Mention the word telematics and the vast majority of the population would probably not have a clue as to what you were talking about.
However, within the inner circle of the fleet world, telematics is big. So big, in fact, that by 2013 industry experts estimate that the European market could be worth more than £6bn.
But with the recent economic turmoil forcing companies to tighten their financial belts, is now the best time to splash out on expensive systems? It’s true that telematics systems can be costly but the benefits they bring will often outweigh any initial expenditure.
Many fleet managers have already invested in this technology and are reaping the benefits.
However, before you rush out and buy the latest vehicle tracking system perhaps you need to ask just what will it do for you. More to the point, how can it save you money?
Often the real issue for fleet managers is not whether to invest in a telematics system but to discover just exactly what it can do to make the fleet more efficient.
The telematics system has grown up; it’s now far from a simple way of locating and recovering stolen vehicles and is fast becoming the accepted way for fleet managers to control and organise not just their vehicles but also their workforce.
“The initial benefits of tracking and telematics came from simply knowing where your vehicles were, enabling any business to get a more accurate reflection of what their fleet was doing,” says Andrew Yeoman, managing director of Trimble MRM.
“Many businesses saw incredible benefits simply from being able to record accurate time sheets, stopping unnecessary journeys and recognising and stopping drivers taking long routes.
"But as telematics has matured there has been a step change and businesses are now starting to understand the value of the data you can get from telematics and are moving away from just location-based information.”
Today’s telematics systems are able to offer CAN-Bus integration which can tell you how a vehicle is being driven, any faults that are occurring in real time and even CO2 emissions.
This type of detailed information allows fleet managers to obtain a more accurate reading of fuel consumption, the vehicle’s overall condition and to gauge who the better and poorer drivers are on their fleet, enabling them to offer training to those that need it the most.
“There has been a shift over the last few years away from systems that simply give vehicle locations,” agrees Steve Towe, director of Cybit.
“The key interest for fleet managers is cost reduction.
But when they’re looking at implementing telematics they are looking for solutions that do more than show basic vehicle movements but have the analysis to help solve enterprise-wide cost, efficiency and compliance issues as well as adding value for years to come.
“So one of the key factors in buying decisions is now how the solution extends beyond vehicle tracking and integrates into the enterprise.
"This is a marked shift away from looking at stand-alone, proprietary systems that tell you where you vehicles are.”
Stephen Doran, managing director of Tracker, agrees that fleets are looking for additional benefits when they buy into a new technology.
“We are increasingly seeing fleet managers use telematics to reduce their operating costs and one way they can do this is by analysing areas such as driver performance – if the behaviour of the driver can be monitored and changed, vehicles can be driven in a more efficient manner,” he says.
“This, in turn, leads to lower fuel bills and maintenance costs, fewer accidents and ultimately higher residual values.”
It seems that saving fuel is high on the fleet manager’s agenda, especially amid fears that the French oil blockade is set to push up petrol prices in the UK to record levels.