Opinion

Concentrate on what telematics gives, not what we think it'll take

There's a phrase that does the rounds: If you're not paying for it, you are the product. Social media, in-app selections, psychometric quizzes, what you freely read online – humanity is starting to click that the digital freebies we're served up charge us in a new form of currency: data.

Digital data has, for some time now, become a bit of a boogeyman – a byword for lost autonomy, compromised civil liberties, and the notion that Big Brother is watching. But signing off Facebook, disen-Googling yourself, turning off location data, renouncing smartphones, and generally swearing off technology, won't make much difference.

Since the days of early CCTV (London now has six million cameras) and clocking into work, Big Brother has had your number. State authorities, especially our cousins across the Atlantic, have made it their business to know ours – and it's not an even fight.

  • Send a text – they know
  • Make a call – they know
  • Use a bank card – they know
  • Fill up at the pump – they know
  • Get on a plane – they know

And so it goes.

In fleet, telematics and the data it provides is starting (and will continue) to disrupt the industry, revolutionising best-practice and revamping huge portions of a company's model. It transcends areas like driver behaviour, route and operational management, and SMR. Onboarding telematics equals new, efficient, and systemic remedies to a multitude of problems, in and out of the vehicle.

In a headline sense, telematics is to fleet businesses what Google is/was to marketing, what Spotify is to music, what Twitter is to communication. It's our Magdalen moment where tech, cheap tech, has the potential to overhaul the day-to-day.

But so many debates, when it comes to telematics, centre not in its benefits but in the loss of privacy, the loss of autonomy, the data ownership argument, and big questions about how safe our particulars will be in the hands of unknown others. Just as they already are in every other walk of life. 

At Fleet Europe we've dedicated many pages to the subject, but the reality is: debate will rumble on … just as it still rumbles on re Google, re Facebook, re Twitter, re content and copyright.

We're mid-upgrade in many areas of life – and we're yet to find resolution for them. In public policy (Google), privacy (Facebook), law and order (Twitter) and business models (Spotify et al) we're upgrading with a shadow of unknowns shrouding the process. 

So the telematics and data debate may be here for a generation, Google lawyers can testify to that. But synchronising telematics into a business need not be wrought with the angst of the rest. If we see telematics as akin to Google in the sense that it's probably a good thing (with problems around the edges) it'll be indoctrinated into our day-to-day anyway.

As telematics is folded into the daily grind, the trick is to have as many stakeholders as possible contribute and sign-up to the nature of that implementation.

If employees are made part of the telematics process – and consensus is reached in balancing privacy with the needs of a business – then mutiny is less likely, and we can all get on with our jobs; ably assisted by what telematics gives, not what it takes.

Employee buy-in is important, but it's worth putting to staff that your company – provided it's a good company with its morals in some kind of order – has the best of intentions for its personnel. It's not a state looking to capture evil-doers, it's not a marketing company looking to hawk your data to the highest bidder, it's not looking to trip you up for taking one break too many.

Would a forward-thinking company want to compromise staff relations with a shoddy or nefarious telematics implementation programme?

No. That's why a groundswell of acceptance of telematics is as easy as rolling the staff into the process.

  • What will staff stand for, what won't they stand for?
  • What concerns do they have now, what might arise later?
  • Where will the data go, do staff have a say?
  • Can we really balance productivity and autonomy?
  • Will efficiency savings contribute to wages?
  • What will the new day-to-day look like?

And so it goes.

It's easier to hammer out one telematics solution that works for one company than it is to wait for legislators to hand out a generic, one-size fits resolution from up on high. Perhaps, à la Google, it'll take a generation to achieve such a thing as legalities play out in courtrooms many miles from your own balance sheet.

The privacy debate when it comes to telematics – I'm not going to call it futile, because it's not. Legitimate concerns remain unresolved – and sure: no one wants to serve up more of themselves than is necessary. But for each company, let staff help you find what 'necessary' means.

 

Authored by: Steven Schoefs