Tracking Dispersed Staff
Knowing where your people are at any one time may be a mandatory health and safety requirement, or a convenient operational advantage. Either way, management best-practice dictates that knowing where remote staff are, and that they are safe and contactable is important.
Depending on where they are going, what they are doing, and their risk profile, you are likely to need a communications and tracking solution to help manage their health and safety requirements. And you are just as likely to have operational necessities that depend on very much the same capabilities.

For either scenario, there are several options that could be considered:

These options allow for a range of assurances from direct communication and updates of their current status, to alerting of any situations that might arise in real-time, and finally gaining an insight into the regions and the relative risks they may be currently operating in.

Tracking Dispersed Assets
Tracking dispersed assets is also important from a management and operational best practice perspective, particularly as they are generally mobile, and frequently move from site to site. They represent considerable capital value, and at times are critical to operations. So, losing access to them, either through theft or because the asset’s location can’t be ascertained, can be costly from a productivity and operational focus.

Reacting to Significant Events / Disasters
Central to the management of your staff and assets is your ability to react during significant events or disasters. Within New Zealand earthquakes are a regular occurrence, and in Australia, it’s the bushfire and flood seasons that are major considerations. On both sides of the Tasman, there are pressing requirements to ensure organisations are able to effectively and quickly locate and manage dispersed people and assets during times of major disruption.
When these events strike, ask yourself how you are going to quickly locate specific assets such as trailers, diggers, generators and containers to meet critical timelines on high-value projects. And how you are going to ensure the safety of your people.

Ensuring work is undertaken

For a large contracting organisation reporting on ‘proof of activity’ helps to ensure that contracted services are undertaken at the right time and in the right place, and using the capability of geofences is one of the most effective ways to support this. Two examples of geofences being used in such a way are where a mower is required to maintain a particular area regularly, or ensuring that a sprayer actively avoids spraying in a particular protected area (such as where there is organic farming).
Additionally, knowing the time a staff member arrived or left a client site by vehicle may assist with queries around billing, and provide evidence of whether or not contractual commitments are being met.

Having quality, accessible information also puts you in a position to implement improvements and add value to your relationship with the client.

Everything in one interface
Organisations now have access to a single management platform that provides real-time visibility and tracking across multiple operational factors:

Further enhancing this value are reporting functions that mesh favourable outcomes in health and safety with the operational considerations of organisations. By centralising all this data within a single platform, you aren’t limited to focusing on just health and safety or the productivity aspects when reporting. Instead, you’re able to cross-functionally track and measure productivity and safety across your entire organisation, including all fleet assets and lone workers in a comprehensive solution.

Tracking and managing your dispersed staff and assets don’t need to be a difficult task. With the appropriate technology implemented to support you in visualising and reporting on the operation and condition of your staff and assets, you’ll have a better understanding of their productivity, and be able to identify new opportunities to make changes and improvements.

People are the most important asset in any organisation and ensuring everyone gets home healthy and safe at the end of each day is paramount. In order to do this, it is vital that every organisation is committed to building a health and safety culture that reinforces health and safety is everyone’s responsibility. Achieving this type of culture isn’t determined by a single factor and it requires a combination of strong leadership, a supportive environment and positive behaviour.

Leadership
An organisation’s health and safety culture starts with its leaders. Their words and actions create the framework of acceptable behaviour and form the foundation of an organisation’s culture. Leading by example and considering health and safety in business planning and decision-making sets clear expectations for the rest of the organisation. Leaders have the opportunity to introduce organisational KPIs and measures that can drive the correct culture, and by ensuring they are complementary to financial measures, illustrate the organisation’s commitment to, and value of, health and safety.

Leaders also carry the responsibility of ensuring the workplace environment supports a positive health and safety culture. They need to be fair, reasonable, and consistent in responding to health and safety events, and also recognise and encourage behaviour that promotes safety.

Environment
Organisations that are committed to creating a positive health and safety culture surround their employees with an environment that supports safety-conscious decision making. This environment involves having the right physical setting and equipment to get the job done safely, and supports this with strong policies and well-considered procedures.

