Choosing a telematics solution: the first questions to ask

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Commercial motor vehicles and telematics are now inseparable. What began with engine data monitoring, GPS navigation and location tracking has been steadily augmented with new capabilities, for geofencing, fuel monitoring, mobile phone and tablet interfaces, satellite communication and more.

As Chris Spear, president and chief executive officer of the American Trucking Associations stated in 2016, using telematics to maintain a vehicle fleet “is a vital tool in today’s competitive market.”

The latest addition to this functional ensemble is driver participation via electronic logging devices – which has delivered a measurable return on investment in safety and productivity, and is now a legal requirement. Telematics will become even more important in the trucking, transportation and construction industries as its capacity for fleet management continues to grow.

With that in mind, vehicle fleet owners should consider carefully what features they need in a telematics solution – and what they will need in the future as well as right now. In an aggressive marketplace, nobody wants to be left behind while others are finding ways to transform telematics data into a stronger bottom line.

Make a data-driven decision

And when choosing a telematics solution, it’s possible to learn from others’ experiences. In 2014 industry publication FleetAnswers conducted a survey of vehicle fleet owners who had added telematics in their operations, asking what criteria these owners weighed in making their selection – and what their greatest disappointments were regarding the product after implementing and using it.

The leading factors influencing purchase were cost, with device cost ranking first and monthly data cost ranking second. As to where they felt the product had let them down, survey respondents reported multiple complaints about the data: they found it unreliable, or inaccurate, or not usable.

FleetAnswers concluded, “In light of this, those shopping for a new system may wish to look at the data provided first, and use price as a secondary consideration. Fleet managers need to decide what they want to receive from their telematics system, then shop based on that list, rather than price alone.”

Telematics: leading questions

No two vehicle fleets are identical in how they operate and what telematics features can best support those operations. But every fleet manager should make certain that a telematics solution provides the essentials, and offers technology that can help him or her improve fleet efficiency, limit costs and promote safety.

A yes/no checklist should make these basics a priority.

Does the system include or is compatible with an ELD that is FMCSA-mandate compliant?

This is the first item to consider, as the federal mandate for electronic logging devices (ELDs) is law. If a manufacturer or provider promotes its product as meeting the mandate requirements, that’s not sufficient to guarantee this is verified. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) maintains a list of certified ELDs, here.

Is the solution scalable and adaptable to user’s needs?

Changes and improvements in telematics technology are inevitable. A system that cannot be customized to serve the fleet’s operational requirements, or one that cannot be expanded and modified as the technology advances, will quickly become outmoded.

Every telematics solution will require periodic updates as telematics takes on an ever-larger role in fleet management. It is preferable both financially and as matter of practicality, to make these upgrades rather than replace a system that has outlived its viability.

Does the provider offer customer service and support?

As stated above, telematics technology will continue to grow, and there may be future requirements – and regulations – applicable to these solutions. After a telematics system is selected and implemented, it’s not the end of the process but a beginning. A good telematics provider can be a partner throughout, in helping the user stay current with or ahead of developments.

Is the solution compatible with a diverse range of assets?

With the rise of telematics as an OEM installation in most commercial vehicles and equipment, a variety of hardware and software may be in a user’s fleet. In that application, telematics technology must have the capability to receive all inputs through a single interface, and consolidate the information, for complete system compatibility.

Can the solution be integrated with other business technology?

Telematics can be part of an overall suite of vehicle and back-office systems – including functions such as payroll, accounting, timekeeping, regulatory, inspection and maintenance – which will streamline operations and reduce administrative hours. This can result in significantly lower costs and overhead.

Is the solution user-friendly?

The best telematics system is one that can easily be learned and forgiving of errors, designed for simple operation. This makes for a shorter learning curve during the system’s implementation and onboarding new staff members.

Does the solution offer a mobile app?

This is becoming increasingly important in trucking, transportation, construction and other business segments where the data review and analysis take place in multiple locations and in the field as well as the office.

Is the provider reputable, experienced and reliable?

The necessity to keep costs down has led more than one fleet manager into temptation and the purchase of a cost-driven solution. Unfortunately, some of those providers may have entered the industry fairly recently – and others may not be in business for very long. A purchaser should take reasonable care not to end up with an orphan system – one that is no longer supported.

Likewise, a provider with years of experience and is recognized as a leader in the industry is a good bet for making sure that a large capital investment doesn’t turn out to be a bad decision.

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Sarah Barbod

Sarah is a digital content producer with over 10 years of writing and editing experience. She currently serves as a content marketing specialist for a leading international telematics company where she publishes about telematics and the transportation and construction industries.