October 17, 2019
In the commercial fleet industry today there’s a lot of buzz about telematics. The term refers to a blend of telecommunications, vehicle navigation systems, and the computer science known as informatics. It’s no stretch to say that this technology is shaking up the way fleets are managed in a multitude of ways. But as is usually the case, everything isn’t always roses and sunshine.
Whether you’re just getting into the world of telematics, or looking to change providers after using this type of fleet management system for years, there are important things to consider. Each company is likely to tout their own benefits and strengths, but there are also some negatives you should be aware of. Knowing about these pain points upfront might save you a great deal of frustration and money in the future.
When you first decide to get into telematics, you’ll probably be surprised at the number and variety of devices available as well as the different features and options each offers. It’s difficult to know which is going to be the best fit for your business needs. But the last thing you want to do is spend a fortune procuring and installing devices, training your people on their use, and then find out that they won’t do what you need from them.
Let’s face it, you’re busy. You don’t have a ton of time to spare, and the easiest and fastest solution seems to be picking up a device from an online superstore like Amazon. If telematics devices were one-size-fits-all, this would be a good option to save both time and money. But since this technology is so specialized, you’d be doing your fleet a disservice by going this route. Additionally, devices that don’t include service are typically not updated to keep up with advances in cell service. So you could find yourself running a 3G device in a 5G world.
Another seemingly “quick fix” is to simply download a cell phone tracker service. While these may seem like a great idea since your drivers likely already have the hardware with them at all times, you’ll find that they don’t live up to the standards you want for your telematics service. In general, these apps are less accurate, provide less data, and run the risk of being turned off by drivers when they don’t want to be tracked.
The truth is, not all devices are equal and not all will work for your needs. It’s not even a matter of quality – the best fit for one fleet business could be a poor choice for another. But if you choose the wrong one, you could have a huge headache on your hands. Some companies won’t refund your purchase price, and with others you may also be locked into a long term contract, whether the service is a good fit or not.
The best way to ensure you’re purchasing the correct product for your fleet’s specific needs is to hire a consultant. Find someone who is an expert on the industry and knows the ins and outs of each of its major players.
Any new technology is only as good as its installation. If you buy a new home theater system but then set it up incorrectly, you’re unlikely to be happy with the results. An improperly installed shower could leak and cause foundation problems. And even a top of the line HVAC unit will not heat and cool efficiently if the installation isn’t handled properly. Why would telematics devices be any different?
Yes, your fleet’s mechanics may be able to figure out how to best install a complex system on their own. But wouldn’t it be better to be sure? The simplest devices to install are plug-and-play, working by connecting to the OBDII port. But even with these, you’ll want expert help setting up reports and navigating the accompanying software. And yet, many device manufacturers don’t offer support for installation.
If the device you’ve chosen offers to sell you installation support, it’s usually worth the cost. After all, proper setup is the best way to get the most benefit possible from your investment. Other companies may not even offer to sell you support, stating that their product is so simple you won’t need it.
The best options not only offer support, they include it in the base price of the device or in your subscription price. Look for a service that offers a custom setup, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. After all, your business isn’t just like any other business on the road. So your telematics needs are likely to be unique as well.
Which brings us to the next headache you may encounter with telematics providers. Some outsource their support to overseas call centers. If you’ve ever dealt with tech support from Asia or customer service in the Philippines, you may already be familiar with the frustrations.
When dealing with support over the phone from someone in a foreign country, miscommunication can be a huge problem. Even if you have no problem understanding foreign accents, cultural differences and use of slang can make for a very confusing conversation. Additionally, there may be restrictions on when you can call, and if their hours don’t coincide with your needs, you may be stuck figuring things out on your own.
Ideally, look for a company who offers US-based support, and be sure they cover the hours you’re likely to need them. No matter where the support is based, you want them to be able to answer your questions and be there to support you when you need it.
Another problem you should certainly consider is the difficulties posed by automatic contract renewals. Within the GPS tracker industry, most providers require a 2-3 year initial contract. After your contract expires you may find it gets renewed automatically unless you take specific steps to prevent this from happening.
