What is Telematics?
The word “telematics” comes from combining telecommunications and informatics, and it was these two scientific fields coming together that led to the development of telematics technology.
In a very broad sense, telematics can be used to reference a range of systems, including the internet itself. However, these days, it is more commonly used to apply to vehicle telematics, where location information (GPS tracking) and diagnostics data is collected in real time to manage a business fleet — cars, trucks and other assets.
How does a telematics system work, how do devices collect telematics data, and is it the same as GPS tracking? And, how is it related to managing driver behaviors, including idling, seatbelt use and fuel efficiency?
The use of telematics systems in fleet management
Fleet managers benefited from the rapidly advancing technology in the world of telematics, particularly as it related to vehicle telematics. Telematics devices became smaller, cheaper, and more powerful, and were able to collect more detailed data in real-time, no matter where the vehicle was, whether it was a truck driving through the remotest parts of Canada or a delivery van in Mexico.
Telematics devices in the vehicle receive position data from GPS satellites and then, using a built-in modem and a GPRS (cellular networks) connection, send this data to a cloud-based fleet management app. Along with the vehicle’s position, other information, such as engine diagnostics, are also transmitted.
So, while the words telematics and GPS fleet tracking are used interchangeably, GPS tracking is essentially only one feature of a telematics solution.
How Telematics Works — Collecting Telematics Data
Many modern fleets use fleet management software (a branch of telematics) to manage their assets. Everything from fuel consumption and onboard diagnostics, to current speed and vehicle location can be viewed on a cloud-based dashboard.
Fleet managers can get a birds-eye view of their entire fleet, checking the overall health, profitability, vehicle maintenance and productivity of the fleet.
Benefits of fleet telematics include:
Improved safety and security — Monitoring how vehicles are driven assists managers to provide tailored driver safety programs, targeting specific habits — speeding, seatbelt use, harsh braking or acceleration, or other unsafe driving behaviors — using actual driving data for more effective coaching. Connected dashcams can complement driving data for an extra layer of safety and security. Asset protection is improved with tracking devices providing a real-time status that can trigger a notification if the equipment is used outside authorized hours or locations.
Efficiency and productivity — Vehicle tracking gives supervisors a commanding view of fleet operations, leading to a better allocation of resources across job sites and usage tracking across the entire fleet of vehicles. Dispatchers can also use incoming telematics data to send the most efficient vehicle to a new job, and optimize route planning.
Compliance — To improve road safety, drivers of commercial vehicles are required to comply with regulations around hours of service. Telematics devices can work as electronic logging devices (ELDs) to help make sure fleets operate legally, providing law enforcement agents with a type of tamper-proof black box that accurately records driving times.
Reduced costs — Through more efficient management of tracked resources, fleet owners can enjoy reduced expenses as things like fuel costs, breakdowns and overtime are minimized. With the support of most manufacturers in the automotive industry and telematics providers, telematics devices can plug into a vehicle’s onboard diagnostic data (the CAN bus system) via the OBD-2 port, and send diagnostic data that allows fleet managers to improve maintenance schedules. This more efficient type of preventative maintenance matches the vehicle’s actual condition, instead of an arbitrary schedule, which can be unnecessarily wasteful.
Insurance risk assessment — Insurance companies can use telematics to monitor driver behavior, allowing them to more accurately determine their risk factor and adjust their insurance premiums accordingly. GPS units can also report when a vehicle is used in a location outside a designated area (known as a geofence), a capability that is useful in situations such as offering specific 'off-road' farm vehicle discounts.
What is the Future of Telematics?
Vehicle telematics is just part of a massive trend being experienced in the internet of things (IOT) sector and it’s set to keep growing with the increasing ubiquity of telematics devices, more wireless networks, cheaper pricing and increasing awareness of the benefits of telematics.
Growth since 2007 has been in double-digits as more and more fleets recognize the necessity of monitoring fleet activity closely to control costs and ensure compliance with government regulations.
Though many people still ask what is telematics, the future will largely be determined by the needs of fleet owners who continue to look for ways to cut costs, boost productivity, reduce fuel usage and improve driving habits. Vehicle makers are likely to capitalize on this growth by installing OEM telematics solutions as they continue to develop smart cars that use GPS receivers and telematics technology to deliver better results for fleet owners.