Interviews with Telematics Manufacturers: Rich Veins

Oct. 30, 2023
Telematics providers discuss their latest offerings, new efficiencies, trends in telematics, influences from other industries, AI and more.

Telematics providers discuss their latest offerings, new efficiencies, trends in telematics, influences from other industries, AI and more.


Ara Eckel, director of product management, JLG’s connected solutions

Malcolm Early, vice president of marketing, Skyjack

David Swan, senior vice president, products, Trackunit

Edward Olson, product manager, John Deere

By Michael Roth, RER

RER: What have been the most important achievements in your telematics systems in the past year?

Eckel: In April, JLG offered a first look at its new ClearSky Smart Fleet, a next-generation Internet of Things platform for true, two-way fleet management and machine interactivity, at the Summit of the International Powered Access Federation in Berlin. This JLG system will launch in late summer/early fall 2023.

JLG ClearSky Smart Fleet is a global IoT solution developed by JLG specifically for JLG’s mobile elevating work platforms (MEWPs) and telehandlers, providing more actionable data about the equipment than any other telematics program. As an OEM-specific platform, it gives customers deep insights and information about what is going on with the equipment — not just where it’s at, but also how it’s being used. This depth of detail enables equipment owners and operators to make informed decisions about JLG products based on the relevant information available. It is a ground-up redesign, adding innovative elements to transform the way customers work. Key features include:

  • Digitized daily processes for operational efficiencies
  • Accurate and efficient machine location
  • Additional equipment service capabilities
  • Streamlined logistics with Automated Site Networks
  • Actionable, on-demand machine and fleet insights

ClearSky Smart Fleet will be standard on most new machines produced later this year, and customers with existing JLG products can continue to use the legacy ClearSky program for their connected needs. Both platforms will be integrated into Online Express, JLG’s 24/7 e-Commerce site.

Early: This year marked the launch of our updated telematics system Elevate 2.0. Originally launched in 2018, the mobile-first solution aimed to provide operators access to critical machine information such as the machine’s current state of health, pre-use inspection guides, and familiarization tools via a QR code. The straightforward access to this information was designed to empower both operators and rental companies. The updated navigation in Elevate 2.0 allows easy access to additional insight and features, including live metrics such as battery details, engine faults, and controller alarms.

These updates provide clear guidance to operators; encouraging safe operation and saving rental houses time spent answering questions. Furthermore, the insight into each machine allows for straightforward, efficient fleet management.

Swan: We’ve recently launched a new capability called Sites. This is a feature that allows customers to make a construction site, a rental depot, or a logistics center sit at the core of their connectivity software.   

The construction industry and construction rental truly operate around the productivity, efficiency and profitability of different types of sites. It’s an important step to have a connectivity solution that mirrors that thinking.

Practically this means that users in Trackunit’s software suite are now able to manage assets by site, report on utilization by site, group units by site. It allows the user to define an important geographic area and then drive insights and actions based on what happens within that area.

A useful way to think about this is: traditionally in telematics we asked the question, what assets are you interested in knowing about (select a group of units, produce insights) whereas Sites lets us start by asking what sites are important to your business, and then automatically see whatever assets are related to that site. 

One of most important achievements has been our move towards an extendable platform strategy and solution. This approach helps us to facilitate the creation of a broad array of software solutions for the construction industry. The Trackunit IRIS platform has been positioned to work as the scalable and secure foundation for different parties in industry to build their solutions on top of.  

This is an important capability for the industry because of the wide variety of business models, processes and the need to digitize these unique processes to capitalize on the now wide availability of asset connectivity.

You can see this platform strategy and solution in action in our recently launched Marketplace, where Trackunit platform customers are able to access numerous apps - such as ISO feed configuration apps from specific OEMs on demand, and choose and utilize the apps that are most relevant to their business.

Olson: It’s all about getting our machines connected to enable our dealers and customers with the best machine monitoring services and the value of the John Deere Operations Center and Connected Support.

We are adopting JDLink connectivity across all the Wirtgen Group machines and have started with Hamm roller and Vogele pavers this year and in the next couple years, all Wirtgen Group will become native JDLink connected machines. 

Our John Deere compact construction machines are also getting JDLink connectivity. Starting May 2023 all compact track loaders and skid steer loaders have JDLink in base. We also expect to provide connectivity options for compact excavators and compact wheel loaders by fall 2023. These machine forms round out telematics capabilities across the entire John Deere earthmoving fleet.  

We have also introduced the John Deere Operations Center as a customer focused and jobsite centric digital destination. We’re extending the superb tools that our dealers and customers have enjoyed for many years and putting our customers at the forefront of our developers’ minds. We’re building functionality to enable management of the jobsite and supporting future jobsite and machine automation solutions. 

Lastly for those who love data, we continue to make improvements in the fidelity and frequency of data coming from our machines and now capture and transmit data as often as every five seconds.  

What have been the most important advancements in capabilities, enabling rental companies to improve efficiencies?