Then there’s the problem of coterminous contracts. In this situation, whenever a provider adds new devices or new features to their fleet tracking, the contract resets to its full length. This means businesses who are constantly adding new vehicles or who are in a growth stage may never reach the end of a contract!
Often in such situations, the only way out is to pay out the rest of the contract in full. In industries with tight margins, this is not always feasible. Automatic renewals and coterminous contracts can make it difficult to ever get out of a contract and may tie you to a telematics provider who is not a good fit for your company’s needs. And we firmly believe that you shouldn’t have to pay for what you don’t use.
So what’s the solution? When you sign your initial contract, be sure to mark the contract’s expiration on your calendar with reminders set up to allow you time to terminate the contract and engage a new service. Or even better yet, work with a provider that sets such reminders for you and warns you in advance, rather than automatically renewing whether you like it or not.
You might be asking yourself, with all of these problems, is telematics really worth the headache? While it’s true that there are some annoyances in telematics, we think you’ll agree that the benefits far outweigh them.
The biggest thing you need from your fleet is a safe driving record. This is not only a pain point for your bottom line, but it can also affect public perception of your brand. And nobody wants their fleet drivers to be involved in accidents that result in injuries or worse.
Fortunately, telematics can spur a huge improvement in your drivers’ safety. They can be used to provide alerts to your drivers when they are engaging in unsafe behaviors, to prevent distracted driving, and even for real-time, remote driver coaching. In fact, a whopping 86% of users of Azuga’s telematics solutions report improved driver safety in their fleets.
If you’ve managed a fleet for any amount of time, you’re probably aware of this problem. Because the majority of drivers in commercial fleets are over 45 years of age, the American Transportation Research Institute is predicting an upcoming driver shortage across the country.
For this reason, it’s going to be more important than ever to get new drivers through the training process and out onto the roads quickly. Fortunately, telematics can be used to manage this issue to good effect. Real-time routing means that drivers don’t have to spend months getting to know the area and its roads. Instead, they can instantly find the best routes to get where they’re going, starting on day one. And if they miss a turn or a highway exit, GPS routing can recalculate their route on the fly.
When you first employ GPS routing for your commercial fleet, you’ll be amazed at the time your drivers can save. Fleet tracking is a great way to shorten routes and get your drivers around problem areas as they pop up. It can also help in making sure there are no deviations to a driver’s assigned route. And delivery trucks or others who are directly visiting a number of clients throughout the day won’t have to worry about missing stops and disappointing clients.
In addition to driver efficiency, telematics can vastly improve the efficiency of your office support staff. This technology is a great way to reduce the time it takes you to perform tasks manually. It can prepare reports in moments that may have taken you hours in the past. And it can save you plenty of money because of reduction in time spent.
Telematics systems reduce the time you have to spend on other tasks and make it easier to focus on things like maintenance. Some systems help you understand how to manage fuel costs and maintenance costs, or reduce accident risks and therefore save money on repairs. With telematics systems, you are often more aware of your fleet and needs, as well as the way your drivers behave on the road. This often gets owners to be more diligent with maintenance. And with predictive maintenance, you’ll be able to fix your vehicles before problems arise, which means less downtime for your fleet.
In order for your fleet to operate at top efficiency, communication is key. Automated messages, tracking, the ability to observe driver behavior, and predictive scheduling that gives you an estimated time of arrival for each driver can all help your fleet work together to best effect. Be sure to choose an option that is as helpful and useful for your drivers as it is to your office staff, and you’ll get better buy in from them as well.
There are a number of questions you should ask when you’re choosing a telematics provider. They include:
At the end of the day, GPS tracking systems aren’t a one-size fits all solution. What works for your competitors may or may not work for you. And telematics needs vary widely from one fleet industry to another as well. Buying straight from the internet without proper support and understanding of the equipment may only cost you more and create more headaches
If you’re considering a new telematics provider, be sure to reach out to the team at Azuga. They’ll be more than happy to help you explore whether their system is a good fit for your company.