The benefits and barriers to adopting telematics

telematics construction

There’s “too much data and not enough insights” when it comes to the adoption of telematics in construction, according to David Swan, product manager at Skyjack Inc.

At the Ontario chapter of Associated Equipment Distributors’ annual Holiday Power Breakfast, Swan outlined the benefits and barriers to telematics in construction.

During his keynote speech, Swan explained telematics solutions are delivering the wrong data for the construction industry.

“It’s just not the important data,” he said. “What we often see with new technology is people ask the wrong questions. They ask, ‘what can we do?’ instead of ‘what should we do? People are so impressed that something is possible, at first.”

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For example, in an environment like construction, where the machines are more or less stationary, the equipment location map is usually the first data delivered to the user.

“This is the least important information, but it’s the first information we get,” Swan said, noting it may assist with delivery and theft prevention. “When I open a web portal, the first thing I see is my machines sitting stationary. The map is just not for our industry for the most part.”

As well, the amount of data provided is counterproductive. Swan explained the ideal telematics program would outline the main problems that cost a company money.

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“The rest is just noise that prevents me from taking advantage of the data,” he said. “We aren’t interested in a terabyte of data a day. If it’s not making things simpler, it’s not doing anything.”

How the information is delivered is also problematic. Swan pointed to the simplicity of Facebook or Google maps as user-friendly examples of technology at work.

“Everyone can figure those out fairly quickly. There’s been a focus on how people process information, rather than an attempt to provide a pile of information,” Swan said. “It’s about presenting information in the right way. It’s not a lack of skilled labour.”

The number of telematics solutions available creates other issues. Swan explained every equipment manufacturer has their own telematics program, which isn’t ideal for the owner of a fleet comprised of various brands.

“You’re asking people to learn as many different types of software as they have machine types,” he said. “They may all be spectacular programs and present information in a useful way, but if I have 20 different makes of machines, I can’t have 20 different apps open. That’s no less complicated than doing things manually.”

The price tag may equal barriers for some equipment owners. Installing telematics costs $20 to $30 per month, plus about $300 for hardware per machine.

“That’s OK if you’re talking about a $200,000 piece of machinery, but if you’re talking about a $15,000 piece of machinery, no one is going to employ that solution,” Swan said.  “Telematics doesn’t work for low cost machines right now and it needs to.”

The solution, according to Swan, is a connected fleet product tailored to construction.

“It has to start from ground zero. It’s not saying, ‘this is what a telematics solution looks like’,” he said.

As well, the user interface should be aimed at mobile roles in construction, instead of the idea that someone’s going to sit down at a desktop and sort through piles of data to get insights.”

“We have to sell flexibility,” Swan said. “Ideally, machines have to roll off the line with a data stream and the key points identified, and say, ‘where do you want us to put this data’?”

The benefits of telematics

Although the data may be excessive, it is important for owners to have direct access to data, Swan explained.

“We’re getting real insights instead of speculation. The idea is you’re getting away from hoping and guessing,” he said.

For service technicians, telematics provide on-site machine location, walk up diagnostics, remote access and predictive maintenance.

For the contractor, there is the potential for fuel savings, bottom up safety ownership and more uptime.

For rental companies, telematics deliver significant improvements in uptime and return on investment. For example, a service tech isn’t required to record operating hours, as the data is directly delivered.

“You’re not having a service tech sitting in a shop to write all that down,” Swan said.

Swan added the software also creates the potential for rental companies to bill based on hours of operation.

As well, telematics allows the machine’s owner to connect it to the operator and how they operate the machine.

“That empowers them to own their safety and performance record,” Swan said. “There’s this idea that when everything is transparent, everyone acts better, not to sound too big brother.”

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