Eckel: ClearSky Smart Fleet reimagines what’s possible, paving the way to a new frontier for connectivity solutions in the industry. More than yet another singular piece of software, it’s built as a robust, constantly evolving IoT platform capable of delivering new functionality, new insights and new ways to run cost-effective operations.

As an example, the new ClearSky Smart Fleet system is designed to offer two-way communication, allowing for continued collection of data from the machine, while introducing the ability to push data to the machine. This enables the system to offer a wider range of functionality and deliver greater value.

Because IoT enables users to streamline access to important machine information quickly and effectively through digital channels, the most important advancements in telematics capabilities, enabling rental companies to improve efficiencies such as increase machine uptime and utilization.

For example, ClearSky Smart Fleet can show fleet managers where and how equipment is operating by providing high-level or finite details on several machine systems, including:

  •  Location to help with service planning and cuts on downtime for field techs
  •  Diagnostic trouble codes to address machine issues and get them back on rent quicker
  • Machine hours to help with billing and knowing when to service the machine
  • Battery status, including State of Charge and actively charging
  • Machine utilization
  • Automated Site Networks make geofencing a thing of the past

Access to this type of information allows users to manage machine usage more efficiently and effectively.

Early: Our goal with Elevate has always been to empower rental companies and our update allows us to do just that. In addition to providing operators with easy-to-access operation materials, Elevate gives rental companies an enhanced look at their machines to make strategic and informed decisions regarding fleet management.

With Elevate, electronically powered machines can see a live battery percentage, extensive charge information, and suggested actions for next steps. Controller alarm data also presents any issues with corresponding codes and timestamps, battery voltage, and total hours of battery usage.

Engine-powered machines can see issues complete with codes and timestamps, fuel amounts and fuel consumption data, total hours and battery voltage. Tracking of overload and tilt alarm triggering can also be tracked on telescopic and articulating booms.

Swan: One area where we see entire new categories of efficiencies is in hand tool and small attachment connectivity. Over the past two years we’ve seen many rental companies roll out pilot projects utilizing Trackunit KIN devices, as well as built-in connectivity capabilities from major tool manufacturers that are partnering with Trackunit to make tool data available on the IRIS platform.

These smaller asset categories represent a massive opportunity for efficiencies and greater productivity in construction and construction rental. Although the cost per asset is a fraction of larger powered machinery, time and resources spent managing these smaller high-volume categories is significant. Replacing lost or stolen tools cost the industry one-third of the total annual spend on small tools.

Olson: The universal availability of JDLink telematics enables a whole new level of capability for our rental company customers. Any machine you get from John Deere will be connected with OEM supported telematics capabilities. There is no need to install third party telematics devices – we’ve done that for you. JDLink modems are integrated into the machine for maximum protection and provide the best and most robust data you can get from our machines. No subscription management or costs and no costly installation headaches. JDLink connectivity is included, forever, in the price of the machine.  

Dealer monitoring (should it be leveraged by the customer) is much more robust whenever you have OEM telematics. John Deere is progressing with Expert Alerts and fleet wide monitoring to spot trends and notify dealers when something may be going amiss.

We have great features and capabilities in Operations Center, but we know that isn’t the only option for all customers. So, we’ve supported ISO 15143-3 (aka AEMP 2.0) for nearly seven years now. That provides utilization and basic machine data into rental business systems.

How will telematics advance in the next few years? What are customers expecting in the next level of telematics?

Eckel: We’re finally at a point in the industry with telematics where digital infrastructure and digital demand are coming together. As connected construction sites continue to evolve, telematics has provided a foundation and infrastructure for other technological advancements in safety and productivity. For 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 has opened opportunities for more customers to use our program.

Over the few years, we see telematics continuing to evolve to include even more machine information on electrified products, more finite details from the equipment’s integrated sensor suites, live/real-time video feed footage, in-the-moment servicing of machines, additional semi-autonomous functionality and so much more.

As the journey continues, I am looking forward to seeing how advancements in data, data analytics and data science will make telematics more and more valuable every day.

Early: The degree and depth that rental companies use all the power of telematics varies. At the base hours and location, but for those that appreciate the power of telematics there is a world of data to explore. The key is to ensure that real operational issues are explored, and, in that way, really measurable benefits are possible. Helping rental companies move along that continuum is key and next stages will see software develop to allow the development of “apps” that address real operational issues.

We expect that telematics will continue to advance in the coming years. In terms of customer expectations, customers will likely continue to appreciate insights that enhance their ability to make informed, strategic decisions for their equipment. With that in mind, enhanced insight into efficient and environmentally friendly operation, machine health, operation data, and maintenance suggestions will continue to develop through telematics. The way in which that information is presented and used will also continue to be developed and optimized.

Olson: Customers expect more data, more often, from all machines and from wherever those machines are located. So, we work to enable that. Whether we are lobbying for more ubiquitous cellular coverage in the places our machines operate or looking for new technologies like Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite capabilities, John Deere is going to advance the connectivity that our customers depend on.

