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Cost benefits are increasing fleet telematics uptake in the GCC

Once considered an avoidable overhead, tech tools such as telematics are now a must-have for the Middle East’s fleet operators, experts tell Neha Bhatia

Experts say technology is supporting vehicle and equipment efficiency targets in the Middle East.
Experts say technology is supporting vehicle and equipment efficiency targets in the Middle East.

Numerous experts have told Construction Week this year that the global construction sector lags behind other industries in terms of technology adoption.

For instance, Kareem Farah, the chief executive officer of UAE-headquartered contractor, ECC, warned that resistance to tech investments would “create a void between the industry leaders and lagging competition”.

In an opinion piece exclusive to Construction Week, published this September (Construction Week #668), Farah continued: “While it can be said that the engineering and construction sector globally tends to fall behind other industries when it comes to adopting and implementing new technology, we find ourselves currently standing at the forefront of many exciting new tech-driven developments. The question is, are we brave enough to innovate?”

Similarly, Herbert Fuchs, chief information officer at UAE-based contractor, ASGC, pointed out that the global construction sector would record savings of both time and cost through the adoption of technology.

“The international construction industry – worth approximately $8tn per year – remains remarkably inefficient,” Fuchs added, in a comment piece published this July (Construction Week #662).

These opinions point to the hurdles that the regional construction industry will have to overcome in the future, and the sector’s vehicles and equipment segments have begun to adopt key technologies that will drive both long-term and immediate operational efficiency and cost savings.

For instance, this May, Abu Dhabi General Services Company (Musanada) revealed that its implementation of global positioning system (GPS) devices in its construction equipment fleet had raised productivity by 30% and reduced material loss by 15%. The technology achieved savings worth $0.25 (AED0.93) per square-metre after the technology’s total cost of supply and installation was factored in.

The agency deployed an engineering system based on machine guidance – which uses GPS devices – to carry out grading works. Musanada said the system guaranteed accurate control, and improved the management of occupational safety at construction sites. Eng Suwaidan Rashed Al Dhaheri, acting CEO of Musanada, said the technology improved tasks such as excavation, levelling, and grading of road foundation layers.

He added: “Upgrading machines [for those activities] by deploying GPS control has helped increase productivity by 30%, which will help complete and deliver projects as per the defined schedule.”

The reduction of construction material loss was achieved by deviating from the traditional method of implementing the activities, which “relied on repeating the work in order to reach the required quality”.

Similar technologies to improve equipment fleets have previously been launched by global industry giants such as Caterpillar and Microsoft. However, the greatest advances in fleet technology are undoubtedly being driven by the global vehicles segment, with both manufacturers and specialist tech suppliers making considerable investments to support the uptake of systems such as telematics.

John Taylor, chief operating officer at Al Bahar Positioning Group  (ABPG) – which includes SITECH Gulf, AllTerra Gulf, and Gulf Positioning Services – is optimistic about further growth in the regional telematics sector. SITECH Gulf delivers the full range of Trimble Civil Engineering and Construction products, including machine control services, surveying instruments, and vehicle tracking solutions, as well as safety equipment for cranes and the Spectra line of construction tools.

Speaking to Construction Week, Taylor says the UAE is “the leader” in terms of telematics adoption, adding that other regional countries “are not far behind”.

“There is very good awareness of telematics in the GCC, but [the practice of] using that information to help control costs is [still] in the early stages,” he adds.

Al Bahar Positioning Group’s clients include companies such as Urbacon and National Gulf, the latter of which is deploying the company’s systems on graders being used for a road project in the UAE. Meanwhile, Tristar is using ABPG’s Trimble products, including a dozer system and survey products in Abu Dhabi. Asphalt subcontractor, Arizona National Company, has also fitted ABPG’s products on its grading, paving, and compaction systems for the Formula 1 racetrack it is implementing in Kuwait.

Taylor says he expects ABPG’s list of clientele to rapidly expand in 2018: “We expect slow but steady growth in all the countries we cover – with more opportunities than we can effectively [serve]. Thus, we are growing our staff by 20% over the next couple of months.”

Similarly optimistic about growth in 2018 is Mohammad Saifullah, technical manager for Restrata’s Middle East and North Africa (MENA) operation. The UK-owned company is the official distribution partner of Teletrac Navman technology in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region, and is headquartered in the UAE, where Saifullah says most growth is expected in terms of telematics uptake.

“The UAE is making strides in educating the transportation sector about the benefits of telematics, and is fundamentally beginning to implement legislative change to encourage adoption of these types of tech and sensors to drive safety on our roads,” he tells Construction Week.

“We are also seeing business growth across Saudi Arabia and Kuwait through existing clients and new customers.”

Fleet operators might be picking Restrata for the Teletrac Navman intelligent asset management solution it distributes, called Qtanium Connect. Qtanium Connect offers fleet and mobile asset intelligence, and is compatible with all original equipment manfucturer (OEM) products.

The platform also allows users to track maintenance needs for individual asset components, preventing critical breakdowns and losses.

The unification of monitoring and predictive action is likely to spur telematics uptake in the regional fleet management sector, according to Brodie Von Berg,  head of sales and marketing for Mix Telematics’ Middle East and Australasia operation.

Speaking to Construction Week, he continues: “The commercial vehicle industry in the Middle East is ultimately affected by macro-economic factors such as oil prices, and in the current climate there is always pressure on revenue growth and reducing costs. However, of late we are seeing a trend towards safety and productivity, and companies are concentrating more on ensuring their fleets are operated safely and efficiently. This has a two-fold effect – firstly, it ensure employee satisfaction and safety and, secondly, it helps protect the organisation’s public image.”

Von Berg says new trends expected in the telematics sector include a shift towards the combination of “additional safety technologies with traditional telematics”.

He explains: “This would include in-cab video monitoring, collision avoidance, and fatigue detection technologies. Integrated in-cab video provides the fleet with a single solution, which triggers short video clips based on the same driver behaviour alerts from the traditional fleet management telematics solution. Previously, many fleet operators were purchasing standalone video solutions and installing them next to their fleet management solution, requiring them to manage two systems.

“Collision avoidance systems, too, have been around for a while, and operators are now asking for these systems to be integrated into their fleet management system, as they want the alerts generated by the collision avoidance solution to be part of their overall safety reporting, in order to gain a more complete picture of driving performance.

“Finally, there are multiple options available today that are integrated into the traditional fleet management telematics to detect fatigue.

“This includes glasses or cameras paired with software that uses algorithms to detect eye movements associated with fatigue,” Von Berg notes.

All fleet technology experts appear satisifed with the technical advancements made in their sector, but point to lack of awareness and price-consciousness as a pressure point they will seek to resolve next year.

“From the machine control side, it is the lack of adoption and the resistance to change that keeps the tech utilisation  rate below that of Europe, Australia, and the US,” ABPG’s Taylor explains.

“Of course, another challenge is the regulation hurdles put in place by governments, as these can take a considerable amount of time to overcome.

“There is also a hurdle in convincing customers that a premium product is worth the cost difference from a cheaper – but lower performing – product,” he adds.

Additionally, increasing education about telematics systems within the operator community will be a priority for regional suppliers, which claim that the technology’s cost benefits are undeniable.

Restrata’s Saifullah concludes: “There is often a misconception that a telematics solution is costly, but many systems do not require new purchases, and instead work with hardware that manufacturers install.

“Similarly, ‘plug-and-play’ solutions – such as those we offer – are often available at a minimal cost. Some of our clients have even benefitted with cost savings within eight weeks of the telematics system’s implementation commencing.”

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