Policies and procedures should clearly outline what is required from employees, how they will be monitored and what the consequences are if policies aren’t followed. These policies and procedures should also be monitored, reviewed, and refined on an ongoing basis to ensure they continue to be fit-for-purpose. These measures will create an environment in which everyone understands what is required, ensuring that health and safety becomes part of the organisation’s fabric.

Behaviour
Strong leadership with the right environment can only take an organisation so far in creating an effective health and safety culture. These two factors need to be reinforced by the right behaviour across all levels of the organisation. ‘Behaviour’ means taking ownership and accountability of individual actions and the actions observed in others.

Workers can become complacent, as health and safety isn’t always at the forefront of an employee’s mind when completing daily tasks. Therefore, worker engagement is an important part of establishing a positive health and safety culture. Encouraging staff to use their experience and expertise to identify problems, and be involved in the solution and shaping of policies and procedures raises the awareness of hazards and improves the chances of policies being adopted.

Employees also need to be kept up-to-date, encouraged to adhere to company policies, and seek to fill any gaps in their understanding. Management should ask staff to speak openly about health and safety, and provide ongoing opportunities for them to raise any concerns and provide feedback.

Building a Health and Safety culture takes time and effort, but by focusing on leadership, environment, and behaviour it is achievable and worthwhile.

Electrical Safety
If energy companies do not manage the dangers of electricity properly it can cause serious injury or death to their workers. The risks of working with electricity are real and not enough is being done to reduce these risks, as on average 11 people are still dying each year because they came into contact with electricity. Alarmingly for power companies, 87% of the 142 workers who lost their lives between 2003 and 2015 died from electrocution while installing electrical infrastructure.

For the risks associated with working around electricity to be significantly reduced, electricity must be carefully controlled, and energy company workers need to be educated on the control measures put in place.

Risks Associated with Electricity
The likelihood of a worker being seriously injured or killed while working with electricity is generally linked to the working environment, and how electricity is being used. There is a greater danger of working with electricity if the work is outdoors – this is due to the increased chance of equipment becoming wet or damaged.

Workers who operate in electrical environments or with electrical equipment also face far greater risk when working alone or in a rural or remote location. The ability to act immediately and get medical assistance as soon as possible after someone has been electrocuted can have a significant influence over the long-term health outcomes for the victim.

What can be done?
Luckily, advances in technology over the past decade have resulted in a number of solutions to minimise the risks to workers who are alone or in dangerous or rural locations. Telematics have played a significant role in these developments as they have allowed organisations to constantly track the exact location of their workers. On top of being able to track the live location of their staff, technology progression has seen the development of specialised lone worker safety solutions, which allow them to instantly alert their company headquarters and notify them if urgent assistance is required.

The development of safety and tracking solutions such as these has had a very positive impact on all utility workers, but particularly those facing the dangers of electricity. Not only do these developments improve the safety of current workers, but they also serve to attract highly skilled workers to the organisations with these safety solutions in place.

Recent advances in technology have resulted in significant improvements in location-based tracking and in-vehicle safety solutions, with both of these serving to better protect the vehicle driver and other road users. That all companies should have the safety of their fleet and staff as a number one priority is supported by the daunting road toll – 1204 deaths in 2018. Alarmingly, this means that for every 100,000 deaths in Australia, 4.8 of them are due to road accidents.

In this article we are going to expand on some of the ways that energy companies can improve the safety of their vehicle fleets.

 

1. Identify risks
Organisations must put significant effort into identifying any potential work-related driving risks. Both fleet drivers and managers should be held accountable for thoroughly analysing any potential safety hazards that drivers may come across when travelling to or from a job. This will allow energy companies to take all necessary precautions to protect their workers from any foreseeable hazards.

2. Utilise Telematics to Improve Behaviour
Managing driver behaviour patterns and the distances that they are covering are important ways to improve the safety of an energy organisation’s fleet when vehicles are travelling around to installation or servicing jobs. Implementing a GPS fleet tracking solution and monitoring a driver’s GPS data will allow safety managers to mitigate unnecessary driving time, suggest alternative routes and provide education on safe driving, if required.

