When it comes to managing fleets, telematics has become a major part of the conversation. With so many telematics products on the market, fleets may have trouble finding the solution that best fits their needs. We spoke to telematics professionals about what public fleets should consider when implementing telematics.
Why Fleets Need Telematics
Most fleet professionals have at least some knowledge of telematics but may not know about the full scope of the product. In addition to its GPS tracking capabilities, fleets can use telematics to improve operations, increasing safety and efficiency.
“We see a threefold return on investment (ROI),” said Robert Donahue, commercial leader for Lytx. “First is reduction in fuel. By paying attention to drive time, speed, idling, and driving habits we typically see an 8% to 12% reduction in fuel consumption. Next is maintenance. We see a reduction through smoother driving and faster preventive maintenance to otherwise unreported events, such as a curb hit that we are able to identify. Last is accident claims cost. We can lower costs by exoneration or even quickly identifying when your driver is at fault, negating the need for accident re-creation or outside counsel.”
Lytx offers DriveCam, a video telematics safety program. DriveCam combines video capture of road incidents such as hard braking or sudden swerving with in-house data analysis. The system delivers personalized coaching insights to improve driving behavior and help prevent repetition of those incidents.
Ryan Driscoll, marketing director for GPS Insight, said telematics has a variety of benefits, including lower fuel costs, improved driver and public safety, and a reduced carbon footprint. By providing historical location data, it can also prove job completion and verify any claims against drivers.
GPS Insight offers tailored telematics solutions for fleets. In addition to its user-friendly software, the company offers government customers a dedicated account manager, who serves as a resource for consultation, goal tracking, and more.
But even with its many benefits, Chris Jackson, VP of government operations at Webtech Wireless, said many fleets may still have reservations about telematics or feel wary of the benefits.
“There are so many telematics pitches so a lot of people roll their eyes, but the fact of the matter is when you go from nothing to using a system across your fleet, you have visibility of how your fleet is being utilized and you will see where the idle time is.”
Webtech has 15 years of telematics experience, starting in winter maintenance and expanding to maintenance, public works, waste management, and general fleet management. It takes a holistic approach to the industry in satisfying the fleet requirements of the agency as a whole, as well as the solution through its one proven solution on one platform.
Identifying Fleet Needs
Before implementing telematics, fleets should first identify which problems they hope to address.
“Understanding the priorities and goals established for the telematics implementation, and which areas of focus will provide the organization the best path to success for each item on their checklist, is the best way to go about it,” Driscoll said. “Understanding the tremendous impact and ROI that telematics can provide is the best way to accept and understand the amount of work it might take on the front end.”
With telematics becoming so popular, some fleets may feel under pressure to implement. Jackson advises fleets to adopt slowly, waiting until they are ready, and to know their specific needs. This will help the fleet decide which solution is best for them rather than choosing the first telematics provider they find.
“We’re seeing a lot of agencies with experience with three or four telematics providers,” he said. “Fleets should be qualifying the vendor as much as the vendor is qualifying them.”
In addition to problems, fleets should think about what type of solution would work best. To avoid overload, Colin Sutherland, executive VP of sales and marketing for Geotab, suggested looking for a telematics solution that fits within a fleet’s existing operations.
“It’s important that government fleets look for an open platform solution that allows easy integration with a variety of service providers,” he said. “For example, one integrated solution involving heat maps allows you to discover the optimal locations to install charging stations based on where the electric vehicles (EVs) are parked.”
Geotab offers a universal device that accommodates all vehicle makes and models to gather data in real time.
In order to implement telematics, public fleets must be able to justify the solution to its employees, government leaders, and taxpayers.
“Keep the organization’s leaders engaged in the results of the program. Reporting progress to mayors, city managers, and council helps everyone keep safety top of mind as a priority for the entire municipality,” Donahue said.
Driscoll added that government leaders in the decision-making process can yield a more holistic result that benefits everyone rather than just fleet.
“When they aren’t involved, you’ve got individual departments pushing the process along according to their limited needs and requirements. Telematics should be discussed at a higher level for a more successful implementation,” he said.
Many fleets may also have trouble gaining buy-in from drivers. Donahue said that Lytx is often invited to union meetings to present the benefits to drivers. He also noted the importance of rewarding drivers for their behavior instead of focusing on discipline.
