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British supply chain giant Eddie Stobart is overhauling its telematics system across its fleet of more than 2,000 vehicles – here CIO John Court explains how this fits in to the company’s wider connected ecosystem.

About a year ago Eddie Stobart felt that its in-cab telematics product was nearing the end of its life and recognised a need to upgrade. A competitive tender process eventually saw the company pick Microlise, a Nottingham-based telematics specialist.

“We have a huge number of items that form part of an internet of things ecosystem,” Court says, speaking with Computerworld UK. “We have everything from vehicles through to warehouses and forklift trucks – many other items that are connected to the ecosystem. We’re connecting the vehicles and capturing a huge volume and density of data, and we recognise the opportunity to mine the data, to a level that we hadn’t been able to before.”

“We recognised Microlise had two points of differentiation, and from a technical and functional point of view we saw they were slightly ahead of their competitors,” says Court. “We thought that their ability to deliver was also very good, and a point of difference with the competition.”

This deployment of Microlise Fleet Performance and Journey Management, called Eddie Stobart Link, should provide driver support – plus track data to make fleets more efficient and reduce fuel costs.

Each cab will be fitted with a Microlise DriveTab, a seven-inch Android tablet that will provide drivers with access to journey information, two-way messaging, maps, and hands-free voice calls. To complement this, Eddie Stobart is also using Microlise Safety Module, which is an incident data recorder that gathers information about the driver and vehicle 30 seconds before and after any accidents on the road.

An accompanying app called Microlise DPM will allow drivers to compare routes as well as access to performance metrics for managers and for drivers.

“We are able to give real-time feedback to drivers on how safely and economically they’ve driven, and in the areas in which they may want to develop their capabilities,” Court says.

Court believes that staff will respond positively to the deployment as it will help to cut out laborious manual processes or juggling paperwork.

“Traditionally a driver checks a vehicle at the start of each shift, and this would be paper based,” he explains. “The driver would walk around the vehicle, make checks, literally check off on a piece of paper the condition of the vehicle, and then check its roadworthiness and safety.

“We’re now able to offer this on a ruggedised tablet device, which means less paper, it means greater reliability, and it means it’s easier for the driver to manage this rather than having to keep sheets of paper in the cab and hand them in physically at the end of his shift.”

Engineers from Microlise are installing the hardware across all heavy goods vehicles and the full system should be live by spring.

As for elsewhere in the business, Court says Eddie Stobart is generating more data than ever before – and much of it is usable as opposed to pure data. The company is deploying business intelligence toolsets to track vehicle performance and maintenance, for instance.

“But we also look at trends in our operational service performance, to enable us to identify areas in which we can help our customers even more,” Court says. “We have a broad range of customers across several sectors – they span retail, consumer, industrial and manufacturing, and also e-fulfilment where we work to quite exacting service standards.

“So being able to analyse trends, look at our service performance for our customers, and to share some of the information with them has been a real opportunity. The more insight we can provide to our customers on our operations in their supply chain, then the more insight it gives them and the more they’re able to optimise their own supply chains.”

Next, Court says the company will be comparing and combining different sources of data to find insights that “historically were impossible to achieve”.

“It may be customer-sourced information, it may be customer product information, combined with transport operations, maybe warehousing data, to give a far more complete picture to our customers of their supply chain operations,” Court says. “So to summarise, we’re not just interested in for example our service performance in transport – but also across the extended supply chain into other supply chain activities.”