“So what apps is your car running these days?” If that sounds like a futuristic question, think again.
Having made billions helping commuters and delivery drivers find their way around town, the ‘satnav’ companies best known for putting female-voiced direction-finding gadgets onto dashboards are zeroing in government’s rapidly digitising fleet assets where rich data can deliver efficiency, safety and big savings.
Netherlands headquartered mapping, navigation and telematics developer TomTom this month revealed it had soft launched its enterprise telematics business in Australia, a move it clearly hopes will get it embedded into thousands of fleet vehicles across the country.
And like Google, TomTom’s got cars trawling Australian streets to create its maps which, when something called differential GPS is used, is claimed to be accurate to 50cm.
It’s somewhat of a belated entry into the antipodean market given that the company has already clocked-up 500,000 software-as-a-service subscriptions through 36,000 customers globally in July this year.
Even so, Australia is a market ripe for the picking given road authorities here haven’t exactly been at the forefront of sensory traffic management technology … unless of course there’s some meaty fine revenue to be made in the process.
Now, as major highway upgrades, smart traffic systems, new sensor technology and internet connected cars gradually become ubiquitous, TomTom is only too happy to drive into new markets.
It’s a more a matter-of-fact kind of market entry than one relying on hype and buzzwords, with TomTom Telematics’ Australian head Christopher Chisman-Duffy – a plain speaking Yorkshirman – pushing the the transparency which his company’s range of gadgets and its real-time Webfleet software platform offer users and businesses.
Put in a nutshell, the TomTom Telematics suite of products can cover off on navigation, vehicle tracking and monitoring, dispatch, job and order management, safety, fuel efficiency, carbon emissions, reporting and external application integration. It’s made for data junkies.
In terms of what that looks like in the field, it means that a community health worker doing the rounds could be able to see more clients in a day thanks to better journey planning, securely update reports and files back at base from the field from either the car or a mobile device.
For councils it means that works and maintenance teams, waste collection crews and rangers also get to spend more time on the job rather than on the road because manager know where staff are and can account for their movements – or route them directly to the most pressing jobs.
Suppliers and service providers to government, especially those who bill for labour and services on an hourly basis, are also squarely in the telematics mix because the data extracted from Webfleet can show where vehicles, crews or contractors are at a given time and for how long they’ve been there. So much for padding out the time-sheet.
That kind of transparency appeals strongly to Carly Fehring, the general manager of Traffex Traffic Control Solutions that provides safety crews for roadworks and construction sites.
“A lot of our clients are government customers,” Ms Fehring told Government News, noting that data from TomTom’s journey management system helped her clients validate crew work activity.
It’s also helped Traffex push down fuel costs by a whopping 32 per cent a year by weeding out vehicle overuse for private activity – or worse still, outright fuel theft.
One feature that’s utilised to stamp out rorts is the ability to check that a work vehicle is actually at the location where the fuel is purchased on either a fuel card or expenses card at the time the transaction occurs.
If the work vehicle isn’t at the petrol station, it’s almost certain company fuel is being pumped into an employee’s car.
App driven market
One of the biggest issues many government fleet managers face when trying to tap into telematics is the ‘silo’ effect where vehicle manufacturers, third party or in-house software developers and GIS systems all code up separately to each other making integration a challenge.
However Chris Chisman-Duffy argues that there’s now a well-established ecosystem of developers able to code up against his company’s systems through APIs (application programming interfaces) that makes customised and off the shelf systems development and integration much easier and affordable than ever before.
Some of the quite feasible applications likely to appear in the near term could include access control for car parks and secure entry points like boom gates, wireless parking payments billed to a car’s owner or individual or the ability for authorised personnel to send a message to a car’s owner or driver.
One dynamic that’s still to play out is whether a shift by many government agencies and councils from owning to leasing will result in greater uptake of telematics as standard offering rather than as an additional extra.
As most fleet leasing and financing companies now offer fleet management software and apps as part of their service, a key question is whether these will naturally gravitate towards devices like TomTom’s in the wider ‘vehicle-as-a-service’.
And while there’s plenty of interest from government agencies in data from fleet telematics, leasing companies could also have a vested interest if it means they are able to price on the way a car is treated by drivers, as opposed to just looking at the kilometres driven.
That could mean that speeds and braking patterns are factored into the mix because technology like accelerometers are now commonly used in in car devices.
Of course the questionable behaviour of some heavy footed drivers could become esoteric in the event that driverless cars enter the Australian market and are allowed onto roads.
Chris Chisman-Duffy is clearly not afraid of the prospect of driverless cars and sees them as a glass-half-full opportunity rather than a threat.
TomTom is already involved in the development of driverless vehicle systems, he tells Government News, noting that some market entry estimates now hover around 2021.
“Driverless cars need telematics,” Chisman-Duffy says without the slightest hint of irony.
And they probably won’t steal your petrol either.
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