Interviews with Telematics Suppliers: More Intuitive Navigation

July 19, 2022
Telematics systems are adding benefits and capabilities, tracking emissions, improving utilization and accuracy of billing, pinpointing maintenance needs and more.


Malcolm Early, vice president of marketing, Skyjack

Peter Gibbons - Technology Solutions Architect, Finning Canada

Ara Eckel, director of product management for connected solutions, JLG

Tony Nicoletti, CEO, DPL Telematics

James Leibold, product marketing manager for connected solutions, John Deere Construction & Forestry

David Swan, senior vice president of products, Trackunit

RER: What have been the most recent benefits and capabilities of the telematics system you offer to rental companies?

Early: Skyjack’s Elevate has been specifically designed for the rental industry and that means removing some of barriers that delayed adoption of telematics for off-road applications, such as rental. Barriers that came from the “on road” origins of telematics, such as monitoring too many and not the right data points, excessive data costs, monthly license fees, and more.

The benefit to Skyjack’s tailored rental package is realized by rental companies in reduced service costs. It means less time on the phone, less time on site and improved support and service planning. Since machine performance data is always on hand, maintenance can be streamlined as accurate and up-to-date run hours are captured without manual entry, and so efficient service scheduling can be developed. Utilization and revenue can be increased since the rental company knows when machines are truly working. Identifying idle machines maximizes fleet utilization.

The ability to monitor usage outside of contract allows the management of billing accordingly. Logistic costs can be reduced as machines can be found faster, particularly on larger sites. Site visits can be shorter, delivery, service and collection become more efficient with improvements in customer service levels an additional benefit. Machine access control reduces unauthorized use and provides a safer work site. Elevate has an option for a dual ID keypad which uses a PIN code, or an RFID card to control who operates your machine.

Gibbons: One of the biggest benefits of telematics is its ability to use data-driven analytics to ensure accuracy of month-end billing and reporting as well as shorter term rentals. This real-time intel into what is happening on the job site is changing the way we work. We can now track machine hours, location or what equipment is operating at any given time. Telematics started off as a deterrent for theft and damage, and that is still a benefit, but the conversation has now shifted from “where” equipment is to “what” equipment is doing.

Eckel: The JLG ClearSky fleet management solution is an easy-to-use telematics platform that gives users access to actionable data and reports that can be used to track fleet productivity and uptime, while proactively monitoring fleet health and security. Here’s how:

1)   Increase uptime and utilization:

ClearSky can show fleet managers where and how equipment is operating. It also helps to manage the servicing and maintenance of machines more efficiently and effectively. Using telematics, users can remotely diagnose machine problems to coordinate the right tools and parts needed for on-site repairs. And users can also deflect unnecessary service calls to increase the efficiency of service personnel.

2)    Enhance safety and security: With ClearSky, users can know where machines are located. And they can prevent equipment theft by setting virtual boundaries that alert unauthorized movement or operation. With features like access control, telematics systems also help prevent unauthorized use of equipment by limiting access to only trained operators. This means that telematics enables users to always know when, where and how equipment is operating.

ClearSky also provides users with the opportunity to receive automated reports and immediate notifications when problems arise. Fleet managers can proactively schedule maintenance to reduce unnecessary service calls.

3)    Boost productivity and performance: ClearSky also has tools to analyze fleet and operator data, as well as determine the overall effectiveness of a fleet manager’s operation. Sharing utilization and operator data can significantly improve on-site efficiency. By using telematics in conjunction with other digital tools, such as building information models (BIM), users can streamline the planning phase of projects to select the right machine for the job.

Nicoletti: For our unwired solutions, increasing the battery life of the devices has been a huge advantage for our rental customers as they are now able to get multiple years out of a set of off-the-shelf batteries before they even need to think about replacing them. It makes our AssetView product line even stronger knowing that customers can rapidly deploy a slap-and-track solution onto just about any asset in their fleet. With equipment theft continuing to rise and replacement machine lead times stretching, having a long-life quick deploying solution is highly beneficial for rental companies – as one Texas customer of ours can attest to after recovering over 35 stolen skid steers since the start of the pandemic.

