PMV Roundtable: Daimler, MAN and MiX telematics

PMV joins Daimler, MAN and MiX Telematics to discuss telematics in the Gulf, the obstacles to adoption and the next steps towards wider implementation

Though representing different systems, the participants were in significant agreement on the substance.
Though representing different systems, the participants were in significant agreement on the substance.

The broad category of vehicle-related data-gathering technology known as telematics remains hugely unpotentiated in the Middle East. While vehicles fitted with track-and-trace devices number in their thousands across the region, the widespread uptake of sophisticated telematic functions — like the monitoring of engine performance for defects, or the monitoring of driver behaviour — remains a way off.

Pessimistic assessments suggest that less than 1% of fleet owners make substantial use of the most advanced telematic functions available, and that many neglect even the myriad sensors pre-installed on modern trucks and commercial vehicles. This PMV Roundtable catches up with the professionals that want to change all this.

How do the capabilities of telematics compare with implementation across the GCC?

Alan Hall (AH): The capabilities of all the systems are well beyond what most users would use them for. In this part of the world, and specifically focusing on Dubai and the Middle East, the aspiration to have everything monitored, checked and controlled is astronomical. It is sought after by everybody, but no one is willing to make it a law and a matter of compliance.

Richard Brown (RB): It’s not the capabilities of the system; it’s the requirements of the end user. The capabilities far exceed where the end users know we need to go at the moment. It’s the understanding that telematics is not just ‘where is my vehicle?’ — because a lot of the end users still think that is telematics, but it’s not. We are introducing a modular concept, and at the moment we are only on module one of six. Telematics is a data provider, but what is done with the data is down to an educated operator or legislation, which we’re missing at the moment.

AH: We’re missing both, but crucially we’re missing an operator who identifies the needs —at the moment they’re buying a complex piece of equipment for a price and only using it for a fraction of its functionality. They’re using 10% of the telematics — just to place a dot on a map.

Naveen Sook (NS): The region’s requirements must come first. Daimler FleetBoard is the system designed for Daimler’s trucks, so it’s much more than a normal tracking system — but the focus of most Middle East users is just to know where a truck is and how fast is it going. But that is not the most important part of telematics: you have to look at the total cost of ownership (TCO), and this is where the full telematics systems like Daimler FleetBoard can play an important role in business.

Do regional customers understand the benefits of linking telematics to fleet and service networks?

RB: It is one of the topics that has been discussed with most of the operators we have been trialling with. It is slow, but it will come, and it will be driven by fuel price and by TCO, and the understanding of where telematics can help reduce the TCO. We’ve seen the fuel price increase in the UAE, and it’s driving an interest in how to reduce TCO through data that we’re going to see elsewhere very soon. In Saudi Arabia, they have experienced a 50% increase in fuel prices, and it is astonishing the number of calls we have received asking, ‘what can we do to reduce costs?’

AH: From a large vehicle perspective, it’s cost-oriented; from the light vehicle market there’s an uptake from people wanting to know where their drivers are — the awareness is starting to creep into the market. It’s going to be driven by compliance, but you also need effective policing, because only if you have neutral policing, with everybody under the same regulations, are you going to have compliance and buy-in to the systems.

NS: You get a few fleets concerned about fuel consumption, and that are using the system to lower the fuel consumption, but it needs to spread to more customers. In the UAE, fuel is more important than in Saudi Arabia. Customers here are more focused on the driver and vehicle management side. Our technical capabilities are really important to reduce breakdowns. You might get a smaller fleet owned by a small company, and they just want tracking — but you’ve got to link that with driver training. Telematics is a tool for driver trainers.

What are the indicators that improving driver behaviour should be a priority?

NS: When you see rear-end collisions of trucks, the drivers are not sleeping and they just drive straight into another truck — and that happens every week. It is driver fatigue.

AH: There are so many examples to commercially support using the systems that alarm bells should be ringing — every other bus company in the world makes phenomenal savings just by using the systems that are already in the vehicles. It’s getting someone to recognise that and make a decision. Buying telematics isn’t a cost; you are going to get a return on your initial investment within six months.

NS: With 90% of local truck drivers, the safety belt is fastened permanently behind them. We tried to explain to them that on European trucks the cab is designed to break off in case of an accident, and if you’re not wearing your safety belt, you are going to get killed. But sometimes these guys just don’t care — it’s a hassle for them to put on the safety belt every time — even though in the UAE, it is law that the trucks must have a buzzer if you don’t wear your safety belt.

RB: That legislation is a GCC standard — that they must have either an audible or visual warning that the seat belt is not fastened, so every vehicle should have it — but it doesn’t mean every driver is going to wear it, because as Naveen said, they just fasten it behind their back.

