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How data-driven telematics systems can improve your current trucks

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Jason Morgan is the editor of Fleet Equipment. He has more than 14 years of B2B journalism experience covering the likes of trucking and construction equipment, real estate, movies and craft beer industries.

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There’s one advantage that older legacy trucks have over the latest makes and models when it comes to telematics: history. With data streaming off trucks over the past three to five years, a wealth of historical data has been collected and analyzed by telematics providers that can make service suggestions based data from all the trucks of that same make, model and spec on the road.

“Fleets consist of a variety of different model years, model types and even different makes, which means it is rare for one particular OEM to have 100% penetration in any given fleet,” said Scott Sutarik, Geotab’s associate vice president of commercial vehicle solutions. “Telematics present a collective solution regardless of a vehicle’s make and model that ensures fleet managers have access to their vehicle data. Rather than patching together data from different OEM solutions, telematics provides a singular portal to view a fleet’s data in its entirety to ultimately streamline and optimize business.”

Telematics providers are just beginning to scratch the surface of what years upon years of compiled legacy truck data is capable of providing.

“Telematics data logic has been enhanced and keeps evolving to the point where we have more of a predictive maintenance opportunity than just preventative maintenance,” said Tina Alread, HDA Truck Pride’s vice president of marketing. HDA Truck Pride members and independent service providers are authorized resellers for International’s OnCommand Connection and also offer HDA Truck Pride Telematics by GoFleet. “For example, instead of doing a brake job every 250,000 miles, now you have telematics data on a specific make and model that tells you that you need to inspect the brakes every 50,000 miles because the bearing on the steer axles are too small and the weight is too heavy and it impacts the life of the brakes. Whereas if it was a drive axle, the data tells you that you can go longer before you need to replace the brakes.”

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While telematics data isn’t meant to replace your equipment supplier’s recommended maintenance intervals, it’s definitely heading down the road to a point when the systems can provide you with additional equipment usage intelligence in order for you to make your maintenance decision.

“Telematics is heading in the direction where everybody, including the fleet operator and the vehicle manufacturers themselves, wants to be more predictive and proactive with their fleet operations,” said Kelly Frey, vice president of product marketing at Telogis, a Verizon company. “There is a tremendous amount of data that can be used to learn from the past to be more predictive and proactive in the present and future, especially around activities that can contribute to being safer, more efficient and more productive.”

On the OEM level, various data points and historic fault codes can be used to provide a better understanding of what is happening with a vehicle.

“Combinations of fault codes, trends in the data over time, or a variety of other combinations can provide a technician a bigger picture of what is wrong and allow them to fix it accordingly,” Geotab’s Sutarik explained. “By using this information, OEMs can leverage other pieces of data such as standard repair times, warranty data, parts inventory and technician certification levels to provide the customer with a 360-degree view of the vehicle repair. Telematics providers partnered with remote diagnostics systems make it easier to understand the faults and prioritize repairs. Most remote diagnostics systems combine mapping, vehicle health reports and fault code action plans to generate notifications.”

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“Integrated telematics can be financed with the vehicle, provide a ‘cleaner’ look to the interior of the cab, they are backed by the OEM warranty and service, and provide diagnostics that the OEM can use for maintenance and notifications,” explained Wes Mays, director of OEM solutions with Omnitracs LLC. “On the other hand, legacy systems provide the same information and information portal for the fleet manager that may be dealing with a mix of truck makes and models. This makes it much easier for that fleet manager to deal with data coming from multiple brands of vehicles. It provides the manager with a uniform report across all makes and models. From an implementation standpoint, legacy systems have ‘been there, done that’ and have entire teams that are experienced in working with telematics systems.”

As a fleet manager, you’re not a passive player in this arena. Today’s telematics offerings allow you to plug your older trucks into your telematics workflow in both truck tracking and remote diagnostics. These offerings can be referred to as aftermarket telematics, provide most of the same functionality of integrated or OEM built-in telematics solutions, according to Frey, but generally with a more limited diagnostic data set.

Which trucks can I pull data from?

PeopleNet connected truck

Let’s tackle tracking data first. Virtually any truck can be tracked via GPS as long as your truck has power and a GPS device that can report its location. “Make, model and year of the truck aren’t important to GPS tracking,” confirmed Eric Witty, vice president of product with PeopleNet.

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Concerning remote diagnostics—remotely pulling fault codes, mileage information or anything going through the ECU and generating notifications that would show up in your email inbox or as a text message—your data options are limited as the given truck’s model year ages.

