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There is now plenty of choice when it comes to telematics and fleet management kit but can you make it pay for itself? Ross Davies of telematics system provider Fleetboard finds it hard to hide his frustration at the slow pace of adoption of telematic technology in the Middle East. “From my experience in the […]

Telematics is the future of fleet management

Telematics is the future of fleet management

There is now plenty of choice when it comes to telematics and fleet management kit but can you make it pay for itself?

Ross Davies of telematics system provider Fleetboard finds it hard to hide his frustration at the slow pace of adoption of telematic technology in the Middle East.

“From my experience in the Middle East, when people are looking for a telematic system, they are asking for a tracking system. They just want to know where their trucks are. It can show where your trucks are but what are you going to do with that information?”

Vehicle Telematics is the process in which computer-based information is taken directly from a vehicle and made available to an end user in an easily readable form, Davies says, “virtually anywhere, anytime.”

Using state of the art technology, a vehicle can be positioned via GPS and specific data is sent via GSM/GPRS. It is received and translated by a service center, ensuring secure and accurate processing of data. It is then forwarded to the client and made viewable on a web based interface.

As advanced as it sounds, the technology behind telematics continues to sprint ahead. Today it is possible to not only track where your machinery and vehicles are at any given time but also go deep into how that vehicle is used, even how an individual driver has a nasty habit of frying brake pads when he is kilometres from home base.

Davies argues that the purpose of installing such systems are manifold. They empower the fleet and plant manager to take greater control over the optimal efficiency of a fleet by reducing maintenance costs and downtime, lower long term running costs, increase productivity, reduce the fuel consumption of kit, and ultimately enhance driver/operator performance, skill and motivation. Although the systems have been in widespread use in some regions for many years, the Middle East remains someway behind. It remains a hard sell for companies like Fleetboard, even when they are integrated into companies like, in Davies company’s case, Mercedes’ range of trucks.

While we meet in Dubai he tells me that the company’s biggest market is one of the region’s most upwardly mobile.

“Right now Qatar is our single biggest market. About 70% of our business is there,” he says.

Among the Gulf states, Qatar has proven to be the most willing to look at the technology. He tells me that the company’s using it so far tend to be multinationals, European-led companies. Given the energy fuelled economy in the state,the preconception might be that these would be oil and gas organisations but Davies says that construction firms are among the most advanced when it comes to telematics utilisation.

“In Qatar, it has been ready mix, transportation, leasing – so Caterpilllar and companies like that – companies that have the Actros.”

When it comes to adoption, it seems that some countries are more advanced than others.

“The key to Qatar is the level of education,” he explains. “The level is much higher than it is in, say, Saudi Arabia, which helps us massively. Fleetboard is not a system that is not just a tracking system like a lot are. It is extremely complex and you need a great deal of focus to get the most out of it.”

He stresses that the way information is delivered to operators is simple but what you can do with the data is far more sophisticated to some of its competitors.

“Take performance analysis,” he says. “I can see the brake movement on the pedal, how fast the driver is pressing the accelerator, how hard they are using the brake. Over the course of the day I can see how that vehicle is being used.”

Essentially the system provides intelligence on individual driver habits and, across a fleet, separates the good drivers from the bad.

“I can see how long your driver spends on the red line of the RPM,” he continues. “Which is linked to fuel consumption, overhauls of engines over two years, clutches, it’s linked to maintenance, etc. In Qatar, we have a client that has saved 25% of their operational costs of their workshop.”

While he is unable to reveal who the client is, he says that the data it is gathering proves that in fuel cost alone, the savings can be as much as 10%.

“We can pretty much guarantee that.”

He adds that there is even more potential for savings in the Middle East than elsewhere: “In this region you can even higher because the nature of the drivers here. In Europe the average per hundred is 40l per 100km. Here it might be 80l or 90l as drivers don’t know how to make the best of their vehicles.”

In a region where driver skills are not always a help and more a hinderance to fleet management he argues that they are one of the quickest, easiest solutions to improving efficiency and the bottom line.

“On one trial we ran on a unit installed on the Actros, a truck was completely written off within two days,” he explains. “The driver had turned over the truck by going round a corner too quickly.”

You would think being linked to Mercedes and providing cutting edge performance analysis and deep data gathering, that Fleetboard would be more expensive. And you’d be right, although Davies argues that the virtues for customers, including a high potential for return on investment, gives it an edge over competitors.

“It is four times as expensive,” he says without drawing a breath. “So if they’re (competitors) are selling at 3000 dirhams, we’re selling at 10,000.”

It’s a high premium, then, presenting operators with a choice. Davies argues that when you look at the benefits over time plus the potential servicing and maintenance savings then the argument becomes compellingly narrow.

“We’re at such an early stage of GPS and vehicle management systems in the region that people have an idea of wanting to buy a vehicle management system and they believe what they want it for, but we still lay the foundations in the market to show how it can be really used.”

While greener and more productive fleets should be the ultimate aim of managers, telematics and tracking also raise the possibility of improving the safety of vehicles.

Ajay Narain, general manager, Leaseplan, says that having the technology now means that operators have a greater duty of care for other road users. He argues that the increased amount of technology in the cab should distract drivers from concentrating on the road ahead.

“You can train the drivers to make sure they are driving better and disciplined. It’s all about the drivers learning what to do and what not to do. And this is particularly relevant for commercial vehicles,” he says. “The return of investment provides a powerful argument for telematics, but they should never distract the driver.”

In some places like oil fields in the region vehicle tracking is now a mandatory requirement and he says despite his own concerns over ensuring that operators get the balance right between gathering data and the driver, that

“It is becoming a necessity. It is destined to be a substantive part of the vehicle and driver management in the future.”

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