What measures are in place in other markets to effectively curb dangerous driving?

NS: In South Africa, a system that was brought in called ‘Drive-care’ that captured videos and really saved people money. I’ve seen accident videos where the driver knocked into a pickup and the owner showed us the video, and proved to the driver that he was not wearing the safety belt, because you could see that he came off the seat. You see a lot of information with a camera.

AH: The easiest way to educate a driver is to defend the driver, and in many instances, you convert the entire fleet of drivers when you prevent the driver from being sacked, or if somebody has a road-rage incident with him. You can even have voice recognition — the capabilities are endless. It’s getting people to recognise that. The UAE is small, so tracking is incidental, but as an industry, we have to improve the safety culture.

NS: I’ve seen trucks with containers almost on two wheels at roundabouts, and because the trucks look so old, you’re not sure if the trailer brakes actually work, or if they rely on the truck brake — because there is no legislation on having automatic slack adjusters, or having ABS as mandatory on trailers.

RB: As you said — are the brakes working? Or are the brakes even connected? You see so many vehicles coming out of the sea ports with no airlines on them — so no brakes.

Beyond education, what other obstacles are hindering uptake in the region?

NS: The driver. The drivers get paid a low salary and they get paid per kilometre or per load, so they are just rushing, and some of them will sleep for three or four hours, because we see it in the telematics system. We try to explain to the driver: if you drive at 80kmph or if you drive at 100kmph, you are still going to do four loads in 24 hours, but you are never going to have time to do an extra load — it’s unsafe driving, it’s high loads and it’s wear and tear on the vehicle.

AH: They’re getting paid by load, and the contractors are getting paid per load, so invariably the drivers are just running their trucks flat out. With the taxi drivers, they are not incentivised to rest — they have to earn a fixed amount to cover their salary, and they share the revenue above that, so if it is a quiet time, they are going to drive for 12 or 14 hours a day. That’s the endemic problem we have.

RB: We also can’t tell you today how many vehicles are on the road. The RTA for Dubai and the NTA for the UAE, could tell you how many vehicles are registered on number plates in the UAE, but they can’t tell you how many are on the road. Only Jordan within the MENA region can give you vehicle operation statistics.

How does data factor into driving training?

NS: You have got to prove the concept to the customer. It becomes difficult because you have different nationalities, and to have a driver trainer is costly, but if you have the system, you have the data — so use that data to train the drivers. One thing that fleets can do and some fleets are doing is introducing a bonus system from the telematics score. You say, ‘okay, if your score is 90% you will get 500 dirhams extra per month’. I have talked to customers that I have in the region, and I know that they are making a saving, and that the drivers are accepting the system.

RB: A company in Saudi selected their driver of the year based purely on their telematics results during 2015, and that has worked fantastically, because now some 4,000 drivers all want to be the driver of the year — and they are actually asking for training. It definitely motivating the drivers, and 20% of the drivers are nationals — so it is really making an impact.

AH: There is a lot of competition. The larger bus fleets also make their depots compete against other depots.

NS: If you print out the weekly or monthly reports, nobody wants to be at the bottom, though you will find some guys who don’t care about it. It generally takes months and months of work.

AH: In Europe they have, and you can actually download, the data from the driver, so for a routine inspection they don’t actually have to stop the truck — because the data uploads automatically, second by second. In countries like Australia, where you’ve got huge distances that the guys are driving, they’ve implemented a system whereby if a driver is downloading data to the local authorities while driving through New South Wales, he can choose a quicker route — and he is allowed to carry 10% more load on account of the voluntary compliance — so it becomes commercially viable for them to do it.

Have growing visa costs in Saudi Arabia increased interest in vehicle driver training?

AH: Not by anyone other than the same client base we’ve been talking about — that would buy premium priced European trucks and actually spend money on the systems to get a return.

NS: There are some big fleets that want to be the first, but it is much easier to convince let’s say a 20- or 50-truck owner because it’s a small fleet that they can manage. When you talk to a customer with 500 trucks his initial thinking is, ‘well, I’d have to employ three people to monitor the system’ — he does not see the long-term benefits. Private operators generally want to see the saving, because with contracts on hold in Saudi and projects getting on slower in Qatar (and even slower in the UAE), fleets are being parked off — so they need to save wherever they can.

Is cut-price product a problem in telematics?

RB: End users are suffering from choosing cheaper options, particularly in the way the system is installed. One of our end users lost a vehicle to fire, completely due to the way the track-and-trace device was patched in. It shorted out.