To protect against rental abuse and safety hazards, we have introduced tip and rollover detection in our devices which allows rental companies to know if their renters are operating the assets in an unsafe manner or potentially rolling them over.

Liebold: Available on most new models, John Deere’s JDLink telematics solution delivers valuable fleet insights directly into the hands of the fleet manager. The JDLink service enables access to vital data, such as machine location and utilization, time in idle, fuel level, upcoming maintenance, machine alerts, and more, all from a web or mobile platform.

Beyond machine monitoring, the JDLink solution also enables John Deere Connected Support, allowing the local John Deere dealer to remotely diagnose and in some instances resolve issues without a trip to the field, which minimizes potential downtime.

Swan: Trackunit operates a continuous development function, so products and services that support rental customers are constantly being reviewed and improved. We have just opened a product portal on our website that we believe is something unique in our industry, that offers transparent access to all our product development activity. Rental customers, OEMs and contractors can access any product, review what updates are in the pipeline and give feedback to planned or launched products. We believe that this offers real transparency to the market so that together we can help our industry focus on problem solving.

The launch of the Kin, a Bluetooth-enabled tag, for non-powered tools was a significant product for the rental market. It offers the capability to tag and track non-powered tools, such as excavator buckets, and small tools, that are easily misplaced or stolen from a site. Kin allows the contractor and rental company to not only locate the tagged item easily and quickly, but also track when it is operating. We are getting positive feedback from the industry that Kin is reducing asset losses, saving money, and increasing productivity for the rental customer. This is also a massive benefit to the rental company in terms of customer satisfaction and a large reduction in replacement costs.

What are some of the new features and capabilities you will be adding in the foreseeable future?

Gibbons: Better and more accurate ways to track emissions and increase equipment utilization will provide huge value in the future. Telematics can look at how machines are being operated, how fuel efficient they are, how much carbon they emit and if the drivers or operators are utilizing energy saving functions. With consistent tracking and reporting we now have the insights needed to help customers decrease their idle time and fuel consumption rates.

The emissions piece is such a big focus because more municipalities are mandating it. It’s about reducing environmental impacts but also compliance. A lot of government contracts now require companies to provide access to specific data in order to see how projects are running and you can even be charged more in administrative fees if bills aren’t submitted via telematics.

Eckel: Since it was first introduced, developments of new features and capabilities in JLG’s ClearSky telematics solution have been based on customer feedback, which allows us to provide more focused, meaningful data delivered in a cost-effective solution. As an example, historically telematics offered more data points from machines with combustion engines, but today, JLG’s ClearSky API also offers extensive information on electric equipment. This opens up the opportunity for more customers to use our program.

Also, new data parameters are available in ClearSky today that give our customers more insights about what is going on with the equipment, not just where it’s at, but also how it’s being used. This enables them to make informed decisions about our products based on the relevant information available.

Future enhancements to the ClearSky system will continue to make it more intuitive for our customers to navigate, as well as more efficient for them to use the data to proactively manage and maintain their fleets.

Nicoletti: Based on direct customer feedback we are releasing asset control functionality; this allows the vehicle or machine to be locked out without a proper code or key fob being used by an authorized operator. We’re also expanding our Bluetooth tag functionality for tracking of smaller ancillary items such as attachments and buckets.

Swan: We have recently introduced a utilization report for Kin-tagged assets. This allows the rental company to gain an overview of asset usage across their equipment and tools in one go. Assets with a Kin tag pull utilization data from the onboard accelerometer, which indicates movement, and this can then be analyzed. This is a step towards creating a shared view across assets which is telematics device independent.

Based on customer feedback we’ve updated the Kin experience to make finding your Kin-tagged asset easier. Using Trackunit Go, the mobile app, we’ve improved precise address resolution that supports faster finding of assets. A last seen date stamp gives increased level of confidence on the asset’s current location and the movement detector indicator displays if the asset is currently in use. There is also Asset Image, which gives a visual cue as to what the asset looks like.

Telematics connected assets across the rental customer’s fleet can now be captured in a first-level device support providing an overview for a quick health check of the fleet. This enables rental companies to gain the most out of their devices and optimize their fleet. Operators can monitor the whole installed asset base and can identify non-responding units, as well as ensure Bluetooth and encryption is enabled across the fleet.

