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Taking fleet management to the next level

Thanks to the rapid advancement of internet-enabled communication technology, the art of fleet management is evolving

Fleet-management technology has evolved to become an integral part of a growing economy,” says Justin Manson, the sales director at TomTom Telematics for South Africa.

“Before the mid-1990s when the first vehicle-tracking systems were introduced to South Africa for commercial use, fleet management was manual and largely paper-based. Drivers were entrusted to take exhaustive notes in log books, keeping track of routes, stops and kilometres travelled. It’s clear that this system was far from precise, and open to error and manipulation,” he says.

Manson notes that what came immediately thereafter was not that much more advanced, though.

“The first tracking systems to come onto the market for public use in the 1990s were adaptations of technology developed during the 1970s for military use by the American government.

“In the early days of vehicle tracking, each vehicle would be fitted with an expensive global positioning system (GPS) device at high monthly fees. These early systems were difficult to use, costly and often impractical. Only large fleets operated by wealthy companies could implement them,” he explains.

The technology advanced rapidly, however, as did the systems used to manage them.

“GPS devices have become smaller, cheaper and more accurate. A much more detailed array of data can be measured and fed back into a central system to track a variety of metrics; including driver behaviour, transported goods, vehicle faults and maintenance schedules – all accurately and in real time.

“Current systems even allow for direct communication with drivers and provide information about traffic and weather to help find faster and safer routes, even going as far as to provide warnings about possible protest action taking place in an area,” Manson says.

Whether used in a single car, or a national fleet of hundreds of vehicles, these systems – such as Webfleet from TomTom Telematics – see an improvement in driver behaviour, fuel savings and connection to an ecosystem of third-party solutions. This can produce as much as ten percent in bottom-line savings, allowing the business to redeploy the extra cash into the company’s growth.

Impressive as that is, it’s what’s lined up for the future that is the most exciting…

“As connected vehicles become smarter, they become more receptive to a variety of other inputs and seamlessly communicate directly with third-party solutions such as office applications, Bluetooth devices, temperature sensors, tyre-pressure monitors, barcode scanners, printers and various display terminals.

“In addition to weather and traffic updates, connected vehicles will soon be able to talk to each other and the infrastructure around them via the internet through a network of physical objects embedded with electronics, software and sensors that are enabled to connect and exchange data.

“Such technology will be included in infrastructure such as traffic lights, digital billboards, closed-circuit television cameras, scanners and a host of other public infrastructure to ensure safe, efficient smart cities,” Manson explains.

Augmenting traditional tracking

One company that’s heading into the field of internet connectivity is Netstar, a subsidiary of JSE-listed Altron, which has concluded a partnership with SqwidNet, the Sigfox operator and network provider in South Africa.

The agreement will see Netstar move beyond traditional vehicle tracking by availing new opportunities made possible by Sigfox’s technology. Netstar’s product range will see new, cost-effective telematics devices introduced using this technology. A Sigfox communication module will enhance the existing radio-frequency network to offer new internet communication opportunities to the Netstar solution.

“In order to evolve our internet communication solutions, we realised that we needed to enhance connectivity within our suite of solutions,” says Pierre Bruwer, Netstar’s Group MD.

“With over 600 000 vehicles already in our cover, the Sigfox network is going to provide additional connectivity that will enable us to enter new markets, as well as develop new solutions for our existing customers,” he says.

The partnership between SqwidNet and Netstar accelerates the uptake of internet network communications in South Africa, with an end-to-end ecosystem of specialist providers that can help with more sustainable solutions to customers.

Digital transformation needs to be experienced in various ways. Low-power, wide-area networks (LPWANs) help business realise problem solving through receiving data from other sources, for improved insights or for measuring specific applications.

“We are certainly excited about the partnership with Netstar, as an enabler to taking our technology to new levels of innovation,” says Chetan Goshalia, chief sales and marketing officer of SqwidNet.

“It means that, for no extra cost, all assets tracked by Netstar will be visible, with message delivery under a service-level agreement. This will apply in South Africa and in any of the 45 countries in which Sigfox operates, and will provide significant operational efficiencies for Netstar.”

“The first dual device has already been developed with Sigfox connectivity, and we plan to roll out more solutions using this technology to capitalise on the value and benefits,” says Shaun Brashaw, chief technology officer at Netstar.

“Through embracing internet connectivity, Netstar will be able to augment its signatory solutions and bring new solutions to the market, providing its clients with even more value. Furthermore, as part of our global expansion, we will be able to bring internet network solutions to new markets that will provide our clients with even greater peace of mind in our hyper-connected world,” concludes Bruwer.

FOCUS on Transport and Logistics is one of the oldest and most respected transport and logistics publications in southern Africa.

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