Fleet News

Telematics: It’s a no-brainer on cost

IN five years’ time, all vans will come equipped with ‘spy-in-the-cab’ technology as standard, predicts Neil Kelly, director of telematics firm Minorplanet.

Until then, it is up to people like him to persuade Britain’s hard-nosed commercial vehicle managers that they should cough-up cash for aftermarket systems that will save money in the long run and improve the firm’s duty of care responsibilities.

Make no bones about it – it’s a tough job. So far, according to Kelly, no more than 7% of vans up to 3.5-tonnes gross vehicle weight have telematics devices fitted.

That’s a surprising figure when you look at the systems on offer. It’s a no-brainer.

For as little as £1 per vehicle per day, fleets will save on fuel and wear and tear, while having the opportunity to keep tabs on their drivers every minute of the working day.

Kelly told Fleet Van: ‘At present it’s a huge market worth £875 million a year across Europe but once systems are fitted as standard at production stage, that market could multiply by a factor of 20.’

So what is stopping the other 83% of the UK’s van fleet operators from jumping on the technology bandwagon?

‘It’s mainly down to the way telematics is promoted,’ said Kelly. ‘Firstly, fleet operators have to realise how cheap it is. We reckon a £10,000 investment in a new system will pay for itself in about six or seven weeks. Also the technology has to be simple. If you make it too hard, fleet managers will just walk away. Our systems are sophisticated but are simple to use.’

Minorplanet was one of the first telematics firms on the market, having been set up 10 years ago.

It suffered in the early days as research and development costs were huge and systems did not interact with each other.

Technology was still moving ahead at a staggering rate.

Kelly said: ‘Now the internet has come of age, things are getting simpler. All of a sudden some of the more old-fashioned people have discovered that technology is acceptable and can be of use to them.’

However, this has produced its own set of problems, mainly because a huge number of smaller players have now entered the market, hoping for a slice of that £875 million pie. Kelly had a stern warning for fleets thinking of opting for one of the cheaper systems.

He said: ‘There are hundreds of little ‘track and trace’ systems on the market but they are not really up to scratch for fleet purposes. Minorplanet can offer a whole range of relevant information that these small systems can’t.’

So what exactly does the van fleet operator get for his £1 per vehicle per day?

The basic Minorplanet package is a ‘track and trace’ system which can be linked to the vehicle’s security system.

The operator can view on a PC screen the location of all his vehicles and, if stationary, how long they have been standing still. Thus if a service engineer’s van has been sitting outside No 28 Grope St for an hour while the work should have taken 30 minutes, the operator can buzz the engineer on his mobile phone and find out why.

Add-on paid-for extras include intelligent sat-nav systems that will relocate vans to avoid traffic queues, scheduling capability which will arrange the quickest delivery routes and designated ‘watch boxes’ which will alert the operator by email if a van enters certain restricted areas.

But surely, we asked, drivers are not going to submit to such a ‘big brother’ approach without a fight?

Not so, argues Kelly. He said: ‘When introducing systems to vans, you have to get the drivers on your side first. There are many benefits for both drivers and companies, and the drivers will see this. One way is to put them on a productivity bonus. If they normally make five calls a day and the system means they can make six, it will pay them to use it.

‘Also under duty of care regulations, people seem to forget that it cuts both ways. The company has a duty of care to its employees, but the employees have a duty of care to give a fair day’s work to the firm.

‘The only people who would object to a system like this are the ones who have something to hide.’

So what will systems of five years hence be like? For starters, says Kelly, they will be fitted as standard when the van is built. And they’ll be able to do much more than today’s ones, as the various technologies across the country link up.

They will be able to deal with any road charging payments and could be used to work out insurance premiums, as the insurance company will be able to see from the ‘track and trace’ element how safe the driver is.

Also in the event of an accident, the van itself will be able to tell the ambulance headquarters where it is and what speed it was travelling at the time of the accident, allowing paramedics to judge the likely severity of any injuries.

  • Log on to www.minorplanet.co.uk

    Firm finds system improves customer service and saves cash

    HERE we look at how one van fleet is cashing in and improving its efficiency too by opting for a telematics system

    R W Armstrong & Sons is a chartered building company specialising in residential refurbishment – mainly country and period homes.

    With turnover having trebled to £15 million over the past five years, the company employs a workforce of 160 – including 120 uniformed craftsmen – and runs a fleet of 16 Ford Transits, plus two ancilliary vehicles.

    The fleet operates within a 50-mile radius of the company’s Basingstoke base.

    Managing director Nigel Armstrong said the company’s investment in GPRS vehicle tracking technology has brought about marked improvements to customer service, complemented by cost savings of £60,000 per year. He said: ‘We decided three years ago when the vehicles came up for renewal that the time was right to install a tracking system.

    Our principal motivation was to improve customer service by optimising the use of working time at the beginning and end of each day and to eradicate frustrating customer quibbles over hours that tradesmen had spent on site.’

    He researched three separate telematics options before selecting the Quartix real-time tracking solution. He said: ‘The deciding factors were the provision of a managed service – offering an advanced level of detail, together with the system’s ease of use and cost-effectiveness. For me the daily, emailed tracking logs are the most useful feature of the system – to verify working hours and also to keep a check on any personal use of vehicles.’

    He was aware of a loss of working time at each end of the day but was unable to quantify it. He said: ‘My original intention was to install the tracking system unannounced and run it for a few weeks with a view to gaining a useful ‘before’ and ‘after’ comparison. However, official guides to workforce monitoring advise against covert installations.’

    So how did the workforce react to the new system? Armstrong said: ‘In general, employees tend to fall into two categories – the ones who unerringly stick to the rules and the ones who are more inclined to bend them for their own benefit.

    ‘Needless to say the former group – 90% of our mobile workforce – didn’t have a problem with the introduction of tracking. We just had to clarify to the truculent 10% that those with nothing to hide have nothing to fear from trackers… and they took it in their stride. It’s helpful to reassure the workforce that it will be used in a ‘housekeeping’ rather than disciplinary role.’

    Recalling the installation process Armstrong said: ‘All our new vehicles were fitted with tracking units pre-delivery and I’ve been impressed by the ease and speed with which Quartix can move units between vehicles if required.

    ‘All vans are now on site at 8am prompt and remain until 5pm. This has a dual impact on cost savings – we are no longer paying for unproductive time and the firm is saving £250 per day by gaining at least 15 minutes working time from upwards of 80 skilled craftsmen. The tracking service has also stemmed losses that would sometimes occur through customers contesting labour-hours on their bills. The logs provide clear evidence of craftsmen’s presence on site.’

    Armstrong offers the following advice to companies considering investing in advanced vehicle tracking technology: ‘I would advise anyone with a mobile workforce to get the system installed to make significant cost savings and improve both productivity and customer service.’

  • For details, visit www.quartix.net.
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