The Big-name Drivers in Telematics, Influencers Of Our Times

Often when we think of drivers in relation to telematics, we’re talking about the front-line operators sat behind the wheel of an HGV or courier truck day in, day out, with their little smartphone app or hardware device plugged into the diagnostic port of the vehicle tracking just about everything they do, from how heavy their feet are to how alert they remain as the day winds down.

But that’s not the type of driver I want to talk about today. No these are the industry drivers, the ones who have grabbed telematics by its horns and wrestled it into a certain direction, secure in the knowledge that they know where the future lies and they want to bring the rest of us along for the ride.

So without further ado, here’s out list of some of the top telematics industry drivers and what they’re doing to help push it forward.


JohnNilesJohn Niles – Head of Global Telematics


John Niles is one of the true pioneers of the telematics industry. He’s worked as part of research, design and planning industries for over 30 years, beginning his career in the late ’70s as an expert on telecommunications-based mobility improvement.

In 1982, he founded Global Telematics, a non-partisan policy research consultancy firm based in Seattle and it’s gone from strength to strength ever since. Along with his team of experts, John has written papers on telematics and the state of the industry many times over the past three decades. He also holds positions on specific motoring research institutions and think-tanks, where he champions the likes of more integrated tracking systems, better deployment of electric vehicles and ways that we could improve public transportation.

While there are some individuals around the world that are pushing telematics as a commercial venture, Nile’s input has almost always been educational and geared towards improving the roadways for the public. That sort of altruistic take on the industry is a rare one, but it’s incredibly important.


ThomasSchmidtThomas Schmidt – MD of business solutions at TomTom Telematics


TomTom may have been the household name for satellite navigation once upon a time, but today its Telematics division is one of the largest in the world. Serving a combined fleet operation of over 400,000 vehicles, TomTom has few rivals at its level of tracking and none of that would have been possible if it wasn’t for Thomas Schmidt.

Schmidt has been a big player at TomTom for almost ten years, where he’s held managing director positions at the head of TomTom Business Solutions and more recently, TomTom telematics, where in the past year he’s overseen a big expansion of the company’s customer base, leading to it hitting some big milestones.

While he hasn’t pulled TomTom in any particularly new direction since his appointment, he’s been front and centre discussing the cost savings benefits of Telematics as a technology and has acted at times like its unofficial advocate. Of course he may be a little biased in that respect considering his job title, but he’s stated many times in the press that cost savings are something telematics can deliver immediately and that it’s something he believes any business, regardless of size, can benefit from.


RogerLanctotRoger Lanctot – associate director at Strategy Analytics

Roger might not be the CEO or president of a telematics firm, but he’s a mover and shaker in his own way. As an associate director at Strategy Analytics, Roger has his ear to the ground when it comes to new uses of telematics, in-car safety equipment and infotainment systems.

However as well as being part of a company that helps other firms chart their prosperity within the technology (and specifically telematics) industry, Roger also has quite a journalistic feather in his cap. He’s authored and been part of several studies and papers on telematics and no wonder, as he spent five years working at the Telematics Research Group.

Beyond help advising the telematics industry itself on new and innovative directions, Roger also has quite a presence with consumer interaction. He has amassed almost 40,000 followers on Twitter and regularly features discussions with social networking fans as to the current direction the industry is moving in. They are also treated to regular doses of his thoughts on current trends through the Strategic Analytics blog, which he contributes to on a regular basis, covering everything from new services like Uber, to how certain software companies may one day impact the telematics and automotive scene.


MichelleAvaryMichelle Avary – VP of automotive strategy at Aeris Communications


One of the biggest events for telematics industry heads and enthusiasts each year is the Connected Car Expo, which brings together representatives from the automotive and technology industries to look at some of the newest developments that might benefit both branches. It was a roaring success in 2014 and looks set to be a big hit in 2015 as well, and none of that would be possible without key members of the advisory board, like VP of automotive strategy at Aeris Communications, Michelle Avary.

In her role at Aeris, Avary oversees the overall automotive strategy, product planning and business development of the firm, which itself helps companies build machine to machine networks using its cellular network built specifically with M2M communication in mind. With over 16 years of working with vehicle focused telematics and experience working at companies like Toyota, Avary has one of the most accomplished, telematics focused backgrounds of anyone on this list.

