Embedded onboard computers remain the workhorses of fleet telematics, but brought-in devices make gains. Jessica Royer Ocken reports.
Everyone else in the world is addicted to their smartphone or tablet, so why not truck drivers and managers of commercial fleets? The answer very much depends on whom you ask.
“A lot of the [interest in] bring-your-own technology is hype,” says Andrew Maliszewski, information, technology and business development consultant at Maliszewski Consulting. “We’ve let ourselves be carried away without looking at the use cases.”
Those use cases have typically been dirty, dusty cabs of heavy-duty trucks and construction equipment, not places where one would bring a sleek tablet and expect it to survive for more than a few weeks.
Hence, the overwhelming reliance, thus far, on embedded onboard computers that can stand the use and abuse, and that can be relied upon to provide highly accurate and tamper-proof tracking data.
But as hardware prices fall and smaller fleets embrace commercial telematics to save money and improve efficiency, brought-in devices, whether they are tablets or smartphones, are starting to grow in importance.
(For more or smaller fleets, see Fleet telematics and the growth of the local delivery sector. For more on smartphone fleet solutions, see Q&A: Smartphones as the gateway to fleet telematics.)
Brought-in devices rally
Viktor Bielko, fleet business unit director at Sygic, a Slovakia-based provider of GPS navigation software, says the growth in smartphone-based fleet management solutions started around 2011, when the first of Sygic’s clients asked for an Android-based navigation solution.
Now 30% to 40% of Sygic’s 300 customers are deploying their fleet solutions on smartphones, and within two or three years a majority will, Bielko says.
“Companies will be pushing for as low cost as possible, and OEM producers of onboard units are not able to compete with smartphones in terms of the price and in terms of the latest technology,” he says. “So I see there will be a strong move to smartphones.”
Smartphones have already carved out a niche in the independent contractor segment, where they supplement expensive tracking equipment. And they are also making inroads in the logistics sector as substitutes for enterprise digital assistants (EDAs).
Embedded systems to dominate long-haul
However, managers of larger, long-haul fleets will likely continue to stick with embedded equipment, Maliszewski believes. They want reliability and quality above all else because of the “criticality of what you’re doing is key,” he says. “You can’t afford to have a disgruntled employee throw a device out the window, or say it’s broken.”
That is also the view of major truck manufacturers who pride themselves on seamless integration of fleet telematics with their trucks and mistrust brought-in devices.
“There is no replacing manufacturer-installed, embedded telematics,” says Filip Van Thielen, a sales and marketing representative for Mercedes-Benz vans and trucks, as well as Daimler FleetBoard. “We are the only ones who have access to accurate vehicle data, and I am quite convinced that we will not open up this data to third-party suppliers of commercial telematics.”
He also believes an embedded system is essential to optimal vehicle performance. “More and more technology is integrated into the truck, and it’s finally this technology that will make the truck the efficient tool that the manufacturer claims it to be,” he says.
While the use of mobile devices may offer cost savings to smaller operations, particularly those where the owner and operators know one another personally and maintain a high level of trust, Maliszewski says none of his clients (larger firms in the areas of transportation, healthcare, and security and defense) is planning a large-scale implementation.
Some use tablets for 10% or 15% of their business, “but no one tells me, ‘Wow, that’s going to increase tremendously,'" he says.
Still, there is a case to be made for mixed fleets.
“With the rollout of higher bandwidth data services and the cost of airtime and technology dropping in the last five years, tablets and smartphones are making their way back into the enterprise and into the truck cab,” says Shawn M. Meredith, manager for strategy and solutions, aftermarket service products - telematics division, Daimler Trucks North America.
The trend has also buoyed interest in easy-to-use aftermarket products as evidenced by the runaway success of TomTom WEBFLEET, which already has more than 20,000 customers and more than 250,000 vehicles managed.
Most “businesses have a mixed fleet of different vehicle brands and models — and light commercial as well as heavy vehicles,” says Patrick Aalbers, TomTom’s marketing director.“An aftermarket [solution] provides a one-stop shop for companies to manage their entire fleet and to easily maintain this over time.”
TomTom WEBFLEET customers range from small- and medium-sized businesses to large corporate fleets, and they’ve not had a durability problem with TomTom LINK, which is installed under the dashboard, or TomTom PRO onboard units, which include a fixed mount for inside the cab and protective accessories for when the device is outside the vehicle, he says.
“Truckers appreciate the TomTom PRO for its truck-specific routing and the other features that help them do their work more efficiently," Aalbers says. "[This] makes them treat the device with care.” And beyond this sort of durability, TomTom’s fleet management system also has ISO 270001 certification for data protection, which makes it reliable in that regard as well.
(For more on integrated solutions, see Fleet telematics and integrated solutions.)
High potential for coexistence
Whether embedded or brought-in, there seems to be room for both approaches. Even Van Thielen sees a “high potential for coexistence” in the future.
“When you are very satisfied with your own transport management system — and the big shipping companies all have them — it makes no sense to force you to switch to our own FMS system, only because you buy 20 Mercedes trucks,” he says. Integrating the two offers “the best of both worlds: You keep the system you are happy with, and you get a lot of technical data on your truck from our onboard computer.”
Fredrik Callenryd, a business analyst at Scania, does not see a lot of room for brought-in devices in vehicle-centric solutions, however. “If you are going for a vehicle-centric or OEM-based offering, an embedded solution is probably the best,” he says. “But for a driver-centric application, a smartphone could be a solution.”
Jessica Royer Ocken is a regular contributor to TU.
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