Data is great, but without a plan to leverage it, it will just be noise.
by Steve McGough
January 30, 2013

Telematics is becoming a popular buzzword in the construction industry, as companies look to improve fleet management with GPS units that communicate data over wireless networks. Several factors are driving the growth of telematics, including strong anecdotal evidence of the benefits, equipment manufacturers offering integrated GPS systems as standard features and the industry setting telematics standards that will make it easier to aggregate data across a mixed fleet. There is even a next-generation movement with telematics 2.0, in which companies will couple data from GPS units with reporting from workers’ smartphones and tablets for more detailed analysis and reporting.

Working on a laptop at a jobsite
More data is great, but if you don’t have a plan for leveraging it, the information will just be noise. To maximize their investment in telematics, construction businesses should start with the end in mind and envision the types of reporting and alerts they want from the system, including how that information will be used to achieve results.

There are two basic methods for reviewing telematics data: alerts and reports. Alerts notify someone when an incident occurs or a threshold is exceeded, and reports,  which usually contain more detailed information, are reviewed on a routine, proactive basis. Depending on your needs, one of these may be more useful than the other, but it is likely that you will want a combination of both.

Alerts 
Alerts are helpful because they are a “set it and forget it” type of system. For example, a telematics system may send an email to a supervisor to alert him when a piece of equipment is started up outside of normal working hours or when a company vehicle is being driven at an excessive speed. Alerts can also be set up in your business software systems, such as flagging a piece of equipment due for maintenance whenever its meter reading reaches a certain threshold. 

Alerts work especially well for users that need only the “what” and not the “why,” such as a field service technician who simply needs an email telling him when a piece of equipment is due for a 250-hour service and where it is located.

Reports 
Telematics reporting, on the other hand, works well when you are looking for trends or trying to find outliers or bottlenecks. A good telematics system should give you standard reports but also allow you the flexibility to create reports based on your business needs.

Managers use telematics reporting to review historical trends and analyze data so they can make changes in their operations. For example, they may want to compare fuel consumption data between two brands of dozers. To perform the comparison, they will need a telematics system that provides the ability to view data on the machines for a certain date range and perhaps filter results based on working or jobsite conditions. A telematics system should allow this type of drill-down reporting.

A telematics reporting system should also offer options for both text-based reports and more quantitative, chart- and graph-based reports. A safety manager examining driver behavior may need detailed text-based reports with a row of detailed data about each driver. Conversely, other end users, such as project managers looking at daily productions from cycle or load counts or trucking dispatchers monitoring real-time graphs of trucks stacking up on a job, will find charts and graphs more useful.

How to Choose a Reporting System
Consider several points when choosing a reporting system for telematics. Telematics planning discussions with the management team should address the following questions:

  • What are our top pain points? Do they include controlling rental costs, keeping up with preventive maintenance, maximizing efficiency, eliminating bottlenecks or finding lost equipment? Make a detailed list.
  • Do we need an alert system, reporting system or both? Put some thought into the different alerts and reports that you want from your telematics, and then work backward to ensure the system can support your needs.
  • Does the data need to integrate with the company’s current software system? Do you have accounting, dispatching or equipment maintenance software that you will need to integrate with your telematics data? If you have a mixed fleet from multiple manufacturers with their own GPS systems, how will you integrate all of them into one system?
  • Who are the end users, and what are their needs? Who needs to receive alerts, and how will they be notified? Who needs reporting capabilities, and what reports will they need to run?
  • Do we need real-time production reporting? If so, how will you access the data from the field and aggregate it into a single system?
  • How long do we need to keep historical data? Make sure the system you design keeps data long enough to run historical trend reports. A trend report covering the past year won’t work if one of your telematics vendors deletes data after 60 days. Make sure you understand how long your data will be kept, where it will be kept and whether you will need to periodically import data into your own database.
  • Where are we receiving telematics data from? Make a list of your equipment, detailing the types of GPS systems, and figure out how to aggregate that data. Some early adopters of telematics have had to access multiple vendor websites to get their telematics data, and that has hindered alerts and reporting. Look for a single interface where you can access all of your data.

Telematics is a rapidly growing technology, and reports of companies reducing rental costs, eliminating bottlenecks and finding lost equipment are making this an attractive investment for business owners. To maximize the value of your telematics system, take time to plan your alerts and reports. Identify two or three problem areas that you feel telematics can help you solve. Then consider the staff that will be using the system and what level of analysis or alerting they will need. Once you plan for these factors, you will have a strong foundation for selecting an effective telematics reporting system that can impact your operations.