Bulk search reports allow rental companies to reduce the administration load when they need to generate a report on machines that are still on-site with specific customers. Thus, focusing on machines that need to be billed.

What are the key types of information that your system shares with rental companies?

Early: Skyjack’s unique “ready to operate” feature is available on DC scissors and vertical masts. This clearly indicates the status of five key machines settings that are required to allow the machine to operate. These same settings are the most common that service desks deal with. Dealing with these calls takes time and can ultimately involve a costly site visit. Skyjack’s Elevate shortens phone calls, reduces visits to site and reduces cost by remotely identifying operator error. 

Elevate’s true utilization function allows analysis of time elevated, driving, loaded and total run time provides true working time. Unlike other systems that simply look at engine run/pump time true utilization tells you when your machine was at work, and when it was not.

Machine data and alerts allow rental companies to understand the machine history without needing to be at the machine with specialized tools/software. Providing full fault code access to r service staff means they make better decisions for the machine and the customer, better analysis, and reduced cost.

Data driven pre-delivery inspections (PDI) allows the referencing of live data and machine history to decrease time and increase precision of PDI checks. Reducing machine replacement/repair on site means higher profitability per asset.

Elevate BMS (Battery Management System) targets the largest cost of ownership on electric scissors. Elevate BMS provides the operator with charging advice, and the rental company the ability to manage the cost of battery replacement using accurate and immediate data.

Elevate Live provides operators access to the machine’s current state of health and serial specific resources through a simple QR code.

For electric machines (with BMS) and telematics supplied: state of health, simple percentage of battery life, last charge date, and recommended charging action are shown. For combustion machines telematics supplied: engine faults, daily hours, and fuel used are show.

In addition to live machine data, operators also have access to:

▪ Operator manuals

▪ Familiarization videos: brief visual overviews of the machine

▪ Serialized machine information, including parts manuals and specification sheets

▪ Emergency lowering procedures

▪ Pre-use checklist: visual guides for pre-use inspection

▪ Quickstart guide

Gibbons: Our systems can tap into a ton of shareable information–machine hours, location, fuel levels, idle time, fault codes, maintenance requirements and emissions are just a few. All this information helps to link operations and equipment to real-time data. And a better understanding of how to use this data will help uncover new opportunities to optimize productivity, reduce fuel consumption and lower emissions.

Eckel: The ClearSky telematics system can provide high-level or finite details on a number of machine systems. The key types of information that rental companies most often access JLG’s system for are:

·       Location to help with service planning and cuts on downtime for field techs

·       Fault codes to get machines back on rent quicker

·       Machine hours to help with billing and knowing when to service machine

·       Battery status

·       Machine utilization

·       Setting geofences/time fences to protect investment and to be notified on machine usage (leaving a particular area or being used before/after a designated time)

·       Scheduling maintenance

It is important to note here that telematics solutions to manage equipment aren’t just for the rental companies — or even for fleet managers. We also see equipment users, including aerial lift operators, regularly using certain features within the ClearSky telematics system to:

·       Plan for site visits and rental services, such as equipment deliveries

·       Locate specific machines quickly on a job site

·       Quickly review fault codes

·       Schedule maintenance tasks

Nicoletti: We offer the complete fleet solution from basic location tracking with unwired battery powered devices, to location and usage monitoring through our wired AssetCommand product line, to extensive engine direct data capture via J1939 Canbus and finally a plug in OBDII for trucks. We have options for every customer depending how simple or complex their collection data needs are, and all devices are mapped and managed via our easy-to-use software and mobile app.

Liebold: With John Deere telematics, we give rental houses the ability to filter down data to the exact dates and times when a customer was using equipment to provide detailed machine performance, location, and utilization reports for that period. This gives rental houses the opportunity to have in-depth conversations about ways to increase customer jobsite efficiencies by providing deeper value and a more customized experience than traditional rental houses can.