Today, beyond her efforts at Aeris, her influence over the industry can be felt most keenly by her position on the Connected Car Expo’s board, where she has an important role in its management and focus. That gives her a huge influence on the industry, which she has repeatedly used to help push it forward.


BrianGreavesBrian Greaves – director of product development for the Internet of Things at AT&T


Fellow Connected Car Expo board member Brian Greaves is no slouch when it comes to his impact on the industry too. Along with his influence over the yearly technology conference, he’s also responsible for pushing the envelope of IoT technology at AT&T, one of the world’s biggest telecommunications companies.

There, he’s spent the last few years pioneering a new direction for the company: linking up with vehicle manufacturers. Spotting the trend early, AT&T saw that a number of car makers were bringing more and more digital technology into their vehicles, for the purposes of information gathering and entertainment. AT&T realised that a technological backbone would be required for such services, so for some time now it’s been developing its own side of the equation and it’s become a key player in the development of telematics and complimentary technology all around the world.

One thing Greaves has been doing, is trying to standardise the industry. While a lot of companies are hoping to become the de-facto service for enterprises looking to provide machine to machine communication and the data channels for all of the information that vehicles will soon be requiring on a regular basis, Greaves has helped his company offer a number of options for car makers, in the hope that at least one of them will be applicable. This should lead to a more cut and dry system of installation, which while benefiting AT&T specifically, would make the industry far simpler.

On a related note, Greaves has also spent much of the past year heading up a specific branch of AT&T’s research. Located in the city of Atlanta is a specialise workshop where all types of new electronics and telematics hardware is trialled out before being pushed to consumers and car makers. There he’s been able to have a real hands on influence on the direction of the company, which considering its size, is no mean feat.


PhilAbramPhil Abram, – Chief Infotainment Officer, Onstar


Phil Abram is a relative new comer to the field of automotive technology, having spent many years working in entertainment sectors like Sony’s Electronics division, where he managed the US sales arm of the TV business; Sharp Electronics and most recently, he held the role of CEO at wireless music player maker, Sonos. However, in January this year, Abram joined GM’s OnStar department, and he now has the role of chief-infotainment officer for a number of brands under the GM banner.

To give that some perspective, it includes: Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick, GMC, OnStar, Opel, Vauxhall and Holden.

While right off of the bat you may not think that someone with his sort of music and visual medium focused experience could be a mover and shaker in telematics, think again. As telematics becomes more widely accepted among consumers and manufacturers, it’s becoming more common to bundle it into existing designs before they leave the factory. Combine that with the more advanced infotainment systems that many vehicles are now also coming equipped with and it’s a perfect storm of a singular system performing every task.

In the near future, Abram will be responsible for introducing telematics tracking and other features into millions of vehicles worldwide and he’ll have the say on which company’s technology ends up in them and how they’re implemented. Although his knowledge of the topic isn’t likely to be quite as powerful as others on this list, he may end up having the most impact on the industry in the long run, simply because he’ll be introducing it to so many people around the world.


DaveMcNamaraDave McNamara – President of McNamara Technology Solutions


Few people have their fingers in so many pies related to telematics as Dave McNamara. A previous head of advanced infotainment systems at Ford’s research division, he then went on to develop integration between entertainment head units and smartphones at Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo, helping to pioneer the Sync platform of systems. From there he started his own firm, McNamara Technology Solutions, which consults with companies on the safety of their wireless networks, as well as working with automotive suppliers in various capacities.

While all of that gives him quite the pedigree, it’s his ongoing work outside of the businesses world which is having the biggest impact on the telematics scene. He is currently active in the Society of Automotive Engineers and is often a key speaker at events run by Telematics Update and is one of the key judges for each year’s Automotive Awards ceremony, along with other noted member of this line up, Roger Lanctot.

In a more consumer facing capacity, McNamara also covers the automotive aspects of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) every year, reporting on some of the most advanced telematics and other vehicle related wireless technology and what changes it might bring to end users in the near future.

Like many others on this list, he has input into the enterprise and consumer world of motoring and that makes him a big driver in both public and professional opinion and therefore someone who has a big impact on the way telematics is evolving.


Final Thoughts

So there you have it, our top seven telematics industry drivers. Some of them work from within others without, but it’s clear to see that each and every one of them has the potential to take the telematics industry in different directions. No doubt they will all continue to talk up its benefits and will be there as it grows over the next decade.

That said, I’m sure we missed a few. Who are some of the biggest industry drivers that you can think of?