You’re probably well acquainted with the standard approaches to searching for and evaluating service providers. If you’re a small business, you may begin with a simple Google search. If you’re a mid to large-sized company, you’ll probably go through a more involved process of sending out an RFP and then holding what amount to auditions for the top candidates. The problem with these strategies is that they put you in the driver’s seat just when you’re entering unfamiliar territory.
After all, the whole point of hiring outside experts is that you need their expertise. The conundrum is that you can’t help putting yourself in the position of expert as you compare all the competing service providers. So, the key question becomes, how do you evaluate telematics providers when you know precious little about telematics?
You won’t be surprised to hear that plenty of telematics providers are eager to help you solve this dilemma. You can go online and find all kinds of blog posts and white papers telling you what to look for and how to choose. You can even find checklists of criteria to facilitate your comparisons.
The problem here is that you’re putting the makers of these materials in the driver’s seat just when they have the most to gain by taking whatever route best suits them, regardless of whether it suits you at all. What’s number one on the list of criteria? Well, if the company that made the list has been in business longer than most of its competitors, that first checkbox will be next to something along the lines of “How long has the candidate been in business?” But does that really matter to you? It may or may not.
Right now, you may be wondering, how is the piece you’re reading now any different? Well, for one, Convoy Technologies works with a lot of video telematics providers, but we’re in the camera and monitor business ourselves. And, two, we’re about to explain how more than half of your decision-making process will focus on determining what you and the stakeholders in your company are envisioning, not on how competing vendors’ offerings compare to one another.
In other words, the first stage of the process is to create your own list of criteria.
Below we’ll break the process down into what to do before contacting providers and what to do after.
Before contacting providers:
Here are the main measures you can take early on to ensure the eventual success of your telematics project:
1. Appoint someone to lead your telematics project.
You may believe you’re the ideal person for this role, but if you’re a fleet manager there’s a good chance you won’t have adequate bandwidth to properly oversee the project. Whoever you choose for the role, they should be well situated to liaise with managers, drivers, representatives for providers, and any other stakeholders. Involve this person in the early planning so he or she knows the process and has a significant investment in its success.
This same project leader will cover the remaining steps in the process, answering questions, setting benchmarks, establishing a process for evaluating providers, overseeing installation and implementation, and tracking progress to your goals. Granting decision-making authority to a single individual will prevent the project from going in two or more directions at the same time. And it will give you one person to check with when you have questions or want an update on progress.
2. Get input from all the key stakeholders on what they believe the main goals should be.
This step is the one fleets most commonly overlook to their detriment. The usual approach is for one or a couple managers to assign the project to an individual who then gets to work, focusing on giving that same one or couple managers exactly what they had in mind. The problem is those managers are not the only, and perhaps not even the most important, stakeholders.
The ones most commonly left out… the drivers, the people whose jobs will be most directly impacted by the new technology and processes. Getting drivers involved early in the planning is the most effective way to keep them from feeling like the changes are being imposed on them without them having any say. And, if your drivers revolt because they feel like you’re spying on them, you’re going to have a hard time getting anything useful from your investment.
Instead of sending the message that you’re installing cameras so you can watch drivers and make sure they’re not doing anything reckless, you can begin by explaining the company’s need to drive down the cost of insurance or prevent theft or improve training—or whatever your goals are. You can then invite the drivers to give you input on how to achieve these goals. If they’re allowed to play a role in the planning and development, they’ll be much less apt to resist the project when it comes time for launch.
3. Put in a call to your insurance provider.
With skyrocketing insurance costs and the looming threat of nuclear verdicts, you’re probably going to want to use your video telematics system to help improve your safety record and protect you from other drivers making false or fraudulent claims against your fleet. Whatever your goals are, nearly all of them come down to safety, and hence to the cost of insurance.
So, before you start calling telematics providers, you’ll probably want to call your insurance provider first. Tell them what your goals are and ask them if they have any programs for fleets looking to use video telematics to lower their premiums. If they do, you can then ask whether they have any preferred telematics partners for you to work with. If they don’t, you’ll know without wasting any more time that your efforts won’t go anywhere—at least with your current insurance company.
