This feature originally appeared in the July 2020 edition of Fleet News. Read the digital issue of the magazine by clicking here
At a Fleet News roundtable a few years ago, one of the participating fleet managers described the use of telematics in their organisation as “like an octopus”.
He went on to say the data the technology produced was like the creature’s tentacles, spreading throughout the business, influencing how it operated as a whole.
It was a striking simile which applies to how telematics has worked for Kent and Essex Police. Its use of telematics led it to becoming a finalist in the most recent World Class Policing Awards.
Its citation reflected the transformational effect the technology has had on the forces’ operations.
It read: “Exploring new technology, the forces have jointly implemented a telematics fleet system based on a leading commercial monitoring/tracking solution to ensure vehicles are utilised to the best operational capacity.
“The result has been less bureaucracy for officers, reduced wastage, enhanced repair and maintenance scheduling, greater efficiency of vehicle use and improved vehicle availability.”
So, has the overall impact of telematics surprised the police forces’ transport services team?
“One of our struggles had been trying to get chief officers and the police forces to understand the value of knowing where all your vehicles are and how they are being used, and that was a hard sell because policing is a very traditional function,” says John Gorton, head of transport for Kent and Essex Police.
“We funded our telematics on the basis that all of the benefit from this will come from efficiencies and savings from the fleet.
“We knew damn well they were going to realise that telematics has got real operational benefits and our experiences have actually proven what we already knew.
“Operationally, they are now saying ‘this is brilliant, this is a really useful bit of kit. Can it do this, can it do that?’.”
Gorton says the outcome has been made more rewarding as instead of opting for L&A Consulting’s iR3 fully-integrated control room, it took the fleet management part of that system and adapted it to its needs, saving a significant amount of money.
The transport services departments of Kent Police and Essex Police were merged in 2011 to create a single operation, serving both forces.
As they had been managed separately, there were differences in the way they operated: for example, Essex Police used incident data recorders in its vehicles which captured information 20 seconds before and 10 seconds after an incident, while Kent Police used more sophisticated journey data recorders.
“The problem with (the journey data recorders)was there was lots of data that was quite difficult to analyse and it meant we were probably holding information about driving practices but not able to do anything with it because the reporting wasn’t sophisticated enough,” says Gorton.
“Both of those systems got to the point where they needed to be replaced, they were at the end of their lives, and our approach was we wanted to drive some fleet efficiencies.”
This was needed as the police – like all public sector organisation over the past decade – has faced Government austerity measures.
“Fleet efficiency is obviously very important,” says Gorton. “Are we getting maximum utilisation and availability from our vehicles?”
The Kent and Essex Police transport services team, which was named most improved fleet of the year in the 2016 Fleet News Awards, received Home Office funding through an Innovation Grant and installed its first 500 telematics units in 2015.
From January 2018, this rose to 1,400 vehicles. Certain vehicles, such as covert vehicles, are not fitted with telematics for operational reasons.
Before setting off on a journey, drivers scan a fleet card on a card reader in their vehicle, so journeys are allocated to the correct officer. This, itself, has resulted in efficiencies.
Tony Petts, fleet manager at Kent and Essex Police, says: “Drivers used to have to fill out a logbook and you may think this may take only 10 or 15 seconds, but when you are doing more than a million journeys a year, that’s a pretty significant time saving.”
The telematics system displays relevant data in a simple-to-use dashboard, using a green, amber, red traffic light system.
The dashboard has six panels including utilisation, accidents and damage, driver behaviour and the use of grey fleet, says Gorton, with the user able to drill down into the data if they need to.
“It gives an indication of how well we manage our resources,” he adds. “That’s important for our divisional commanders and senior leadership teams because they are, traditionally, entirely focused on front-line operational policing.
“We need them to concentrate on keeping people safe. Our job is just to make sure they are aware of the resources in a very simple way.”
The transport services team introduced its telematics system with the objectives of:
*reducing the number of miles travelled
* reducing fuel costs
* reducing the number of blameworthy collisions
* reducing grey feet use
* improving driver behaviour
* reducing bureaucracy
* improving vehicle availability
“Those objectives haven’t changed in the past five years,” says Petts. “What has changed is that, while the system was introduced for its fleet management benefits, the technology has proved to be an invaluable asset in many operational parts of the forces.”
Gorton says vehicle utilisation is an example.
“Suddenly, we were able to see the utilisation of the vehicles we had, where they were and the length of time they were spending at locations,” he adds.
“It was always the case when speaking to divisional commanders that there would be pressure from their officers that they needed more vehicles, but using telematics, we were quickly able to understand that they didn’t.
“In fact, lots of vehicles tended to spend time in a yard, sat there waiting to be used because an officer somewhere had got the keys in their pocket.
“The issue was actually that the vehicles we had weren’t accessible and available to the people who needed to use them.
“By knowing this, we were able to move away from a vehicle being ‘owned’ by a certain section or department, to them being at a location where they could be used by a number of teams.”
This, potentially, could have led to a smaller fleet, but, as both forces increased in size by 600 officers, it meant they didn’t need to add any vehicles.
“We’ve just absorbed that growth within the fleet we had and are not getting the feedback that we don’t have enough vehicles any more,” says Gorton.
“We can see – and more importantly divisional commanders can see – where the assets and resources are.”
In fact, the fleet has reduced by 10 vehicles since telematics was installed, while 49 vehicles have been redeployed with no loss of service.
Before telematics was introduced, force control rooms could locate only those vehicles which had their radios switched on, meaning they did not accurately know where other vehicles were due to officers carrying out duties with their radios off.
