Fleet Management Goes High Tech
Fleet management has evolved significantly as supply chains have become more complex. At the same time, technology has evolved at an ever-more blistering pace, with the Fourth Industrial Revolution ushering in a whole new paradigm of communication and monitoring. Coupled with advances in technologies like telematics and driver assistance systems, this offers a host of potential benefits to fleet managers.
“The fleet management industry has evolved from simple GPS tracking to a method of monitoring and managing fleets utilising GPS tracking alongside advanced vehicle data capture and connected third-party solutions, known as telematics,” says Vishnu Perumalsamy, MD of telematics provider Geotab Africa. “Fleet management hardware is able to provide fleet owners with information on engine diagnostics, driver behaviour monitoring, unnecessary fuel expenses, wear and tear, and preventative maintenance requirements, not to mention routing efficiency, real-time reporting and accident reconstruction data.”
Key to this evolution is the shift in the telematics hardware footprint towards mobile solutions, explains Rickard Andersson, principal analyst at market research firm Berg Insight. “The integration of both ruggedised and consumer-grade smartphones and tablets as in-cab options and complementary access interfaces is a development seen in both low- and high-end fleet management systems. Technological advancements like this enable sophisticated software to be deployed on an increasing variety of standard devices, leading to a general commoditisation of telematics hardware.”
One of the key advantages of modern fleet management technology is the potential for greater efficiency and reduced costs. Visual monitoring hardware has been increasingly deployed, says Andersson: “A notable trend over the past years has been increasing integration of cameras in vehicle environments for various purposes. Applications range from simple dash cams and CCTV-type surveillance, to more advanced deployments for vehicle exterior monitoring and driver behaviour management. Some innovative solutions even track eye and head movements for real-time intervention in case of undesirable behaviour.”
Such applications can minimise or prevent driving accidents and traffic violations by improving driver habits using in-vehicle driver coaching, says Perumalsamy. “Fleet management technology assists in curbing poor driving habits – such as unnecessary idling, speeding and fast acceleration – that are often the cause of excessive fuel consumption, and wear and tear. By monitoring driver behaviour, fleet managers can gain valuable insights into fuel consumption, allowing them to identify and act on behaviours that lead to unnecessary spending on fuel.”
Andersson agrees, saying driver management can support eco-driving schemes aimed at reducing fuel consumption and CO² emissions. “Certain fleet management solutions include applications for monitoring and managing driving behaviour in relation to eco-driving aspirations. A fleet management system implemented in the right way, together with eco-driving training, can save between six and 15 percent of the fuel costs, and at the same time reduce the likelihood of accidents.”
Fuel theft is another huge issue facing fleet companies, says Johann Raubenheimer, director of fleet management provider Landmark Tracking. “On the plus side, we’re moving from very reactive systems to proactive ones. You can install a sensor that sends out an immediate SMS if there’s a sudden drop in fuel. This can also be used to measure fuel filled, to see if it’s accurate.”
Raubenheimer says the crucial development here is the immediacy of the alerts. “You don’t have to wait for your vehicles to get back, then get your fuel slips, do the calculations and finally see you’ve got a problem a month later.”
Advanced fleet management solutions and diagnostics also facilitate predictive and preventative maintenance.
“Critical parameters that previously were only accessible in a workshop can now be monitored in real-time while the vehicle is on the road,” says Andersson, noting however that the level of information detail varies. “Many fleet management solutions only monitor data available via the standardised On-Board Diagnostic-II (OBD-II) interface. Among systems developed for heavy trucks, there is generally support for more comprehensive interfaces, including solutions that can access proprietary data from the vehicle Controller Area Network (CAN) bus. One example is OEM solutions that are installed on a vehicle by the original manufacturer.”
Andersson adds that automotive diagnostics software currently used by workshops is likely to disseminate into fleet management solutions over time.
But does it fit?
Of course, for telematics hardware to collect the rich data that it does, it needs to be properly integrated with vehicle systems. Andersson says OBD-II is one of the most common self-diagnostics interfaces deployed on petrol and diesel vehicles. “While OBD-II is commonly used for light vehicles, other on-board diagnostics protocols available include J1708/J1587 and J1939 for heavy-duty vehicles,” he adds. “Developed by the Society of Automotive Engineers (now SAE International), J1708/J1587 is still widely used, though it is being replaced by J1939, a newer CAN-based alternative.”
Andersson also cites Fleet Management System as an alternative. “Based on SAE J1939, this is a comprehensive standard for retrieving operating data from the in-vehicle electronics in trucks. It is jointly supported by vehicle manufacturers Scania, Volvo, MAN, Mercedes-Benz, DAF Trucks and Iveco. The standard is based on SAE J1939.”
Beyond these under-the-hood integrations, standard data interfaces also enable connection of all kinds of devices and peripherals to a fleet management device, says Andersson, including serial ports and USB for wired connections, and Bluetooth and Wi-Fi for wireless connections. “Examples of equipment that can be connected to such a device include control units for cranes, cargo space doors or loading platforms; handhelds such as barcode readers or PDAs; peripherals like digital tachographs, printers, document scanners, PNDs or notebook PCs; and sensors for temperature monitoring, among other things. Integration of radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology can furthermore allow for automatic identification of the driver by using an RF transponder,
Technology like this can also enable detailed analysis in the event of an incident. Perumalsamy gives the example of the GO9 tracking device. “Once a vehicle collision occurs, the accelerometer within the GO device will detect an ‘accident level event’ and record second-by-second data of the accident at 100Hz frequency. This data is automatically retransmitted to MyGeotab for interpretation. Latitude, longitude, speed, accelerometer, as well as various other pieces of information are included that are essential to reconstructing the accident event.”
Perumalsamy says MyGeotab, the company’s web-based fleet management software, offers access to a number of different types of data critical to accident reconstruction. “These include the Trips History, Accident and Log Data, Speed Profile, and the Accelerometer and RPM graphs. By reviewing and analysing this data, you can verify the events of the accident.”
The state of South Africa
According to Andersson, South Africa is a relatively mature telematics market with comparably high penetration from an international perspective. “Far from all deployments are full-scale advanced fleet management solutions, however,” says Andersson. “A notable share of the installed systems on the market is represented by comparably low-end tracking systems, for example light fleet management solutions, including stolen vehicle tracking systems extended with basic fleet management features. Penetration is skewed towards commercial vehicles – including heavy vehicles – and to some extent also large fleets of light commercial vehicles (LCVs), whereas the adoption of fleet management services is lower and less advanced for small LCV fleets and corporate cars.”
Andersson notes that security is still a strong focus in South Africa, and fleet management is tightly linked to security functionality such as cargo protection, fuel theft prevention and stolen vehicle recovery.
Raubenheimer adds that local companies are starting to take investment in fleet management systems seriously. “Up to a year ago, clients would compare on price only, but we’re finding more and more clients saying that if they can cut their fuel bill by 10 per cent, for example, then they’re prepared to pay more upfront. There’s a greater willingness to invest in technology.”