“The older trucks are not being updated with additional sensors like the newer ones, and the number of sensors to provide data on those trucks is not growing either,” Witty said. “As you modernize the vehicle and move to newer makes and models, it’s like everything else—there are more sensors and more modern computing power built into the truck and engine natively. If the truck shares information on the CAN bus, we’re just that much more capable of consuming that information and providing actionable next steps for drivers and maintenance providers.”

What data can I pull from those trucks?

omnitracs-eld

Granted, this will depend on how old your truck is and the number of sensors on the truck. As stated above, you can always pull tracking data from the truck provided it’s outfitted with GPS (info worth repeating, but I won’t mention it a third time). Let’s say you have a model year 2014 truck and want to plug in a telematics device. While every telematics offering is different in how it analyzes and reports the data, on the operational and safety end, you’ll likely see a stream of the following data:

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  • Miles per hour;
  • Hard braking incidents;
  • Lane departure warnings;
  • Seat belt usage;
  • After-hours vehicle usage;
  • Roll stability engagement warnings;
  • Collision mitigation engagement warnings;
  • Time spent in cruise control; and
  • Time spent idling.

In terms of diagnostic information, your system of choice should be able to pull fault code descriptions and severity, as well as make action plan recommendations.

How do I see all this data?

You’ll see this data on a dashboard or “portal” as some providers call it. It will likely be web-based, meaning there is no software to install on your computer. You’ll simply head to the website address provided to you by the telematics supplier and log in with a username and password.

One of the biggest challenges that is also extremely likely within your fleet is that your trucks’ data is spread over multiple dashboards: OEM-based telematics dashboards as well as any third party telematics dashboards you might have been working with.

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“We often talk about enabling the best connected fleet strategy for our customers with mixed fleets made up of multiple makes, model years and vehicle classes. This strategy most often suggests a collection of aftermarket and OEM built-in telematics solutions that enables connectivity for all vehicles, and delivers the richest set of data possible to one common connected vehicle platform,” Telogis’s Frey explained. “Once everything is connected, we have an opportunity to leverage the rich data set with a single view to help the fleet operator optimize and automate critical workflow processes such as dispatching, routing, compliance and safety management.”

Frey went onto explain that Telogis makes use of extensive APIs for pulling data into existing back office applications and reporting tools for things such as mileage by road type, which, for example, can be emailed directly to the finance team for IFTA and fuel tax returns.

Check with your telematics partner to see how they can integrate OEM data into a single dashboard. Geotab, for example, offers several remote diagnostic solutions that can be integrated with the Geotab GO device, including Navistar’s OnCommand Connection (OCC), Cummins Connected Diagnostics and Eaton IntelliConnect. Should an engine system fault occur, the GO device transmits vehicle information to the remote diagnostic system, which provides customers with the fault description, severity and recommendation for action. This goes for HDA Truck Pride Telematics by GoFleet as well.

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PeopleNet’s newly launched Fault Intelligence product takes all makes, models and years of vehicles and normalizes all the data in one place within the PeopleNet back-end system. The Noregon-powered Fault Intelligence gives users real-time, detailed fault data from each vehicle, including a safety score, health score and location information to better manage overall fleet operations. The solution also allows users to customize fault management options and create action plans that align with their company’s processes and procedures related to vehicle maintenance.

Omnitracs has also partnered with Noregon to integrate Noregon’s TripVision into the Omnitracs telematics platform, with the aim of providing real-time insight into vehicle health and safety in real time for all heavy-duty makes and models.

What do I do with all this data?

Geotab Go7

This is the big question.

The first answer is: Anything you want. The heavy-duty vehicle segment is unique in terms of data ownership because, as the fleet, you own the data. That’s not true for your car, even if you own it. In the automotive world, the OEMs own the data. When it comes to your trucks, you can use and share your data in any way you choose.

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“The fleet owns the data,” HDA Truck Pride’s Alread stressed. “It doesn’t matter if the fleet owns 10 trucks or 10,000 trucks. If the fleet only wants its own maintenance managers to have access to the data and codes, they are the only people who will get them. If the fleet wants an OEM to have it, or a service supplier to have it or basically anyone else to have it, then that’s the fleet’s choice to make.”

GPS tracking data allows your fleet to better route your trucks to make sure that they don’t end up in a situation like a tight traffic circle or residential neighborhood streets, especially in the last mile of delivery.