Swan: Most rental customers need very similar types of information to operate their business effectively. In all situations it is essential to offer customers the capability to filter, sort and export data tailored to their job requirements, two examples of this are:

Incident reports: Construction machines are expensive and currently difficult to replace. Within our incident report, rental customers can detect suspected theft by accessing past locations, provide evidence of device tampering, check time, location and other inputs in the case of an accident. This allows the fleet manager to react quickly to possible theft or accidents, as fast turnaround time can often lead to asset recovery. This report allows fleet managers to quickly gather evidence and forward to the authorities or insurance company.

Fleet Overview: Also, essential for any rental company is the ability to quickly generate and export a fleet overview, time is money, and we are making it quicker for customers to export information into the format they need. In the My Fleet view of inventory customers can quickly export any data they need to an excel sheet. This allows then to filter and select whatever business data is needed, even from large asset data bases.

How does your system help rental companies to bill their customers?

Early: Utilization and revenue can be increased as the rental company knows when machines are truly working, identifying idle machines maximizes fleet utilization and the ability to monitor usage outside of contract allows the management of billing accordingly. All Elevate packages come with access to API connectivity allowing you to feed your rental software/ERP system with live data direct from the machine.

Gibbons: Rental companies can access visibility to machine utilization and health that can fit within their billing scope. This way, when they are billing customers, there are fewer potential issues. Another way telematics can help with billing is tracking the amount of material being moved. The costs can be calculated at 100 percent accuracy. This means invoices are sent and paid immediately and everyone is able to be more competitive, profitable and productive.

Eckel: Rental companies are able to mine important information about equipment out on rent, including machine hours and daily usage, through the ClearSky system, which can be integrated with customers’ enterprise resource planning (ERP) software for seamless fleet management, including billing and invoicing tasks.

Nicoletti: Using our wired telematics products rental customers can see where and exactly how many hours all of their assets or running, so if something is called off rent on a Friday, they will know exactly how many hours the customer may have “inadvertently” run it over the weekend. Additionally, we do offer starter disable capabilities which allows our rental customers to remotely lock out a machine from starting in the case of non-payment or theft, so just like the utilities if the customer doesn't pay then it gets turned off.

Liebold: Telematics help rental companies to identify exactly how much and how often their equipment is being used, enabling accurate billing. Gone are the days where rental companies need to determine how their products are being used. Instead, having data in hand enables rental centers to know precisely when and where their customers are using products.

Swan: As a single example, in the Trackunit My Fleet view, customers can compile single customer current rentals into a spreadsheet to build invoicing quickly and effectively for individual customers. This can be allocated to separate jobs or sites so that customers can easily see the rental use for each project. This capability is very useful for rental company’s customers to keep control of costs, providing insights into equipment use for each site and allows the site managers to optimize their rental equipment requirement at any time.

How does your system help rental companies to practice preventive and predictive maintenance?

Early: Since machine performance data is always on hand, maintenance can be streamlined as accurate and up to date run hours are captured without manual entry, and efficient service scheduling can be developed

Gibbons: Our preventive maintenance programs use telematics to inform operators when their regularly scheduled maintenance is due, or when there is an issue with the machine. This can help site managers coordinate service schedules and allow repairs to occur at times convenient to workload. Reports can then be set up to indicate future preventive maintenance schedules. Dealers can also track the health and location of equipment and arrange service appointments.

Eckel: With access to machine data through JLG’s ClearSky system, rental companies can more accurately manage their machines’ preventive service needs, a proactive approach to equipment maintenance that falls between reactive and predictive maintenance to prevent unexpected breakdowns. For example, telematics users can use the system to plan tasks based on the equipment’s needs in terms of:

·                Customer-created maintenance schedules

·                Operating condition — age of the machine, as well as current condition on the job site

·                Usage — tasks triggered when the machine reaches a specified point, such as hours of use, mileage, harsh working conditions and when the equipment is being used during multiple shifts per day

Having access to actual asset utilization metrics through ClearSky, including engine hours, can help rental companies avoid unnecessary field service calls by indicating, based on equipment schedules, if the machine is due for maintenance or not.

