Telematics’ new dimension

It is one of the most fascinating success stories in the history of commercial road transport: A mere decade after GPS tracking started becoming more widely available to a civilian audience, telematics has evolved into a global megatrend allowing us to fundamentally reimagine the transport industry’s century-old business model.

“Modern-day telematics technology can take a big bite out of [the industry’s organisational] waste with data-enabled fleet management that will make both customers and drivers more satisfied and boost profit margins every day,” explains US business journalist and transport industry veteran, Gary Wollenhaupt – noting that telematics is not just about collecting data anymore, but applying it in an operational context. “Today, the power of data and open communication can improve compliance, driver efficiency and fleet performance … so fleet management can do away with overspending and improve overall safety.”

As such, he says businesses are able to provide more transparency across the board and adjust the industry’s old ‘A to B’ business model accordingly – allowing for a degree of accountability, compliance and efficiency unlike anything in the history of commercial road transport. But, that doesn’t mean the concept of telematics or the vast and fragmented marketplace it has created have reached maturity yet. With the advent of platooning and advanced Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) technology in series production vehicles, Wollenhaupt says the maturation of the technology is far from concluded.

“Advanced telematics and fleet management solutions will serve as the foundation for the next step in connected vehicle design,” he explains. “Transport businesses will soon use dispatch, routing and navigation technology to identify and facilitate opportunities for trucks to form a platoon, for example, including those from different fleets.”

Until that next evolutionary stage is reached, however, Wollenhaupt says industry has to agree on a host of new communication and cyber-security standards to ensure a safe and reliable operating environment – and experts from around the world agree. “Instead of just following a dot on a map, we can now digitise a whole vehicle – but there’s still a lot of confusion around what it can and can’t do, and what it should and shouldn’t be doing,” says Gavin Hill of Transport Certification Australia (TCA), a special government body for the telematics industry with strong international ties to Europe and the US. “We’re only just reaching a state where we fully appreciate that complexity.”

According to Wollenhaupt and Hill, the process of adopting telematics and transforming fleet management best practice is still incremental in many countries – arguably because a lack of regulation caused the market to swell up and become too confusing for a period of time – but slowly gaining pace in line with the technological advancement of the trucking industry.

As such, experts are now sensing a convergence of telematics with megatrends such as the Internet of Things (IoT), which is why Wollenhaupt says he is exceedingly optimistic about the next generation of the technology. It’s here where visionary businesses like BPW or Knorr-Bremse come into play, who understand that telematics cannot exist in a silo, but has to be integrated into other intelligent systems and devices, such as electronic user interfaces, dispatch systems and On-Board Mass systems. They typically subscribe to the idea of establishing intelligent hubs that manage and connect a variety of intelligent technologies that go beyond the traditional notion of telematics as we have come to understand it.

BPW subsidiary Idem Telematics’ award-winning Cargofleet Trailer Gateway solution is a case in point. The system – whose third iteration premiered at the Transport Logistic show in Munich in May – acts as a hub providing data on key metrics such as vehicle tracking, capacity utilisation and route selection. Transport businesses can then connect additional modules as required – ranging from temperature monitoring and recording through to tyre pressure and brake pad wear control. The plug-and-play concept – accessible online and via app – can be upgraded in hindsight, thus providing fleets with a new degree of investment security and turning the trailer into a key business tool.

Knorr-Bremse’s new, retro-fittable Pro-Fleet Connect solution is equally flexible – and brand-independent. The Munich-based company also went for a modular solution, with seven add-on modules allowing fleets to customise the system to suit their individual needs. In collaboration with Microlise, it also provides “intelligent fleet management solutions” on the backend that focus on key areas such as planning, security, quality assurance and even driver training.

By focusing on modular, highly customisable technology, BPW and Knorr-Bremse have pre-empted concerns raised by US journalist, Josh Bond, who questions the industry’s ‘readiness’ to handle advanced telematics. “The appetite is there, the table is set, but how do [we] decide what to order from the telematics menu?” he asks, adding that after a period of subscribing to a set data menu, the transport industry is increasingly demanding access to information ‘a la carte’.