As far as leveraging remote diagnostics, there’s virtually no limit on how data can help you solve your most perplexing maintenance problems—but those issues will be different for each fleet.

“Data can often explain many subjective mysteries that are not easy to grasp when looking at fleet performance,” Omnitracs’ Mays said. “For example, excessive critical events may indicate poor driving behavior, which can lead to decreased fuel economy, higher than normal citations, fines, or accidents. None of these items would be obviously related to a single critical event, but over time, trends will develop that will be very clear. The same type of analysis can be applied to a wide variety of factors that impact your business including driver turnover, late deliveries, tire wear, maintenance and other, very mission-specific data.”

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“In some fleets, up to 10% of their vehicles have a high severity fault occurring at any given time,” Geotab’s Sutarik said. “For years, most trucking companies have operated under the same basic repair philosophy: The truck fails; the truck is towed to the nearest service location; and the truck is fixed and put back on the road. This reactive approach can be costly, time-consuming, and ultimately jeopardizes customer satisfaction due to potentially lengthy and unpredicted downtime periods. A remote diagnostics system that uses telematics is a proven and proactive approach to identifying and managing potential vehicle maintenance issues.”

Working with your telematics provider, you can set up a methodology for alerting you to engine fault code notifications that will show up in your email and/or text messages. This will allow you to proactively address repairs and maintenance planning, accurate diagnoses of issues and lead to increased vehicle uptime.

“Remote diagnostic systems are only successful when fleets undergo a mindset shift that guides them away from the traditional repair-when-it-breaks mentality,” Sutarik said. “Once it has been decided to implement remote diagnostics, fleets will undergo an initial two- to three-month cleanup before beginning to see a significant reduction in downtime and costs. Many fleets, for instance, have reported a reduction in their downtime by 30% and have seen towing bills reduced by 80% or more.”

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For those who haven’t jumped into the telematics game, those numbers can seem like techno-wizardry. How does it really do that? The truth is, it doesn’t—you do. Seeing more of your trucks’ data gives you insight into their usage and behavior. You start to see trends in how your drivers are operating them and what components are continually giving you problems. The intelligence powering today’s telematics solutions see those same trends and alert you so that you can act.

“When it comes to diagnostics, there’s a method to the madness,” HDA Truck Pride’s Alread said. “The reason for wanting to have the diagnostic information and additional telematics details—such as: Why did the fault happen? What were the road and terrain details? How fast was the truck going?—is because you’re trying create the bigger predictive maintenance picture or properly diagnose a fault code.”

“We believe that the diagnostic capabilities justify themselves and have an ROI with the early visibility to problems and ability to take proactive actions,” PeopleNet’s Witty said. “Over time, everyone will get better at measuring the ROI, but you have to know your baseline: how many breakdowns have you had? How many were unplanned at a roadside? How often is a vehicle down and you could have avoided it, had you known sooner?”

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To realize the ROI of a telematics system, you have to first invest in one and then use it. Luckily, your telematics provider of choice should be willing and able to lend a helping hand in crunching and acting on your fleet’s data. Granted, technology moves fast and every day there seems to be a new company offering the best solution you’ve never heard of. Buyer beware. Use the same due diligence in kicking the tires on a telematics solution that you do a new engine, transmission or truck.  “When it comes to technology, nothing is ever going to be perfect,” Alread advised, “but you depend on the reputation and intelligence of the company and system that is behind the data.”

Talking the telematics talk

navistar

Pulling all your trucks under one telematics umbrella can be a tall order. We asked our panel of experts what questions you should ask a potential provider. Here’s what they recommended:

  •  Can your solution handle all makes and all models?
  • What level of data can you pull from the various ages of the vehicles that I have?
  • Can the information be seen all in one view?
  • How often is the software updated?
  • With what frequency and how quickly is the information available to the back office?
  • Is the system just reporting information, or is it predictive and prescriptive as to what the application is seeing, and giving guidance as to the action that should be taken?
  • How can I use it to improve my fleet’s safety?
  • How will it minimize my ELD compliance burden?
  • Can you also provide asset tracking solutions with diagnostics for my on-road and off-road vehicles and assets?
  • What does your portal look like? How can it be customized?
  • How do I add custom parameters to the portal display?
  •  How can I communicate back to each vehicle?
  •  Can I send specific messages to a driver or a group of drivers and not the entire fleet?
  • What type of support do you provide for your customers?

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