed driving above 90 miles per hour by its officers. Once the behavior was addressed, half of the deputies’ incidents of unjustified high-speed driving dropped to zero. Since driver behavior is one of the core components of determining automobile insurance rates, there’s an opportunity for governments to save big bucks on premiums.

Even good, safe drivers are guilty of this careless offense: idling. For government fleets both large and small, idling accounts for a huge portion of fuel costs. Just take the state of Wisconsin, which invested $1 million in one year to combat idling among local fleet companies. Telematics data have become so advanced that fleet managers and drivers can now implement their own preset scenarios to catch idling, such as running the engine for more than 20 seconds when the parking gear in engaged. This keeps drivers from slipping into lazy habits and helps fleet managers track offenses in case disciplinary action is needed.

Greater control

Perhaps the most valuable benefit of telematics is its ability to predict, and even eliminate, the unknowns. When a team is able to work in synchronicity with telematics, a fleet manager can turn expectation into automation, and everyone takes responsibility for controlling costs. Optimized GPS functionality gives drivers more efficient routes, helping them circumvent delays and save on fuel. Using this same technology, fleet managers can also better respond to emergencies by deploying vehicles that are in the closest proximity.

Telematics also empowers drivers to make more cost-effective decisions, especially when it comes to fuel consumption. When fleets are equipped with tablets or other interconnected devices, drivers can be directed to preferred fuel vendors, eliminating the temptation for corner-cutting that results in needless spending. When the City of Austin introduced an automated fuel management system to its fleet, the savings were vast. By gaining improved control and security for fuel dispensing, the city cut instances of waste and abuse while improving productivity.

As data management and insight improves, telematics is an investment that fleet managers can confidently make now. With so many providers in the space, government procurement officers will benefit from the competition to ensure their telematics partner caters to their budget. Not only will telematics adoption ensure government agencies are staying in-step with technology and innovation, but the taxpayer will be the ultimate beneficiary, creating the kind of reciprocity that contributes to public sector prosperity.

About the Author

Ben Vaught is president and CEO of DemandStar. He founded DemandStar as an independent company to continue growing our network of government buyers and suppliers. Previously, he was director of government initiatives at Onvia, a public sector business intelligence firm. Ben led multiple innovation and strategy efforts as senior advisor to the Washington state chief information officer and spent six years at Microsoft, where he incubated Microsoft Hololens. Ben holds 39 U.S. patents in mixed reality and technology applications. In 2012, he managed U.S. Representative Suzan DelBene’s first congressional campaign. He holds an MBA from the University of Washington Foster School of Business and dual bachelor’s degrees in English and government from Georgetown University.