What to Look for in a Telematics Solution: Part II


A few weeks back we looked at what to look for in a telematics provider. This time we look at it from the driver’s point of view.

Your choice of an in-cab device can be one of three things. It can be a recruiting and retention tool, it can scare drivers off, or it can be a tolerated neutral item. There will always be drivers that these devices scare off – think of the owner-operator that has been used to doing what they want, when they want to do it and redoes his log sheets to make it (somewhat) work. Anything that even hints of an ELD is going to put them off. Then you have your technology savvy drivers who will see what the device will offer them and embraces any changes. The challenge is to pick a device that keeps the second group happy while being as friendly as possible to the first group.

Let’s start with an option that may not appeal to a lot of drivers but the accountants will like – the BYOD (bring your own device) model. Your tech savvy, generally younger cohort will like this option if they have the latest smart phone with a large screen and if they are comfortable with touch screens. An older driver with a basic smart phone (or even just a basic phone) is not going to be happy with a company going this way. You also want to be aware of how data intensive one of these offerings are – unless you are willing to either provide phones or will subsidize the plans. Another item to keep in mind is with an average 5 inch screen, a lot of drivers may end up making a lot of entry errors because of the small “keyboard”. This may look like an attractive option in terms of cash flow but you will have a lot of challenges making it an attractive (or at least neutral) feature to the drivers.

Next let’s look at the majority of the devices – an in-cab unit that is likely hard wired into the truck. What you want to look at is how much wiring is required. From your point of view more wiring means longer install times which means more cost per vehicle that likely did not appear on that nice salesperson’s cost of ownership calculation. The same point applies to have the device is mounted – does it get attached with a Velcro holder or do you need to attach an articulated mount to the side of the dash. In this case the lower dollar figure item may not be the best choice. Talk to your drivers and determine how they will be using the device – does it have a built in keyboard that they will want to have on their lap in the drivers seat or at the table in the bunk? Does the device have “one touch” macros that makes having it on an arm more efficient? One additional thing to look at is do the states that you operate in have any regulations for or against any of the mounting options. For example with a smaller screen size the provider may offer a windshield, suction cup type mount. Some states do not allow these or regulate where they can be placed so as not to interfere with the driver’s line of sight. Make sure your preference is legal where you are sending your drivers to.

What’s the size of the device and how bright is it (and how easy is it to adjust)? The brightness could be a huge cause of satisfaction or a large detracting feature. You don’t want it to be so dim that it is hard to see when your driver is in a dock and facing into the sun. At the same time you do not want it so bright that it causes a distraction when driving at night. Does it automatically adjust to the ambient light conditions or does it require your driver to go through a number of screens to get to the brightness controls? A full colour display or a monochrome display are other factors to look at and the better choice really depends on your application and how much you want to utilize the device. If you are mostly sending drivers messages and having them use a fairly basic electronic log book functionality then a monochrome display may be easier on the eyes. However a device that uses a grey font colour may be hard to read if your drivers mostly work during daylight hours, but can be easier on the eyes in a nighttime application. Want to offer mobile e-mail, internet, e-books, training videos, etc.? Now you are looking for a full colour display and preferably as large as practical and some sot of an arm mount so the driver can relax in the seat while waiting to be unloaded. You may think these items are just frills, but at an average wait of 1.5 plus hours at a lot of receivers offering your drivers something that they can do with that time could give you a competitive advantage when it comes to driver recruiting and retention.

Another feature to consider is can you use additional devices with the unit. Can you get in-cab scanners and printers to work on a plug-and-play basis? These items can let your driver take care of all of their paperwork before leaving a shipper or a receiver. Now they are not going to have to make an additional stop at a truck plaza where they are going to take at least 30 minutes to find a parking spot, go into the building, wait to use the fax machine, call the office to make sure the fax came through and could be read by your dispatcher. Now the driver is going to take an extra bathroom break, grab another coffee, maybe think about getting back in the truck. With the upcoming ELD mandate, having your driver only take 5 minutes to send in his PODs, print out the itinerary for their next leg of their trip and get going could mean a huge productivity boost and give your recruits a tangible way where they can get back some miles that they thought they were going to lose with electronic logs.

Another add-on to look for are the ability to use an external keyboard – a great feature if you have drivers with larger fingers or older drivers who may not be as comfortable with using a touch screen. Ideally the device will have a standard USB port that you can attach a $5 keyboard that you aren’t as worried about getting dropped or abused.

Finally, if this device is going to be used as an ELD, make certain that it has the ability for your drivers to attach a USB stick and download their log copies to it. Most will allow the operator to e-mail copies of their logs but a to of drivers much prefer to download a copy that they can transfer to their home computer or print out. Many of the e-mail options send the logs as PDFs that have 3-4 pages per day. That can get costly if you have a high per MB data cost and if you have a driver with a slow home internet connection they can get frustrated waiting for a large e-mail to download. However you want that e-mail capability for when your driver is at the scale instead of having to call into a call centre to have them sent to the inspector.

Some of these items may be more difficult to put into an ROI calculation but you still should take the time to try and put some dollar figures into what costs they will help you avoid.

We will leave you with a few ideas of how to effectively evaluate your options. First of all, engage some of your drivers into a working group to look at the devices. Don’t just use that young tech-happy driver. Get a mix of younger and older drivers but look for the opinion leaders in your fleet as those drivers will be your evangelists to sell the benefits to the other drivers and potential recruits. It’s one thing for a dispatcher to say how great your chosen solution is, it’s a completely different story if it’s a driver telling it. The driver will have instant credibility with their co-workers and that will go a long way towards swaying the people who are skeptical. Ideally you can test pilot a few of the units with a cross section of your staff, preferably under a few different applications. Just make certain that the test does not use features that are too expensive to use if you go live with them as that will get through the grapevine and cause a degree of avoidable dissatisfaction. Do a good test case, engage the opinion leaders in your fleet and take the driver’s experience into account and your implementation should go quickly and put you firmly down the road towards creating a positive ROI.

Chris Henry