Telematics 101: Using equipment data to change operator behaviors

Updated Jul 12, 2016

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth part in our ongoing Telematics 101 series of articles. To view the other articles in this series click here.

telematicsleadTelematics can help you manage truck and equipment assets, saving money, reducing downtime and improving the efficiency of operations. But, this only works if the information provided by your telematics feed is used to change the behaviors of drivers and equipment operators. However, changing behavior and achieving employee buy-in on a telematics program can be a tricky proposition.

Telematics vendors, third party and OEM, sell the technology primarily based on ROI, or return on investment. That’s also how fleet managers sell it to their company’s upper management. But, if you go preaching corporate cost savings to the drivers and operators, the response will likely be lukewarm at best.


Who profits?

Telling an hourly worker that this new technology is going to save the company money may ring hollow. Some companies give bonuses to employees for reducing idle time, using telematics data to determine how much fuel is saved. But, that approach is fraught with accounting challenges.

Establishing a baseline for fuel use could require months of data, and not every operator on every site has an equal opportunity to reduce idle time or fuel use. If you give bonuses to crews who find it easy to reduce fuel consumption, the crews on sites where it’s harder to reduce fuel use will feel resentful. If you put money on the table, you could be opening a Pandora’s box of trouble. By removing monetary incentives from the equation and simply acknowledging the improved performance, you reduce the risk of resentment.


Big Brother or better behavior?

Operators and drivers will modify their behavior if they know they’re being monitored. This could be good, or not, depending on how you structure it from a managerial standpoint.

First, you need good data. Drivers are usually assigned to a particular truck, but a telematics system typically can’t identify who is running an off-road machine. It only knows that the machine is running. A backhoe, dozer or excavator may be run by two or three different operators during the course of a normal week. If you want to monitor individual driving behaviors in those cases, you are going to need a system that can identify specific operators.

Truck telematics, on the other hand, can now give you speed zone information and monitor a variety of driver behaviors (including harsh braking, sudden lane departures, and erratic driving). Dash cams synced to telematics systems can capture video of the driver’s actions (nodding off or checking his phone) and the road conditions he is encountering. The companies that sell these systems compile all the individual data points into algorithms that provide an excellent picture of who is driving well, and who is not. As long as you can tie a specific driver to the truck, you’ve got an accurate driver scorecard.


Carrot or stick

Once you have a telematics system engineered to give you accurate and actionable data, the challenge becomes whether to use positive or negative reinforcement to alter driving behaviors.

Most trucking companies and telematics vendors recommend positive reinforcement in order to avoid fostering paranoia or resentment. Things like a safe driver award, or public acknowledgement in front of their peers, can encourage employees to strive for better scores without the complications of giving out bonuses. You can also present your telematics system as a way to improve safety – and reiterate that safety is good for everybody.

There will be situations where poor driver or operator behavior requires a reprimand. You do this in private, and make every attempt to coach the driver or operator into better behaviors. If that fails and you have to fire the operator, don’t hide it from others. Most good operators and drivers would prefer that you get rid of the bad actors in their ranks, and will appreciate the fact that your telematics system made this possible.

Another upside to telematics data are those employees who actively seek to improve their scores or performance metrics, whether with safe driving, less idling or better cycle times. These are the workers who want to know how they’re doing and how they can improve. They’ll self-identify pretty quickly, and when they do, take note. They aren’t going to stay on the bottom rungs of the company ladder long.


How to present

If you’re rolling out a comprehensive telematics system, you need to be upfront about it. Present it as a way to make the company more efficient, which increases hiring and improves wages.

Also, don’t overlook an opportunity to make the case for improved safety. In fact, a company-wide safety meeting can often be the best time and place to announce the deployment of your telematics system. Make sure senior management is present. Let them talk to the employees about the big picture and why the company is making these changes. Meanwhile, you and the fleet managers need to discuss the details of rollout and implementation.

We also recommend that you write the telematics program into the company HR handbooks, safety manuals and procedures documents. Make sure that everybody in the introductory meeting (and every future employee) signs a form acknowledging they’ve been briefed on, and understand, they are being monitored and know what’s expected of them as operators.Telematics 1