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October 9, 2020 12:00 PM, EDT

Telematics Strengthens Communication Between Delivery Driver and Dispatch

Ford TransitAs this Ford Transit makes a delivery, telematics is helping fleets keep up with efficient productivity as well as regular maintenance. (Michael Freeze/Transport Topics)

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Last-mile delivery for any fleet operation — big or small — is only as efficient as the communication between the driver and dispatch.

“A fleet manager, essentially, without the data is either blind and 100% reliant on having the vehicle in their possession or having a driver relay the information to them,” said Travis Hunt, business development manager at Ford Commercial Solutions.

From a fleet manager’s perspective, telematics allows them to have the data in real time and act on that information.

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Far from pencil, paper and end-of-day reports, telematics — for some time — has advanced the art of last-mile delivery. A Spireon survey of small to medium-sized fleets using GPS fleet tracking solutions showed that 62% re­ported ­improvements in overall ef­ficiency. All surveyed showed a decrease in fuel expense and more than half reported a reduction in vehicle downtime by 10% or more.

“One of the biggest cost drivers for fleets is driver downtime,” Hunt said. “When you think of what an OEM can provide in terms of diagnostic codes, we hear from our fleets that if they would have known that check-engine light was on in the vehicle, they could have addressed it and saved an engine or transmission.”

Telematics systems from technology providers such as Verizon Connect, or vehicle manufacturers such as Ford — which launched its Ford Telematics system earlier this summer — have presented fleets with various options to use data to keep better track of their cargo vans, drivers and deliveries.

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“If you’re coming from a Class 8, you’re feeling like you’re driving a toy car versus a truck driven by a highly trained professional,” said Ray Eyles, chief engineer of the Ford Transit van.

As in a consumer vehicle, last-mile delivery vans are equipped with fleet telematics features that focus on driver safety.

“We recognize that with all of our fleet customers, the No. 1 priority is protecting their people,” Eyles said. “A lot of features like driver assistance, automatic assisted braking and pre-collision warnings are based around safety.”

The Spireon study also showed that fleets implementing telematics experienced a reduction in harsh braking, speeding and idle time. Hunt noted that although idling for a short time doesn’t seem like much, it adds up.

“Idling for 10 minutes equates to a 30-cent waste of fuel,” Hunt explained. “When you extrapolated that in the context of a fleet over a month’s time, you’re talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings.”

Hunt added that fleet managers, who have access to that type of data, can immediately take action.

“They now have the level of data that allows them to coach and counsel their drivers to make changes to help the bottom line,” he said, “and increase efficiencies, effectively dispatching a vehicle to a customer’s address to deliver across town during rush hour traffic.”

Before it implemented its telematics service for the logistics space, the Ford Commercial Solutions team provided its tool to the law enforcement sector.

“There were a lot of benefits that ultimately help our commercial customers,” Hunt explained.

One prominent example is geotracking.

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“In a live map, we have a green box that makes a geofence of a certain area,” Hunt said. “From a commercial standpoint, the dispatch knows when a vehicle enters and exits. For instance, if a fleet driver takes his van home, and the manager doesn’t want him operating the vehicle after hours, they could create a geofence around that and get an alert if it left.”

To further enhance in-fleet communications, developers are replacing the traditional paper checklist, opting for digital. Before, fleet managers would have to rely on drivers for information at certain times, mainly after their route. Telematics now creates the opportunity to streamline that process with a smartphone app.

“Safety checks are done by paper and pencil and you don’t see the results until the driver is back,” Hunt said. “They don’t have that access in real time. Now, drivers can perform a walk-around and report things in real time on the app.”

Telematics apps also allow the manager to know who is driving the vehicle and stay informed of any real-time DOT information.

Hunt noted that thanks to cloud computing, it has become easy to populate data and help fleets become more efficient, safe operations.

“Fleet managers can have the information and use it effectively,” he said. “Because we take into account what they need to do in their business. The vehicle becomes the important item in the toolbox. We come along with the data coming off the vehicle modem. Then, we can figure out what can we do to make that valuable for the fleet.”

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