4. Create a sharable document describing your vision for a successful telematics program.
Now that you’ve gotten input from everyone who will be involved (or someone representing them), and you’ve talked to your insurance company to get further insight into your options, it’s time to create a draft of your plan. Will you focus on coaching and training? Real-time tracking on the road that uses artificial intelligence to alert you or the driver of risky behaviors? Will the cameras be facing the road, the driver, or both? What parts of the vehicle do you or the driver need to be able to see when they’re driving? What parts do you need to see in recordings?
The plan at this stage should include a list of goals, a description of how the tools will be used, and a set of metrics for measuring progress and effectiveness. You should make the document as detailed as possible, but nothing should be set in stone at this point. As you learn more about telematics technologies and what they can do, you’ll likely make revisions to the plan. The important thing is to have a solid vision in mind so you’re not taken down the wrong path by fancy new gadgets that won’t bring your fleet any closer to its goals.
Okay, now we’re at the stage where we start contacting telematics companies and seeing what they have to offer. Here are the main questions you’ll want to focus on.
5. How well does the provider’s offerings match your vision?
This is the obvious one—but it’s also where you’ll see your efforts from the earlier phases paying off. As each prospective provider tries to wow you with a range of offerings, you can stay laser focused on the details you’ve already determined are most conducive to helping your fleet achieve its goals. Better yet, you can present your detailed plan to each provider and simply let them explain how their products and services will help you realize your vision.
6. Standard vs custom configuration?
Large companies that have been around for a long time tend to be more reliable, but they also tend to treat their clients as interchangeable. This is why you won’t necessarily want to choose the provider that’s got the highest profile. If your vision calls for a telematics system that’s essentially the same as what’s being used by several other fleets, then by all means go with the provider who’s best at that sort of implementation. If you need something more specialized, though, you may want to go with a company that’s smaller, more flexible, and looking to make a name for themselves.
Some trucks these days come equipped with built-in cameras. Will the OEM's cameras integrate with the provider's telematics system? Or will you need to install new cameras? What kind of Fleet Management System does your company use? Can the telematics system integrate with it? What kind of vehicles will you be installing cameras on? Do they represent unique challenges or come with specialized requirements?
7. How much ongoing involvement will you need with the provider?
Some companies will offer to manage your telematics system as an ongoing service. Others will install cameras, recorders, and transmitters before being on their way, leaving you to manage and maintain the system yourself. The benefits of ongoing engagements to the provider are obvious: for one, they get more reliable profit projections. Depending on your goals and budget, the benefits of outsourcing may outweigh the cost for your fleet as well.
This can be a tricky calculation though, and many fleet managers understandably worry that they’re essentially being extorted into signing up for an extended warranty on their telematics system. But monthly or yearly service agreements are becoming the norm for the industry. The issue boils down to how much technical expertise you have access to in your own company. Assuming costs are within reason, having a telematics partner on call to keep up with maintenance and address any issues that arise can be a prudent investment.
8. How open will your system be to newly developing technologies?
A lot of the new devices coming online these days have edge processing capabilities. That means they can be programmed with new software or firmware that becomes available. Does the provider you’re evaluating use legacy cameras that will be obsolete within the next year—if they’re not already? And does that even matter when you consider your goals and your vision for the project?
If you’re looking to stay on the cutting edge of updatable technologies in the realm of machine learning and advanced collision avoidance, or even autonomous driving, then a system with more potential for integrations and ongoing upgrades will serve your purposes. But if you’re budget is tight and you’re looking to check off boxes on a list from your insurance provider, then any old system will do.
Especially if you choose an ongoing relationship with your telematics provider, your choice of which company to hire will likely have a huge impact on your fleet. You wouldn’t be where you are now if you didn’t know a lot about how to evaluate prospective partners and service providers. So our main message isn’t that you should ignore all those best practices you’ve got long experience putting into effect. It’s that you should keep in mind that the process begins at home, by getting all your own people on board, getting their input, and keeping them on the same page.
Telematics companies know all about their own offerings. To make a good decision, you’ll need to line up those offerings with insights from your own business.
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