AH: It is really rubbish in; rubbish out, because if your installation is comprised right from the start, you’re never going to get quality information out of that vehicle. We operate in a market that is very price sensitive, and a lot of decisions are made by guys who are after a 25% reduction in the quoted price, but they don’t see the end benefits or the reality of the whole value chain.

NS: There are so many available systems here in the GCC it is sometimes hard to count how many. As a manufacturer we are very strict about who can connect to our trucks, but not every customer cares about warranty — they sometimes just connect to the closest live wire.

AH: The decision making is not always made by the owner of the business, or with the right thought process behind it. A system might save $50 a month, but compromise a $200,000 truck.

NS: When you are presenting your telematics system to the board of a company, the general manager and financial director — all those guys can be convinced by the system. However, with with operational guys, sometimes they have too much work to be worrying about telematics. A major concern is a lack of driver trainers: a fleet can have 300 drivers, but no driver trainers.

Beyond vehicle warranty, do insurance premiums incentivise the use of telematics?

AH: In the region, insurance firms don’t offer a reduction. Elsewhere, it can be mandatory to have a telematics system to get insurance; here, they get the premium anyway, and in their minds, you should be installing telematics anyway as a fleet owner — to reduce the risk profile.

NS: It would be good to see the insurance companies involved in reducing the payments. In South Africa, if your driver has a good score then the insurance would be 10% less. We’ve got to show them that they are paying 10 claims for a fleet a year, but they could be paying two claims.

RB: It’s not here yet, because the method of the calculation for insurance in the Middle East is based on a percentage of the vehicle value; it isn’t a risk-linked or actuarial calculation — so there is no discount and the incentive isn’t there.

Who is leading driver behaviour monitoring technology, and what actions are needed?

AH: It has been driven by oil and gas producers, who developed a policy, the OGP365, which we were implementing as Safe Drive International — our former name before we were acquired by MiX Telematics. Two of our staff were instrumental in driving and drafting the OGP365 policy and developing a driver scoring system to risk rate you as a driver. It’s almost obsolete now in that we’ve evolved from that, but it’s a good indicator. Exemplary oil and gas producers have drivers who may have 50 to 100 events a month — so that’s harsh brake or harsh acceleration, an over-speed, or under-speed, and you’ve got to drive really well to match those scores. Here, you have drivers logging up to 4,000 events a week — that is the disparaging gap in the region. We run the same systems for the oil and gas companies here and they comply. If you look at the large oil and gas companies, their drivers are driving 10km under the speed limit — so they’re driving according to the rules — but it is just unchecked mayhem and chaos around them.

RB: The telematics systems are all available to improve the safety of transport for the UAE and GCC, but what is missing is the legislation. You can’t use the current explanation, which is that we’ve got a work hours law of 45 hours per week. That is what is used as a drivers’ hours law, but a driver can go for 20 hours before they have a break — as long as they’ve got fuel in the tank. Until there’s legislation for that, we can report on the fact that they’re driving for 20 hours a day, but there’s nothing to stop anyone from doing it. You need both sides. Unless you’re monitoring against regulation, you can’t enforce anything.

NS: One of the major concerns in the GCC is idling. The driver will start the truck at 6am in the morning, and probably switch it off only at 6am the next morning — because of the temperatures they don’t want to sit in a hot truck. Some of the companies compromise and say ‘okay, if you’re loading at this quarry, switch the truck off and we’ll provide a room with AC’ — and that is monitored by the telematics system. Education-wise, this convinces the owners by reducing fuel consumption from just idling. If you compare the idling time versus the moving time on construction sites, the idling time is always more.

AH: If you had compliance and you had regulations, it would spin off into the driver training. There are PR campaigns about driver training for 150 drivers, but it’s a drop in the ocean compared to the number of driver out there driving these juggernaut trucks — untrained and unqualified in many ways — and the data is not being used.

How do you view the RTA announcement of plans for mandatory telematics systems?

RB: It is still not clear what their intentions are, because in the document it mentions a defect monitoring and defect removal monitoring tool. Telematics is not that. It’s a defect monitor, so you can see that a vehicle has a problem, but you can’t see who has made a problem disappear and how they made it disappear. We can also tell you the tyre pressure, but not the tread depth —which was also one of the functions mentioned.

So it is also about the importance of having the understanding of what telematics is, and by contrast what amounts to unrealistic expectations.

AH: It would be a very welcome thing if it was applied unanimously and across the board, but at the moment it is a tender for 55,000 vehicles with no consideration of finance or earn back.

