Airmax Remote is repositioning to take account of a shifting telematics market. Managing director Richard Perham explains the changes to Simon Harris from BusinessCar.
Most people associate telematics with vehicle tracking and a way of monitoring driver behaviour. The benefit to fleets for the past couple of decades has been a good degree of accuracy in calculating mileage for business journeys as well as reducing risk by being able to identify drivers who need extra training or coaching.
One company that has been there throughout is Airmax Remote, although for much of that time hidden behind a few contract hire companies' own branding with white label deals.
But freed from the ties of contracts with leasing companies, it is setting out its vision for a range of new benefits it can provide.
Richard Perham, managing director, says: "We formed in 2002 and were one of the first telematics companies to market. We were born in an era based around conventional vehicle tracking, but as a result of our diagnostics ability and ability to understand vehicle communication protocols we were able to transmit vehicle information without the necessity of GPS.
"A few leasing companies saw it as an opportunity to market an early form of a 'connected car' with a focus on SMR and to predict residual values. We were white-labelled and as a result are probably the largest and longest-serving provider you've never heard of."
Perham says shifting behaviour patterns and needs that evolved during the coronavirus pandemic gave Airmax Remote an opportunity to reposition and take advantage of new opportunities.
"While we are considered a telematics provider, our focus is the vehicle data," says Perham. "We control the entire vertical of the business, so we don't outsource, or buy in. We're independently owned and that gives us incredible agility.
"There has been a significant take-up of telematics services in the market because they're providing a service - tracking the vehicle and monitoring driver behaviour are a by-product of having in-vehicle technology.
"Airmax is doing something entirely different. Throughout Covid we've undergone a shift, invested in our management team. We're positioning ourselves to do so many things with data, to separate from vehicle telematics reporting considered by many as a commodity, but we still fall under that category.
"With our unique position we can provide a customised approach. While telematics typically can report position, time, distance, they provide a very good guess using GPS and algorithms. What we do is work with the manufacturers and the leasing companies to extract vehicle-specific information and use the vehicle CANbus."
Perham says the company has been chosen by leasing companies and police forces because of the accuracy of its data and its ability to design its own products and customer experience.
"Our product is more than proven," he says. "Our customers didn't even want GPS fitted to their vehicles until 2010. They just wanted regular accurate mileage reporting to calculate the impact on residual values, service bookings and recontract mileages.
"Leasing companies are now starting to recognise that if you use a conventional tracking system it will tell you where the vehicle is in the event of theft, but what many people really want is data-driven workflows.
"And that's where we are positioning ourselves, very much focused towards SMR and first notification of loss (FNOL), all in the context of data-driven workflows. The police are looking to ensure vehicles are serviced according to schedule and their vehicles are deployed correctly."
He says the company developed a plan for the next three to five years in January, but the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated aspects of it.
We've heard about how many offices are closed," says Perham. "People will want to reduce their work staff, digitise and automate their processes, and for that they need data. It needs to be accurate."
Perham says that while the firm sees itself as a provider of 'connected cars', it's not really possible to use that term without confusing it with vehicle manufacturers' own technology.
"We are all about the data, and the name 'telematics' is just an enabler for data," says Perham. "What you do with it is what is important."
He believes that many fleet operators are losing out if they are choosing suppliers based on the simple cost of their products, and is keen to talk about the added value Airmax can provide with all the data it collects.
And at a time when there are a number of catalysts for change in the fleet sector, Perham says Airmax Remote could help its customers navigate through the uncertainties ahead.
"We're seeing a fundamental change in the fleet market at the moment," says Perham. "Some of our customers are predicting changing 40% of their vehicles to EVs, they see more interest in salary sacrifice and grey fleet. We see that as our bread and butter and how we differentiate ourselves from mainstream telematics companies.
"We provide a consultative approach and become a trusted advisor for our customers. We go on the journey with our customers, and most of them are quite uncertain about how it will look for the next 12-24 months.
"Data is going to be critical for the new ways of working and business systems need to be accurate, for vehicle servicing or employee expenses."
Perham also says that in the days of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) compliance, many organisations are less concerned with the precise position of vehicles unless they have been stolen.
"I recognised a year ago that telematics as a black box is not in the best interests of our customers," says Perham. "It's the data. So we shouldn't try to shift 'black boxes', and given GDPR, perhaps there are issues around telling customers exactly where drivers are.
"Vehicle data is important and we're confident that we have established with customers it is the best data and most accurate data on the market.
"We're not reliant on GPS to generate data, whereas turning GPS off has challenges for the rest of the market. But a large percentage of our drivers don't even have it activated.
"What our customers want to know is, if there's been an accident whether the employee is OK, and accurate mileage for improved administration.
"There's a perception, still, that a black box is big brother. The only time we care about the location of the vehicle is if it's been stolen. The insurance industry has perhaps given this impression that it's about tracking because of the discounts in premiums."
While telematics systems have been mainly associated with commercial vehicles over the years, a high proportion of vehicles using Airmax technology are passenger cars, and the richness of the data provided by the company's technology allows monitoring of a wide range of vehicle 'health' measurements.
Perham says: "Around 70% of our orders this year have been for passenger cars, so clearly we're not a conventional telematics provider that would tend to focus on LCVs or HGVs.
"There tends to be three methods of obtaining data from a vehicle. There's the GPS, which is typically a hardwired installation. It makes a good calculation with a complex algorithm behind it and the market has done very well from that method for the last 20 years.
"The European on-board diagnostics (EOBD) were regulated in 2001. As a result, we connect our products via the OBD port - not to be confused with a dongle, which is also on the market. We're listening to the CAN via the OBD port, whereby we are able to provide vehicle-specific data sets, an additional layer above and beyond OBD.
"Battery health, Adblue levels, variable service data, key status - we're able to gather this kind of information and more.
"Tracking and driver behaviour are the expected by-products of having a 'black box', but the SMR and FNOL within a single product are aspects of value, in my opinion.
"We sample data from between 1Hz and 100Hz (once a second to 100 times a second). This provides a richer view than technology taking a sample every 30 seconds.
"A driver might have an EV, and from an individual perspective the manufacturers' apps are great at empowering the driver.
"But we can establish beforehand whether having an EV is the right decision. Airmax can ensure vehicles are fit for purpose. Not many fleets are single-source manufacturer these days. All manufacturers have different protocols, and we can bring all that data together and ensure fleet managers are more informed."
Find out more about Airmax Remote Ltd on their member profile page here