Much in line with BPW and Knorr-Bremse’s respective approaches, he says the telematics community has to leave the “device-centric and simplistic view” of the past behind to make room for a new, software- and connectivity-driven ecosystem capable of targeting specific pain points. “One of the biggest complaints surrounding telematics [is] ‘analysis paralysis’ or ‘drinking from a fire hose’,” he explains, pointing to the flood of largely unqualified data early telematics systems provided. “A solution should not provide so much data that it overwhelms the fleet manager’s ability to use it.”

It’s here where the German companies’ hub analogy might come in handy. “To help turn a fire hose of data into a manageable drinking fountain, the data from telematics and related systems increasingly involve cloud-hosted services and dashboards that present only the most relevant and actionable data,” Bond says. “We’re not quite at a stage where telematics and V2V technology combine to create a platoon, but we are definitely witnessing the industry evolve to a new stage.”

So where to from here? One consequence of the industry’s gradual maturation could be a change of focus away from technology and onto actual outcomes. Even businesses that have all the hallmarks of a classic telematics company – with the ability to provide GPS tracking, speed data analysis or engine performance data – are now increasingly choosing to operate as ‘compliance’ or ‘safety’ specialists, for example, and merely use telematics as a tool to facilitate a different, more targeted value proposition. As such, the industry may finally be in a position to overcome the feared ‘analysis paralysis’ of the past and unleash telematics’ full potential.

Fast Fact
Schmitz Cargobull has launched a new system architecture for trailer telematics at the Transport Logistic show in Munich. According to the German OEM, the goal is to create a ‘smart’ trailer capable of collecting and managing data from a range of intelligent components, covering the trailer’s location, trip data and a variety of information regarding cargo transport conditions. “Big Data has finally reached the trailer world,” the company said. “As part of this process, all available information on … transport units has to be collected and processed so that it is available for quick and efficient decisions.”

Fast Fact
Connectivity and sensor technology have also taken centre stage at the American Trucking Associations’ Technology & Maintenance Council’s (TMC) 2017 Annual Meeting and Transportation Technology Exhibition in Nashville in March. US company Truck-Lite used the event to announce a foray into the telematics market with a new trailer monitoring and communication system, while Phillips Industries launched a whole new ‘Connect Technologies’ business division that is likely to focus on the same market segment.

Expert’s View
Global Trailer spoke to Anton Bigelmaier, Head of After Market at Kögel, about the future of telematics and the role OEMs play in driving progress.

Q: Telematics technology is dominating headlines across the world. How are you reacting to the trend as an OEM?

A: We’ve responded by designing a proprietary system called Kögel Telematics, including both the hardware module and the corresponding web portal. The system has been available since the 2016 IAA Commercial Vehicle Show, and has already been optioned on more than 200 vehicles.

Q: What’s the advantage of a proprietary system?

A: We believe it’s the best way to customise the telematics system to suit the individual trailer and the freight it’s meant to carry. It’s a reliable and cost-effective way of getting real-time access to the data you need, be it tracking and tracing, EBS activation, tyre pressure or temperature. Our web portal is easy to use and self-explaining, just like our app, which is something customers appreciate more and more. After all, collecting data is only the beginning, you have to be able to utilise it efficiently, too.

Q: There is a plethora of systems available on the market already. How do you avoid compatibility issues?

A: We’re acutely aware of the fact that our customers may be using different hardware modules and online platforms already, so we know our equipment has to be compatible with competing technology. We also ensure there is compatibility with third-party fleet management software, for example, so it’s not a must to use the Kögel portal – although you’ll find it’s often the most elegant solution. That being said, maintaining a degree of independence will only become more important down the track as our reliance on Big Data continues to grow.

Q: What’s your vision in that context?

A: Our vision is to combine information from different data sources – truck, trailer and ancillary equipment – in a meaningful way. Only by processing and understanding data – not just collecting it – will we add value to complex supply chain and logistics processes and, ultimately, our customers’ businesses. To do that, we need intelligent systems that are able to communicate with each other regardless of who created them. With that in mind, telematics has the potential to bring a new degree of transparency to the industry, help us detect weak spots faster and optimise intricate processes in real time. Just how we will process all of the data we started generating is a question the future will have to answer, though. Kögel is certainly working to be part of the solution.

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