MINNEAPOLIS – Investment in a telematics system should be seen as a long-term strategy that can generate results beyond initial goals, fleet management experts said here during the NAFA Fleet Management Association’s annual Institute & Expo.
“We have seen good results so far, but it doesn’t happen overnight,” said Scott Darling, corporate fleet manager for energy company BP PLC in Houston. Speaking during a panel discussion, Darling said his company’s focus is on driver safety and aims to use the data it collects to reduce accidents and injuries across its global fleet of 12,000 vehicles. About 80% of them are pickup trucks, he said.
In the company’s pipeline operation, around 300 trucks have been outfitted with telematics devices. But before those devices were installed, Darling said, BP researched the technology’s lifecycle.
“You have hardware costs, installation costs, activation costs and monthly fees,” he said, adding that fleets also must consider whether a selected vehicle will remain in service for the life of the telematics device. “You have to keep track of that, because it affects overall cost,” he said.
Keeping track of the data collected is a separate challenge, one that can occupy significant staff resources.
“There is a return on investment consideration with people, too,” Darling said. “Who is looking at the data? Do you need an analyst? And do you need someone to manage the devices?”
Data management is important, he said, because the systems are constantly collecting information that could be useful, even if it’s not relevant to a fleet’s original goals.
“You can’t just turn it off,” Darling said. “I have to make sure that if there is something I should be looking at, that I am looking at it,” he said.
In fact, taking a proactive approach to fleet management is a key reason for embracing telematics, said Brad Bohnen, head of fleet management for Ericsson Inc. in Overland Park, Kan.
“Everything we had done was reactive,” he said during the panel. “We saw telematics as a way to be proactive.” The company’s goals were to improve driver behavior, cut costs, and reduce output of carbon dioxide. It is in the middle of a program to deploy telematics across its fleet, Bohnen said.
With so many goals, the company had to divide responsibility for the information, he said, echoing Darling’s point about data management. “We did not want to ignore any data, so when it came in, we had to decide who did what,” Bohnen said. “There was a negotiation process to come up with action items.”
But taking a thorough approach to mining the information paid off in unexpected ways, he said. For example, the company used geo-fencing on its trucks to identify which routes took vehicles past compressed natural-gas stations. That helped Ericsson decide where it might deploy CNG-powered trucks.
“You can be creative with the device and leverage it to drive other objectives,” he said.
That can include identifying vehicles that are underutilized, said Anthony Foster, corporate fleet manager for Pioneer Natural Resources Company in Savannah, Texas. “The system we use flags a vehicles that is traveling fewer than 500 miles per month,” he said. “You might look at that and say, ‘Hey, why do we even have this vehicle?’”