First published in the Forkliftaction.com News edition #875.
Five years ago, telematics was the buzzword in fleet and asset management. In 2018, it is believed that less than 20% of the 1 million forklifts in the USA use any sort of fleet or asset management tools. Melissa Barnett looks at the reality behind the stats, investigates whether it is a worldwide phenomenon and finds out where fleet and asset management is headed.
Telematics encompasses telecommunications, vehicular technologies, electrical engineering and computer science and has become synonymous with fleet management. Fleet telematics is more complicated again, with fleet managers needing quite complex data. Fleet telematics uses vehicle telematics to connect with a central authority to analyse data programmed by the fleet manager.
The fleet communication system is a database that can store information about vehicle position, statistics and messages sent from drivers, and diagnostics. By integrating this data into everyday business, fleet managers can create customised insights into how, for example, a fleet of forklifts operates, its economy of use, safety record, maintenance needs and environmental record.
But after such high expectations, has the uptake of telematics fallen short? Marietta Landsmann, senior manager digital products at Linde Materials Handling, believes that implementation of fleet management systems largely depends on where you are in the world and the size of a customer's forklift fleet. "There have been different developments in the different regions and these depend largely on the degree of digitisation of a country and the size of the client company," she says.
Pan Chee-Seng, executive director of Malaysian dealer group Mach1, thinks that the actual figure for fleet management systems in operation globally would be lower than 20%. "The low figure could be due to the high cost of hardware, software and Wi-Fi, a lack of understanding of the true benefits of a telematics management system, and the fact that most developing countries are focused on lower operational costs, (rather) than spending more money in telematics, " says Pan. "I also think there is a need to educate the decision-makers in a company about the long-term benefits of a telematics system. At the moment, there is a lukewarm response by company management: the top-down approach is not effectively taking place," Pan adds.
Terry Wickman, president of US-based company Keytroller, observes that there is a discrepancy between large and small companies in the use of telematics. "The real question is what percentage of large fleets, 10 or more, are currently using telematics? I am confident that the percentage of use is much higher in large fleets. MHI statistics show that 51% of all facilities in North America have less than 10 forklifts in use; that means that over 500,000 forklifts are in use in small fleets. Few, if any, of these small fleets use telematics," says Wickman. "Small fleets know who is driving, who is trained, who is doing the damage and what machines need servicing. This is also the reason telematics works so well for large companies - the ROI is there because of the high number of drivers and equipment," he explains.
While he believes 20% might also be a fair reflection of the global market, Richard Locke, business director at UK specialist technology company Davis Derby, says that the pace of change is a positive influence within the sector, "We fully expect things to change even more significantly over the next few years as the economy constantly shifts and data managers need clearer information at the push of a button."
John Valentine, director of new business for South African-based company Real Telematics, says that there are a number of factors to explain why fleet management systems have been slow to catch on. "It appears that part of the slow uptake is simply due to a focus on core functions (rather) than technology changes, and that customers are simply unaware that these options even exist. Advertising and market penetration has been limited at best, and when in play, has focused on new machines, when there is a far greater second-hand market up for grabs," says Valentine. He also believes that cost is not the issue: "Cost appears not to be the real barrier, but rather timing and a reliable, quality product. The days of fit and forget are gone and an ongoing long-term relationship is the way forward," he adds.
While take-up rates for telematics may not have reached the levels expected five years ago, that doesn't mean that fleet asset management systems aren't being integrated into fleet management.
Pan says that customers' expectations have changed in line with technological advances. "Customers now expect lower costs in maintaining a telemetry system. They want easy access to reports - anywhere and at any time - and they want to be able to link driving performance to individual KPI performance, such as bonuses and rewards. They also want a behaviour-based telematics system where, instead of drivers being told what to do or not do, they learn and avoid making mistakes with minimal reliance on the telematics system. I think the system has evolved from a 'control and deter' to an 'assist and improve' working experience for drivers and service providers," he says.
