Is your IoT/Telematics implementation leading you to a dead end?
Telematics in its simplistic form, as the name indicates comes from fusion of Telecommunication & Informatics.
Accordingly, fleet telematics is a subject area that deals with collection, transmission, storage and retrieval of data about the performance of an asset (like a vehicle) over a Wide Area Network like the Internet. Now as the buzz around Internet of Things (IoT) is growing, many of these telematics solutions are being rechristened as IoT implementations.
There is no practical reason to argue about this change in classification. However, this change does little to mask serious shortcomings in most telematics solutions regarding their extensibility, scalability and functionality. Majority of the early adoptions of fleet telematics were GPS based solutions that provided visibility into the location of the vehicles and related applications like geofencing, running status etc. As transportation of specialized goods like perishables/temperature sensitive products became mainstream, the GPS devices were enhanced to measure the temperature of the goods being transported through an external temperature probe. However, at a basic level the system was simply transmitting location & temperature data over GSM network to a data repository on the network, and then providing access to this data through a web or mobile application.
As the user community is becoming more mature, and is getting to know examples and best-practices of IoT implementations globally, they are increasingly being left frustrated by their solution provider’s inability to meet some of their growing asks. To be fair to the telematics solution providers, they had never conceptualized or designed their solutions for the functionality that is being asked of them. Hence, they are either scrambling to deliver patch-ups or are seeing their users migrating to competing providers. Telematics or any other IoT solutions can easily avoid falling into this trap by giving a careful thought to the IoT adoption maturity model being outlined below.
IoT Maturity model
With full cognizance that there will be exceptions, for the sake of simplicity it will be beneficial for all stakeholders to understand that any IoT implementation could have various stages of evolution/maturity. The section below highlights a typical maturity model. It is not mandatory that every IoT implementation traverses the entire maturity journey. They can simply choose to be at a certain level of maturity based on business needs or cost-benefit analysis.
- Remote Monitoring/Visibility – The most prevalent use-case for any telematics or IoT implementation is to get the ability to remotely monitor/track the asset and/or operations. It is important to underscore the value that remote visibility into the operations can provide to stakeholders. This phase is a harbinger for business agility, transparency and operational insights. Most importantly this phase serves as a foundation for any of the subsequent phases of the maturity model. IoT enabling core operational assets/processes is a non-trivial task in most industry sectors. It is therefore advisable for customer organizations to spend adequate time in planning and executing this phase. While the motivation for implementing IoT solutions could be different, this phase involves focusing on some of the following:
- Visibility into assets and their operations with minimum latency
- Alerts/Notifications upon identification of deviations and/or threshold breaches
- Data trends
- Combining data from multiple sources/systems to have better appreciation of the operations
- Control – In many instances, it is only logical that based on data being collected, the customer would like the ability to remotely initiate certain action(s) or would like the ability to control the asset/operation in question. For example, based on remote monitoring of temperature of goods in a Reefer truck, the fleet operator or the brand would like the ability to either remotely switch on/off the refrigeration system or increase/reduce the temperature setting. Apart from the asset or operation in question, this functionality is also required to remotely manage and control the multitude of IoT assets that are deployed in the field. This phase requires a sophisticated and functional bi-directional interface with the asset in question This interaction may need to be achieved by either designing new control systems or by interfacing with existing systems through APIs or Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs). Implementation of a bi-directional sense-and-respond system not only completes the logical loop, but also has the ability to create disproportionate value for all stakeholders involved.
- Automate – The next logical step in the maturity model is to begin to automate the response/action to be taken when certain pre-identified conditions occur. This step enhances the productivity of stakeholders by eliminating the need for manual intervention for repeat-routine activities. It also ensures that physical presence of a stakeholder is not a detriment in taking appropriate and timely actions. The necessary pre-condition for this phase to be successful, is to identify and codify the exception conditions and the corresponding actions that needs to be undertaken.
- Optimize – The highest stage in the maturity model is to move towards self-learning and optimized systems. This stage builds on the foundation established in each of the previous stages and typically involves application of advanced analytics to a large set of data aggregated data from multiple different sensors, sub-systems and applications. A plausible telematics use-case could involve predicting possible failure of a particular automobile part on a moving vehicle based on a combination of predictive model & real-time telematics/diagnostic data. The solution could check the part availability with OEM’s dealer, order the part, schedule the service and then instruct the driver to drive to the nearest service center that will cause least disruption to the scheduled delivery. Other application areas could include autonomous/self-driving cars to an optimized factory.
Enabling factors to walk-the-talk on IoT Maturity Model
- Clarity of vision – Not surprisingly, the biggest impediment in having telematics/IoT systems move up the maturity model is clarity of vision. This could either be on account of ignorance of what is possible or simply because the focus is on achieving the most commonly desired functionality. Needless to mention, lack of clarity of what an IoT/telematics initiative should achieve for the business can easily lead to dead-ends, wherein the underlying technology or products are unable to scale and support the business initiative. Many customers are realizing this the hard-way that as their or their customer’s ambitions increase. The only option left for them is to retrace their steps, discard their existing investments and make fresh choices.
- Drawing up a credible roadmap – Presence of a clear vision, helps the organization to chalk out a credible roadmap that will allow moving from one phase of the maturity model to another. As mentioned earlier, not all applications and deployments need to move up the maturity curve. But for the ones that need to, having clarity on the need, approach, timelines etc, helps bring all the involved stakeholders on the same page. More importantly, it also ensures that technology adoption, product choices and partner selection are made in line with the roadmap, and not merely on short-term considerations.
- Right technology architectural choices – The two most significant technology areas that influence the ability of solutions to move up the IoT maturity model are the choices made around “IoT Gateways” and “IoT Platform”.
- IoT Platform – This is the nerve-center of any large IoT/telematics implementation. In the past, most telematics implementations would simply store the data coming from sensors on a Cloud hosted platform, and provide an application to view this data. But new-age IoT platforms provide a lot more functionality. They make it possible to model, configure, monitor, troubleshoot and manage complex IoT deployments involving multitude of “things”. They also provide the ability to integrate IT & OT data, interface with other systems, generate insights by leveraging big-data analytics, orchestrate business rules and actions based on events and insights.
- IoT Gateways – Also called Edge devices, this component assumes a lot of importance because it serves as a bridge between the sensors/actuators installed on the asset(s) and the IoT infrastructure on the other side. It is of paramount importance that these IoT Gateways establish an intelligent, contextual and bi-directional communication between the assets and the IoT platform. As IoT systems are becoming more mainstream, these IoT Gateways are increasingly becoming key enablers for organizations to perform Control (Stage-2) and Automate (Stage-3) phases of the maturity model. For example, GPS boxes installed on commercial vehicles are increasingly acting as a road-block for the fleet operators to achieve more advanced functionality they now aspire for.
Set yourself on the right path
Given the widespread and impending adoption of IoT, it is important that organizations review their current landscape and whether is likely to lead to dead-end. It is perhaps an opportune time to initiate appropriate corrective actions, if required. This will allow them to be pro-active in their approach and also ensure that they are leveraging IoT to drive agility, efficiency, transparency & innovation in their business. It would also ensure that technology choices made in the past, do not become a factor in their inability to compete effectively in the market.
At SensiWise, we are committed to helping logistics companies and fleet operators get visibility & insights into their operations and assets. We do this by offering Enterprise SaaS solutions that leverage technologies like IoT, Analytics & Blockchain.
If you are a commercial fleet operator and would like to explore how technology can help your business achieve differentiation, reduce operating cost and enhance vehicle availability, feel free to Contact Us.