Connectivity in the transport industry is not a new thing. It started back in the 1990s but obviously with advances in technology, it is an area that is developing rapidly. “Today information is key, but it’s how you use it,” says Theunes van der Westhuizen, head of connected services at Scania SA.
It is a highly competitive arena, with truck manufacturers competing with tracking companies and fleet management operations. However, Van der Westhuizen says that much of the information can only come from the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). Where once it used to only be about selling a vehicle, today the OEMs have more responsibility to provide a total solution. This includes management services and connectivity. The OEMs are building a great deal of the technology into their trucks these days, but he says that how much it is used is dependent on how professional the operator is.
The subject of connectivity covers a wide range of topics. It has moved way beyond the simple matter of monitoring fuel consumption or tracking the location of a vehicle. Today, it is about monitoring driver behaviour, which can result in data that improves consumption and emissions, as well as improving road safety.
Scania itself only started providing connectivity solutions two years ago, much later than key rivals such as Daimler. However, the Swedish truck maker is now providing all the necessary hardware standard in each vehicle. There are then options for data analysis which can report on a wide range of factors and provide weekly or monthly scoring as well as real-time data. Some of that data, particularly in the area of driver behaviour, can even be supplied to the company’s latest development – the smart watch. Essentially an Apple Watch, it replaces the last generation Sony model and can be worn by the driver to provide instant stats and communication and even monitor a driver’s health on the road. Practical fashion aside, it is a serious business and is becoming more so as the pressure increases on truck manufacturers in the face of rapid development when it comes to connectivity.
“Connectivity makes it easier for us to assist our customers,” says Van der Westhuizen. It is all about improving uptime. To this end, the company is set to introduce new developments in the near future. This will include driver coaching, where a driver is under constant external assessment and is then contacted on a regular basis to receive advice on how to improve.
Unfortunately, technology cannot always keep pace with constant changes in drivers. “Unlike in Europe, drivers in SA change constantly, making ongoing coaching difficult,” he says. The solution is professional drivers who remain with an operator for the long term. This is equally important when it comes to technology because they need to understand the tech in the vehicles and how it relates to the systems and processes utilised by a transport firm. Driver training is key but, again, drivers need to remain with an operator for this to have the most benefit to the driver, the company, other road users and the economy. While Europe has lots of regulations, SA is seriously lacking in this area and he says that companies need to take on the role instead. Platooning, where trucks talk to each other and travel in a convoy managed by the lead truck, is a great opportunity for SA, says Van der Westhuizen. This view has been echoed by other truck manufacturers too, but its implementation has not yet been discussed in a local context.
Connectivity and technology are moving at a rapid pace and as Van der Westhuizen concludes: “If you’re not connected, then you’re getting left behind.”