Green Operations

Tying the Future of Telematics to Sustainability

May 2014, Green Fleet Magazine - Cover Story

by Sean Lyden - Also by this author

Fleet telematics has become a core technology for fleets looking to make substantial reductions in fuel consumption — and their carbon footprints — to support their sustainability initiatives.

This is because today’s systems, in general, equip fleet managers with near real-time reports that help them identify and address fuel-wasting behaviors, such as excessive idling, aggressive driving (hard acceleration and speeding), and unauthorized vehicle usage and fuel purchases. Many telematics systems also provide insight on selecting routes for optimal distance and fuel economy, improving dispatch times by coordinating with technicians who are nearest to a job,  and monitoring maintenance and service schedules across the entire fleet to ensure vehicles operate at peak efficiency.

UK firm ABI research forecasts that revenues in the global commercial fleet telematics market will increase from $7.25 billion in 2012 to $26.8 billion in 2018, a near four-fold increase within just six years.

A key driver of this growth is the increased adoption of telematics by vocational, utility, heavy construction, and private transportation (taxi, private hire, and rental) fleets.

According to ABI, these “non-trucking” sectors are expected to equal the trucking industry in terms of numbers of connected vehicles by the end of 2014 and will dominate the commercial fleet telematics industry by the end of 2019, accounting for almost 50 million vehicles globally.

“Many of these verticals are facing similar challenges such as the need to improve the utilization of their vehicle fleets, combat rising fuel prices, trim payroll costs and comply with duty-of-care obligations toward their employees,” said Gareth Owen, principal analyst at ABI Research in a statement.

A recent report by GPS Insight, “Fleet Management Technology Report,” cites a few examples of the real-world impact of telematics on reducing fleet fuel costs — and emissions. In one case, a fleet of over 1,000 vehicles decreased fuel consumption by 20,000 gallons in one month by using “idle alerts,” saving $100,000 per month. In another case, a fleet of 30 vehicles decreased total annual miles driven by 8 percent by monitoring driver routes, netting the fleet a savings of $12,000 per year.

So, what developments can fleet managers expect to see in telematics in the next decade? Green Fleet asked industry experts to peer into their crystal balls and provide predictions about what the future holds for telematics and its impact on fuel efficiency and sustainability.

Predictive Analytics

Historical vehicle data and real-time driver alerts are useful for identifying issues and addressing them quickly before they become major problems. But, what if that data could help identify patterns in ways that enable fleets to spot and confront potential problems before they happen. That’s predictive analytics — and it will play a bigger role in telematics and sustainability  moving forward.

“There’s such demand from fleet customers for deeper visibility into the details of their vehicle operations that I have to believe that in the next five to 10 years fleet telematics systems are going to be capturing substantially more information than they do today, with more sophisticated reporting capabilities,” said Jonathan Durkee, VP, product management of Fleetmatics. “And, I think that the demand for more data will not just be for historical visibility into ‘this is where our vehicles were’ but for predictive analytics, such as ‘Here’s where we think your opportunities are moving forward and here are some changes we would recommend.’ ”  

How does predictive analytics give fleet managers a powerful tool to manage the company’s vehicles.

“Predictive analytics makes it easier for fleet managers to identify drivers who are the highest risk of getting into an accident or filing a worker’s compensation claim or leaving their job,” said Vikas Jain, vice president of product and program management and general manager of FleetRisk Advisors. “This knowledge can then be used to recognize changes in drivers’ behavior and initiate conversations with drivers to help prevent events — such as accidents or voluntary turnover — from taking place.”

Chris Ransom, director of sales engineering for Verizon Networkfleet, noted that this expanded role for telematics is just the beginning.

“In the future, fleet managers will use telematics to identify trends that help them run their business better. Telematics will continue to gather more data from engines through sensors, which can be combined with predictive statistics to help fleets identify, diagnose, and address potential sources of problems before they lead to costly downtime. Also, data analysis of driving behavior, routing, vehicle utilization, and productivity will continue to improve,” he said.

