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Executive Hire News › Archives › September 2019 › Market Report: Software & Telematics Systems : On the right track

Market Report: Software & Telematics Systems : On the right track

Already well established for truck and van operators, telematics is now a growing presence in plant hire. Dan Jenkins examines how the technology is evolving and the benefits it can bring.

Vehicle tracking emerged as a method of controlling costs for operators of large fleets of vans and trucks. This track-and-trace capability enabled managers to monitor employees, giving them hard evidence on important metrics such as time spent on site. It also helped to identify unauthorised use of company vehicles, and assisted police in recovering stolen assets.

Over the past decade or so, telematics has crossed over into plant hire and is now also turning up on tools and other equipment. Following a similar path to commercial vehicles, the initial focus was on theft and unauthorised use. However, more recently, both plant and vehicle tracking have evolved to offer an increasing array of services. For hire companies, this ‘Big Data’ can be both a blessing and a curse - telematics can provide a huge amount of information; but it’s only any use if it aligns to your business objectives.

If all this sounds daunting for smaller independents, it doesn’t have to be. Most platforms have user-friendly dashboards and reports, so you can find the information you need with minimum fuss. Even if you don’t think you have a large enough fleet to warrant using telematics for your plant, you could still benefit from it for your sales, service and delivery vehicles. There are cost-effective systems that can minimise paperwork, enhance customer service and reduce fuel expenditure.

However, think carefully about what you want to get out of telematics. Proven benefits include preventing theft, increasing utilisation rates, and improving workforce productivity. Some platforms do them all, but most are specialists in certain areas.

Preventing plant theft

Plant theft is a tricky subject: we all know it goes on, but many hirers don’t like to talk about it publicly. According to the Plant and Agricultural National Intelligence Unit (PANIU), in 2018 the mini excavator was the most popular type of equipment targeted, with 650 reported stolen. Dumpers took second place, as thieves helped themselves to 463 machines. Other frequently-stolen plant included rollers, generators, survey equipment, and telescopic handlers.

For some telematics brands, theft recovery and prevention remains their key selling point. Companies such as CanTrack specialise in hidden tracking devices, which cannot be located by the scanners now used by increasingly sophisticated criminal gangs, and recovery is offered as part of the package. Other providers, such as Trakm8, rely on geo-fencing to provide an alert if equipment is moved out of hours. Geo-fencing is the creation of digital, virtual boundaries on a map. Every time a machine or vehicle crosses the boundary, the fleet manager receives an alert.

Improving productivity

Machine downtime due to malfunction, damage, or breakdown is another major headache for hirers. As with modern cars or vans, most plant now uses a CAN bus (controller area network) operating system. CAN bus is the ‘brains’ of the machine, and is able to communicate a huge amount of data, which telematics devices turn into useful information. The most obvious example is diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs). Tracking providers such as Microlise, Teletrac Navman, Trackunit and Trakm8 all have the ability to provide DTC alerts, helping hirers to take the appropriate action to service or repair the fault.

Most systems can also provide accurate hours-of-service data, enabling more cost-effective maintenance regimes. All of this adds up to better utilisation rates and can often lead to lower SMR (service, maintenance and repair) costs.

Some systems will link to operator licence cards, providing evidence of who was at the controls if a collision occurs. This feature, along with smartphone digital key codes offered by companies like Trackunit, helps to prevent unauthorised use of your machines by a third party.

The supplier, BigChange, is looking at productivity from a different perspective, aiming to increase the efficiency of mobile workers rather than machinery. HSS’ Groundcare operation recently rolled out BigChange across its field engineer team and saw its productivity improve by 40%. The operation provides hire, servicing and maintenance of equipment such as lawnmowers, chippers and strimmers. BigChange connects the company’s back office software with mobile devices and vehicle trackers into one paperless, real-time system.

HSS field engineers are equipped with rugged tablets running JobWatch, an app that replaces all paperwork. As well as digital job cards, the tablets provide access to a library of useful documents such as operator and service manuals. When an engineer is on the move, the tablet sits in a dashboard cradle, acting as both a satnav and GPS tracker.

Colin Newton, HSS Groundcare Director, said: “Utilisation is the key for us and since implementing the BigChange system this is where we have seen enormous benefits.  We need to keep our engineers as busy as possible and with the system we have increased utilisation from around 50% to 90%.

“Not only can we keep customers informed - on, for example, the engineer’s ETA or when their equipment has been fixed, but we can also monitor the performance of our equipment. We can spot recurring faults, which might be caused by operators themselves.”

Engineers can record parts used or needed on their job cards and this automatically updates the central stock control system and actions parts requests. Engineers also capture photographs on site to provide evidence of completed tasks - and the customer signs off the work via an on-screen signature. 

Digesting Big Data

A challenge for most hire companies is that different equipment manufacturers use different telematics systems. For example, you could have Kubota excavators and Mecalac dumpers both fitted with Trakm8 Asset; but also have JCBs with LiveLink. This could make it virtually impossible to track all assets at once.
 
Hire software specialists spotted this potential problem and are now coming up with all-in-one solutions to integrate data from different sources. Officially launched at the Executive Hire Show 2019, Asset Tracker from inspHire amalgamates the locations of all your telematics-enabled equipment onto a single map view, using Google Maps. As part of the integration, CanTrack, JCB LiveLink, Teletrac Navman and Trackunit, can be opened directly from within the inspHire program, eradicating the need to have two systems open at once, whilst also making advanced telematics data easy to access. This is echoed in the capabilities of software from MCS, which has integrated with an impressive 15 telematics providers at the last count.

Similarly, Trakm8’s new telematics platform, Insight, is specifically designed to accept data from third parties, so it can all be displayed in one pane. Trakm8 and Teletrac Navman are also both able to combine data from cars, vans and trucks as well as plant, creating a one-stop-shop for tracking.

A PAYG hire future?

Many telematics providers can now help hirers to analyse a customer’s machine usage, providing insight into utilisation rates on site. Working so closely with major clients to identify where they have over-ordered equipment might not initially sound like a way to boost earnings, but it does build customer loyalty.

Telematics can also allow the hire of a machine to multiple contractors or sub-contractors working on the same site at the same time - and, even, pay-as-you-go (PAYG) hire, whereby you charge clients by the hour. And in a competitive market, the ability to increase utilisation rates while lowering charges to the end user could help one hirer to stand out from the others. •
     
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