Know your needs before deploying telematics

Whether you purchase an in-cab telematics system or one using mobile devices, it's important to understand what data it will provide and whether that data will match your needs. (Photo: PeopleNet)

Buying the right system and utilizing its full capabilities offers the best return

The upcoming electronic logging device (ELD) rule is a great example of the type of mandated technological change coming to the trucking industry, and yet it serves as a great reminder of the importance to perform due diligence before adopting such technologies.

That due diligence, Chris Hayes, 2VP, Risk Control, Transportation, Travelers, tells FreightWaves, could potentially lead to an overall boost in fleet and driver efficiency. Or, it may just lead to better hours-of-service compliance. Whichever approach a fleet takes, he says, it’s important to first understand what you expect from a telematics solution.

“It depends on what you are using that device for,” Hayes, 2VP, Risk Control, Transportation, Travelers explains. “If you are capturing data on the vehicle, you are really capturing driver behavior data that you can use to coach drivers or to reward drivers.”

Roughly 3 million drivers will be affected by the ELD regulation, which mandates the devices inside truck cabs as of Dec. 18, 2017, to track driving hours and hours-of-service compliance. Many fleets, especially larger ones, already employ ELDs, but many in the industry still do not have the devices.

What kind of success any fleet has with ELDs, like all telematics systems, will vary based on the fleet’s needs, the type of system it adopts, and what it chooses to do with the data telematics systems capture.

In the case of ELDs, companies could choose to equip drivers with smartphone-based systems that simply record driving hours. Or, they may choose more robust systems that connect directly into the vehicle’s engine and collect thousands of data points.

“There are some that are directly tied into the vehicle and there are some that run off GPS devices or accelerators,” Hayes notes. “As we move towards electronic logging, the question is are you going to invest money into just capturing what is required or are you going to invest [in something more]?”

Mobile devices do not typically include many advanced features. Also, Hayes says, if the device is embedded into the truck, the data capture is immediate whereas mobile devices sometimes have a gap in data capture. “So there can be a loss in accuracy or data,” he says.

While the mobile-based systems tend to be less expensive, their drawback is less data and functionality.

Finding a solution that fits your needs

“The market is really starting to coalesce around solutions for large fleets, solutions for small fleets, and solutions for owner-operators,” Hayes notes. “So as customers go looking for solutions, they should be able to find one that fit their needs.”

Just deciding on a system is only the first step, though. Next is asking yourself what do you want to do with the data, and fleet size does not need to be a deterrent to adopting more advanced data-collection systems, Hayes says. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see very small fleets run very robust data programs,” he says.

An example of using more data is the recording of harsh braking, which is really recording driver behavior. With this data in hand, a fleet can better coach that driver in how to avoid situations where harsh braking may occur. This leads to less tire wear, less brake wear, less maintenance and better fuel economy, Hayes says.

“Once you are starting to capture information like that, it’s only as good as what [management does with it],” Hayes explains. “But technology continues to evolve, so what is available today may be different six months from now.”

Hayes advises fleets not to forget the most important part of any telematics system – the human element.

“Very often we see companies invest in technology and not get the return on investment [they are looking for] because they are not using them [to their fullest extent],” Hayes explains. “You need to put as much thought into the rollout and training as you do the technology.”