Rental companies can also practice predictive maintenance with JLG’s ClearSky telematics program, as well as JLG’s Mobile Analyzer diagnostics tool. Both solutions use the real-time data from the equipment to monitor machine health and to alert users of potential issues before they occur. For example, with telematics rental companies’ fleet managers can know when a machine’s batteries need to be recharged or if there is a clogged filter or too much water in the fuel tank — all common challenges that occur every day in equipment rentals that can be alleviated by accessing machine data through ClearSky or the remote analyzer.

These digital solutions can also alert rental companies’ fleet managers to future issues before even the equipment operator knows. Through both of these JLG systems, technicians will receive an alert letting them know about the specific issue. That reduces the cost of the service call because technicians can arrive with the right parts and tools to target the specified components — and may even eliminate the need for some service calls.

Nicoletti: Tracking runtime and usage of both rental assets as well as company vehicles allows rental companies to know exactly when assets are coming due for maintenance and schedule most efficiently. Our simple to use platform includes a preventive maintenance scheduling tool for customers that do not already have one.  Additionally, utilizing the richer J1939 engine direct data rental companies can see fault codes, fuel consumption and other diagnostic data which empowers them to take proactive steps before a machine goes to failure.

Liebold: Rental companies can view the machine’s hours of operations on a daily basis, and get immediate alerts for machine diagnostic trouble codes, helping to prevent failures and unscheduled downtime. JDLink also makes it easy to view a machine’s daily hours of operation, helping contractors to plan downtime for maintenance or repairs to maximize uptime and productivity.

Swan: Utilizing the data captured by the TURAW device, rental companies can monitor and analyze machines operation. Down to individual machines, maintenance schedules can be set up, so that specific alerts will be triggered when maintenance parameters have been reached. Single-machine level insights ensure no tracked equipment exceeds its recommended utilization. The system monitors activity such as parameter status throughout the day, machine utilization over a period and machine’s excess usage throughout weekdays and weekdays.

Rental companies often have mixed fleets with mixed telematic solutions. Ensuring connection between machines with ISO 15143-3 feeds to allow high quality data to the Trackunit ecosystem is vital to enable fleet wide analytics, remote diagnostics and increased operational capability. Trackunit supports our customers through the process to achieve connectivity for all their machines and devices across various OEM equipment.

The connectivity highlights situations where site machines are being overused and scheduled maintenance can be reviewed and brought forward if necessary.

Sometimes equipment rental companies have commented that they are overwhelmed by too much data. Do you help them to work out what is best and most important for their operation?

Early: In truth, some of this perception goes back to older systems that had their origins in on-road systems where the number of data points and data frequency were high. Some of those features are simply not of interest in off-road applications. For example, speed monitoring of a delivery van is sensible, but when a scissor lift travels at three to four mph, its importance is reduced. In developing Elevate this was one of our major areas of focus: delivering necessary information only. It also helps reduce data transmission costs.

The primary objective of Elevate was to provide actionable insights and therefore to deliver measurable benefits. The ready to operate feature is mentioned earlier and the featuring of data alerts allow the most important data to be more visible and transmitted to mobile devices.

Equally, the move to provide rental software integration means that rental companies do not have to deal with a whole new software interface and through the use on application programing interface (API) allows rental companies IT departments to bring Elevate data into existing systems. All Elevate packages come with access to this API.

Gibbons: With any technology comes a lot of information. Increased sharing and dissemination of data can help companies make better business decisions but the amount of data now available is immense. The key is making sense of the information.

Finning provides flexible, customizable and cost-efficient options, drilling down to specific areas of performance. Customers can choose the subscription that works for them and if they need it. There’s a full-service platform available including 60-second monitoring of fleet hours and location, idle time and fuel consumption. Depending on their subscription options they can also access interactive online business tools for quoting and invoicing, ordering parts, accessing financial and warranty docs, requesting service, checking fluid sample results and access to repair information.

Eckel: Historically, customers who mentioned being overwhelmed by too much data were only gaining access to the information via an API data feed. Taking a step beyond this method to alleviate the challenge, JLG’s ClearSky solution offers customers a way to access the data through a telematics portal, allowing them to manage the data and prioritize the information they most want to view through dashboards that include equipment maintenance pages, maps that include machine location, geofences and fault code reports.

