Learn the ins and outs of successfully deploying a fleet management system.
When you look at how IoT solutions in fleet management are poised to both reduce costs and even save lives, it’s obvious why fleet managers are excited to start implementing them. I’ve seen firsthand how such systems make it easier to track and maintain fleets of all kinds. But deploying such a solution isn’t as simple as sticking some sensors on your cars or trucks. While the below isn’t an exhaustive list of all the steps you’ll need to go through, I wanted to share the major pillars of successfully launching any fleet management system.
Why do you need an IoT solution? What are you trying to solve? I would encourage any decision maker interested in pursuing an IoT solution for their own fleet to define their problem before investing their money and time in a fleet management solution. Identify 2-3 questions you have about your fleet. Below are a few examples to get the wheels turning:
After determining your business needs, spend a little time researching solutions that might overlap with your own use case. Then, consult an experienced solutions provider who can help you narrow down your requirements and hone in on the best strategy for your fleet.
Typically, we find that the decision makers involved in developing and purchasing their fleet’s solution aren’t the same folks using it on a day to day basis. Best laid plans will go awry if your on-the-ground team–lot personnel, fleet mechanics, even drivers–aren’t in some way consulted or involved in the development of your fleet management solution. Without the buy-in of those using the system, you won’t be able to manage one vehicle, let alone an entire fleet.
Here’s an example of a lesson learned: in deploying a solution to manage a large inventory of vehicles, my team and I built a web application that–in conjunction with a Bluetooth scanner–allowed users to pair a GPS tracker to a vehicle. The app was simple to use, optimized for mobile, and compatible with both iOS and Android devices, and the Bluetooth scanner paired easily with our smartphones.
Unfortunately, in our testing we only involved the lot’s General Manager and other business stakeholders; and while their sign off is imperative, they aren’t the primary, daily users of the solution. Consequently, we received complaints from the lot personnel responsible for pairing trackers to cars; they hated having to juggle the tracker, their smartphone, and a Bluetooth scanner at the same time. Add an umbrella on top of that when it rained (which was often), and they were especially cranky. And with good reason! These users are the ones responsible for bringing your fleet management solution to life each day. Meeting their needs and obtaining their buy-in are critical for a successful deployment.
Hardware is notoriously the trickiest part of any IoT solution, as it’s the only part that’s really set in stone, so to speak. This article from Daniel Elizalde, “IoT Hardware & Devices – Introduction and Explanation”, is a great primer on the importance of thoughtful hardware selection.
After determining your specific use case, you’ll have a better understanding of what your hardware needs to do. Let’s say you’re the owner of a large fleet of delivery trucks, and you’re struggling to maintain them. Which vehicles need to be repaired? Which are road ready? Where are all your trucks located?
Below are a few things you might ask yourself when determining what your hardware needs to be capable of:
If you said yes, then you’ll want your devices to be GPS-enabled.
If yes, then your devices may need to be compatible with Bluetooth or other indoor tracking capabilities.
If yes, then your devices will need to plug into the vehicles’ on-board diagnostic (OBD) port to accurately pull and report specific engine codes off your vehicles.
Your team might be so rushed they don’t have time to do anything more than throw the devices in a bin before moving on with their work. In this case, you’ll want to make sure your devices are ultra durable, and maybe even weatherproof.
Answering questions like these is a powerful exercise in establishing your hardware requirements; maybe an off-the-shelf solution will work just fine, or maybe you need to work with an expert to develop custom hardware. Again, because hardware is nearly impossible to change once it’s in the field, it’s crucial to be rigorous in this step of your deployment.
Your network is the string connecting the dots of your IoT solution, the wire between the telephone poles. Your solution is no solution at all without a sufficient network to relay information to and from your devices.
As in every other step mentioned so far, defining your needs is critical in choosing the right network. Let’s revisit our earlier example: you’re the owner of a large fleet of delivery trucks that need to be regularly maintained. Once a truck leaves your lot, do you need to receive updates on its engine codes, or know its location? If so, you’ll want to invest in a cellular network, which will provide your devices with broad coverage and the ability to transmit a lot of data (much like your smartphone). However, the tradeoff for high coverage and high bandwidth is high power consumption–your devices will run through battery life at a much faster clip.
Maybe you just need updates from your assets 2-3 times a day while they’re on the lot, when a mechanic can actually tend to them. All you need are location, vehicle battery life, and any engine trouble codes that might arise. In this case, you’ll be set with a low-power, wide-area network, also known as LPWAN. LPWAN will allow all the devices supporting your large fleet to broadcast the health of your vehicles at a regular cadence, without needing to manage what could be hundreds or thousands of device batteries.
After deploying multiple IoT fleet management solutions, cellular and LPWAN are the only two realistic network options for enterprise use cases. WiFi poses a number of security risks, but increasing WiFi security protocols can make it nearly impossible for devices to connect. Bluetooth or RFID can be excellent supporting protocols should you need indoor positioning, but alone do not provide sufficient range.
If you read this article and leave with nothing else, let it be this: Test. Your. Solution. First. Piloting your solution in a small scale environment first is an excellent way to pinpoint weaknesses and tweak your system before spending your time and money on a full-scale deployment. This way, your team has time to get used to the system, provide feedback, and adjust their workflows to fully support your new fleet management solution. Any good systems integrator will recommend starting with a pilot to make sure you’re happy before moving into a full-blown production environment.
Hopefully the above suggestions, examples, and lessons learned help you in preparing for your own deployment. But if your eyes started to glaze over after reading the word “devices” for the 137th time, here are the highlights: