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4 important questions to ask about your telematics data

When evaluating a new telematics system, an important consideration that often gets overlooked is the quality and accessibility of the data generated by the devices. While you may be installing or upgrading telematics based on an immediate operational need, such as complying with safety regulations, it is common to subsequently leverage the new and highly detailed data you now have for the many business optimisation purposes it it assist with.

Having integrated over 20 telematics data feeds into our GPS Analytics platform, Prism, and processed raw data from many more, we have seen all manor of data formats, features and access methods. But why would you need or want to access raw data? Here are some common reasons:

  1. To perform analysis, either internally or via a consultant or subcontractor, that is specific to your business or for which a pre-existing report does not exist in the telematics system.
  2. To use third-party applications, such as Prism, that utilise GPS and other vehicle data to provide specialised services that are not included in telematics systems.
  3. To integrate with other internal business data and systems to solve problems that require inputs from multiple domains, such as comparing commercial plans with the outcomes of vehicle operations.
  4. To provide as evidence to regulators, insurers or lawyers in event of dispute, allegations of non-compliance or criminal activity. 

While data and system integrations can be highly complex, here's are some key questions we think you should be asking when evaluating a new telematics system:

1. What data attributes are captured?

All telematics systems record position (latitude and longitude) and time but beyond that there can be large difference between the different devices available. There is are many other data attributes that can be captured about the state of the vehicle. In some cases, additional data requires sensors that are an add-on product with an additional cost.

So what kind of additional information are we talking about and why would it be useful to you? Here are three important attributes that we look for:

  • Ignition status - Knowing that a vehicle's engine was actually running is critical in some calculations, such as determining utilisation rates. Without this attribute you may receive GPS position readings that appear to indicate the vehicle was idling when the engine was off, leading to incorrectly calculate higher utilisation than was actually achieved.
  • Odometer - The odometer is the source of truth for distance measurement. While you can calculate distance using sequential GPS positions, any unaccounted-for curvature of the road or long distances between points may cause your distance to be under-stated.
  • Horizontal dilution of precision (HDOP) - This is measure of the horizontal accuracy of the GPS position reading and may change throughout a journey. It provide important context to the latitude and longitude of the position by providing a proxy for the accuracy of the position measurement. 

2. What is the frequency of the position readings?

By frequency we mean what is the average time between each position reading in a sequence. Frequencies generally range from 1 second intervals up to 10 minutes between points. The importance of frequency depends on your use case for the data. This poses a challenge because you may not know that you need higher frequency data until you identify the use case for it some time after implementation.

Another factor that affects frequency is network bandwidth and transmission cost. 1 second interval position readings generate ten times as much data as 10 second intervals, and sixty times as much data as 60 second intervals (pretty obvious right). So storing and transmitting that data often requires device and network capacities that are orders of magnitude greater as you step up in frequency. Some providers offer different data frequency at different price tiers and may use advanced compression or filtering algorithms to save on data transmission costs.

3. How can I access the raw data?

Access to raw data, that is, the individual position and event readings generated by the devices, may be offered through a number of methods. Or it may not be offered at all, in which case you should consider carefully if you will have any need for access in the future. Here are the most common methods that you should look out for:

  • REST API - An API is an online interface/protocol that computer programs can use to access the data and functions of another system and REST is a common architectural pattern for creating APIs. This is generally the preferred access method since APIs, if they are well designed and documented, give you complete freedom to access the available data as needed and to automate business process.es If your provider has an API, it's important to check the API documentation and the available data as what you can access may not be everything that the device records and a poorly designed or supported API may not be useful in practice.
  • Direct data streams - Some providers offer the ability for devices to stream data in real-time to a subscribed endpoint. This usually means you're getting the same unfiltered data that telematics provider is getting from the device but it comes with considerable technical overheads because you need to develop a suitable endpoint, decode the data and manage storage and in-fills yourself. Recommended only for users with advanced software development capabilities.
  • Downloads from web portals - Telematics services generally include access to an online portal that provides data and reports. When evaluating a telematics systems you should review the downloadable content and consider the data that it contains. The portal may or may not provide access to the individual point data (often not due its considerable size) and if it does, it may not include all data attributes captured by the device. Other issues with portal-based data access are that it cannot be automated and acquiring a complete set of data for a long time period may require many file downloads, a manually intensive task.

4. Where is my data held?

Data sovereignty is an area of rapidly increasingly interest for businesses of all sizes. Depending on where your vehicle activity data is held may determine which laws it is subject to with regards to access by governments and third parties. From a practical perspective, should you wish to access data beyond what the telematics system provides out of the box, the location of the providers data centres and support teams may influence the ease and speed with which you can access raw data.

Many providers offer Australian-domiciled data options, which means your data is held on servers physically located in Australia and is not subject to the laws of other jurisdictions that could potentially allow third-party access or use of your data without your express consent.

Summary

There's a lot to consider when buying a telematics system beyond the hardware. The purpose of the system is to record data and it can be an important lever to drive more value from your fleet operations, so it's worth spending the time to think about the what, why and how of your telematics data access not just now but over the life of your contract.

If you need help making better use of your telematics data, getting the right technical set up or simply want to know what you could do with it, get in touch us at at www.prismapp.com.au.

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