Beyond the where

April 27, 2010
by Kelly Taylor

Some telematics solutions alert companies about bad driver behaviour via web or cellular messaging.

Photo: Inthinc

Out of sight, out of mind has ruled any business with fleet vehicles for decades.

Whenever a vehicle was on the road, companies had only their trust in employees to know whether their vehicles were being operated efficiently and safely. Critical business decisions were often left to educated guesswork; it was hard for companies to really be certain they were getting maximum value for their fleet investment.

“For years, mobile assets have been an unknown quantity for their owners,” says Jeff Harvey, executive vice-president of Utah-based inthinc Technology Solutions, which provides telematics for the commercial fleet, logistics and heavy construction industries.

“Once a vehicle left the yard, the owner didn’t know anything about the vehicle until it returned—if it returned.”

Telematics—the merging of GPS-based vehicle location with vehicle-monitoring equipment—originated as a means to answer the simplest of questions: where’s my truck?

The technology has grown to include a vast array of information to let owners know their vehicles are being driven safely and efficiently, that loads are safeguarded against loss and that critical decisions about maintenance and parts replacement are made with the best available information. With the right analysis, telematics can also help inform global business decisions about things like expansion or sales strategies.

The evolution of telematics
As the ability to transmit more data came to wireless technologies, telematics entered a new frontier. Safety, efficiency, security and longevity of equipment are just some elements that can be monitored using telematics.

The capabilities are vast. Jennifer Smith, senior consultant for PHH Onboard, a telematics service offered by PHH Arval Inc, says data can now be harvested on things like vehicle location, odometer readings, diagnostic alerts, seatbelt usage, airbag deployment and fuel levels.

Telematics can reveal whether and for how long a passenger seat has been occupied. The technology can also measure idle time, monitor driver behaviour and upload driver logbooks.

At root, telematics analysis can give companies a better read on operating efficiency, says Smith, which can help them better understand whether there is a need to expand or retrench the size of a fleet.

Improving safety
All this information allows companies to know not only where their vehicles are but also how to improve the way they’re being driven.