3. Create incentive programs
A benefit of monitoring your fleet with telematics is that it allows managers to review each individual driver’s workload and assess whether they have been meeting safety standards. Rewarding those who are producing safe driving records over a sustained period not only encourages a safe culture but deters fleets from dangerous driving in the pursuit of meeting unrealistic job schedules. On the other hand, drivers who are repeatedly producing GPS driving records that suggest they are driving in a dangerous manner should be reprimanded and encouraged to meet appropriate standards.

4. Taking preventive actions
The vehicles and equipment that form an energy company’s fleet need to be regularly inspected to identify any underlying maintenance problems, and ensure that they are properly serviced and safe to operate. Utilising a telematic-based product, such as Smartrak’s Whip Around App, helps to do this, keeping you on top of a time-consuming task by automatically removing the chance of a mechanical issue becoming a safety one.

Telematics is changing the way organisations are operating their fleets and improving employee safety. Telematics is more than just GPS tracking – it's the technology that offers you a treasure trove of data that can be utilised to improve the bottom line, and keep your staff safe, efficient, and accountable.

However, one of the challenges in implementing telematics is getting support from the organisation’s employees. It is natural for employees to have questions about the implementation of telematics. When change isn’t fully understood, uneasiness takes charge.

When change isn’t fully understood, uneasiness takes charge.

The main concerns are centred around it being 'big brother' trust issues, with telematics being used as a form of measurement to punish, or as some have called it in the past, ‘behaviour re-adjustment.’ These concerns are common in any industry or organisation, as employees may not understand the organisations’ objectives behind the implementation.

To ensure a successful project and employee adoption, now and beyond, we will look at steps to build a positive perception of telematics.

Present Telematics to Employees

Due to concerns regarding employee resistance, management should not implement telematics without presenting the reasons and benefits to employees first. It is also important to listen to the objections and concerns your employees have about telematics. Having an open and honest conversation via a group meeting or smaller departmental meetings, is more favourable, versus an internal 'all staff' email. Being able to answer questions with complete transparency will help dispel any myths or rumours about telematics and ease employee concerns.

Resentful employees are not happy employees, and one element that unfortunately does get forgotten is sharing information on how telematics will be utilised within the organisation. Whether it be GPS vehicle tracking or lone worker safety devices. If management is not transparent around how data will be consumed and applied, employees will be less willing to accept it. Have no fear explaining to employees that the business will not use telematics to be intrusive, but rather, improve health and safety, increase productivity, and become more efficient. It is important for managers to be sincere and honest about their plans to use the technology from the beginning, otherwise, any benefits a vehicle tracking system might bring could be diluted by damaging employee relations.

Address Employee Concerns

Allow open and honest conversations. The most common concern is the ‘invasion of privacy’. There may be many employees, that have operated for a long time without the use of telematics. The implementation of new technology can be unclear to employees and not fully understood, especially when the organisation has successfully operated to date, without it. Usually, it comes down to trust. Make it clear that incorporating telematics isn’t about a lack of trust, but rather introducing a new set of tools, to create better results and improve employee safety.

Explain Why the Business is Introducing Telematics

To increase employee acceptance and engagement, it’s important to explain why telematics is being implemented. If driving fines are high, fuel costs are increasing, natural disasters are putting lone workers at greater risk, new legislative requirements, or your organisation is wanting additional measures to ensure overall employee safety, it is important to share this information. Presenting how telematics can help solve these business challenges is important. They help create a better overall understanding of why it is important to the business.

Explain the Benefits

It is always advantageous to explain the benefits of telematics to employees. Whether it be increasing work efficiency and reducing the need for overtime, increasing business revenue with overall operational efficiency improving, ensuring the health and safety of lone workers or even becoming environmentally conscious and looking at ways to reduce your carbon footprint.

Gamification is also a great way to improve fleet metrics and motivate employees at the same time. A driver scorecard report could rank vehicles based on speeding, heavy braking, and idle time. By sharing this report’s graphical results with employees, they will have a clear understanding of what areas they need to improve.

Reduce fear through training

Navigating through new technology can be daunting, even for the most technically savvy individuals. Your drivers may protest because they feel they won’t be able to use the technology properly, or that it will take up unnecessary time in the field.

