CEG Industry Blog

Public Sector Managers Need Telematics, Too

📅   Thu January 12, 2017 - Edition
Giles Lambertson


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Public sector managers that are responsible for a fleet of vehicles or equipment should be using the “Internet of Things” to manage the machines and their operators. This conclusion is indisputable. To do otherwise is to ignore the proven benefits of telematics.

Telematics uses telecommunications to connect in real time a mobile unit with a base station (and handheld stations), where transmitted data is monitored and analyzed. That is, data is sent from a sanitation department inspector's SUV or a county road crew's skid steer to a computer in the office. When the collected information is properly managed, the sanitation inspector may be shown a more efficient inspection routine and the skid steer operator can see how certain habits waste fuel.

Unfortunately, the technology of telematics is underutilized for public sector equipment and vehicle fleets. The General Services Administration finally purchased a system for federal agencies in 2015, the same year Louisiana was the first state to install a GPS system on its entire 10,500-vehicle fleet. Indiana moved to do the same last year. Some other states have pilot programs. This is a beginning.

At a lower level, it is less clear how many municipal and county governments and school systems utilize telematics for their fleets of equipment, but this is clear: Public sector offices should seriously consider investing in the technology.

Following are some considerations in determining the value of telematics to a public-sector fleet.

What Do You Want to Track or Analyze?

The information flowing back to the office can tell many stories. Depending upon the sensors installed in a vehicle or off-road machine, the story can range from when an engine needs maintenance to how long a driver takes for a lunch break to how many miles a vehicle is traveling per gallon of fuel. Idling machines, after all, still burn fuel, but produce nothing.

In short, the accumulated information can show if, day in, day out, a fleet is productive. A Bobit Business Media survey in 2015 determined that, for almost 60 percent of telematics users, boosted productivity was the chief benefit of telematics. Decreased fuel consumption was nearly as valuable. Other notable gains included better equipment maintenance and reduced labor costs.

It is safe to say that public sector managers are at least as interested as private contractors in having productive employees and equipment fleets. Perhaps they are even more interested given the precarious budget situations in some city halls, school board offices, and capitols.

Municipalities might particularly benefit from the technology. They typically are divided into various departments—streets, police, parks and so on—with separate fleets assigned to each department. How many of the various department vehicles are busy all the time? How many can be shared between departments?

A telematics analysis can help a manager answer these questions and reorganize a fleet so vehicles are shared or units are reassigned to departments where they are most needed. This review and reassignment process applies to on-road vehicle fleets, of course, but also to off-road machines in the equipment yard.

It may be that additional attention needs paid not so much to the mobile units, but to the employees who operate them. Productivity, after all, starts with people. Unfortunately, many equipment operators and drivers are not fans of telematics. They resent the notion that their every moment in the driver's seat will be tracked and recorded, though supervisors in offices and plants do the same thing in their direct interaction with employees.

To overcome this resistance, managers must hone their communication skills to convey to operators what telematics does: It monitors performance of machines and their operators. That's all. Good performance is recorded, as well as bad. Good drivers and productive employees in the field will welcome data that show their skills and reliability on the job. If less-skilled operators can be reassured that good performance will be applauded and poor performance corrected, rather than punished, acceptance may come easier.

There is no shortage of telematics providers, with the field expected to continue to grow for several more years. Some of the systems are more scalable than others. Technavio compiled a list of “top ten” vendors of systems, but choices are not limited to those. Casting a wide net is always a good idea when considering adoption of a new office or production system.

ROI: Can the Public Sector Afford Telematics?

Like every other investment, purchase of a telecommunications monitoring system should be carefully considered. The return on investment (ROI) is the bottom line. It is possible for an agency or jurisdiction to spend too much on a perfectly good telematics system that nevertheless is inappropriate for the fleet in question. This is why a manager should know just what level of monitoring he wants.

And purchasing a system may not be the answer: Leasing is a popular option because it can be upgraded by the lessor. As we all know, upgrades are a way of life in the electronics world, so letting the provider be responsible for new generations of software is a good idea. Monthly lease payments for a device can range from $20 a month per vehicle on up, depending on the sophistication of the system selected.

There also are installation fees and associated costs as sensors are mounted on machines and a base unit is set up in the office. These are the upfront macro numbers that can look daunting, but the payback can be dramatic and come in pretty short order.

According to a survey by the Aberdeen Research Group, telematics users saw, year to year, a 46 percent increase in key performance indicators and a 13 percent decrease in fuel costs. Other measurable benefits accrued as well. Systematically examining a provider's system is critical to determining its suitability, but good managers can methodically work through the process without difficulty.

Public sector managers need every tool available to them to stretch dollars and keep fleets of equipment productive. Telematics is one such tool. CEG blogger