Contributing editor Steve Banner travelled to London this month to meet up with Jeremy Gould, TomTom Work’s sales manager for the UK and Republic of Ireland.
Many van owners are already familiar with the TomTom satellite navigation system. But what exactly is TomTom Work and how might it benefit them?
It’s an off-the-shelf telematics platform that a business can buy, have installed and start using within the space of a week. It employs a smart black box that’s fitted to the van and records information on speed, mileage, idling time, time spent at a particular destination, harsh braking, excessive cornering and a variety of other factors.
Does it allow the vehicle to be tracked remotely on a computer screen on the transport manager’s desk?
It does, and if required the black box can be linked to an in-cab TomTom unit via Bluetooth. This gives the vehicle’s owner the ability to communicate with the driver. The driver can be sent jobs and he in turn can report back to the office. He can send short standardised messages such as ‘no-one at destination’ or ‘job completed’, for instance, without the need to use a mobile phone and incur communication costs. In addition to sending the message he can add any text that he thinks is necessary to provide further details about what’s happening. What I’ve just described is our TomTom Work Active solution, which has the SIM card in the black box. We’ve also got a portable version, which has the SIM card in the TomTom unit itself.
Why might I want to track my drivers?
If you’ve got a mobile workforce and you want to run your business efficiently then you need to know where all your guys are in real time — the position of vehicles is updated every 10 seconds — what they are doing and whether or not each job has been done. If you know all that then you can allocate work to each individual in a cost-effective manner. If a customer is awaiting a delivery then you can tell them how far away your van is and how long it will be before it arrives. TomTom Work is web-based, so if you want to you can let your customer see whereabouts all or some of your vehicles are on his own PC screen. If he wants to track, say, a particular delivery, or a group of vans for perhaps a week, then that can be arranged too. It’s totally configurable.
That should stop him ringing you every five minutes. But how precise is this information?
Very. Under IQ Routes, TomTom has been collecting anonymous data over the past three years to provide us with extremely accurate speed profiles for the UK road network. In other words we know how rapidly traffic is likely to move at any time of the day or night. As a consequence we can, among other things, direct a driver a different way in order to avoid congestion. Remember that the TomTom unit retains its ability to function as a satellite navigation system and that tends to work as an antidote to any objections drivers may have to being tracked. There’s also the point that none of this is complicated technology. Drivers may already be familiar with TomTom because they’ve got one themselves for personal use and if that’s the case it’s only a short step to using it as a messaging device as well as for navigation. They’re not being asked to use a complicated smartphone or PDA. It’s all touchscreen and it’s nice and simple.
Obviously having a driver stuck in a traffic jam is a waste of time and money, and means he will be burning diesel to no good purpose; and diesel costs money. In what other ways can you help van operators save cash?
TomTom Work can highlight instances of speeding, and not just cases where drivers have exceeded a pre-defined speed limit. Thanks to our acquisition of Tele Atlas we’ll soon be able to offer GPS map-matching, which gives us access to the speed limit database for the whole of Britain. That allows us to identify instances of, for example, vans travelling at 40mph in a 30mph zone; valuable information for the owner. If an in-cab unit has been fitted then the driver will be alerted too each time the limit is exceeded.
Drivers who speed burn more fuel, wear out the vehicle’s components more rapidly, are at greater risk of having accidents and are breaking the law. How far do operators use information on speeding, harsh braking and so on as a means of identifying employees who might benefit from re-training?
That’s something a lot of firms do. They’ll often put the individuals concerned on a driver training course to improve their performance. We’re aware of several customers who have forged links with driver training companies and in some cases — if they run big fleets — employ in-house trainers.
So far as poor driving practices such as speeding and excessive engine idling are concerned, would it be fair to say that what TomTom Work does is highlight exceptions? In other words, turn the spotlight on drivers who have a particular problem?
Yes. In fact we’ve just launched something called Dashboard Reporting. It shows exceptions in a graphical way that’s easy to comprehend.
Will TomTom Work help employers comply with the duty of care they have to protect employees — mobile service engineers, for instance — who regularly work on their own and may be at risk of having an accident or being assaulted?
Yes, and it’s interesting to note that we’re getting a lot of inquiries from human resources managers. TomTom Work allows employers to, for example, spot instances where a van has been stationary outside somebody’s home for an unusually long time; and find out why.
Turning to other aspects of security, can TomTom Work be used to track a vehicle that has been stolen or hijacked, and does it offer geofencing? By that, I mean does it signal an alert if the vehicle suddenly leaves the depot where it’s parked in the middle of the night for no good reason?
The answer is yes to both questions. Geofencing is a standard feature. In this context it’s worth noting that TomTom automatically alerts the driver if he’s entering the congestion charge zone, and we’ve now got a report for operators that lists how many of their vans have gone into the zone during the course of the day. Once customers have got that data they can ensure they pay the charges before they get fined. We can produce all sorts of other reports too; driver start and finish times, for example, which can be linked back to a payroll system and used to calculate overtime.
How are you setting about improving the accuracy of your mapping?
By using TomTom Map Share, TomTom users regularly send us information on new roads, newly-introduced one way streets and so on. To date we’ve received over 5m contacts. We check out what we’re told, and if it’s correct we make the data available to the TomTom community. Delivery drivers will also be pleased to hear that Tele Atlas is working on improving the mapping of industrial estates. In the meantime, what we can do through TomTom Webfleet — an online portal — is send the onboard device a very precise co-ordinate that denotes the exact spot on an estate where the operator wants a pick-up or delivery made. TomTom will then navigate the driver to that precise point. It’s especially useful if you’ve got engineers on railway maintenance work because they can be sent exact details of where the track access points are.
If I run a refrigerated van, can I link the fridge unit to the black box so that I can be alerted immediately if there is a problem with it, even if I’m sitting in my office many miles away? A load that has defrosted in transit without the driver noticing is likely to be rejected by the customer.
Yes. The black box has an input that can be used for just this sort of purpose. Alternatively the box can be linked to the van’s load area doors to detect unauthorised openings while the driver is on his journey from one location to the next. The same system can also be used remotely to switch on an in-cab heater early on a cold winter’s morning so that the cab is already warm and defrosted when the driver arrives for the start of his shift.
Are customers using data from TomTom Work in conjunction with planning and scheduling software to help them work out the most efficient delivery routes for their vehicles and determine if they can move the same volume of goods with fewer vans?
We’ve got several examples of this happening and we’re working with a number of different scheduling specialists; with Clik Software, for example, where vans run by installers of electrical systems are concerned.
How much does TomTom Work cost per vehicle?
If all you want installed is the black box then it will cost you £399 plus a monthly charge for the service we provide starting at £11.90. If you want the dedicated in-cab TomTom unit fitted too then the price goes up to £649 and the monthly subscription also increases depending on whether or not the customer requires 2-way messaging for job dispatch and/or the LIVE! Services. The LIVE! Services include HD Traffic weather reports and safety camera updates. The prices exclude VAT and volume-related deals are available. The portable version costs £349 with a monthly subscription that again varies depending on the requirement for 2-way messaging and the LIVE! Services. A lot of our customers like this modular approach. It allows them to, say, start with a TomTom used for navigation, then add a black box at a later stage, or vice versa. It gives you choice; and that’s what people want.