Although vehicle telematics systems have been around for quite some time, they have improved drastically in recent years thanks to advances in technology and software-as-a-service (SaaS). Today, vehicle telematics is something that a growing number of fleet-operating businesses now use as the technology and advanced features commonly seen in fleet management systems have become more accessible.
Vehicle telematics (a combination of the word “telecommunications” and “informatics”) combines communications software with the internet and computer systems so that vehicle location information and data can be collected and sent to fleet managers for use in different business applications—ultimately for decision making and better fleet management.
Vehicle telematics technology facilitates the collection, sending, receiving, and storing of information relating to your vehicles via telecommunication devices. These devices typically plug in to ports on your vehicles and include SIM cards and an onboard modem that enables communication through a mobile network. The device then records and reports on various pieces of data. This can vary between providers, however; no single vehicle telematics system is the same as any other.
Many people think that vehicle telematics simply show a vehicle’s GPS location and that’s it—this does not even scratch the surface or cover the sheer breadth of intelligence that a robust vehicle telematics system can provide, however.
A better question would be to ask what can’t vehicle telematics do.
Modern vehicle telematics and fleet management systems have virtually no limits—there are a multitude of applications and integrations for the technology, and these will only grow bigger as the world becomes more and more connected and new ways to use location-based technology are developed.
With vehicle telematics data, fleet managers are able to not only view the location of their vehicles but also determine when a driver is speeding, idling the engine, braking harshly, and handling the vehicle in a careless, reckless, or dangerous way. Vehicle telematics also make your fleet entirely transparent, enabling you and your fleet manager(s) to gauge a clear view of overall efficiency (including fuel efficiency), schedule maintenance, and plan routes.
Companies that have adopted vehicle telematics have used them to maximise the potential of their fleets in many ways, including:
Decreasing fuel costs by identifying areas of waste.
Improving safety by monitoring driver behaviour.
Making their vehicles last longer through maintenance reminders.
Boosting productivity by using cutting-edge live route planning and mapping tools.
Managing expenses and payroll better through accurate vehicle tracking.
Fighting fraud by integrating fuel cards.
Reducing maintenance costs through customised alerts that highlight problems.
Simply having a vehicle telematics system is not enough to achieve this, though. Not all vehicle telematics and fleet management systems are the same. And to make the most of all the data that is available, it is important that the system you are using has all the right features.
Although different vehicle telematics solutions come with different features and no one vehicle telematics system is the same as another, there are a few essential ones that should be considered must-haves when evaluating different providers.
Fleet location tracking is at the core of fleet management and thus is a non-negotiable feature. It should therefore come as no surprise that GPS tracking and the full-fleet visibility that it provides is the most common feature of any active (live, real-time) vehicle telematics system.
Full GPS tracking provides several benefits to all employees involved with fleets—drivers, fleet managers, dispatchers, and administrative staff. Using it, drivers know where they are going and how to get there whilst avoiding congestion, construction, and accidents, administrative staff can use the data to streamline their workloads, fleet managers can keep a watchful eye over their fleets for performance monitoring, and dispatchers can send the right vehicle at the right time based on each fleet vehicle’s current location.
Ultimately, the full and comprehensive real-time visibility that comes with a GPS-based vehicle telematics system helps fleet managers keep tabs on all their vehicles and provide a better and more reliable level of service to your customers.
What good is full and complete tracking if you cannot easily communicate with your vehicles in real-time, too? Another vehicle telematics feature that we think is essential is the inclusion of some type of web-based interface or software service that receives real-time data from the vehicle telematics systems installed in your fleet.
This is essential for managing current vehicle activity, generating reports, and monitoring routes to ensure that there is nothing that may cause your drivers to be delayed. Being able to easily access a fleet management dashboard, view data, and communicate with fleet vehicles enables agile decision-making and helps fleet managers to make important point-in-time decisions.
Most vehicle telematics providers will include a system like this with their telematics products, but it is worth double checking.
Customisable alerts in vehicle telematics are more important than you may think. Receiving real-time notifications about things like driver behaviour and vehicle diagnostics helps you and your fleet managers to actively reduce risks and solve issues as they arise. This reduces the likelihood of an issue—such as a carless driver or an underlying vehicle problem—manifesting into something more serious like a road traffic collision.
As an example, using vehicle telematics you could set up an alert that will notify you whenever your drivers exceed the speed limit for the road they are on or a pre-set speed limit of your choosing. If you have company policy to not exceed 60 MPH on a 70 MPH motorway, then a customised alert will tell you when and if your drivers do this, where, and for how long.
Other examples of customisable alerts may include:
When your drivers go in/out of a certain boundary (known as “geofencing”)
When vehicles are used between specified time ranges
When vehicle engines are idling for longer than a specified time limit
When vehicles are due for maintenance, MOTs, or other checks
Using vehicle telematics to map and plan your drivers’ routes is far better than doing it on pen and paper, a method that often leads to overlapping routes and inefficient journeys. There is also the potential to waste time by chasing up drivers over the phone if you need to get in touch with them.
With vehicle telematics and GPS tracking, route planning and optimisation is taken to a whole new level. Route planning can be used to arrange the most efficient and cost-effective routes that get from A to B in the shortest time possible without overlapping. For both route planning in advance and on the fly, vehicle telematics find the best way to and from destinations whilst also accounting for route optimisation factors such as customer requests, traffic or congestion, current construction works and reported accidents, necessary journey deviations (e.g. rest breaks) and unique delivery requirements.
Additionally, real-time data about current road conditions allows you to make quick, informed point-in-time decisions to maintain efficiency and meet fleet targets such as delivery and journey times.
One of the most challenging aspects of fleet management is managing drivers, however, monitoring and improving driver behaviour is essential for your business. Not only does responsible driving lend itself to efficiency and productivity, it also protects your reputation, saves you money, and mitigates the risk of on-the-road accidents. Therefore, it is important to view the driver monitoring element of vehicle telematics for what it is: a tool to boost efficiency and productivity; it is not a tool to implement in a Big Brother-esque style so that you can critique your drivers’ every move.
A good vehicle telematics system will make your drivers’ behaviours and habits much more transparent through a range of valuable insights. These include data from speeding, sudden and aggressive acceleration and braking, average time spent at locations, engine idling, gear changes, and more. Vehicle telematics an even be used to validate timecards as data will clearly display the start and stop times of your vehicles and how many hours have been spent on the road.
These must-have vehicle telematics system features represent just a tiny amount of what the technology can do. There are so many other factors at play, such as whether or not a provider offers a mobile app, whether a system includes geofencing, and whether third-party integrations are supported—these are all things that could be relevant to your own fleet.
The important thing to remember is that the features your fleet needs depends entirely on the business challenges that you want a vehicle telematics system to solve.
To kick off the process of investing in vehicle telematics, get in touch with the leading team of fleet industry experts at iCompario regarding the features that will benefit you most. iCompario’s fleet experts have decades’ worth of experience matching businesses like yours with the technology that they will benefit the most from.