Spec'ing telematics systems is something many fleet professionals are still getting used to, but with fuel prices rising and the cost of systems falling, now is an opportune time to get in the game.
Telematics refers to a variety of ways vehicles can exchange electronic data with maintenance shops and operations centers: Tracking vehicles, monitoring speed and direction, plotting routes or reporting how long a vehicle was idling. Telematics systems can send instant alerts to fleet managers, allowing for rapid communication and if necessary, corrective action.
With so many available choices, getting the options you need (and avoiding ones you don't) will take some forethought: Do you need a quicker way to get your delivery drivers to and from their stops? Are your drivers speeding or taking off-route trips? Are you looking to reduce engine idling time? Today's telematics systems can help with these issues and many more.
Western Distributing Company vice president Dino Guadagni says telematics has become critical to his business' bottom line in recent years.
"We use it daily to monitor our drivers' weekly and monthly MPG progress," he says. "Fuel is a big issue for us and we have to monitor it as closely as possible. For our needs, the tracking is pretty hard to live without, as we have the ability to identify issues with individual trucks and work on the next day's loads."
Guadagni says going to a telematics system is well worth the investment.
"It will change how you do business," he says. "It will really help with working on your daily problems versus spending time trying to find all your trucks."
Ryder officials started looking at telematics systems about three years ago, says Juliet Johansson, vice-president of marketing, Fleet Management Solutions for Ryder, interviewing more than a dozen providers and eventually conducting a 5,000-unit pilot program. The goal was finding a way to improve driver performance and productivity--reducing idle time, increasing miles per gallon and increasing routing efficiency. Ryder recovered the cost of the systems within three to six months, realizing a fuel savings of 10-15 percent
"It's kind of a no-brainer," she says. "We were looking at a low-cost, modular platform--so you're able to add other tools to it--that requires very little driver interaction in order to get the full functionality."
Teletrac CEO Tony Eales says adding a telematics systems can make a difference overnight.
"They can find the nearest guy for a job, tell exactly where somebody is at any time, and you can run your operations as if you were sitting in the cab with every one of your drivers," he says. "We also have a suite of vehicle diagnostic services taking information from the engine management system, so you can focus on how the vehicle is performing--all the fault code information and fuel flow information from the vehicle, and how the vehicle is actually being driven."
These days, having instant information on driver and vehicle behavior is critical to quickly identifying and fixing problems.
"I consider it similar to why you would use a computer rather than a typewriter," he says. "It's a big change to use this technology."
XATA senior vice-president of product management Tom Flies says finding the most cost-effective route from stop to stop is important--particularly for vehicles with stop-and-go duty cycles.
"There are a number of constraints when you look to schedule your vehicle: customer demands, based on their delivery requirements, whether their delivery windows take over your scheduling, or you can also schedule based on lowest cost, which may be fewest miles, or you can take a look at what's the most efficient route from a fuel usage standpoint," he says. "We record the MPG for each leg on a route and for each route, so you can go in and look at the information in the system and see what your miles per gallon or total fuel usage is from your warehouse to your first customer, and the first customer to the second, and so forth."
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