Nicoletti: Absolutely! This is one of the biggest challenges with telematics data, especially for customers just beginning to utilize and get their head around what is available to them. It is tempting to think, “I want as much data as I can get.” A deluge of data can be incredibly valuable; however, the reality is that many equipment owners are not yet capable of properly digesting available data and often become overwhelmed by it, essentially creating more work than benefit. There can be an advantage to seeing a red stop lamp that indicates a piece of equipment is on rent and the customer is driving it to failure.

But does knowing 100 fault codes really help, or is it noise? If your goal is to improve billing and service scheduling, then you may only need location and usage monitoring – which is available in many telematics products. If you are concerned about theft or suspicious customers, you probably do not need a data-intensive hardwired product, but rather something you can “slap and track” to make sure your rental asset is returned. We work with each customer to assess their needs and pare the appropriate solution.

Liebold: We offer a variety of tools within JDLink that help customers dissect their data into easily digestible graphs, charts, and tables to ensure they have the tools to monitor their fleets efficiency and performance. The JDLink Dashboard view provides customers only the most important information to avoid overwhelming with too much data.

In the past, often rental companies felt they couldn’t afford telematics systems. Are they now more affordable for smaller rental companies?

Early: We mentioned earlier that Skyjack looked to develop a package suitable for rental companies in such a way that meaningful and actionable insights could be realized. That process can actually reduce data transmission costs, so we were able to reduce that burden. In addition, until Elevate, telematic packages, featured monthly data fees. Outside of the actual level of these fees, the monthly invoicing and payments process created a substantial administration burden. By packaging all the product elements together and offering various time periods rental companies not only get a competitive price they also have a reduced administration burden.

Gibbons: Yes, telematics have become more accessible as costs have come down. Most equipment now comes standard with telematics or there are devices that can be added at a reasonable cost. A flexible subscription option can also help with costs. Even for smaller rental companies, if you’re not on board with telematics, you’re going to be left behind. Those who are leveraging telematics are placing themselves at an advantage for winning future work and staying relevant in the industry.

Eckel: Although telematics has been around for more than 20 years, the cost of the technology has decreased significantly over the past few years, including the hardware necessary on the machines, the software needed to gather and analyze the data and the portals or applications used to access the information anywhere, any time — even on remote job sites.

OEMs like JLG have played a huge role in this. For example, JLG supplies telematics devices factory-installed and form-fitted to the exact machine on new production models, as well as retrofit kits for machines currently in the field. This offers a huge convenience to our customers, especially smaller rental companies, who had to, in the past, evaluate, choose and install their own telematics solutions or hire someone after the sale to do so. Now on with OEM-supplied telematics, JLG customers just need to connect the asset, then access the data via a mobile device or computer.

Nicoletti: When we first started as a telematics provider 21 years ago, the devices were the size of bread boxes, had to be installed on the exterior of the machine and cost literally 10 times what they do today. Like all technology, telematics has gotten smaller, more powerful and of course more affordable. Referring to the previous question regarding data complexity, devices are no longer “one size fits all” since customers can pair the exact product to their needs, today there is a solution for every customer and every budget.

Liebold: John Deere took into consideration how important telematics are for our customers and wanted to reduce the barrier of adoption by implementing that customers with active JDLink connectivity would no longer be required to renew their subscriptions. Customers can activate any compatible machine in their fleet at no additional charge, unlocking access to valuable machine data by increasing access to JDLink connectivity. This cost is included in the cost of the machines for many of our products, making telematics more accessible.

Swan: Our User interface and feature design focuses on highlighting exceptions and making the most important data easy to digest and acces. A good example of this is the ability to “pin” the most important parameters on the machines insights page to the top of the list. This makes sure that the most used parameters, which drive business processes and efficiencies, are right where they need to be for quick access and driving action for the user.

At Trackunit, we maintain a continuous open communication with our customers. First contacts ensure that we understand the customers data and business needs, to provide an effective telematic solution. We have recently, introduced our Product Portal on the website, which increases the customers’ ability to be involved in our product updates and new product development. We believe this is an industry first, and it will help our customers and Trackunit to understand customer requirements for current and future products and system developments.