With some basic one-on-one training, your staff will have a solid understanding of how the system works. Have your department managers understand the system and conduct training, so there are further ownership and better buy-in. Today’s technology allows for user-friendly interfaces, so most employees should be able to teach themselves. But always ensure the workforce knows the company is committed to providing support throughout the change if they need it.

Provide Business Policies That Include Telematics

Best practice is to set parameters of when and where telematics will be used. Including telematics in your business policies will help set expectations around behaviour, how data will be used, actions taken for tampering with equipment, and how vehicles will be monitored.

Present telematics properly and your staff will get on board

Introducing telematics to employees is a common concern for many businesses during implementation. Presenting telematics in the right way is crucial to gain employee acceptance from the start. Management will increase the positive perception of telematics by explaining how and why the technology will be used, having open conversations with employees, and presenting the benefits available.

When you have a united team, your business will experience the benefits. Through open communication and support, you will have the best platform in place to increase productivity, improve driver safety and reduce costs.

What is a blackspot?

In telecommunications, a blackspot is an area of poor or no communication coverage.

Why does it matter?

If you are using systems that rely on the mobile network to communicate it is good practice to be aware of any blackspots in the areas you operate in, so you can understand the potential exposure your business has (from the trivial to the critical) and plan what to do about it.

Smartrak’s tracking devices cache events on the unit until it comes back into coverage. This means that for fleet management issues such as understanding how efficient your use of the fleet is, or the number of kilometres driven between jobs, blackspots are not a dramatic issue. But caching isn't a solution for health and safety cases, where you need to ensure staff are safe at all times. In these situations, real-time response is required. Therefore, understanding blackspots, their locations, and how they affect your business is critical.

How do you identify blackspots?

There are several ways you can identify blackspots:

You and your colleagues will usually have a great deal of local knowledge to draw on, which provides a rough idea of where you don’t have mobile reception. That’s a great starting point and should be drawn upon when planning your implementation and your blackspot risk mitigation strategy, but this isn’t reliable enough for you to form a full understanding of your exposure.

The second step involves reviewing the coverage map from your network operator (in Smartrak’s case, we use Telstra in Australia and Vodafone in New Zealand). You can rely on these to provide an accurate picture of whether you will have issues with blackspots.

Finally, if you are already using Smartrak hardware and want to understand if your fleet is currently operating in blackspot areas, we can run our own 'Smartrak Blackspot Analysis', which has been done for several of our customers. This calculates the latency between the event generated by the Smartrak unit (in-vehicle or handheld) and reception on our servers. We can then plot this on a map, supplying the most accurate representation of when your fleet’s coverage is within operating areas.

You know you operate in blackspot areas. Now what?

While identifying blackspots is important, it’s only the first step of the journey. You now have to come up with a way of dealing with them. There are no silver bullets in addressing blackspots, but the good news is there are a number of ways you can reduce the risk your employees face when working in areas of poor telecommunication coverage.

For most of our partners, the answer is a combination of business process (ensuring pairing of workers working together in some areas), communication (ensuring your employees are aware of blackspot and what that means), training (how to react if something happens in a known area of poor coverage) and technology (satellite communications to take over when cellular coverage is not available).

If Smartrak has worked with you to undertake a blackspot analysis, the chances are we can help your organisation identify vehicles that are spending the most time in poor coverage areas. This will help you understand whether adding satellite communications to your existing hardware setup would be a worthwhile undertaking. Your Customer Success Manager also has experience in assisting our partners in dealing with blackspots, we encourage you to call on their expertise and experience to ensure a comprehensively supported implementation!

Choosing a telematics provider could be as simple as conducting an internet search – choose the top three, ask for quotes and bingo, job’s done. Although, this approach may come up short for anyone with a complex fleet or looking for a reliable corporate partner.

Taking things a step further, you could run an RFP, hold presentations, trials, and select the vendor that demonstrates the best solution (and price). However, this approach of choosing the vendor that ticks the most boxes could omit helpful insights, and leave holes the solution that's provided.

The reasons both approaches above can leave you with a provider that isn’t ideally suited to your organisation are twofold.

