Counting the cost of telematics

By Maria Hadlow14 January 2009

Ian Keam-George believes that it is essential to establish your business case before investing in te

Ian Keam-George believes that it is essential to establish your business case before investing in telematic fleet management

The benefits that telematics technology can brings to fleet management may depend very much on how much homework you do. Here are some of the things you should consider.

The technology to keep a watchful eye on your access equipment remotely is freely available. There are companies who specialise in telematics solutions and increasingly manufacturers are adding value by offering machines with telematics already in place.

JLG offers the option of a full telematics system for its combustion engine booms, Wumag offers remote monitoring with some of its larger truck units and mast climber manufacturers such as Alimak Hek and Raxtar also have systems.

Many customers are persuaded to buy telematics systems for theft prevention - or to ease recovery of stolen items. However, by far the most commonly stolen items are compressors and small excavators. Apparently access platforms are rarely targeted by thieves so why invest in a telematics system for your access fleet.

Remote monitoring can bring a range of additional benefits but how successful implementation is can depend very much on getting the right system for you.

Telematic systems work by an electronic device attached to the machinery relaying data via a GPS , satellite or radio signal back to the fleet manager. The hardware, available from a number of manufacturers , can collect a wide or narrow range of data and is available for a range of applications and conditions.

According to Ian Keam -George, chief executive of Enigma Vehicle Systems, speaking at the Europlatform Conference in Maastricht in September, The first step is to figure out what the business case is for using telematics in your company.

German company Rösler says its tele-diagnostics systems can help service and support personnel to find out reliably what the sources of a problem is on, say a work platform on a customer's site. Descriptions of faults given over the telephone and limited understanding of the malfunction can waste a lot of time. If engineers know exactly what is wrong when they go out to a machine they can ensure that they take the correct spares and equipment.

Simple problems like battery voltage or emergency shut down can be often be sorted out quickly and, for the most part solved over the telephone. Any operating and error condition messages which operators read at the machine controller can also be queried and evaluated via-tele-diagnostics.

More efficient servicing using tele- diagnostics gives rise to a number of benefits to both the customer and the rental company. The customer does not waste time and productivity waiting for an engineer to fix a problem he could have managed himself. The rental company uses its service engineers more efficiently by ensuring the engineer only goes to jobs that need his attention and when he arrives he has the right parts. The fleet owner also gains a marketing advantage and potentially loyal custom.

Martin Heinz international sales & business development manager at Rösler told Access International that he had a customer who had increased profit by 30% through the use of the Rösler tele-diagnostics system.

Much of this benefit came from the customer being able to accurately gauge how much his machines were being used and charging appropriately.

Anecdotal evidence is not without its value but how do you give a value to these and other benefit engendered by using a telematics system? Ian Keam-George who's company markets the Skyline Advanced Tracking Systems calculates the cost benefit equation as follows :

Capital Cost + Running Costs x number of months = whole life cost

Typically, he says a fleet of 200 units would have direct costs amounting to €20.00 per unit per month and the amount you can offset against this cost to calculate the benefit is surprisingly nothing.

"There isn't a supplier out there," said Mr Keam George, "Who can tell you what you are going to save unless you know what it is you want to achieve."

"It's very much down to the individual business," he said. "Some people (mostly men)," he confided get over excited by the technology, "Women tend to be more hard nosed about the benefits."

Unless the business case and issues have been fully considered before deployment and all those involved have a clear idea of their objectives, key priorities and have chosen a partner who will work with you to understand how to use the data.

Alongside the servicing, accurate information on machine usage and ante-theft benefits what else should you consider?

In combination long searches for machinery at a large job site can be prevented through exact positioning.

A customised electronic key can identify the operator and helps to ensure that only those with appropriate training, for example a PAL Card are operating your equipment. Identifying the operator also helps to trace damage back to an individual.

On a large jobsite it enables a machine to be easily found, either for service or pick-up. The system can also help you plan maintenance and servicing scheduling.

Make it work for you

Ian Keam-George says that it is important not to get carried away by the technology and to be realistic as to what the systems can achieve. You may also have to compromise on your requirements as no one device will do everything. You should consider carefully how the data is going to be used and who will be using it. Understand your own business and that of your customers and speak to others in the industry about their experiences. And do not buy on price alone, chose the product that most exactly matches your application.

Mr Keam-George recommends a modest yet demanding trial, you should implement a roll-out plan and not move to the next stage until it has been completed. Regular review meetings are essential and the project should be halted if agreed targets are not being met. "If it's wrong take it out," says Mr Keam George, "Which is why you start small."

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