“We know from the thousands of government drivers we protect with DriveCam that it just takes one exoneration for a driver to better understand that the program is meant to protect them as well,” he said. “Drivers want to be the best they can, and our most successful clients are those who leverage the results of video telematics data to reward and recognize drivers who are consistently demonstrating safe driving behavior.”
Bernie Kavanagh, senior VP and general manager for North American Fleet for WEX, said he believes most fleets are ready for telematics, but it’s often a matter of gaining support and funding. He said a variety of resources are available for fleets interested in telematics, and advised fleets to consult whitepapers and other agencies to see how similar fleets have handled the implementation process.
Kavanagh added that many of WEX’s telematics customers already used the company’s fleet cards, making telematics a reasonable add-on. However, the company still aims to make it easier for fleets to gain buy-in.
“Consider organizations that make buying easier, such as the National Joint Powers Alliance or the General Services Administration, both of whom have WEX on the contract,” Kavanagh said.
Starting a Pilot
All telematics providers quoted encourage fleets to run a pilot to see how the system works and how telematics can meet their specific needs.
“The pilot will reveal areas with huge potential for ROI and areas of improvement — 100% of the time, the savings will be there. It’s simply a matter of whether anyone at the organization is willing to make the necessary changes to get that savings and ROI,” Driscoll said. “Conducting an in-depth pilot with goals and objectives set and measured will help ensure that the final decision is the right decision.”
Even if a fleet has experience with telematics and feels ready to implement, it should start with a pilot to determine whether the solution is a right fit.
“We consider pilots not just a way to get their feet wet,” Jackson said. “It also helps us understand what their needs are.”
Jackson suggested implementing the system into five to 10 vehicles in a number of use cases. He said most of Webtech’s pilot programs run for about three months, or up to six months for fleets running a pilot through winter operations. But the important point is setting a clear time frame and initial goals to measure progress through the pilot.
Kavanagh advised fleets to keep the pilot focused and measurable, testing a variety of assets rather than limiting it to the top performing vehicles or drivers.
When evaluating the progress of a pilot program, the most important factor is consistency. Even if a fleet’s needs change over time, it’s important to track the same parameters throughout the pilot.
“Track areas that are measurable and can be monetized, such as mileage, fuel, labor costs, and idle time,” Driscoll said. “Provide a benchmark period during a pilot and prior to full deployment to understand what areas need improvement within the fleet.”
Webtech Wireless uses a rigorous scorecard that details the setup and progress during a pilot to make sure initial goals are being met.
“Sometimes fleets will start a pilot and change what they want to do three or four times during the pilot,” Jackson said. “The scorecard locks in the plan.”
He added that the scorecard helps public fleets that typically need to submit reports to their governing body.
Kavanagh noted the importance of tracking success during the pilot and after implementation.
Considering Long-Term Benefits
Although telematics is mostly known for its immediate solutions, the systems also offer a number of long-term benefits by incorporating telematics in their day-to-day operations.
“Many telematics solutions have their own maintenance modules built in that allow fleets to create maintenance schedules, receive reminders when services are due, track each service completed, and the cost for each,” Driscoll said. “Fleets are also using telematics for diagnostic data and diagnostic trouble codes. They want to know when a vehicle should be taken off the road for servicing.”
Fleets are also able to change policies based on the data collected. “We’re seeing more and more idling policies. And, of course, idling is connected to fuel usage,” Jackson said. “You don’t even have to get into engine diagnostics to get into those preliminary benefits to provide a strong ROI right out of the gate.”
By implementing such changes, fleets have the ability to improve their operations long-term. “We have one emergency medical services client who thought they had to trade out safety for response time but the reverse was actually true,” Donahue said. “Better driving skills helped them keep to their rapid response time objectives and decreased vehicle downtime from incidents that occurred when procedures were not properly followed.”
With so much data available, fleets should look past the initial results for more specific data that they may not have considered before.
“Government fleets should seek out a telematics solution that has the ability to measure percentage of use on battery vs. gas to better understand their costs,” Sutherland said. “In fact, they may even want to take it further and look to measure tire pressure, vehicle speed, and rapid acceleration to understand how to get the most mileage from EVs in their fleet.”
As fleets continue to adopt alternative-fuel vehicles, it’s important to note that a limited number of telematics solutions are available for fleets using battery-electric vehicles.
“Most of the time, they are not configuring the devices appropriately to get the most accurate ignition status, stop, and trip data,” Driscoll said.
However, as alternative-fuel adoption becomes more widespread, more solutions are expected to enter the market.