  1. You are investing in a technology solution. The world is littered with organisations choosing a technology provider because they ticked all the boxes, only to find the reality under the hood wasn’t what was expected. Holes are exposed in their ability to implement, in how data is stored, and how they will maintain the solution ongoing.
  2. What you select today may be the right option now, but possibly won't be the best fit in 3-5 years. Typically, a telematics contract is 36-60 months with rights of renewal after that. Picking a vendor now with no idea of their technology roadmap could leave you with a big gap between what to have today and what you should have in 5-7 years.

Below are the five factors to consider when choosing a telematics partner. The challenge is how to rate or score multiple providers against each of these. One way to do that is to leave any values-based assessments until you have two or three providers to choose from, and then use them as a differentiator to get closer to a decision.

1. The longevity of the provider

Telematics providers are regularly joining the market, and just as quickly leaving it. It is easy to put a simple solution together, it is however much harder to build something that is robust and will stand the test of time. When evaluating it is important to know how long the vendor has been in business and how they have grown over time.

2. Ability to enhance the solution after implementation

Some vendors will provide an all you can consume model – where you get any solution available at no extra cost, others provide a modularised solution where you buy part of the solution and then add on items that are required. Finally, some will only offer what they believe you require and nothing more. None of these approaches are wrong, but whichever you choose should align with your aspirations. Are you happy to pay more upfront to lock in a price, or would you prefer to pick and choose what is needed at any point in time?

Another consideration is the ability to have the system configured for your specific requirements. Is the provider open to improving the system with you (this is usually in the form of paid professional services), or are they focused on their own development path? Ensuring you can maximise the solution in a way that will add value is important.

3. Hardware update intentions

Hardware and its capabilities are critical parts of the solution. Some vendors provide a reliable, long term unit, while others will expect regular upgrades to newer hardware. Neither is necessarily right or wrong, but there needs to be alignment with your requirements. And if the hardware upgrade option is taken then it should add to the existing features, rather than remove them. Another consideration is the cost of removal and replacement – not only the swap cost but also in terms of productivity and staff availability. A good compromise is to have the hardware capability guaranteed for the life of the contract. I.e. if you have a 5-year agreement then the hardware should be compatible for that period. In the end, if you don’t want to take up the new version or replace with new units of your existing installation it’s easier to go to market for a new provider.

4. Customer base alignment with your organisation

While it is easy to get caught up in what is new and untested, it is important to align yourself with a partner that is invested in the same or similar customers as yourself. This can be seen through customer lists, testimonials, or development intent (see below). A technology company that is excelling in a particular market segment and is committed to doing its best for that segment means you will reap rewards long into the relationship. They will build products and solutions that have a good fit with the pain points you are experiencing. Some good vendors will invite you to participate in forums, user groups and development workshops to ensure that what they are doing is aligned with the industry's priorities.

5. Alignment of Values

It is important that the vendor shares similar values to your organisation. If there is a misalignment of values it can lead to a poor outcome as both companies expect to engage with each other in different ways.

The values don’t need to be exactly the same. It is possible and possibly useful for them to be varied in some way. For example, the vendor might value reliability in their promises, while yours is delivering to customers’ needs. While different, there is an opportunity for synergy when you ask for assistance from the vendor and they give you honest and reliable advice.

Considering the functional requirements of your intended solution is important. But you should also think about the less tangible requirements, which may not seem important to begin with, but will assume more importance over time. You will be signing up to a long-term partnership and the partner you chose needs to be committed to making sure you get the most throughout that partnership.

Some Smartrak functionalities tend to be overlooked by users in their daily interaction with the system, below are a few time-saving and handy tips to streamline your interactions with the Smartrak system:

The Universal search bar at the top of the map:

This can be used to search for the registration or remote name of vehicles, street addresses, geofences and maptag names.

If you start typing in the search bar, the system will list all street names, vehicle names and geofences/maptags featuring what you have typed so far.
The universal search bar is a very useful tool when you have lots of resources or a broad territory to manage and you want to quickly find what you are after on the map.

Ctrl + F

Ctrl + F, functions in a similar manner to the Microsoft search function when in any list of items such as vehicle names, plant, or location lists.

History search can be used to see if any of your resources were in a specific area at a specific date and time.

When you are in the map function, right-click your mouse and an additional menu of options appears, one of these is History Search.