NS: It should be based on the scorecard. If your fleet is operating at a certain score, then your licence fee for the vehicle is reduced. You have to incentivise the operators to see the difference. Authorities are worried about the speed and the accidents, but sometimes speed is not causing the accidents. There are no drivers’ hours in the UAE, so drivers can go for 24 hours if they want to, and if you drive on some of the truck routes, it’s a nightmare: It’s like playing dodgems with the trucks because they don’t keep to lanes and most of the trucks are driving at over 100kmph. From a safety viewpoint, the top manufacturers have a lot of systems in the trucks, the driver is the manager of the systems, and the telematics manages the driver. But if the driver does not understand the systems, he will not use them. It’s about using the system to your advantage.

How do you go about approaching potential stakeholders?

RB: It’s an individualised theme. You can convince an owner of the benefits of telematics, but you have got to convince the whole management chain. The drivers are actually the link in the chain that is the easiest one to work with. For plenty of drivers, 500 dirhams is a 25% bonus, and they’re interested in whatever they can do to earn a little bit more at the end of the month. But to get the agreement all the way down through the structure — that’s the difficult part. Your leading, quality operators are always going to be the early adopters of the system.

RB: What we’re doing now is we’re not installing the system until we’ve gone high up the management structure and shown them the feature function benefit for the telematics system and what it can do for their fleet — because unless you can get buy in at the top, they’re not going to use the system.

NS: Sometimes they just rely on the automated reports, and maybe they’re only using the system for when you go into their office and they have a big screen with a map. You’ve got to convince them of the benefits of the whole system.

How is the telematics data being reported?

AH: We have a really advanced user of our systems where we send over 900 reports a week to 19 different departments. The CEO and CFO get completely different reports to asset management, security, driver training and health and safety — they all get different customised dashboards to make it useful to them and ensure that they’re not just ignoring it when it comes to them and archiving it to be compliant. It is always interesting to see who opened the report and for how long. We see it and we focus our training, reporting and steering of an organisation in a certain direction as a result of that.

NS: Some CEOs are aware that they have a telematics system, but they are not sure how it is used in the organisation, because it is being managed at such a low level. But if a payment issue escalates up to him, you’ve got to go and convince him again, and say ‘okay, so you’ve got this system…’

RB: Some CEOs don’t even know their own trucks, but as a whole the Middle East is an emerging market in terms of the technology. It’s growing faster than any European market, and is a step ahead in terms of the speed of the development and the implementation of the technology. They see the benefits that have come from the European experience. Some understand why they want it, and others want it, but then you have to go and tell them why they want it and explain where we can help, and where their expectations are unrealistic.

What will be some of the developments and focus areas for telematics moving forward?

AH: It’s promising. In terms of health, safety, compliance and optimising their fleets, the oil and gas companies are still light-years ahead of many other operators — they do commentary drives and refresher training every year, and publish the scores from the CEO right down. The evolution of telematics is key, as is adding value — as in through the use of camera systems to educate the ticket systems on buses, or to protect the driver against road rage and other incidents. When you integrate telematics with journey management you can also provide risk management on the road, where a driver is aware that he is coming towards a hazard — like a flash flood in Fujairah — and is re-routed. Owners are starting to see value there. Fatigue management is also very important — getting telematics information to assist with measuring and indicating fatigue is a next step. We are testing fatigue glasses and the integration of smart devices, like Apple Watches, to measure heartrate and the blinking of the eyes, and track fatigue against diet — it is evolving very quickly.

NS: One of our fleets is an international fleet, so they think the European way, and they have six driver trainers who are quite high level, so they understand the telematics system properly and they use it to train drivers on a daily basis. Two common areas where drivers can improve are braking and over-revving, which cause high fuel consumption. For some drivers, it would be better take the rev counter out of the trucks, because they come from locales where they drive trucks with gear levers and listen to the engine.

How is uptake and legislation progressing?

RB: The speed of implementation was slow to start with, but in the last year, it’s really been ramping up. I think we’ll see an increase again in the speed of request or requirement next year, because the cost of operation is increasing, but the rates are not increasing — so they’ve got to reduce their cost of operation to keep profitable. They have also got to have driver trainers.

AH: But we need to get the industry together to lobby at a high level with the authorities without a commercial bias. If we all believe we’re doing something for the good of the roads and making driving safer for everybody on the road, then we should be lobbying as an industry group to make sure regulation and enforcement happens.

RB: I’d like to see that go one step further and start lobbying with the GSO, the GCC-wide legislation. The UAE already has a lot more regulating bodies (many of them already active) than the rest of the GCC. There are a lot of countries that would benefit from copying what the UAE has done already — so if we could get a GCC standard issued from the GSO in Riyadh it would be a major step in the right direction.

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