The Nuts And Bolts Of Implementing Telematics

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Release date: 5/3/2018

The Nuts And Bolts Of Implementing Telematics
By Fiona Soltes

For those who still equate telematics with not much more than a “dot on the map,” there could be plenty more surprises coming. A new or upgraded solution may include unexpected costs for installation, hidden fees, and inconvenient vehicle downtime.

As telematics solutions continue to grow in features and complexity, then, it’s as important as ever to pay attention, to ask questions, and to dig deep into contracts and plans.

Generally speaking, said NAFA Associate Member Tom Kanewske, VP, Business Development, Derive Systems, “a simple contract is a good contract. The longer a contract is, the more you should turn a pointed eye towards it… Most of us aren’t lawyers. If it’s not built for you to read, that should tell you something.”

First Things First: The Right Provider NAFA Regular Member Patrick T. Barrett, MPA, CAFM®, Director, University Fleet Management, University of Nebraska, has finally landed on the right solution for his fleet: Vyncs Fleet Telematics OBD-II, installed in September 2017. Switching to a lower-cost service, he said, “we were able to triple our vehicles monitored for less than we were paying for the prior service.” Everything went as expected with the installation, and the organization even trained a service attendant to install the solution, empowering that employee with new tasks in addition to cutting costs.

But here’s the thing: It took a while to find the right provider. The university is now on its fourth one, he said, with each one progressively offering more information and lower costs. Hidden fees and unwelcome tactics from
previous providers included charges for units not yet provided, charges for cancelled units, cellular data charges, and taxes from other states when traveling.

Meanwhile, NAFA Regular Member James R. “Bob” McElheney, CAFM®, Director, Vehicle and Equipment Services, City of Newport News, Va., has seen challenges of his own. Back in 2014, the city installed driver cameras on refuse and waste trucks. The problem? The camera mounting location and instructions were in conflict with state inspection requirements.

“Virginia State Police worked with us to identify a compliant camera mount location that did not compromise the function of the camera,” McElheney said. “The sticking point was that the camera could not be mounted to the windshield, so we purchased a bracket that allowed us to mount the camera where the headliner meets the windshield.”

Lesson learned. With the chance to do it all over, he would have saved time, downtime, and costs with a closer review of requirements before the order was placed.

There’s been another lesson learned, too. In some cases, he said, the implementation work needed by a fleet’s own team (including, perhaps, IT) may be downplayed by a provider. “While not specifically a hidden fee, it is a cost that needs to be fully understood.”

Simple, Clear, and Upfront Derive Systems’ Kanewske has seen and heard some stories. Providers may renew an entire subscription when a new device is added, for example, keeping the company under contract longer than desired. In addition, because the RFP and procurement process can take so long, things can change along the way, and companies feel obligated to stick to what’s underway rather than starting over elsewhere.

Then there’s the provider who puts their best foot forward when closing the deal, but allows things to fall apart after

“You and the sales rep may negotiate a price, and one week down the line, they say, ‘Hey, by the way, for installation there is x amount of charge, and for the data plan, there’s y amount of charge,’” said NAFA Associate Member Pankaj Sharma, VP, Marketing, NexTraq. “It’s just a bad experience for the customer, and you don’t want that.”

To better that experience, companies like NexTraq and Derive Systems each speak of making things as simple, clear
and upfront as possible for the customer. Derive Systems, for example, has its own inhouse installation team, “roughly
15 people strong” that allows the installation middleman to be removed from the process. That way, Kanewske said,
quality control standards can remain high, customers know exactly what to expect upfront, and the installation team
understands the importance of working with the customer to perform the installation in the right way at the right time.
Installations may take place over the weekend, for example, at night, or spread over days in order to minimize vehicle

“It’s a 15-minute plug and play, and it’s super, super simple,” he said. “It’s a direct plug into the OBD-II port; we also produce our own Y cable, custom built just for us, so we can easily hide the hardware device and keep the native port open for diagnostic work.” With the inhouse team, he said, installation becomes a “collaborative process, and it’s about the way we can touch the most vehicles in the least amount of time without affecting their lives… We don’t view installations as a profit center, but as a delivery mechanism to get our product in play.”

NexTraq, which was acquired by Michelin in 2017, has a nationwide installation program, and offers a number of options to meet individual customer needs: fleets can receive the device, plug it in and be ready to go, or if they need an installation, an installer can come to that customer’s site to perform the service when most convenient. This is especially helpful for covert installations, Sharma said, in which the devices are mounted out of sight to help prevent tampering and/or theft, and to assist with recovery in the event a vehicle is ever stolen.

NexTraq offers both subscription and purchase plans, and the cost of installation is included. Also included is the price of equipment such as tablets, cabling, data service, data plan, etc.

“We incorporate everything,” Sharma said. “The idea is not to become a problem to the customer, but to solve the problem of the customer.” That problem-solving continues, he said, with the addition of two apps – one for drivers and one for managers – that help everyone better do their jobs in terms of time and attendance, tracking, GPS, safety, dispatch, maintenance, and more.

Multiple Systems, Lots of Data NAFA Associate Member Anthony “Tony” Bizjak, CAFM®, Fleet Operations Manager, Montgomery County (Md.) Fire and Rescue Service, has seen the installation and implementation of Geotab solutions in two different county fire/EMS fleets, as well as worked with other systems in private fleets. The only hiccup with the most recent installation in 2016-17 was that the OEM truck dealer was unaware of a harness change which “required some tech help from the telematics provider to rectify.”

Both installations were aimed at gathering data on hours, idling time and vehicle condition. His quest to get the most out of the systems continues.

In some fleet segments such as transit, fire/EMS, schools and public works, he said, vehicles are already using other types of communications devices like radios, cell links, camera feeds and fuel rings to feed data back to other systems.

“I’ve found instances where two different groups had different devices on the same vehicle feeding data separately
to each group,” he said. “I’m still looking for a cost-effective way to merge/ link the data stream collected from vehicle and access it through Computer Aided Dispatch System (CADS)/other comms to eliminate, for instance, the cell subscription cost for one system. I understand that other system owners are concerned about security and integrity of their data and protective of their systems. In discussions with other government agencies relative to monitoring fleet type data over the links that relay GPS, fare and other data, I’ve heard similar comments relative to the cost of operating multiple systems becoming burdensome with corresponding diminishing ROI.”

Open communication in all things, it appears, is the name of the game. Whether choosing, implementing, installing or
navigating the best use of a telematics solution, clarity and simplicity are key to reducing costs and unnecessary

“Ultimately, it boils down to, do you feel like there’s transparency in what the provider is talking about?” Kanewske asked. “Are they able to back it up? Are they generally being collaborative with you, going ‘open kimono’ to the extent that they can, and are they asking you to do the same?”