Don’t ignore telematics: How gradually adopting the technology greatly benefits your largest expense

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Updated Aug 12, 2013

Case ProCare“We think machine communication and connection is a huge change event for the industry, a complete game changer,” Kevin Karlix, John Deere’s director of sales, North America, told editors at a recent company press event. “In fact, we understand that construction equipment lenders in China are now requiring a remote disable on machines they finance.”

The assumption: if you’re late on payments, the engine won’t start.

OK, that’s a bit draconian for the independent-minded American contractor, but Karlix is right. The telematics capabilities of today’s machines give equipment caretakers tools for a data drilldown and management not conceived of in a decade ago.

But while telematics development came second—as did everything else—to meeting Tier 4 emissions regulations, it’s good to remember it was precisely because of these regulations that telematics have become part and parcel of today’s equipment. To meet these regs, manufacturers relied on electronic controls, which in turn gave them access to the menu of electronic information now available from most components.

When someone calls a machine feature a game changer, it’s worth paying attention.

While several manufacturers now offer telematics as standard equipment, I have to give a tip of the hat to Komatsu, which back in 2006 offered their Komtrax telematics free on certain machines for five years. The big question then: Would contractors hate that Komatsu and its dealers knew the intimate details of their machine operations?

The response on the Big Brother question seems to have been a collective shrug. You like the capabilities telematics give your dealers, such as Deere’s Service Advisor Remote, which allows Deere dealers the capability to remotely diagnose and fix a diagnostic trouble-code problem. In fact, because of telematics the dealer service call has changed dramatically, as Bill Sauber, Volvo’s manager of remote technologies, explains in this video.

But tapping into that information yourself seems like a complicated hurdle, and the rate of contractors who actively use telematics to manage their fleets is still at an estimated abysmal 10 to 15 percent. Yet as the economy slowly grinds into second gear, wouldn’t it make sense to make sure you’re getting full utilization out of every machine? It would be a critical slice of data, for instance, in determining what you needed to rent and what you needed to buy.

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With all that information there for the taking in later model machines, there’s a decided insanity in ignoring telematics data capabilities and its potential impact on one of your largest business expenses.

Speaking at the Association of Equipment Management Professionals last year, Terry Rasmussen, Caterpillar’s fleet services manager, told contractors to think big when it comes to telematics. “If you wait for it to get all figured out,” he said, “you won’t be ready for [another] 10 years.”

Ouch. But remember, thinking big doesn’t necessary mean you have instantly inhale all of telematics’ admittedly large upfront costs, especially when retrofitting a machine. Track a few core pieces of information on a few machines. Make sure you’re taking full advantage of the data given and you’re comfortable with the process. Budget the next incremental technology step-ups. Ask around your network of subs and generals: who’s making use of telematics? Tap them as a resource, perhaps forming an informal local user’s group. If you’re considering a multiple machine purchase, take into account the telematics package—and support—as a key part of the decision.

When someone calls a machine feature a game changer, it’s worth paying attention.