A supply chain is only as efficient and responsive as the data that powers it. Luckily, the number of data sources for supply chain management is constantly increasing. And one technology that truly provides an enormous amount of information to transport and logistics companies is telematics. It is then not surprising that supply chain companies are heavily investing in telematics technologies. But what exactly is telematics?

What is telematics?

First coined by French scientists in 1978, telematics is a combination of two words, “telecommunications” and “informatics”. In a broad sense, it is the technology of sending, receiving and storing information using telecommunication devices to control remote objects. However, in this article we will focus on a narrower meaning of telematics, the most commonly associated with the term today - we are going to talk about telematics solutions utilized in commercial fleet vehicles.

The core of the telematics system includes a vehicle tracking device installed in the vehicle, which allows transmitting, receiving and storage of telemetry data. It is connected through the vehicle's own on-board diagnostics (ODBII) or a CAN-BUS port with a SIM card, while the on-board modem can communicate through a wireless network.

Crucial elements of telematics systems

While different telematics systems provide different kinds of features, powered by different technologies, some of them are used in most solutions. Let’s take a look at them:

Engine Control Unit (ECU) - is an electronic control unit that controls a series of actuators on an internal combustion engine to ensure optimal engine performance. It does this by reading values from a multitude of sensors within the engine bay. Some types of data that we can get from ECU includes speed of the vehicle, how the brakes were used, engine’s temperature and oil pressure, as well as distance travelled and diagnostic trouble codes.

GPS tracking - a satellite-based radionavigation is a major component of a telematics system, providing crucial data such as the location of a vehicle at any given time, as well as its speed and location in reference to geo-fence.

Video cameras - a relatively young addition to telematics systems, video cameras allow us to track drivers actions before, during and after an incident. It can also be helpful in providing information about road conditions, behavior of other vehicles, as well as the status of cargo.

Electronic logging devices - long gone are the days when drivers had to fill in multiple forms to log the time of their work. Today, electronic logging devices take care of it, providing all the required features in an efficient and secure way.

Other sensors - while we already mentioned Engine Control Unit, it’s not the only part of the vehicle that is monitored. The possibilities are limitless - from sensors measuring the state of the in-truck refrigerator to sensors in tires and other wheel-end components. Functioning of every single part of the vehicle can be tracked, with the data acquired helping to improve the processes.

As we already know what telematics is and what are the crucial elements that compose it, it’s time to get to know the reasons why telematics systems are such important factors for transport and logistics companies to succeed. 

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The value of vehicle telematics

While it is important to mention that the benefits of using telematics systems vary between different branches of the transport and logistics industry, some of them are universal and apply to almost all companies. 

Here’s a look at 15 major ways of how telematics systems can benefit supply chain companies:

Increased Resource Utilization - real-time overview of the entire fleet gives the unique opportunity to use the company's assets in the most efficient way possible. By knowing the status of every vehicle, its delay time, estimated time of arrival, as well as road conditions, the company can proactively adjust its actions to reduce waste of resources. 

Higher Service Levels - one of the major benefits gained through telematics systems is the transparency of the entire supply chain. Customers can finally track their orders and multiple sensors inside of the vehicles allow them to even monitor and control the conditions that their goods are being transported in. 

Reduced operating costs - telematics systems help to save money in several different ways. Think about how much money can be saved on fuel by reducing even a few minutes of idling time across the entire fleet. Better resource utilization means that drivers are not wasting their time, reducing operating costs as well.

Monitoring of habits - telematics tracks the behavior of drivers, whether they follow the regulations and company’s promoted practices. The data gathered on drivers’ behavior is an extremely valuable input for further training. It can highlight issues that might’ve been unnoticed otherwise. 

Better Operator Performance - data produced by telematics systems is used to create visual reports and dashboards for operators and dispatchers. This way, with more information on hand, they can be much more helpful to drivers, guiding them on the easiest and fastest routes, the status of the order, situation at the borders etc.

Sustainability - as sustainability has become one of the major goals for transport and logistics companies, telematics systems are the tools that can truly help them go greener. Transport generates 14% of the world’s greenhouse gases, but minor changes using telematics can make a big difference. It can be achieved through lower fuel wastage and distances driven.

Increased safety - constant monitoring of truck components can signal defects and technical issues way before they can become a threat to driver’s safety. Monitoring of drivers undesirable behavior - whether it’s speeding, not wearing seat belts or driving too close to other vehicles - can also be done by telematics systems. Even the sole awareness of being monitored leads to a better behavior on the road.

Bigger picture - while telematics systems prove to be extremely helpful to individual drivers and operators, they also produce incredibly important data for company’s decision-makers, which allows them to allocate resources better and create more realistic strategies.

Increased job satisfaction - electronic logs make drivers’ work much easier, which leads to their increased job satisfaction. It is an especially important factor on markets with labour shortages, where employee retention is crucial.

Integration of different modes of transport - when a telematics system is applied to different types of transport, it can be a great tool to increase intermodality. The data provided by different transport units can be used to align them, making the transfer of orders between different transport modes smooth and efficient.

Proactive maintenance of vehicles - while the regular maintenance is based on recommended checking periods, telematics systems provide information on the real condition of different parts of the vehicle, which can be used to proactively fix issues. 

Enhanced security - telematics systems help to store both company and personal data in a safe way. Mobile technology has rendered paper records obsolete, making acquired data safer. 

Promotion of good practices through gamification - some telematics systems allow drivers to get points or rewards when they apply their company’s guidelines in their way of driving. This element of gamification helps to promote good practices among drivers, which leads to increased safety. 

As we went through major benefits of telematics systems, it’s time for a few real world examples of telematics systems that are proving to be some the best on the market.

Great examples of telematics systems

Webfleet

Webfleet Solutions, known as TomTom Telematics until October 1st 2019, is one of the world’s leading telematics solution providers, dedicated to fleet management, vehicle telematics and connected car services. Its main Software-as-a-Service solution WEBFLEET is used by businesses of all sizes to improve vehicle performance, save fuel, support drivers and increase overall fleet efficiency.

Webfleet enables its customers to share shipment information across different means of transport via open APIs. In this way, their complete delivery process can be seamlessly traced - in compliance with legal and data protection regulations. 

Fleetboard

Daimler FleetBoard GmbH is one of the leading European-wide suppliers of telematics supported Internet services for trucks, vans and buses. The modular FleetBoard services support logistics companies in the optimal handling of inter-city, distribution and construction site transport and in reducing fleet operating costs.

Dynafleet

Dynafleet is Volvo Trucks’ online fleet management system for improved profitability. Dynafleet helps haulage companies to take full control over their transport operations and vehicle fleet. Through the Dynafleet web application, you can check the current location of your trucks, monitor how much fuel they are consuming, check their driven routes, driver times and much more.

Scania Fleet Management

Scania Fleet Management helps you identify and use the key details needed to increase the productivity of your fleet. The system is already installed in all new Scania trucks. Scania Fleet Management consists of three different service packages: Monitoring, Control and Data Access.

Conclusions

As no one can already imagine the transport and logistics industry without telematics, we can only expect its importance to grow even more. Big amounts of data gathered and analyzed by telematics systems help transport companies to utilize their resources more efficiently, save money, reduce CO2 emissions, increase safety and make drivers work easier.

The advancements in technology allow us to begin measuring more and more things, increasing the amount of data we gather. Soon, only those transport and logistics companies that are able to effectively analyze and use this data will have a future on this incredibly competitive market.