By clicking on History Search you bring up a search dialogue.

The radius of your search needs to be narrow enough to eliminate neighbouring streets, yet broad enough to pick up vehicles passing through your selected radius.

Red times indicate when a resource stopped in that area and green times signify when a resource passed through the area. By clicking on a specific time you can view the events on the map.
We know some of our customers have used this feature in the past for when reports come through from their customers and they need to identify a specific vehicle in an area. This can also prove useful when receiving complaints from the public about driving behaviour. You can either identify the relevant vehicle reported in the complaint or prove that none of your resources were in the vicinity at the time.

The Smartrak map site has some Points of Interest (POI) features that can offer helpful insights into, among other things, location-based driving behaviour.

Geofences

Geofences can be created for a range of requirements. From the obvious, geofencing base locations for ease of checking-in and out vehicles for pool booking, to the not so obvious, geofencing auction houses with an alerting geofence so if a vehicle with an AVL unit still installed arrives at an auction house, a notification will be sent to the correct recipient to arrange for  de-installation of the Smartrak hardware.

Map Tags

Map tags are handy for finding out if a vehicle has ever stopped at a location. Just remember to make sure the zone around the map tag is large enough to include wherever the vehicle could park while stopped at that location. As map tags can be created at any stage and reported on against tracked vehicles for up to 2 years, this gives peace of mind if location reporting is ever required. This feature is also helpful if a complaint comes through from a customer that a staff member never showed up on site. Run a quick Map Tag Zone Report run, and there is your proof, either way.

The History Search feature is useful if you ever need a record of which vehicle has stopped-in or driven through an area. This is helpful when there has been a complaint about driving, with no vehicle registration supplied (common in a fleet of sign-written vehicles where the registration hasn’t been supplied with the complaint). A quick history search can be run on the area in question, and the vehicles that have been in that area determined based on location and time.

If you would like access to any of these features or instructions on setting them up, please check out our Customer Knowledge Base articles on historical reporting, customising the Smartrak Map, or contact us via the Smartrak service desk.

Broadly speaking, the Internet of Things (IoT) is tens of millions (soon to be hundreds of millions) of sensors connected to the internet and sending data to computing environments in the cloud.
From an engineering point of view, there isn’t a single set of standards for IoT. However, there are a number of common Protocols, Transports and Frameworks.

Cloud providers such as Microsoft and Amazon provide various implementations of IoT services in their cloud platforms that adhere to a subset of these standards. If you’re interested in the technical details, you can find more information here: IoT Standards and Protocols.

Applications for IoT are wide-ranging, including smart cities, smart homes, wearables, industrial applications, connected cars, retail, supply chain and farming. Relevant and insightful case studies can be found by clicking here. 

At the very basic level, an IoT device could monitor the temperature in a fridge and send an alert if it moves above or below allowed thresholds. At the other end of the spectrum, a connected vehicle could send a wealth of data including location, driver behaviour, engine telemetry, diagnostics, and crash analytics as well as sensor data from autonomous vehicles.

There is a growing volume of data associated with these devices; the term ‘big data’ goes hand-in-hand with IoT. The challenge is turning this data into useful knowledge and insights that drive decisions for your business. This requires considerable skill and a thorough understanding of the data to interpret it appropriately.

One of the case studies referenced above is about how attaching a pedometer to cows enabled farmers to predict precisely when cows are in heat and thereby dramatically increase the artificial insemination success rate.

Expanded insights come from correlating data from a wide range of sources and looking for patterns and trends. The Smartrak Insights team has been undertaking research and development in this specialist field for the past 12 months, generating insights from the wealth of vehicle telematics data within Smartrak’s EyeQ visual intelligence suite.

Using tools like Power BI, the Smartrak Insights team has created an interactive view of vehicle usage, driver behaviour and trip details for the purpose of making more informed decisions and developing better management practices.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Working with clients, Smartrak Insights aims to leverage IoT-connected devices and derived data to improve the support of mobile workers, monitor environmental impacts, support compliance, and find efficiencies related to vehicle and asset utilisation.

If you have been thinking about IoT and data analytics, get in touch. We would love to hear your story.