Originally published in Public Works Magazine
Finding the right telematics partner is like hiring contractors with their own tools and equipment. Here’s how to establish a mutually beneficial relationship.
By Joel Beal
Thirty years ago, specifying onboard vehicle technology was easy. There were four suppliers, dispatch and routing systems were the same, and only a handful of commercial applications existed. You picked the one that best fit your needs and made it work.
With the explosion in technology and suppliers since then, the job’s much harder. Today, choosing the right product requires significant time and energy. If your agency can’t afford to expend the resources necessary to learn about how to pilot a system, stop reading right now.
If it can, however, you can take the guesswork out of procurement with the following process. You may have to tweak it a bit for your particular situation, but you’ll avoid wasting taxpayer money.
Step 1: What do you need today?
Your job is to make the most logical choice given your agency’s current needs, future plans, and budget. Create a written plan with specific steps to map your path to successful purchase and implementation.
f you’re starting from scratch, consider things like:
- What worries you? Are you getting complaints from internal customers, the public, elected officials?
- Are vehicles and operators dispatched and routed, ideally, every day?
- Are there areas of the operation where you no longer have insight?
- If your fleet includes commercial motor vehicles (CMV), which Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Compliance, Safety, and Accountability (CSA) program scores are particularly high?
- Are some internal customers more expensive to service than others, but you don’t know why?
- What are operators doing wrong? What are they doing right that they’re not being rewarded for?
- If you already have vehicle-tracking technology, ask the same questions, plus:
- Which expectations did it meet?
- Which ones didn’t it meet, and why?
- Which areas of operations did it improve?
- What areas didn’t it improve, and why?
Then determine the needs to which you can attach a return on investment. For example, if you’re a large DOT with multiple maintenance yards, you may suspect that one or two yards have too many vehicles and/or particular equipment. Tracking usage across the agency will help you identify and sell excess equipment.
Step 2: What do you need five years from now?
You can’t afford everything right now, so create a wish list for a second implementation phase.
Let’s say you want a tracking system and automated dispatch. Choose the one for which you have the greatest need now and put the other on a list to roll out next year.
If you make the right purchase for your initial needs, you’ll be able to expand capability fairly easily via an additional service, software module, or hardware peripheral.
Step 3: Writing the request for proposal
Your job is to find the company that meets most of your important requirements and employs people you trust at a price you can justify.
The request for proposal (RFP) is the road map for getting there. You’re introducing yourself to potential partners; how they respond indicates how well they listen — a key to any successful long-term relationship.
You now know current and future needs. Write them down as simply and straightforward as possible in a grid format that enables the respondent to answer:
Yes, No, In the Future, and With Conditions.
Provide enough detail to guide potential suppliers but not so much that you stifle creativity.
The RFP should also include:
- A description of your agency and fleet demographics
- Expected implementation date
- How to submit questions
- How to respond (mail, website, etc.) and the deadline
- Request three references
- Ask for an executive summary
- Request a quote that captures upfront and ongoing costs in terms of both hardware and software.
Step 4: Separate the wheat from the chaff
With your RFP in place, it’s time to engage possible suppliers. Start with a long list of those that may possibly meet your needs.
Ask them to explain how they’ll meet each current and future requirement. Using your grid, grade their responses on a scale of one (can’t do it) to 10 (this is exactly what we want).
Remove companies that can’t meet basic requirements. Rank the rest numerically based on their cumulative response.
Call in this short list of companies for an interview. Do they understand your agency? Are they empathetic to its mission and needs? How will they support your system? What’s their implementation and training plan?
Listening carefully to the answers will tell you how compatible your potential partner may or may not be.
Your short list of suppliers may be shorter after the interviews. Evaluate and verify their answers by asking references the same questions you asked during the RFP process.
You may decide it’s best to do an onsite evaluation by installing and using the technology for a specific period of time. You’ll ask the same questions as during the RFP process and when talking to other users, but you’ll see the answers. You’ll evaluate ease of installation, ease of use, applicability to your operation, competence of training, and reliability of support.
Step 5: The weakest link in the chain
In my experience, technology doesn’t fail because a fleet chose the wrong solution. It fails due to inadequate implementation, which must be planned, measured, and managed.
By now, it should be obvious who your internal technology champion is. Put him (or her) in charge of implementation. Because they’ll get resistance from coworkers, give them the authority and time to get the job done right.
Using the RFP as a guideline, develop a schedule with important milestones and deadlines. Assign who will perform each task. Define their role and give it to them in writing.
Meet weekly, looking back on accomplishments and looking forward to the week ahead. Establish a checklist to audit system performance going forward/annually.
Joel Beal is managing partner for JBA Telematics in Arlington, Texas. Please visit www.jbatelematics.com. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is taken from “How to Find, Install, and Use the Right Vehicle Technology for Your Fleet: Your Blueprint to a Successful Telematics Implementation.” Get a free copy of the $195 special report by e-mailing email@example.com.