“One example where this has helped is when we had an incident in Dartford where a mechanical digger had dug out a cash machine from the front of a shop,” says Gorton.
“The force control room used the telematics so they could see all the police vehicles that were near, even the ones with the radios turned off, and they could work out the route and contact the drivers on their mobile phones and tell them ‘position yourselves’, and they got them.”
Officers stopped the digger by putting a stinger across the road.
“Telematics is a very effective tool when it is being used in that way,” adds Gorton.
The Kent and Essex Police transport services team has also used the telematics system as part of an initiative to reduce fuel costs: this includes diverting drivers away from using the more expensive filling stations.
“We’ve probably got 12,000 drivers across both forces and getting this number to change their habits when they’ve always used certain filling stations has been a real challenge,” says Gorton.
“But for a fleet that is doing upwards of 30 million miles a year, a seven or eight pence per litre difference adds up to tens of thousands of pounds.
“With our telematics system, we geofence those expensive filling stations, so if a driver goes to them to fill up, the system will automatically drop them an email to ask ‘why did you go there?’.”
This ability to geofence areas also has operational uses. When an incident occurs, the surrounding area can be geofenced and checked to see if any police vehicles, perhaps with their camera systems on, drove through the area at that time.
“You can also do it forwards and officers could be asked to patrol certain areas because they’ve had a lot of crimes there, so we can geofence the area and the system will tell you if they are where they should be,” says Gorton.
Petts adds: “Another example is we had complaints in Ashford that police officers were sounding their sirens.
“Normally we had to go to the logbook to see who was driving and do lots of investigation in that. But within five minutes we geofenced that location and identified there wasn’t a police vehicle in that locality.
“We could report back to the member of public that, sorry, it must have been another agency and we apologise for that.
“What could have been a lengthy investigation is now five minutes and it is sorted.”
The introduction of telematics has resulted in significant savings for the fleet operation. Petts says the team has saved £359,000 in cash and £584,000 in non-cashable savings, but the true figure is likely to be much larger.
“When you look that we’ve also redeployed 49 vehicles that’s potentially 49 times the capital purchase of vehicles as well,” he adds.
Key to the successful implementation of the telematics system has been the transport services team’s positive approach throughout the process.
“We haven’t looked at the telematics as being a punitive tool, we’ve looked at it as an encouraging tool,” says Petts.
Gorton adds: “It’s never used proactively to criticise someone’s driving or to discover poor driving activity. In fact, it’s the other way round: we use it quite proactively to identify the very best drivers and those that drive to a high standard, but are also good thief takers.
“When something happens, or there’s an unfortunate accident, then we will not only look at the incident, but we’ll look at the driving leading up to the incident and probably at that driver’s performance before that as well.
“If there is an incident, nine times out of 10, the telematics acts as a positive, independent defence for our officers’ activities.”
He adds: “Being in the fleet profession, we’ve always got a fairly dubious view of the quality of driving and how our vehicles are treated but,
actually, the telematics has reinforced the level of professionalism of our officers.”
The telematics system has also increased vehicle availability (see panel): it now stands at 97%, up from around 92% before the technology was introduced.
While most of the efficiency improvements telematics has brought to Essex and Kent Police’s fleet operation is familiar territory for the technology, Petts says it is important to keep an open mind on its potential for all organisations.
“Don’t limit yourself on what telematics can do,” he adds. “The chief constables in both forces have an infinity principle which tells you not to limit your thinking.
“We adopted that with telematics and found different opportunities that we were never expecting.
“Everything we look into we are finding ways and opportunities to do things differently or more efficiently and it’s been a real surprise to us in some cases.”
Gorton adds: “The other mantra that we kept up throughout this was to keep it simple.
“It’s easy to get carried away with a dozen different reports, etc.; you can look at this, you can look at that, but if you keep it really high level, really simple and do one or two things really well, you can take it from there.”
Petts agrees: “That’s a good point around keeping it simple.
"There are only three things telematics does and that’s tell you where you are, where you’ve been and how you’ve driven, and those three pieces of information have driven everything we’ve done.”
Vehicle availability increases to 97%
Kent and Essex Police’s transport services team has seen vehicle availability increase to around 92% before the telematics was installed to 97% now.
The technology has allowed the forces to move to “much more of a just-in-time system” for SMR, says John Gorton.
“Previously, an officer would book a vehicle in because it was due a service,” he adds. “We wouldn’t know it was coming because it relied on the officer to prompt the service for us.
“This meant the vehicle may have to wait three or four days and then we’ve got to buy parts etc.
“Now, because we’ve got the data flowing from telematics, the vehicle comes in, we’ve got the parts, it gets worked on and it goes straight out again.
“The average time for a vehicle in our workshop is 1.2 days – most vehicles are in and out the same day – because a lot of our vehicles need some additional fettling as well as the servicing.
“That’s pretty good for any commercial workshop, let alone some of the stuff we have to deal with.”
The telematics system also allows the fleet team to switch high-use and lower-use vehicles to balance out the wear and tear, which has helped make SMR regimes more precise.
The impact of Covid-19
John Gorton believes the forces will be making even greater use of telematics data to bring efficiencies in light of the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
He says: “There’s not much more we can do to reduce the operating costs for a standard vehicle so efficiencies and savings will come from using telematics to make sure police officers have access to the right vehicles and that they’ve being used in the most effective way.”
For advice from Gorton on managing the Covid-19 crisis from a fleet perspective, click here.