· 6 min read · Features

Fleet telematics: The spy in the passenger seat of company cars?

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In an era of high fuel costs, pressure to reduce CO2 emissions and duty-of-care concerns regarding employee safety, employers are arguably under greater pressure than ever to find effective solutions for their fleet management headaches.

Technology has a significant role to play here and in recent times there have been big changes in the market, as major technical advances, coupled with growing demand, have increased both the quality and choice of products available. Telematics is the key word here - typically, it means any integrated use of telecommunications and informatics, for application in vehicles and with control of vehicles on the move.

But there are some issues to address before looking at the technology in greater detail. For instance, while on-board vehicle technology (telematics) can help with driver safety, its introduction has raised employee privacy concerns.

Heather Angus, people and sustainability director at logistics company 3663, says she was mindful of such concerns when introducing the FleetWave system from Chevin. "We made sure we implemented it after full consultation with employees and trade unions," she says. "But actually it has been seen as a benefit by employees, as it justifies what they are doing and how hard they work."

Parking fines have been cut by a quarter and fuel savings made. Additionally, Angus explains, the technology is providing the business with the kind of management information it requires to remain competitive.

At facilities management company OCS, UK fleet manager Alain Leightley says the ALD Automotive ProFleet2 telematics solution his company uses is well regarded by employees, as it protects good and careful drivers. Indeed, OCS is considering upgrading to an even more comprehensive system that can, "for the benefit of the driver", pick up on bad driving habits, such as harsh braking and rapid cornering.

While burgeoning employer enthusiasm for telematics is no surprise, it is interesting to note that employee scepticism has been diminishing. According to ALD research published in September 2011, business drivers on the whole view telematics favourably: 71% approve of on-board technology that could help improve their driving style; 87% like on-board technology that contributes towards reducing their fuel bill; while 90% would be content to have on-board technology that may make their vehicle safer, via advance servicing notification. Despite potential 'Big Brother is watching you' connotations, 60% would also be happy to have on-board technology that would accurately identify their vehicle location.

Although employees are more receptive to telematics than was once the case, it remains important to proceed with sensitivity. "What is clear is, if organisations attempt to force technology upon their employees, some of those individuals will be inclined to kick back against authority and abuse the vehicles, which makes the process counterproductive," says Lex Autolease principal consultant, Chris Chandler.

Separate ALD/YouGov research reveals one in two UK businesses is considering installing telematics in its cars. A factor behind this trend is the tightening-up of corporate manslaughter legislation. The Alphabet Fleet Management Report (AFMR) 2011 contains this fascinating insight: the proportion of fleets with risk management policies has risen to 98% today, compared with 37% a mere five years ago.

Energy company E.On uses the Trakm8 fleet management system for a number of reasons, such as reducing the carbon footprint of its 3,000-strong fleet. Trakm8 is integrated into E.On back office systems such as Oracle and SAP.

"As well as the financial elements, we are fully committed to the welfare of our employees and a fleet management system enables us to monitor that," says E.On project manager, Lorna McAtear. "Not only are we meeting all legislative requirements, but we have real information about where assets are located and the safety of our employees."

Research and consultancy firm Frost & Sullivan findings point to fuel savings of 15% achieved by companies that have successfully implemented a telematics solution, while other research has suggested this figure could be as high as 20%. It is well documented that Tesco saw an immediate reduction in fuel spend of 12% as well as a 6% reduction in vehicle damage after it introduced a telematics solution.

Meanwhile, insurer Zurich estimates telematics could result in an 11% improvement in fuel consumption and a 20% reduction in the number of vehicle collisions - leaving to one side the benefits of stolen vehicles being speedily recovered. ALD says it knows of one self-insured fleet that has saved over £350,000 from the recovery of stolen vehicles over an 18-month period.

"It is also important to understand vehicle technology coming from the manufacturers, so that considered decisions can be made around specification," says Arval fleet consultant David Bushnell. "As an example, things such as anti-lock braking system (ABS), electronic speed control (ESC) and reversing sensors are becoming almost standard, while lane departure and blind spot indicators can all be selected as a way of further reducing accident risk."

