Dennis J. Junk
Interested in cameras and telematics for your fleet but not sure where to begin? Well, here we’re going to walk you through the whole process, at a high level, of planning and implementation. This should give you an idea what you’ll be getting into, what you can expect, and how you can make sure the project pays dividends.
This is meant as a flexible outline, so we won’t use numbered bullets to suggest a rigid ordering. But many of the individual steps follow logically from the ones before, so the order isn’t completely arbitrary.
Let’s jump in.
Identify Challenges and Set Goals
You’re probably looking into cameras and telematics systems because your fleet has an issue you need to address, like growing fuel cost or spiking insurance rates, just to name a couple of the most common ones. Following the principle that you measure what you want to improve, you can begin by listing the ways your fleet could reduce costs and increase efficiency.
Cameras provide benefits in the realms of safe driving, security, and protection from liability. Telematics provide information on the vehicle’s performance, location, fuel efficiency, and even the RPM for the wheels. So, you have options for what you’ll want to focus on with your implementation.
The important thing to remember is that these are complex technologies, and you’ll be working with them in a complex environment. Cameras and telematics aren’t the type of tool where you set it and forget it. You won’t be able to simply install them and then stand back to watch the benefits accrue. Rather, you’ll need to have a detailed plan in place with both specific goals and ways to measure progress if you want to get the most out of your investment.
Research Partners and Providers
If you’re focusing on lowering your insurance premium, the first step is to contact your insurance provider and ask which approaches to performance tracking they prefer. Does the provider offer any discounts for cameras or telematics implementation?
If not, maybe they can tell you which areas to focus on, so you can improve your safety record when it comes to the metrics that will be most likely to reduce your rates. And, if your provider has nothing to offer, it may be time to shop around for an insurer who will work with you to transform your ongoing performance tracking and continually improving safety record into a lower premium.
Whatever goal you’re aiming toward, it’s a good idea to reach out to whichever partners or providers will be impacted. There’s a good chance they’ll be able to give you some guidance in your planning and decision-making going forward.
You’ll also want to begin the process of researching providers of the camera and telematics systems themselves. The first step is to generate a list of the main players in the industry. Look for third-party reviews when possible. But the main objective for now is to get a grasp on what each vendor offers, along with a ballpark figure of what your company will pay.
(Getting a sense of costs can be tricky, because most providers want to be in the room with you before they talk numbers. This is where customer reviews will come in especially handy.)
Create a Draft Proposal
Now, it’s time to document your findings on the potential benefits and costs, along with an outline of the process from choosing a vendor to implementing the solution, and on to evaluating the results. This is the document you’ll use to educate and get buy-in from stakeholders. It will also help you and your team stay on track and maintain your focus on the key milestones along the way.
Keep in mind the purpose of this draft proposal is to give you a rough sense of where you’re going with the project. Once the process is underway, the plan is certain to change. So, don’t hesitate to make revisions as you learn more about the technology and as you acquire more input from both providers and stakeholders.
Since the plan is bound to change as your team progresses through the stages, you won’t want to devote too much time to zeroing in on the details. There’s no point risking getting stuck in the weeds when any given part of the plan is apt to change anyway.
The rule of thumb is that the nearer the step, the more detail you’ll need. The farther the step is from where you are now, the more provisional, and the less detailed your outline will be. But that doesn’t mean you should abandon the plan at any stage for lack of clarity or certainty.
For at least the next two or three steps in the process, you’ll want to include achievable tasks and realistic deadlines, so you can keep the project moving forward until you’re back on more solid ground.
Get Buy-In from Executives
You may have been assigned the task of planning a camera and telematics implementation by executives in your company. Even in this case, however, chances are these executives are still going to want to know what you’ve discovered in your research and how your plan is taking shape.
If the project came about through your own initiative, this is the time to find out how much support you can count on. Your managers are going to want to know what issues you’re hoping to address, or what opportunities you’re hoping to take advantage of. Naturally, they’re going to want to see a timeline and a cost-benefit comparison. And they’re going to want to know what the implementation is going to entail. Will it, for instance, mean downtime for a significant number of trucks in the fleet?
Go into these meetings with an open mind, as this is one of the points where your plan faces a high likelihood of revision. The keys to success are that you come away with benchmarks for reporting on progress, and that you have a good idea what the executives’ expectations are and how you’re going to fulfill them.
Assign Someone to Manage the Implementation Project
The buck must stop somewhere, or the project will languish in the typical back-and-forth that plagues large organizations. The implementation will go much more smoothly if you have a single person who’s ultimately responsible. How this manager organizes her team, if she needs to do so, can be left up to her. But this person will need to:
- Keep executives informed of progress
- Keep drivers onboard at each stage
- Establish metrics for monitoring improvement
- Evaluate providers
- Lay the groundwork for the eventual launch.
