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What is Telematics? Brian Dziuk | Feb 20, 2020 8:11:57 AM

The Rastrac team gets asked a lot of questions about GPS tracking, how GPS systems work, and what certain terms used in the tracking of fleet assets mean. One of the most common questions – “What is telematics?” This is often followed by “how do I use a telematics system for my fleet?”

So, what is a telematics system? Here’s a quick explanation of the meaning behind the phrase “vehicle telematics” and how you can use a telematics system for your vehicle fleet:

What is Telematics?

Telematics is a portmanteau of two words: telecommunications and informatics. Today, telematics’ meaning is largely connected to its use in tracking vehicles and assets when having up-to-date information on their location is needed for daily business functions.

Telematics could also be defined as the “blending of computers and wireless telecommunications technologies, with the goal of efficiently conveying information over vast networks to improve a variety of services.” One example of telematics as it applies to modern fleet management is GPS tracking.

How Do Telematics Systems Work?

Telematics systems work by connecting a device, such as a GPS tracker or other data logging tool, to an asset. Then, the tool collects key performance data about the asset. Once collected, the device will attempt to send the data to a data center so the information can be collated and interpreted.

In the case of fleet telematics, the telematics system will store information in a database that can be accessed by your fleet management system. Whether this database is a remote cloud server or a server/computer on your network may vary from one telematics solution to the next.

Once the data has been uploaded, the fleet manager can access it via the telematics system’s software—the specific operation of which may vary depending on the telematics solution used.

How is a Telematics Device Installed?

Telematics devices can be installed in different ways depending on their type. For example, a location-tracking GPS device might be installed in a vehicle’s onboard diagnostics (OBD) port (which makes the device easy to install and provides power whenever the vehicle is active). Other GPS devices might be installed elsewhere in the vehicle to make them harder to find and tamper with—though they may need to be spliced into the vehicle’s power supply unless they have an independent power supply, such as a battery or a solar charger.

Some devices, such as temperature monitoring systems for refrigerated (i.e. reefer) trucks might need to be mounted in the cold compartment of the vehicle (or have sensors connected to the cold storage area).

Whenever installation requires splicing the telematics device into the vehicle’s power supply, this is usually done as part of a professional installation. Meanwhile, OBD port-mounted devices can usually be installed in a matter of seconds even by a non-professional.

7 Benefits of Telematics Systems

Telematics devices can be used in a variety of ways. Today, the one of the most common uses of telematics solutions is to monitor fleet assets in the field. These fleet telematics systems allow fleet managers to:

1. Track Driver Behaviors to Improve Safety

Are drivers accelerating and decelerating too fast? With a vehicle telematics system, it’s possible to track driver behaviors in real time so unsafe behaviors can be identified and discouraged while good drivers are rewarded. This can help to reduce risks so drivers, vehicle assets, and products arrive safely and on time.

2. Prevent Fuel Waste

Vehicle fleets, especially large vehicle fleets with commercial-class vehicles, consume a lot of fuel. However, not all fuel consumption is productive. For example, according to data from one U.S. Department of Energy source, “Idling a heavy-duty truck consumes about 0.8 gallon[s] of fuel per hour… Typically, a long-haul truck idles about 1,800 hours per year.” That’s about 1,440 gallons of gas wasted. If diesel gas costs roughly $3 a gallon (it typically costs more), that one truck will have wasted $4,320 in gas—on top of extra maintenance costs for 1,800 hours of vehicle wear and tear. Fleet telematics data from a GPS device could help identify wasteful idling behaviors so they can be corrected early on.

3. Protect Sensitive Product/Cargo

Temperature tracking systems can relay critical data to a fleet manager in real time—providing alerts if the refrigeration in a truck suddenly fails. Armed with this notification, fleet managers can alert drivers right away to take measures to protect the product—or dispatch another truck with a working refrigeration unit to replace the failed unit. By taking action quickly, cold storage products can be protected from spoilage.

4. Improve Customer Satisfaction

Consumers nowadays expect to have up-to-the-minute information on where their products are. With a fleet telematics solution, it’s possible to provide near-instant updates on where their products are so long as they’re in a tracked truck or container. This helps to keep customers in the know about when to expect deliveries, helping to increase transparency and customer satisfaction.

5. Keep Drivers On Schedule

Are drivers sticking to their assigned routes and travel times? Fleet telematics help make the answer to this all-important question clear. With records of where drivers currently are, and where their vehicles have been at all times of the day—providing fleet managers with the information they need to verify whether drivers are adhering to proper routes and schedules.

6. Resolve Service Disputes

With accurate GPS data from a telematics system, fleet managers can easily resolve disputes about service/delivery times. For example, say a customer calls to complain that their service was late—with GPS data, fleet managers can easily see if the driver was actually late, and where they were in the time leading up to arriving at the customer’s location. This helps establish the reasons for tardiness (or prove that services arrived on time) so they can be addressed.

7. Improve Maintenance Schedules

Every vehicle needs periodic maintenance. Items such as brake lines, wheels/axles, the steering column, and countless other components of a vehicle experience wear and tear daily that, if left alone for too long, can cause a breakdown or increase the risk of an accident on the road. Many fleet telematics solutions can help relay crucial diagnostic code information to the fleet manager—identifying potential problems so they can be serviced sooner rather than later. This can prevent accidents and expensive repairs by applying small fixes that cost less (while skipping potential roadside service or towing fees). Think of it this way, it’s far cheaper to put more air in a tire than to have the tire explode on the road because it wasn’t properly inflated.

Have questions about fleet telematics and how you can use them? Reach out to the Rastrac team for answers!

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