Vandals at the gates?

ELD analysts

As the fleet management solutions space gets more crowded and complex, a narrative has emerged positing that new entrants are akin to vandals at the gates, with startups like Samsara and KeepTruckin taking market share from legacy providers such as Trimble (TRMB) and Omnitracs.

The reality is more complicated, experts say.

“Everybody has to be on their best game,” said Annette Sandberg, CEO of TransSafe Consulting.

Sandberg, a former administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Association (FMCSA), agreed that many fleets are starting to say, “Hey, we think the big guys aren’t nimble enough.” 

But a bigger factor, she said, is that fleets “are more in the driver’s seat” than they were in the past.

“It used to be that you had to accept the system that was given to you. Now there are enough folks in the marketplace that everyone — Trimble, Geotab, you name it — they are customizing parts of their solution to appease large customers. That is the nature of the marketplace.”

Sandberg was one of two trucking experts who talked to FreightWaves about the changing telematics landscape. They discussed old versus new players, the ongoing post-electronic logging device (ELD) shakeout and the seemingly endless stream of new connected truck products aimed at enhancing visibility, safety and compliance.

ELDs as catalyst

Many of today’s market and technology shifts have their origins in the ELD mandate, with startups acting on the opportunity to serve small carriers and legacy companies focusing on large fleet customers. ELD market share is notoriously difficult to pin down. But a survey of 200 carriers, conducted by C.J. Driscoll & Associates and released in November, gives some indication of how the business landscape is changing. 

Declining to reveal specific results, founder and principal Clem Driscoll said Omnitracs had the largest number of trucks on its ELD platform, followed by PeopleNet (Trimble) and KeepTruckin, the San Francisco-headquartered relative newcomer that made the news earlier this week for  shutting down its One Point acquisition.

Other new entrants that gained “significant traction,” Driscoll said, are Samsara, Big Road and Verizon Connect. “And then it kind of drops off.”

Driscoll agreed some of the older providers are under pressure from younger companies. But “those [legacy] guys have been in it for a long time,” he said, and may have an edge as the industry continues to innovate solutions addressing compliance, safety, visibility, fuel tax reporting and more. 

The next big thing

One of the splashiest new technology plays is dashboard video cameras to monitor driver behavior, Driscoll and Sandberg said. “Having the cameras exonerate [drivers] helps litigation,” Sandberg explained, giving fleets real-time information about driver behavior before there is a catastrophic crash. The rise in nuclear verdicts, jury awards in which the penalty exceeds $10 million, are driving the video market, she said.

On the subject of ELD providers, Sandberg was more forceful in her description of a market in flux. “Some of the big carriers have switched ELD providers,” albeit quietly. “I’m hearing rumblings, mostly fleet by fleet.”

One high-profile example is Schneider National (SNDR), the Green Bay, Wisconsin-based trucking carrier that has cemented a strategic partnership with Platform Science.

Platform Science allows trucking fleets with their own internal technical resources to develop their own applications and run on the platform.

“That’s their main claim to fame,” said Driscoll. “That’s what they are riding on, and they are hoping the large carriers will switch.”

Maintaining muscle

Pivoting to meet the competition, legacy providers are transforming corporate strategies and product offerings. During the Omnitracs Outlook conference in Las Vegas last week, the company announced it was moving toward a single API-driven information hub.

The 35-year-old fleet services pioneer needs to improve interoperability, CEO Ray Greer said in his keynote speech, and ultimately plans a “highly configurable, single source of truth” fleet management experience.

An increasing focus on the customer may explain why a majority of survey respondents said they were satisfied or “very satisfied” with their ELD suppliers, according to Driscoll. “There weren’t a lot of complaints, which surprised me. I thought there might be more problems.” 

Recent service outages at Trimble and Omnitracs did reveal an undercurrent of discontent and may have caused and continue to cause some defections. That said, “everybody is still kind of learning when it comes to ELDs,” Sandberg observed. “We’re going to continue to see these growing pains. The vendors are adapting.” 

Industry needs to develop “better solutions” when outages occur, Sandberg stressed, with a focus on real-time notification for customers, enforcement and the FMCSA.

Qualifying her earlier statement about growing pains, Sandberg said some companies on the ELD registry list “have no business being there,” as they are self-certified and their systems are poor. Small fleets in particular will be impacted because they didn’t have the technical in-house capability to evaluate the devices.

FMCSA investigations into suspect providers, along with anticipated consolidation in the industry, will further shake up the market in the next year or two, according to Sandberg and Driscoll.

A user-friendly future

For the remaining providers, startups and old-timers, the key word is flexibility, Sandberg said. 

“The old legacy systems where you told your customer here’s what you did and feed your business model into that square hole — that is gone. Because some of the new technology companies are saying, ‘Hey listen, technology is flexible enough that we can make it fit what you do.’ Fleets love to hear that.”