Powerful telematics gateways and cloud platforms are providing more and more sophisticated ways to capture and use real-time information about fleet vehicles. IoT technology helps improve internal and external communications, efficiency, response times and overall customer satisfaction.

By Frank Schneider

The Internet of Things—or IoT—is more than a buzzword; it is a technological revolution that can bring tangible operational efficiency to fleets. In a nutshell, IoT-based fleet management makes vehicles “smart” by enabling them to sense and report information about themselves and their surroundings, and in some cases make autonomous decisions based on this information. This data can help fleet managers detect and respond to unexpected problems, analyze operational trends and manage their fleets to reduce costs.

For solid waste and other public works fleets, IoT technology brings efficiency by providing real-time data to solve immediate problems and trend analysis to improve processes over time. Vehicle telematics technology makes it possible to know where every truck in the fleet is located, how it is being used and whether it needs immediate maintenance or service. This information transmits immediately to alert a dispatcher or supervisor that there is a pressing problem, recorded for later review and integrated with existing systems to improve processes and communication.

The technology consists of a smart gateway, which attaches to the truck and sends information about location, speed, engine health and other factors over a cellular connection to a cloud-based application. The gateway itself is programmable using powerful, tested platforms and languages that enable the development of local applications and custom solutions for any use case. Here are three practical ways to use this telematics and IoT technology to improve efficiency, reduce cost and enhance the customer experience.

#1: Mapping and Location-Based Analytics
IoT-enabled trucks report their locations in real time, allowing a fleet manager to see the current location of every vehicle in the fleet, examine a detailed trail showing the path of any specific vehicle and even replay vehicle activity history. This information helps managers understand driver activity and traffic patterns to ensure that routes are covered properly and efficiently. When unexpected events occur due to factors such as traffic or weather conditions, the ability to respond quickly is important. Tracking route progress and driver activity improves safety and response times, detects problems quickly and ensures that decisions can be made promptly.

Knowing where each driver is located gives fleet managers insight into whether the driver is keeping to schedules, following routes or taking the vehicle for unauthorized personal use. Monitoring the vehicle also makes it easy to find the nearest driver when there is an unexpected call or problem. Vehicle location data can be overlaid on geographic information system (GIS) based maps that provide detailed information such as infrastructure, assets, routes and facilities, so that managers can route calls and study trends in the context of relevant information. Navigational information can be sent directly to a device in the cab of the truck to help drivers choose the most efficient route based on demand, conditions and other factors.

Routing vehicles only scratches the surface. Increasingly, fleet solutions provide sophisticated analytics that offer a broader and more detailed view of activity in the field. Fleet managers are realizing tangible benefits by incorporating these insights into their day-to-day operations. Reports and other detailed data can be analyzed to reveal trends, set strategies and track improvement. With telematics-based analytics, fleet managers can improve operations by studying historic traffic and route patterns, driver behavior and risk, vehicle performance and localized demand. The results of such analysis can improve dispatching and driver productivity, lower fuel consumption, and maintain better safety and longer vehicle life. Demand analysis can identify which routes and route segments are over-served or under-served, improving both the customer experience and the driver’s job at the same time.

GIS-based Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) systems provide integrated tools to help protect valuable assets, cut costs and improve productivity. AVL solutions can be designed specifically to address the unique needs of the public sector and have been optimized to manage solid waste collection fleets, increase workforce productivity and help fleet managers adhere to solid waste collection schedules.

#2: Alerts
When something goes wrong, it is important to know immediately so that someone can respond quickly. IoT-connected trucks can send alerts to notify managers or other personnel when specific events occur. Fleet managers can be notified immediately of engine problems, speeding or unsafe driving, long stops, unauthorized use and when vehicles enter or leave specific locations throughout the day. These events can be sent as text messages, e-mail or automated phone calls.

The effective use of alerts depends on identifying specific types of data that are critical to immediate operations. These triggered notifications are a valuable tool for flagging abnormal events or conditions, especially those that result in service downtime or other costs.

#3: Data Integration
One of the most practical benefits of integrating a fleet with IoT is the availability and analysis of high volumes of real-time data for about every truck in the fleet. When these data streams are captured, integrated and properly analyzed, they can drive significant improvements to both operational efficiency and customer satisfaction. Data collected from GPS, sensors and the on-board engine computers can be integrated with existing solutions to create work orders, optimize routes, answer customer questions and respond to unexpected problems.

Fleet management has moved beyond simple location tracking and can provide detailed analysis on driver behavior and vehicle activity. Connected vehicles record and transmit not only their locations, but also idle time, current speed, fuel levels, mileage, engine diagnostic codes and accelerometer data that can reveal when a driver starts and stops aggressively or corners too hard. Supervisors and fleet managers can use this information to preventively and predictively maintain vehicles, educate drivers about better driving practices and optimize routes and route segments for more efficient use of fuel.

Public works departments in the real world are using fully integrated IoT telematics data to increase the capabilities and effectiveness of public works fleets while lowering costs. One city in particular was seeking to improve customer service while streamlining some of their manual processes. When public works vehicles, including snow removal, were dispatched, their locations were difficult to determine in real time. Creating and fulfilling work orders consisted of lengthy procedures. Lack of automation made fleet and project management very difficult and hampered efforts to improve efficiency.

The city selected AVL services for capabilities including GPS tracking and the ability to connect with snowplow and solid waste equipment. The public works department selected off-the-shelf, Web-based internal software for managing trucks. They also built a Web portal to stream the data in real-time allowing residents to see plow locations and status. A custom in-vehicle navigation display installed in city vehicles now allows service fleet employees to use pre-configured messages to create a ticket to request services such as a pothole fix or garbage pick-up. The request goes automatically into the system to generate a work order, and the location of the request is automatically recorded with GIS-based mapping. City dispatchers can track vehicle locations in relationship to work orders, routes, zones and infrastructure on the map, improving response times. The telematics system also lets drivers report reasons why trash could not be collected, such as blocked solid waste bins or bins containing prohibited materials. This information is immediately available to staff who respond to calls from citizens.

Sophisticated Tools
Powerful telematics gateways and cloud platforms are providing more and more sophisticated ways to capture and use real-time information about fleet vehicles. By tracking and analyzing location, alerting when a problem needs attention, and integrating with existing data and analytical systems, IoT technology helps improve internal and external communications, efficiency, response times and overall customer satisfaction.

Frank Schneider is currently CalAmp’s (Irvine, CA) Director of Product Management and is responsible for leading all corporate software product development initiatives. In addition to creating and executing the corporate strategy to transform the industrial internet of machines marketplace, Frank is integral to CalAmp’s efforts to partner programs that enable an ecosystem of unique enterprise solutions. Frank has worked in product management in a diverse array of companies ranging from Fortune 10 to startups over the past 15 years. For more information, call (888) 3CALAMP or visit www.calamp.com.