The Looming Battle for Construction Telematics Supremacy

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Ever since the Associated Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) published its telematics standard in 2016, the days when original equipment manufacturer (OEM) telematics operate as islands unto themselves have been numbered.

The standard has been updated a number of times, most recently in 2020, and sets forward application programming interfaces (APIs) and an OAuth2 protocol that uses authorization tokens to enable one application to identify another as trusted to access data.

This standard was initially a boon for providers of third-party software that would consume telematics data from multiple OEMs, catering to contractors with mixed fleets. As telematics from OEMs became more open, third party software, including offerings from companies like Tenna, Fleetio, Samsara, HCSS and others could more easily access more data from OEM telematics units.

In a recent interview with OEM Off Highway, Adam Livsay, co-founder and chief commercial officer of Seattle-based industrial internet of things (IoT) vendor Elevāt, said equipment vendors are waking up, smelling the coffee and making their technology stacks more open to external systems.

“The biggest change I have seen in the last few years is companies being comfortable using software APIs,” Livsay said, referring to the application programming interfaces that enable various software and hardware solutions to communicate with each other across all industries. “If an OEM designs a system that has a proprietary control software or algorithm, that sets up barriers. A tree-trimming company using a piece of equipment may define utilization of a piece of equipment using that algorithm or telematics product differently than their competitor, or the same technology is used in a different application like street sweeping and productivity must then be captured in a different way.”

It becomes easier, according to Livsay, whose company goes to market through 20 fluid power system integrators that drive its technologies into new product development (NPD) value streams for about 300 OEMs, when this information can be exposed to external systems that can display it or use it in different ways.

Open Telematics Goes Both Ways

But while this increasing openness makes OEM telematics data more accessible to third-party software, the OEMs are evolving their own telematics and maintenance software to also support mixed fleets. 

Caterpillar became the first OEM to make this move in 2016, extending its VisionLink software for mixed fleets. This included the ability to capture and analyze data that did not even comply with the then-new AEMP standard. Case has added mixed fleet capabilities to its SiteWatch telematics platform. Volvo has added AEMP 2.0 compliance with enhanced support for mixed fleets to its CareTrack telematics offering. Most recently, Komatsu announced increased interoperability for My Komatsu, its digital interactive hub for telematics data, parts, manuals and other support tools, which now offers increased capabilities to integrate and display fleet data from other equipment brands.

The trend is not universal. Other OEMs, like John Deere, have partnered with HCSS, and Mitsubishi Logisnext Americas has partnered with PowerFleet for telematics.

The Path for Construction Telematics Software

Since the ability to support a mixed fleet is no longer the exclusive domain of third-party software and technology companies, these independent organizations have to compete on other fronts. What capabilities the software offers when it comes to maintenance and operations and the extent to which the software integrates with other products used by a contractor become differentiators.

“HCSS has always been focused on giving heavy civil construction contractors the data and tools they need to run their businesses as efficiently as possible,” HCSS Telematics Product Manager Philip Robinson said. “HCSS forecasted the importance of aggregated machine data several years ago. Over the last two years HCSS has utilized our position as an industry leader to establish critical partnerships with equipment OEMs. We aggregate machine data from over a dozen OEMs with future plans to significantly increase that number. HCSS gives our customers a competitive edge by providing a complete platform that allows them to leverage their OEM machine data at all stages of the job, including managing preventative maintenance, monitoring utilization, and eliminating over-renting.”

"Mixed fleets add variables to the complex decisions that fleet organizations have to make,” Fleetio's Head of Product Management Michael Harrison said. “Platforms like Fleetio must continue to excel at centralizing data from many sources and many vehicle types in order to guide customers through the high-impact decisions they make, especially in asset management, fleet maintenance, and daily operations."

According to Tenna Chief Business Development Officer Russ Young, one thing that will help third-party telematics software vendors is that they are software vendors first, not manufacturers who, as one more priority, offer a software product to surface telematics data from equipment.

“We have seen OEMs in multiple industries create tech to manage equipment, but in complex situations, with very few exceptions, manufacturers continue to be good manufacturers and neutral tech platforms will be developed to answer the bigger problems for a specific industry,” Young said. “Maybe the closest and most obvious example is cars and GPS technology. We started with manual maps and mechanic diagnostics, and then graduated to OEM-based technology for these functions. For many years, the OEMs like Ford, BMW, GM, Toyota all created their own tech. You also had rental folks like Hertz and Avis have systems like Neverlost that were much better than driving with a map. However, user frustration led to centralized neutral platforms like Apple and Google that now largely dominate the market. The user now has all of their data with them, it works in any vehicle regardless of make or if they own or rent it, and it is simple to use. Construction is even more complicated, so even as the OEMs create functionality, these will continue to solve the ‘dime’ problems not the ‘dollar’ problems.”

One problem third-party telematics software may be able to solve more elegantly than OEM software that supports multiple brands of equipment is the daunting degree of complexity faced by a contractor’s fleet and asset management team. This includes not only earthmoving equipment and equipment the contractor may own, but also rental equipment from multiple rental houses, which must be balanced intelligently against project demands and the capabilities of the contractor’s owned fleet.

“They have all the stuff on the road like F-150s, but also concrete trucks, lowboys and non-vehicle equipment items like trench boxes, Conex boxes, generators, lights, attachments, scissor lifts, trailers and more that might need to be tracked differently, often with different hardware,” Young said. "Then there are the different use cases software can deliver … location, utilization, anti-theft, safety or compliance, maintenance and preventive maintenance. OEM software may not support all of these.”

HCSS software wraps telematics data in a number of functional tools, including geofencing (shown here), fleet maintenance, scheduling and more.HCSS software wraps telematics data in a number of functional tools, including geofencing (shown here), fleet maintenance, scheduling and more.HCSS

Used in Different Ways

Also problematic are the different types of construction users and integrations that in turn port data to various applications used by even more users. Tenna, HCSS, Fleetio and other fleet management software products that consume telematics data often extend the value of that data across a number of modules in their own product set. They also invest heavily in integrations to software from other companies. Fleetio, like most telematics software vendors, offers RESTful APIs that enable users to create integrations with multiple applications ranging from accounting to project management. Fleetio recently launched an integration with key management software vendor KeyCafe. Tenna in early 2022 expanded their existing integration with Viewpoint Vista, now part of Trimble Construction One. HCSS has standard integrations with more than 60 accounting software products.

“With the many people and systems that use telematics data, you start to see a picture of why OEMs in construction are likely see the same trends we have seen repeat in other industries,” Young said. “In every industry, it takes focus and neutrality to solve complexity.”

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