By this point, you’ve already set the goals, answering the question of what you hope to accomplish. The manager of the project will now have to answer the question of how you’ll accomplish it. There will be a lot of moving parts, so avoiding uncertainty over who’s in charge of what will be critical to success.
Involve Drivers in the Planning
Most fleets make the mistake of informing drivers about the cameras and telematics only after most of the planning has taken place and it’s time to install the technology. The problem with waiting to bring drivers into the loop is that it lends to the perception that the new tools and new practices are being handed down from on high—and if they don’t like, that’s tough.
Especially in cases where cameras are pointing at the drivers themselves, it’s crucial that you avoid giving people the impression that you’re spying on them, trying to catch them doing something wrong so you can use it against them somehow. Once this sort of adversarial mindset has taken hold, you can be sure your drivers will fight you every step of the way.
The most effective way to get drivers to take ownership of the project is to involve them as early as possible in the planning. Let them know exactly what goals you’re hoping to achieve, along with how achieving those goals will benefit everyone in the company. Then solicit their input into how to make the project a success—and insofar as possible, let them see their input being incorporated into the plan.
If your fleet is large and getting all your drivers to planning meetings is logistically infeasible, you can have them choose representatives. It will be the responsibility of these representatives to gather concerns and suggestions from some subset of your drivers and communicate them to the team in charge of planning and implementation.
Now, it’s time to go deeper into your research of providers. At this stage, you’ll be reaching out to some of your top picks and sharing your plan with them. The biggest part of these evaluations will focus on demos they put on for you and your company’s stakeholders, so you can determine not just whether their products meet all of your specifications, but whether they do so in a way that’s intuitive.
Along with specific questions pertaining to your goals, you’ll want to ask:
- How responsive will the provider be to your fleet’s evolving requirements?
- What kind of training do they offer for drivers and technicians?
- What does the installation process entail?
- How flexible is the system they offer?
- How much downtime will be required for installation and training?
- How will the partnership evolve as new technologies or new market conditions emerge?
Run Pilot Projects
Many providers offer the option of installing their technology in a small number of vehicles so you and your team can do a trial run before making a commitment. This is important because it’s one thing to watch a demo put on by sales representatives—it’s something entirely different to get your hands on the tools yourself.
The objective isn’t simply to install the tools and see how easy they are to use. Rather, you want to test each provider’s products with reference to the goals you established for the implementation at the outset.
It’s important not to be drawn in by fancy gizmos and whizbang interfaces. Instead, you’ll want to compare offerings based on the clarity and efficiency they deliver in helping you track (and thus improve) the metrics that you’ve already identified as critical to your operations.
Create an Installation Plan
Once you’ve chosen a provider and a set of tools, the next step is to figure out how you’re going to get these tools on all your vehicles. This is another point where you can ask your drivers for input. Keep track of how much time each installation takes so you can budget downtime for all your vehicles as you progress. You may want to do installation on clusters of vehicles, taking them off the road in groups. Or you may want to create a schedule for working on them sequentially at a consistent rate.
Getting the equipment on the trucks is just part of the challenge at this point, though. You also have to make sure your drivers know how to operate it. You can take on installation and training at the same time, instructing drivers while their vehicles are sidelined. Or you can proceed in stages, which takes us to the next step.
Train Drivers and Technicians
Here is where getting your drivers involved early on will pay off. With any luck, most of them will be excited to finally get to use the new tools they’ve been discussing for weeks. There are all kinds of venues where instruction can take place: meetings for live training, webinars, online videos and tutorials, even in-cab coaching sessions.
You will most likely collaborate closely with your providers at this stage, so it’s a good idea to find out what kind of training programs and materials they offer long before the time comes. You’ll also want to prioritize establishing channels for everyone to get their questions answered as well as ongoing incentives for adherence to your newly developed (and continually evolving) protocols.
Create a Process for Ongoing Evaluation and Improvement
A successful camera and telematics installation project doesn’t end after all your vehicles are equipped and all your drivers are trained. Indeed, you won’t know if the project has been a success until you’ve had a chance to see how far your fleet is moving toward the goals you set at the beginning.
Ideally, you’ll have regular evaluations of the system at predetermined intervals into the indefinite future. But, for now, you’ll want to set a date for at least one, which will take place after sufficient time has elapsed for the fleet to have made measurable progress toward your goals.
It will still be important to include drivers (or their representatives) in these evaluations. Not only will they have key insights into how the system is working and where it’s blind spots may be, but letting them see that their input is being taken seriously is one of the most effective ways to keep them invested in the project’s success.
The big takeaway here is that throughout the process you’ll need to remember that this isn’t a camera and telematics project. It’s an insurance-reduction project. Or a safety-improvement project. Or a customer-satisfaction project. The cameras and telematics technologies are merely tools, powerful though they may be, to get you to the goals that inspired you to take on the project in the first place.