Connected car technology is delivering granular data which can help maximise fleet efficiencies. Curtis Hutchinson reports.
Big data is getting bigger. It’s the nature of the beast. Until recently connected cars were a novelty, now they are the norm and this shift is helping transform how they can be utilised by businesses to optimise fleet operations.
Telematics in cars is not new, it has been used for many years to inform diagnostic tests during servicing, maintenance and repair jobs. But now, with added internet connectivity, the way data can be processed has been transformed with real-time analytics on how and where cars are being operated.
In 2016 there were around four million connected cars in the UK, according to research by Statisa, the online business development portal; the study forecasts penetration will rise to 19.5 million by 2022. Whether drivers like it or not, their cars are no longer self-contained metal boxes but highly sophisticated platforms generating, transmitting and receiving business critical data. However, processing this extra layer of data can be a burden for anyone in charge of fleet operations, a job function already awash with data.
The need for aggregation
The best way to manage all this data is to have it neatly aggregated; something contract hire, leasing and fleet management companies offer as a matter of course.
Paul Hollick, managing director of The Miles Consultancy (TMC), the business mobility specialist, advocates data aggregation, saying fleets who fail to do this are missing out on the benefits.
“Typically the client doesn’t have the resources to do that much with the information from a single telematics supplier, and the issue is compounded where multiple devices are fitted across the fleet. There’s no harmonisation of data, and the configurations of alerts and events tend to be set up differently for each type of device,” he says.
With fleet managers often juggling multiple job functions the need for aggregated data becomes even more essential if any efficiencies are to be achieved.
“Data gathering is key for businesses and has the power to transform fleet operations; the richer the data available, the more a vehicle operator can get control over their expenses,” says Paul Holland, chief commercial officer at Fleetcor, the fuel card provider.
“Data is invaluable in streamlining processes for fleet operators, gathering insight and saving them time. This frees them up to concentrate on more strategic operational roles within their company.”
So how are fleets achieving tangible benefits from utilising the data produced by telematics?
Edward Kulperger, VP for Europe at Geotab, the fleet management and telematics specialist, says data is being used to better inform vehicle choice as decisions can be made on actual usage; a process which is becoming more important as fleets consider electric alternatives.
“Telematics data is one of the most robust options available for businesses, providing valuable fleet insights and helping to reduce fuel and harmful gaseous emissions; all while aiding in increasing profitability,” he says.
“Rich vehicle data can be used to compare vehicles within a fleet to help target improvement areas, such as benchmarking for fuel and gaseous emissions reduction. Telematics data can be leveraged to understand vehicle usage and when a fleet’s vehicles may be transitioned to electric, considering such factors as range anxiety, usage and optimal charging.”
Data on real-world driving patterns can also be used to help make informed decisions on the cost-effectiveness of switching from a diesel vehicle to a plug-in hybrid (PHEV), something Hollick at TMC confirms is a popular request as user-choosers consider ways of reducing their tax liability.
“Switching to PHEV is a frequently asked analysis. Predominantly the analysis proves that PHEVs do not work for the company but do work incredibly well for the driver whose main usage is business-related with limited private mileage.”
This is where data is being used to track just how often PHEVs are charged, something anecdotal evidence suggests is a rarity.
“We have seen that in pretty much all cases, PHEVs are not used efficiently. The real-life mpg that we report, based on mileage and fuel usage, shows that they have never been near a charging cable. Normally this would mean that employees need a diesel or petrol vehicle rather than a PHEV due to excessive motorway driving and the percentage of long distances.
“Companies like us can take the data for each vehicle and driver and make recommendations where an alternative vehicle would be more appropriate; possibly an Ultra-Low Emission Vehicle (ULEV) or a vehicle that is performing well for other employees with similar journey profiles.”
Usage data is empowering fleet managers and user-choosers to select the most cost-effective vehicles for individual requirements.
“Telematics can help give managers a clear idea as to whether new vehicles are suitable for their fleets,” says Paul O’Dowd, head of sales at In-car Cleverness, Accident Exchange’s telematics arm.
“The needs of every fleet are different, so to find out if a new vehicle is going to suit your business’ needs, it’s worth testing. With telematics, fleet managers can assess the performance of new vehicles on a trial basis and quickly decide as to whether they will be a fit for their business needs.”
The HR factor
Where data and people are involved there’s also an important HR issue to address. Some employees may be suspicious of systems producing data on their locations and driving styles, so gaining buy-in needs to be addressed.
“Fundamentally, there are real benefits to the driver with regards to employee welfare and health. If employees, unions and works councils can understand the intrinsic benefits to their staff in managing this data properly, then there’s no difficulty with buy-in,” says Hollick.
“Where telematics is used as big brother, then it becomes more difficult to create success. A high degree of analysis can be achieved without any reference to the individual driver.”
Hollick maintains the recent introduction of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) should act as a way to reassure staff. “GDPR helps ensure the driver provides consent for only the data to be used for its intended purpose,” he explains.
If connected car data is aggregated and combined with total cost of ownership calculations, it can be used to source the most appropriate vehicles for individual and fleet needs, maximising efficiencies and driving down costs.
One of the main bugbears of company car drivers is traffic congestion and the pressure it puts on them to arrive on time for meetings.
According to research by TomTom Telematics, congestion in 2017 cost UK businesses £915 million in lost productivity. The research also showed how congestion increases the average time a vehicle spends on the road by 129 hours a year, yet the company said this can be avoided by fleets making better use of data.
“Traffic remains a serious issue for business and the resulting delays have potential implications for productivity, customer service standards and even employee wellbeing,” says Beverley Wise, TomTom Telematics’ director for UK and Ireland.
“Unfortunately, congestion levels continue to rise, and the UK economy is paying the price for this at a time when the landscape is already challenging enough.
“But, although solutions to the wider traffic problem are incredibly complex, businesses can take action now to mitigate its effect by using data to develop smarter working schedules and shift patterns that help employees avoid driving at peak times.
“Telematics can help in the move towards a more dynamic model of routing and scheduling that uses data on traffic and journey times to develop plans that minimise time on the road and can be quickly adapted in reaction to delays or changing circumstances.”
Case study: Farmdrop
Farmdrop is a farm-to-table grocer, supplying local and sustainably produced food via an online platform. As a company with a strong brand ethic, it adopted a Geotab telematics platform to achieve zero-emission deliveries in London, Bristol and Bath.
Mike Pearson, head of growth for Farmdrop, says: “Our mission is to fix the food chain and so reducing emissions from food delivery is important to us. That’s why we use 100% electric delivery vehicles wherever possible.
“Geotab’s technology lets us know where our vans are, and how they are driven, saving us both time and money.”
By analysing usage data the firm has seen a 33% drop in incidents of poor driving and a 27% reduction in the kW per mile usage.