Forward-thinking businesses are increasingly seeing the benefits of telematics systems as a means to boosting productivity.
The relentless rise in fuel costs may have stalled recently, but few in the industry would expect diesel prices to go in any direction but up in the mid- to long-term so it is important that operators run their vans as efficiently as possible.
Cost reduction, accurate fuel monitoring, improved driver behaviour, and administrating more efficiently are all key benefits of telemetry that can help fleet operators. Most obviously, a tracking device can work out the shortest, most economical route to the work site or drop-off destination. It can also record driver behaviour and encourage better habits. With customers expecting their plumbers, electricians, builders, decorators and parcels to turn up on time there are still staff who put their foot to the floor and hope for the best regardless of safety or fuel consumption.
One of the most important functions of a telematics system is that it enables managers of large fleets to keep track of their vehicles from their desk at company HQ.
Fleet management software provider TomTom Business Solutions says its online Webfleet application helps businesses reduce costs, improve efficiencies and customer service and to make sure its drivers stay on the right side of the law. In addition, TomTom says customisation capabilities enable companies to home in on their management priorities and generate reports more relevant to their individual business processes.
“Webfleet’s out-of-the-box functionality directly meets businesses’ typical fleet management requirements,” says TomTom Business Solutions’ boss Thomas Schmidt. “For firms with more specific business needs, depending upon their size, structure and industry sector, reports can also be tailored, reflecting our commitment for delivering improved business efficiencies for all.”
He adds that the latest Webfleet application delivers better access to historical reports through a cloud-based archive.
“TomTom’s Webfleet advancements provide companies with greater control over their fleet operations and business efficiencies,” says Schmidt. “This means more opportunities to achieve and maintain a competitive edge through considerable efficiency and cost savings.”
Webfleet’s reporting includes data on trips, locations, maintenance, working time, driving performance, order status and administration.
In January TomTom launched an app designed to make it easier for drivers to keep an accurate log of their trips using their smartphone. Webfleet Logbook, which costs under £6 excluding VAT, helps businesses reduce mileage claims administration and creates reliable logs to help with tax legislation compliance, according to the firm.
Using their mobile device, the driver selects whether a journey is
for business, private or commuting purposes. The app works in combination with the in- vehicle Link tracking device, which reports the trip information. Company trip records are updated in TomTom’s Webfleet fleet management system. In a recent survey TomTom found that more than 30% of British LCV drivers  admitted to over-estimating mileage claims when inputting data manually.
The Logbook app enables additional information to be added by the driver, including the purpose of the journey and customer contact details. Employees can also register themselves as the drivers of specific vehicles, allowing fleet managers to identify who is driving, where and at what time.
Telematics firm Navman maintains that as the LCV telematics market matures, integrated solutions will inevitably encompass much more than basic track and trace, such as integrating various back- office functionalities including route planning, work order management and workforce management.
However, in the current economic climate Tony Neil, vice-president Europe, Navman Wireless, asserts that the priority for LCV fleet businesses must be to choose a telematics solution that can deliver maximum return on investment.
Neil says: “For that to happen, the system you choose must have the flexibility and capability to grow with the business as needs change and evolve.”
He cites the ability to easily add enhancements, such as integrated navigation, panic alarms or driver behaviour monitoring as useful functions to consider going forward.
“The benefit for LCV fleets are all around productivity, integrating job dispatch, routing and navigation solutions. These all help businesses ensure that routes are the quickest, the shortest and most efficient,” Neil explains.
For firms in the service industry, he says reducing time in transit is the key requirement, enabling them to increase billable hours.
In the local delivery business, accurate route planning enhances fuel efficiency and customer satisfaction, according to Neil. He adds that telematics systems offering a maintenance module can also help ensure fleet vehicles stay road legal while reducing vehicle downtime and ensuring duty of care compliance through vehicle safety checks.
Route Monkey believes data gathered from its software can help businesses select the most efficient vans for their operations based on routes, mileage and the loads their vehicles carry. In particular, it claims it can identify routes where an electric van might be the best option.
“We are constantly looking for new ways to combine data or integrate external functionality to give operators the best tools for running their fleets,” says boss Colin Ferguson.
Together with EDF Energy, Route Monkey has signed up as a partner in the Energy Saving Trust’s Plugged-In Fleets Initiative. It is using its Electric Vehicle Optimisation Software to help organisations such as Boots, London Fire Brigade, Network Rail and a number of county councils
and educational establishments integrate EVs into their fleets. With electric vans costing about twice as much as diesel equivalents from new, an accurate assessment of potential operational savings is vital. The firm says the software can gauge which existing routes are suitable for plug-in vans before the customer commits to buying them and, once the EVs are deployed, the software can maximise their use to cut fuel bills and CO2.
“Route Monkey can help make the integration of electric vehicles painless, efficient and cost-effective for fleet managers,” says Ferguson.
He claims EVOS is the first scheduling and optimisation software designed for EVs. It uses data from participating fleets to remove range anxiety by determining which routes fall within an EV’s range capacity. Route Monkey also supplies its software to conventionally fuelled fleets. Frozen food retailer Iceland is rolling out the scheduling technology across its 800 stores nationwide to maximise the number of customer deliveries from its 1300-strong fleet.
John Mackie, Iceland’s director of delivered sales, explains: “Route Monkey enables us to optimise the use of our fleet and driver resources, while also reducing our fleet mileage and emissions. This technology allows us to do more deliveries in fewer cumulative miles.”
Telematics provider Tracker aims its in-house Tracker Fleet Plus product at businesses of all sizes. The latest generation includes features such as Transient Voltage Detection, which measures engine idling time, and single or multiple inputs, which can connect to a number of external devices such as gritters, sweepers, power take-offs and vehicle doors. Key performance indicators are set by fleet managers and can include whether vehicles are exceeding their daily mileage allowances or going over the set speed limit, allowing managers to identify any inefficiencies in routes and any drivers who may be taking risks on journeys. A Driver Identification function is designed for businesses where employees drive multiple vehicles and where it is essential to know who is driving which vehicle and when. Each driver uses their personalised tag to identify themselves to the vehicle before starting the journey, allowing the Tracker Fleet website to be viewed from a driver perspective rather than by vehicle. A Driving Style module allows fleet managers to evaluate an individual and create a score based on acceleration, braking, cornering, speeding and idling.
Battery-powered modules ensure equipment with no built-in power supply such as trailers can be monitored, and mapping facilities come from Google Maps.
Cost reduction, accurate fuel monitoring, driver behaviour and operating as efficiently as possible are key concerns for LCV fleets still feeling the heat from the recession, and intelligent use of telematics can make  life easier, and more profitable.