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AI is hastening the demise of legacy telematics systems

Philip van der Wilt Profile picture for user Philip van der Wilt Samsara January 31, 2024
The clock is ticking on legacy telematics technology. Samsara's Philip van der Wilt shares the experiences of managers who have made the move to connected data with AI.

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(© NanoStockk -

The evolution of fleet-based telematics is about to step up a gear. But as the rush for enterprise systems that leverage artificial intelligence (AI) gains momentum, it also looks set to accelerate the demise of old-school vehicle telematics systems.

And it’s easy to see why. In recent years, legacy telematics technology are increasingly taking a back seat, replaced by a new generation of cloud-based connected platforms. While some older systems were first developed decades ago, the biggest downside is that many require data to be downloaded manually.

In some cases, the data is entered into spreadsheets or recorded on paper. As I wrote in diginomica in 2022:

For us at Samsara, our biggest competitor in rolling out new technology to businesses and organizations with vehicles and machinery is pen and paper. Sometimes literally.

Advances in mobile communication have helped to solve the need for human intervention. But this doesn't address the complexity of having multiple vendor solutions — such as one for engine diagnostics, tracking, safety, compliance, cargo monitoring etc. — and how this data from multiple sources can be used to create a single view of an entire fleet.

Of course, it's possible to find workarounds. But with the emergence of a new breed of AI-powered solutions coming down the road, it seems time is running out for these siloed technologies that require manual intervention.

After all, AI needs data to fuel its systems. Old-school telematics solutions — even those that have been upgraded — simply can’t come anywhere near a modern, digitally native platform that generates quality real-time data.

And if fleets want to capitalize on AI to improve their safety, efficiency and sustainability then hanging onto these systems simply won’t work.

Fleets need a “robust foundation of reliable and well-governed enterprise data,” explained Stephen Franchetti, CIO of Samsara:

Utilizing the power of this data is paramount for training precise machine learning models, deriving insightful analytics, and enabling intelligent decision-making.

As AI technologies continue to evolve, the quality and accessibility of enterprise data could significantly impact an organization's ability to assess large datasets in real-time, stay competitive, eliminate bias, and free up more time for innovation.

For CIOs in the world of physical operations, transport and logistics, this means one thing: the next frontier in AI lies in the synergy between AI, connected platforms utilizing Internet of Things (IoT) technology and real-time insights across a diversity of data.

Fleets are already using AI-powered technology

But unlike some technology trends that aren’t due to be delivered until sometime in the future, the use of AI technology is happening. Now.

UK wholesale food distribution company, Sysco GB — with over 2,000 vehicles at 32 depots across the country — is using AI to capture and sift through live dashcam video footage to help manage its insurance claims.

It’s all part of the company’s focus on honing the driving skills of all its staff to improve road safety, minimize accidents and reduce costs.

In the past, fleet managers relied on spot-checks and CCTV to identify risky driving behaviors. But searching for a specific incident was like trying to find an unmarked pallet in a giant warehouse. CCTV systems were liable to break and manually trawling through hours of footage ate up considerable time for managers.

As Mark Taylor, Regional Operations Director for Sysco South, explained: 

Our process for assessing and managing driver behavior was random.

Reviewing dashcam footage would be a whole day's work, and as there’s only so much a team manager can review, many drivers were missed. It was impossible to tell who was demonstrating good behavior and who wasn’t, and even harder to ensure the safety of our drivers at all times across the entire fleet.

Now, using a data-rich connected platform built on advanced AI, managers no longer have to search for incidents. Instead, the platform automatically alerts drivers and managers to events in real-time, capturing high-definition live footage both in and outside the vehicle.

In effect, it’s keeping a watchful eye on the business 24/7, intervening when an issue arises. Taylor added:

We had a particular challenge around understanding safety events like harsh braking.

When our traditional telematics flagged an event, we had to manually match it up with the right CCTV footage.

Now, all that’s done automatically. If an incident is recognized as a risk, footage is relayed back to the depot for review within minutes.

Connected platforms provide total oversight

For managers, this means they’ve always got an eye on potential hazards like speeding or driver distractions — giving them ample time to proactively review the risks and report back to drivers before it becomes a more severe issue.

Paul Duncalf, Safety, Training, and Fleet Compliance Director at Sysco GB, said:

We are now in a place where we can search for and retrieve footage in just a few clicks, which takes minutes as opposed to hours.

We’ve moved away from having a hard drive in each vehicle to a completely innovative and efficient system.

The combined technology now vets 90% of footage via AI, and all the information is accessible via a single platform. So, when we need to investigate an event, our fleet managers don’t spend hours looking for the information — it’s already there.

As a result, Sysco GB has reported a 40% reduction in on-road incidents in just three months, with drivers regularly logging high individual performance scores of over 90%.

But safety isn’t the only area where AI-powered technology is proving to be a game-changer. Last year’s State of Connected Operations Report found that AI was being used to transform physical operations in areas such as automating manual workflows, improving the visibility of vehicles and other assets, and increasing operational efficiency.

What links all these functions — apart from a platform that provides a single system of record — is the ability to access meaningful up-to-date data to derive business benefits. It’s an approach to fleet management software that underlines the fact that siloed, legacy telematics systems that once served vehicle-based fleets are now effectively obsolete.

While Sysco and the rest of the industry are moving towards connected operations platforms, time is running out for traditional telematics. Its demise is likely to be hastened as firms focus on data to drive improvements to the safety, efficiency and sustainability of their operations.

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