As predictive analytics reporting in telematics becomes more robust, fleet managers will gain greater insight into confronting potential fuel-wasting events and vehicle service issues before they happen.

Systems Integration

One of the practical challenges as a fleet expands its use of telematics is the complexity involved with streamlining data across an entire fleet, from multiple software systems, into a single, easy-to-use online dashboard or portal to make the information as useful as possible.

“Although I don’t foresee the general features of fleet telematics changing much, I do predict tighter integration between software systems so that there will be no need for a fleet manager to use several different logins to get the information needed,” said Ryan Driscoll, marketing director for GPS Insight. “They’ll be able to login to one portal and access everything they need regarding their fleet, even if the data comes from several different telematics vendors. This tighter integration capability will make life easier for fleet management.”

Steve Blackburn, vice president North America at Navman Wireless, offered a similar outlook. “An important trend is the growing expectation that telematics data should be manageable from one source and should integrate seamlessly into enterprise software. This is similar to trends in other facets of IT, where cloud-based tools enable centralized data management and analytics,” he said

Richard Pearlman, director of product management for Spireon, predicted: “Fleet telematics systems will evolve into an integrated business intelligence and workforce management tool to manage an organization’s workforce and assets, closer to real time, more than ever before, whether the user is in or out of the office.”

He added that the design of the user interface will become especially important with the integration of disparate software so that the combined system will be easy-to-use, empowering fleet managers to get the most value from the data collected to achieve their fleet sustainability goals.

Open Standards with OEMs

Ford, GM, and other automakers are now equipping many of their models with in-vehicle telematics systems, providing consumers and fleets alike with GPS navigation, engine diagnostics, remote lock and unlock capabilities, crash detection, and other services. Although these OEM systems collect useful data, they’re proprietary to each vehicle brand and therefore are more challenging to integrate effectively with third-party telematics.

But, this is beginning to change. In March, General Motors announced a partnership with fleet telematics provider Telogis, Inc., which is integrating its “location intelligence platform” with GM’s OnStar’s proprietary application program interfaces (APIs) to report information about vehicle location, odometer, fuel consumption, and other maintenance data to fleet customers.

Since vehicle data is transmitted using OnStar technology, the system does not require additional hardware or third-party installation costs, potentially making it more cost-effective for fleets to implement.

According to GM, the Telogis platform is among the first set of commercial applications to use OnStar’s proprietary APIs since GM announced the launch of its online develop portal in 2013.

Thomas Gordy, executive vice president for Inilex, the makers of InilexGPS Fleet, believes that there will be a push for all OEMs to open up their proprietary telematics systems to third-party fleet telematics providers to enable fleets to tap into their vehicle data more easily, across multiple vehicle brands.

“This trend toward open standards will allow fleet customers to be more flexible in utilizing more of a mixed fleet approach across multiple vehicle brands. This way, the fleet manager will have far more options to leverage the telematics solution that best fits each application,” Gordy said.

Durkee for Fleetmatics predicted, “I think open standards is what the market will ultimately demand. Fleet management solutions today are so connected into the end-user’s business systems that it would be hard for vehicle preference to drive what systems they use to run their business. Now that the move to open standards has started, I believe we’ll see a growing number of OEM’s moving to that model.”

Open standards will help fleets get the best of both worlds — factory-installed telematics hardware, covered by an OEM warranty, and seamless integration with business software for the fleet to monitor vehicle operation in terms of safety, maintenance, fuel consumption, and impact on the environment.

Sustainability Reporting

Pearlman with Spireon expects that telematics will move beyond monitoring fuel usage to also account for energy consumed in alternative-fuel vehicles.

“Telematics systems that provide energy management and carbon footprint analysis will support corporate green initiatives and goals, beyond fuel management, to help fleets maximize vehicle energy efficiency — whatever the fuel source,” Pearlman said. “This capability would enable management of energy usage in alternative-fuel vehicles, such as electricity costs or natural gas consumption, to appropriately model the comparative cost of the alternative fuel or hybrid vehicle versus the gasoline- or diesel-powered version.”

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