Wickman believes there is much wider acceptance of web-based and subscription-based plans, where the client has very little or no IT involvement with their forklift data. Modern cloud-based services offer high-level SOC (system on chip) data security and redundant backup of client data so the client's data is secure. The client need only open up the appropriate port for the forklift data to point to the proper IP address in the web.
More data on an event is now important to customers, says Valentine. "Customers do not just want exceptions or alert notifications, they want more detail on the event and action taken, or advice on the action to take. We also currently see a move to bureau-type services, where the customer has minimal interaction and the service provider 'runs the show', mostly because of resource constraints."
Landsmann says that there is a market for retrofitting fleet management systems, and that a growing number of Linde customers are choosing to modify their fleets. In 2017, one quarter of Linde's fleet management revenues were achieved with retrofitted solutions - in particular, Linde Connect. Safety has also been a key trigger, she adds. "Safety features were the most important trigger to invest in fleet management solutions in the past - and will continue to be so in the future. Compared to five years ago, we see that more and more customers use the whole bunch of fleet management functionalities - not only access control and crash detection, but also the usage analysis module."
Growth and flexibility around customers' needs is vital, says Locke. "Installing an intelligent driver access control and fleet management system used to be purely about a set process to assess and improve damage reduction. It traditionally focused on compliance but now it's more about maximising the value of their assets by exploring key information. Customers want specific data and ... all want intel on efficiency, cost and safety. The more information they can gather and interpret will ultimately improve productivity within their fleet and help modify business models for the future."
One of the main issues with fleet management systems has been the capacity to analyse the immense amount of data generated and the management of that data. With the development of off-site data storage systems, such as the cloud, third-party analysis services and cross-pollinators like the Internet of Things, both storage and analytics have become better.
Valentine sees more of the analysis responsibilities being outsourced to third parties. "We find there is an increasing shift to bureau-type solutions - where the responsibility for (data management) is simply delegated to another party. Where there are data requests, the questions seem to be more informed and very specific and there is a move to free-flow data mining in addition to specific reports and dashboards. Real Telematics offers all three - bureau, data dumps and auto-reporting, as well as ongoing R&D to make the analytics easier to read and work with," he says.
Increasing amounts of information and key analytics is something Davis Derby customers really value, says Locke. "Traditionally, fleet management systems used to manage and send large amounts of information to fleet managers, not all of it relevant to their requirements. Now the demand is for more focused information that can lead to specific actions. Davis Derby creates bespoke reports for each customer which helps them to drill down on detail and control the amount of information that flows through the business. We see data management becoming more proactive rather than reactive," says Locke.
Landsmann says: "Linde's Connect software serves as a kind of control centre for the fleet manager. Depending on need, the customer can choose from 37 interactive reports, including current diagrams, detailed usage information or forecasts of the expected forklift operating hours. The system can also take over many tasks, for example, sending an automated error code or maintenance due dates to the service technicians. Analysis is more often these days less a question of individual vehicles but of optimising the whole fleet."
According to Wickman: "A cloud-based subscription service frees the client from maintaining the database of forklift data, so there is little or no effort required by the client's IT department. Keytroller's cloud-based software can generate automatic emails as events hit the cloud database, alerting managers, supervisors and mechanics to do things like monitor abusive impacts and failed checklists, advise vehicle shutdowns and scheduled maintenance and even send video of the actual abusive impact showing 30 seconds after. The software can also send automated reports with graphs and charts that can be programmed by the user." The advantage of a cloud-based system is that Keytroller can view the same web data and screen that the client sees without the impediment of firewalls. "We can react very quickly to customer questions and problems (and) it also allows us to more effectively train their programmers. Our customer service people can review their device settings and make suggestions or changes to make the device and forklift run more efficiently with less," says Wickman.
While fleet management systems may not have been implemented on the scale many had anticipated, the initial issues, such as managing the data in a useful and targeted way and developing a sound product knowledge by both sales people and users, have come a long way. The usefulness of monitoring forklift efficiency and maintenance in a timely fashion is an invaluable tool and while currently integrated into large fleets, the value to smaller fleets or individual forklifts will be realised in time.
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