For more than 10 years, the construction industry has been consumed by the potential of the data-driven job site. For the equipment industry in particular, one of the hottest topics has been telematics.
With telematics, project managers can keep track of not only what equipment is on a jobsite, but also how each piece is functioning. Such information can improve efficiency, reduce costs and boost profits.
In spite of its potential and the fact that the technology has been widely available, only about 15 to 20 percent of heavy equipment is instrumented with telematics today. While this number is partly due to long decision-making cycles and expensive hardware, the current telematics vendors bear some of the responsibility for the limited adoption.
Why current solutions are falling short
One of the reasons for the low adoption rate is that telematics vendors have taken a “walled garden” approach to their go-to-market strategy. Instead of empowering equipment owners to display telematics information on any user dashboard, vendors require that data from their boxes only be displayed on their specific user-facing software. As a result, a construction company that owns machines equipped with different telematics devices must juggle several dashboards and consolidate the differently presented data from each screen. The annoyance and inefficiency of this disparate data arguably cancels out the benefits of telematics-enabled machines all together.
An additional frustration to the current telematics solutions is the design of the user-facing software. The user dashboards available from telematics vendors are often confusing and overwhelming. The data is presented in a disorganized fashion, with little discernible effort put into making a user-friendly experience. These dashboards inundate the user with every data point, obscuring any key insights that could be gained from the information.
Finally, telematics adoption has been limited because telematics vendors blind themselves to the limits of the physical technology. Job sites do not always have reliable cell, wifi or satellite access. Instead of building in a contingency plan to collect important data in these cases, telematics vendors simply ignore the problem.
In short, the current telematics offerings have pain points, but not unsolvable ones. As the market demands solutions to these shortcomings, the industry can expect the following developments.
Five Predictions for the Future of Telematics
1. Mobile Data Entry for Non-Telematics Machinery
As the challenges of using telematics boxes continue, equipment managers will look for simpler tools that enable operators to easily gather equipment data, even without a functional telematics box. For example, a mobile app on an equipment operator’s phone could allow him or her to quickly collect information, such as hour counts, fuel levels, location and maintenance needs, which would be instantly accessible by the equipment manager back at the office. Such an app could be used for every piece on a job site, even if there is no satellite coverage.
Telematics data will be set free via APIs. Instead of limiting data from a vendor’s box to the vendor’s dashboard, customers will have the option to pay for access to the data itself, which could then be fed into any user dashboard. This will allow the equipment manager the flexibility to consume, integrate and visualize data from all machines in a manner that works best for his or her workflow.
3. Data accessibility on mobile
As more construction management software shifts to mobile apps, so too will telematics dashboards. Moreover, mobile access to data will enable increased collaboration among all workers on a job site. For example, one can imagine an equipment manager getting an alert regarding low utilization of a backhoe, which automatically triggers an alert to a site foreman to uncover why it’s being underutilized.
4. Shift from ‘fire hose’ of data to ‘insights’
Instead of simply showing as much information as possible, data will be streamlined and packaged into the most important insights. It’s one thing to show a bunch of charts showing the utilization pattern of all machines, but it’s another thing to say, “The weather at job site X was bad, and based on historical data, the utilization for this category of machines was as expected.”
5. Computer-assisted equipment scheduling and dispatch
Even with functional telematics boxes, most equipment managers spend significant time dispatching machines and increasing their fleet’s utilization. Determining which piece of equipment should be at each job site and whether rentals need to be sourced is currently a manual process. As databases of utilization information grow, however, telematics will help equipment managers evaluate dispatching decisions to optimize utilization.
Delivering on the promise
As with any new technology, it will take time to overcome the shortfalls of the earliest versions. Cooperation within the industry across contractors, vendors and OEMs will continue to be a challenge. Vendors will still struggle to understand how to make telematics data user-friendly. Satellite coverage will remain limited on remote projects.
Eventually, though, the market will demand that these problems be overcome. While it may seem natural for vendors to take a protectionist approach to telematics, those vendors who understand the benefits of a more open and flexible ecosystem will be the ones who eventually win market share. With the help of such industry leaders, telematics will fulfill its promise to revolutionize equipment management.