The terminology ‘telematics’ focuses on the hardware and the data. Telematics should be thought of as an enabler that allows the entire fleet to be analyzed, visualized and presented in ways that we’ve never been able to do in the past. I mentioned we are building the customer jobsite context into our tools so we can better tailor the data coming from machines, so it matches what the end customer sees out their pickup truck window when they arrive at a jobsite. We expect to provide the solutions based on telematics, that help the customer get more value out of the other tech on our machines. Let’s show them how and where they are using SmartGrade and how they can use it better next time. SmartDetect systems (with cameras and the ability to detect a person) bring new capabilities to Site Safety managers. Certainly, fleet management and maintenance remain critical, but connectivity enables so much more beyond that!

I’m sure you keep your eye on telematics development in other industries. What are some of the developments or trends in telematics that you’ve noticed in other industries that you admire, whether or not they are relevant to the rental industry?

Eckel: Telematics has become table stakes industrywide — today, everyone expects standard connectivity in their equipment. As a result, one trend that has re-emerged over the years from this is customers asking again for deeper machine insights. In the early days of telematics, customers wanted to access all of the data from the machine. Then, there was a period of time when customers said they were getting too much data and requested less. Today, the pendulum has swung back in the other direction, and users are again wanting more data from the machine, asking for even more than ever before.

To meet this demand, OEMs, including JLG, need to structure their telematics solutions in a way that is more efficient for customers to navigate, more meaningful in the way the system provides the data and more effective for them to use the data to proactively manage and maintain their fleets.

Early: Telematics really started outside of rental in the likes of the transportation industry and indeed for telematics to really provide benefits for rental, one needs to focus on relative benefits. For example, speed is important for transportation, but in rental and in off-highway situations it is less critical where machines travel in the 5 to 0 kmph range. This means data acquisition and sampling rates do not need to be as complicated and as costly as other industries.

In looking at other industries we have to bear these things in mind. While we are not saying that we would not learn from other industries we probably see more “runway” in rental operations defining their needs more closely. Advances in software are coming that will enable rental operations to customize their data collection based on their needs and that is a rich vein for the industry to tap into.

Swan: I love to see work being done in precision agriculture through advanced asset connectivity.  It shows how powerful and meaningful digitization can be when the job is very well defined and understood.   

Thinking about the advancements made in seeding efficiency using super precise RTK GPS solutions (for example) brings me back to the thought that when we provide an extendable platform and then invite the industry to come in and create, there is this incredible opportunity to really zero in on the thousands of unique processes and challenges in our industry that can be revolutionized through the right deployment of connectivity and digital solutions.

Olson: Automotive customers have more continuous and fluid relationships with the technology in their cars. It remains more difficult to get information on the technology that is on a construction machine into the hands of rental customers who may only have the machine a few days or weeks. Ways to connect those folks with ways to leverage the totality of the technology on their John Deere machines is a place we need to do better.

I admire the massive displays we find in some cars — touchscreen displays of that size, resolution, and quality will be seen in more and more Deere construction machines moving forward. These displays will be very intuitive, offering a user experience and interface that keeps the operator as productive and comfortable as possible.

It seems there is a lot of discussion about artificial intelligence these days. Is AI relevant to the world of telematics in relation to the rental industry?

Eckel: Today’s technology is making it easier in general for the rental industry to access machine information and improve functionality. As digital connectivity continues to evolve, including discussions about artificial intelligence, we believe it’s time for the conversation to change — we should stop talking about telematics and talk about IoT. What’s the difference? The scope of telematics is primarily focused on the remote monitoring of an asset, which is actually quite narrow when compared to what IoT can bring to the table. As the internet connects devices and allows them to communicate to each other, the benefits of IoT in rental, including opportunities in the future to evaluate technologies like AI, can help equipment owners and operators be more competitive and solve common problems. It's really changing the whole market.

Early: Things like goal optimization, pattern recognition and predictive analytics can very much be applied to telematics data and in that sense telematics role is data gathering, while AI techniques allow us to make sense of that data. In rental the places where these techniques need to reflect key operational problems and the rental industry is the master of its own destiny.

Swan: One thing that has become clear over the past year is that AI will impact almost every sector. One area where we’ve already started to see the impact of AI is through machine learning applications. It’s well known that many of the OEMs that supply construction rental are pursuing and very interested in the idea of true predictive maintenance which relies on advanced machine learning methods, combined with a rich enough data set delivered through telematics to model scenarios and identify them before they impact rental and contractor business.

Another area where machine-learned models have an opportunity to have an impact in the short term is in the world of emissions reporting. At Trackunit we’re getting close to the release of our emissions reporting app which will use models based on millions of machines to ensure that machines with simpler data can accurately deliver emissions figures representing their Co2 impact and output in line with those machines that have richer data on fuel burn and efficiency.

Olson: Yes, for sure AI is relevant to rental. John Deere is investing in AI and machine learning in ways that will impact all machine forms for all customers. AI in the world of warranty analysis, field uptime improvement and predictive maintenance are immediate areas of work. Keeping machines running while in customer hands and enabling planned maintenance remains critical for rental customers and AI will help us improve that across the board.

Past that, we can assume that the future will see more integration of AI into machine features and capabilities, but you have to stay tuned for more news!