Technology Today: A Slow and Steady Telematics Strategy

By Pat Crail, CEM, Contributing Editor | November 8, 2011

One hurdle to realizing the promise of telematics seems to be the high cost of fleet-wide implementation, both in terms of up-front equipment cost and recurring monthly access fees, which can range anywhere from $20 to $35 per month for each unit. I have spoken with a number of fleet managers who recognize the value that these systems can provide in terms of accurate location information, up-to-date and accurate meter readings, and other data. Yet many of them struggle with quantifying this value and the return on investment. Many equipment professionals with whom I have discussed the topic seem to view telematics implementation as an all-or-nothing proposition: Either equip the entire fleet with telematics or do nothing.

I advocate another approach. Incremental implementation has a number of advantages, including lower capital investment, reduced (or no) recurring access fees, and the ability to select appropriate devices without committing to one provider for an entire fleet. This approach also provides fleet managers with the opportunity to begin to quantify the return on investment and decide just how far they want to go with telematics for their particular fleet.

Many equipment manufacturers today include telematics devices installed from the factory, often offering an introductory period of several years during which there are no monthly recurring fees. At least one manufacturer has announced that it intends to provide telematics access free of recurring charges for the life of the machine. In the case of these machines, there is no additional cost to begin taking advantage of telematics systems’ advantages immediately, rather than waiting until there is a strategy in place for the entire fleet.

The AEMP’s telematics data standard allows fleet managers to integrate data from each of these manufacturers (as well as third-party telematics providers) directly into the organization’s enterprise software system, allowing telematics data from different providers to coexist with that from legacy machines for which information is still reported via pen and paper. Alternatively, many providers offer their own robust application programming interface (API) that allows end users to import even more data than does the AEMP standard. Either approach allows end users to take advantage of low- or no-cost telematics system data immediately by importing it into their databases alongside existing data. Once the interface is set up, as new machines with telematics devices enter the fleet, their data seamlessly flows into the database without the need for additional programming.

Once a fleet is taking advantage of the telematics devices already provided with new machines, fleet managers can consider the next steps to expand their telematics programs. Perhaps there is a particular class of machine that you have trouble keeping track of due to high mobility. Maybe you are a paving contractor, with paving crews always on the move. You might consider adding telematics devices to your pavers as a next step, allowing you to view your paving spreads on a map in real time. You don’t necessarily need the telematics providers’ web interfaces to take advantage of mapping capabilities to provide this view. Google Maps, among others, has development tools that allow your IT department to develop maps that can display all of your telematics-equipped machines on one map, regardless of the source of the GPS location data.

I suggest that one of the first steps you take in an incremental telematics implementation include your service support vehicles. The ability to view all of your service, lube, fuel, and parts trucks on a map can be a powerful dispatching tool, eliminating wasted trips and limiting downtime. As telematics-equipped machines enter your fleet, you will be able to view these on the same map, further increasing value.

There is certainly nothing wrong with implementing a fleet-wide telematics program. However, if you are struggling to justify the cost, are unsure which equipment or provider may be appropriate for you, or just are unsure of the value to your organization, an incremental approach may just be the solution.