The two-year grace period allowing automatic on-board recording devices (AOBRDs) in place of electronic logging device (ELD)-compliant devices for electronically tracking hours of service in commercial trucking fleets expired in December 2019. This means that food manufacturers with distribution fleets that did not upgrade to ELD-compliant devices but were operating under the AOBRD extension should have already made a commitment to an ELD provider and service.
Additionally, food manufacturers and distributors operating under the AOBRD extension for the last two years are now faced with the same decisions that fleets had to make when the ELD mandate was initially put into place: Who do I select as my provider? It is now even more important that companies not make hasty decisions that can set them back with regard to data and technology.
The ELD conversation for food manufacturers and their distributors is larger than just an hours-of-service (HOS) determination, especially for time-sensitive and temperature-sensitive operations, due to the passing of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). ELDs are also part of a broader discussion about telematics and on-board computers and the use of telematics to optimize data that comes from the truck, as well as the use of that data for overall fleet compliance, analytics, and operations.
ELDs can be a different technology than an AOBRD. ELDs are not required to capture all the operating data that your AOBRD may have been capturing. ELD data requirements are focused and governed based on the HOS rules; what this means is that food manufacturers and their distributors need to be careful in their selection to ensure they do not focus only on ELD compliance. Food manufacturing and fleet executives need to also determine what data they need in order to continue to manage their food distribution fleet efficiently and in compliance with FSMA. For example, they may select a compliant ELD but may lose important operational data, including load data, maintenance data, and fuel data, used to monitor total cost of ownership.
AOBRDs have been around for several years and can capture an extensive amount of data. Many telematics providers have upgraded their technology to maintain their data collection and monitoring capacities and enhance them with the ELD mandate compliant functionality. These devices will continue to record the same data as the AOBRD; however, newer ELD devices and services may not be collecting the same rich data set.
The ELD mandate opened a vast market of opportunity that attracted several new providers claiming to be ELD-compliant. Many of these providers are focused on ELD compliancy and not the valuable fuel, diagnostic and fault code data, or load-specific data that might be needed for food distributors under FSMA.
When switching to ELDs, food manufacturers and their distribution fleets need a few key questions answered: Are they giving up or did they give up access to critical data they have been historically using, and are they giving up access to data that would help with FSMA compliance in the future? This depends on the viability of the technology platform offered by the provider. If fleet managers are not careful, they may lose out on critical truck data they can use, or have been using, for performance optimization via data analytics.
This additional data could be of further use to food distributors with time- and temperature-sensitive loads. These organizations rely on identifying longer idling times and, when combined with temp-sensitive orders, can greatly impact fuel expenditure and critical routing data that can also impact perishable deliveries. What’s more, FSMA mandates that sanitary transportation of food requires temperature monitoring and control to prevent refrigerated/frozen food from becoming unsafe during transportation. This information can be monitored with the right ELD telematics solution.
Food distributors need to have more stringent routing plans in place for deliveries, as data extracted from the ELD might make it more difficult for time- and temperature-sensitive operations to remain compliant. A real scenario is a load time- and temperature-sensitive load being stranded because the driver is out of hours, not only delaying it but also potentially putting the whole load at risk.
Choosing a Vendor
Do food distributors view the telematics mandate as a “necessary evil” and spend the least amount to meet compliance, or do they go “all-in” and realize the value of the data that the entire ecosystem provides to the operational bottom line?
Amid the overload of applications, hardware, and services available in the ever-changing telematics world, deciding on the range of system functionality and associated costs can be overwhelming. Pricing for hardware can range from free to several thousand dollars per truck, while functionality can range from basic GPS tracking to a fully integrated mobile asset management system. With options that include vendors, applications, features, and costs, where do fleets begin?
Fleet managers must look beyond ELD compliance and think strategically about the data they need to manage their food distributor’s compliance and performance, their drivers’ behaviors, and their vehicle lifecycles that will ultimately pay off in improved fuel economy, enhanced preventative maintenance, lower operating costs, and improved driver retention.
The hardware is just the first decision. Fleets must also choose a provider/partner that is there for the long haul, that can support the organization and fleet well into the future. A short-sighted decision to simply meet the ELD mandate without understanding the “actionable data potential” for greatly reducing operating costs is still ill advised. The incremental costs to acquire systems and services that provide additional data and applications to modernize the fleet are minimal, and the return on investment is substantial.
By attempting to minimize this step and focusing strictly on ELD compliance, fleets will find they have lost substantial operational savings and competitive advantage and will experience increased costs that could have been avoided with access to actionable decision-making data that can assist in optimizing the food distributor’s fleet performance.
What does a good partner/vendor look like?
- How long has the organization been providing fleet telematics? Fleets need a provider with a legacy of providing solid telematic technology and services. Telematics and transportation technology encompass a lifetime of lessons learned. These go beyond the technology and involve understanding how the technology impacts the operation of the fleet. No two fleets are the same.
- What does the organization’s technology roadmap look like? What is its strategy for the advancement of technology in the future, and how will that strategy impact the collection and interpretation of data? Remember, this is a long-term investment, and it is unwise for fleets to jump between providers frequently. The operational disruptions/costs alone will deplete any realized savings. Fleets also don’t want to lose any competitive edge due to their competitors’ actionable data strategies.
- How good is the organization at deployment and support services? It is important to find a partner that understands all complexities involved, from planning to execution, and is there to work with fleet management teams to overcome any unforeseen challenges.
Choosing the right business intelligence partner can help fleets interpret the abundance of data that’s collected by the AOBRD and ELD. Beyond this critical interpretation, the right partner offers its own technology resources that can help fleets make sense of data from many different platforms and sources—a difficult action when fleets try to make sense of data on their own. With the right partner selection, fleets can be compliant and obtain business intelligence and analytics, allowing them to maximize the value of the data they extract from each truck to create both operational and bottom-line financial efficiencies that provide significant return on the investment into the technology itself, as well as their partnership with the data purveyor.
Griffin is chief operations officer and chief technology officer for Fleet Advantage. Reach him at info@fleetadvantage.