There is now a wide range of technology available. In many instances, the key to success is in getting the right system for the combined interests of the business and the driver. Often, this is very much dependent on organisational culture, so it is important to partner with a supplier that can help identify the right combination of technologies to meet a company's strategic needs.

Red Bull Racing's Formula One design and engineering team, Red Bull Technology, needs to ensure its fleet is running as efficiently as possible in order to make vehicle, parts, equipment and team deliveries across Europe, but this must be balanced with safety and duty-of-care responsibilities. Red Bull operates a fleet of 23 vehicles, comprising: seven articulated trucks for transporting race vehicles and equipment - which spend 70% of their time in Europe - and eight vans; two large minibuses and two smaller minibuses for transporting the team; as well as three small cars and a VIP vehicle for driving existing and potential sponsors, celebrities and the drivers themselves to race events and a variety of locations. All of these vehicles are monitored by Tracker telematics.

"I need to be able to manage a fleet that is spread across Europe, keeping in control of what is happening throughout the day without compromising the efficiency of the fleet," says Red Bull Technology transport manager, Ed Porter. "Crucially, Tracker's reporting system allows me to evidence turnaround times for collections from suppliers, as we are under pressure to deliver components for the cars within tight timeframes and our suppliers need to step up to the mark. But it is also my responsibility to ensure our drivers are operating safely. All our drivers are given refresher driver training every year and the Tracker system supports our overall duty-of-care policies."

Meanwhile, fleet management services provider LeasePlan reveals 5,000 of its vehicles are 'connected' to tracking systems (4% of total fleet), collating data and providing insight into how fleet operations could be improved. This figure is expected to rise organically to roughly 7,500 (6% of total fleet), as incumbent vehicles are renewed to LeasePlan contracts.

"The type of customer that is using this technology is changing," says LeasePlan ancillary sales and strategic marketing director, Stuart Walker. "Although telematics solutions have historically been predominantly in the commercial vehicle arena, they are becoming increasingly popular among passenger car fleets too."

Telematics tally: some suppliers of state-of-the-art fleet technology

  • Trakm8 - provides a range of fleet management solutions, including a suite of solutions for minimising risk. Among these are a dashboard 'panic button' that can be pressed by drivers needing urgent assistance (this alert can be sent to the employer in several ways, including email); ID tags that integrate with fleet management software to help prevent vehicle theft; and the ability to immobilise vehicles remotely via text message.
  • Tracker - a provider of fleet telematics since 1999, its recently updated product includes features such as patented transient voltage detection technology, which detects electrical noise to more accurately determine when an engine is running and eliminates false 'idling' readings. It examines driver performance and has a flexible reporting suite that can be customised to meet specific customer needs. There are even battery-powered modules to ensure assets that have no built-in power supply, such as mobile units and trailers, can be monitored.
  • Trafficmaster/Teletrac - Its Fleet Director product contains a MultiView function that allows managers/dispatchers to see the big picture by viewing multiple interactive maps in independent windows on the same screen.

Case study: Mitie

Strategic outsourcing business Mitie Group has a fleet of almost 6,000 vehicles. These are managed by Zenith, using its online diagnostic reporting platform, Pulse.

Pulse gives Mitie a realtime, pence-per-mile calculation for every vehicle on its fleet, down to the individual driver, model and derivative. The impact of any changes is shown instantly and can be projected forward, as new vehicles are brought in and end-of-life vehicles are removed from the fleet.

"With Pulse, we now have the ability to interrogate any data on our fleet ourselves at any time and can view and download comprehensive graphs and tables," says Mitie Group head of fleet management, Justin Patterson. "The system has already analysed our data; we just click on each tab and we can instantly see our CO2 figures, vehicle rental costs, accident statistics and maintenance figures for any and every vehicle on our fleet. We know exactly what the fleet is costing us on a day-by-day and vehicle-by-vehicle basis, what the trends are and which areas can be improved upon."

Mitie also uses Zenith's online mileage capture system, MyMiles, to log business and private mileage for approved mileage allowance payments reconciliations for its 500 employee car ownership scheme drivers. The data collected interfaces with other Zenith systems, allowing managers to predict servicing intervals, manage renewals, provide contract updates and monitor annual contracted mileage.