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A contractor’s guide to electronic logging devices – Part 1


June 10, 2019
By Greg Munden

Topics
Kamloops, B.C.-based Munden Ventures began in 1967 as a log hauling operation and over the years added commercial vehicle maintenance, tank manufacturing, inspection and repair services. Photo courtesy Munden Ventures.

With the impending passing of regulation mandating the use of electronic logging devices (ELDs, also known as ELOGs) in 2020 in Canada, many Canadian trucking companies are only just now beginning to search out solutions to comply. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your perspective) the marketplace is full of solution providers.

Starting down the road to ELD implementation can be fraught with challenges and pitfalls. While there is certainly more and more information available online and from other sources, this information and advice is often provided by ELD providers and is, ultimately, slanted to selling their products.

My company, Munden Ventures, based in Kamloops, B.C., has 14 log trucks and drivers. Our journey to implement electronic logbooks in our trucks was not without its ups and downs. Certainly, the most challenging part was getting all of our drivers to embrace and use the new technology. Today, we don’t have a driver who would want to go back to paper logs.

This two-part series is intended to relay our experience implementing ELDs as a small Canadian trucking company. It is an unbiased set of suggestions and lessons learned (sometimes the hard way) about what you might want to consider when going through the process of ELD implementation.

Part 1 of this series will cover the differences between ELDs and electronic onboard recording devices (EORBs), the operational realities and opportunities of moving to ELDs, and software and hardware suppliers. Part 2 will cover implementation and driver buy-in, ways to harness the power of an ELD telematics system, as well as telematics features and capabilities.

ELDs versus EOBRs
An ELD and an EOBR (electronic onboard recording device, also known as AOBR – automatic onboard recording device) are two very different things, although both may be rolled into one package. From a regulation standpoint, the government is finalizing the requirement for an ELD, or electronic logbook, but not an EOBR.

From a very basic standpoint, to comply with the upcoming regulation you need an ELD to take the place of your drivers’ paper logbooks. Nothing more. There are many companies producing a straightforward ELD product that, so long as it meets the requirements pending in regulation, is all you need to comply.

There are also products (EOBRs) that provide telematics data. This is the data that is often used in the back office by management and operations staff to analyze the data flowing out of your truck to understand things like:

  • Driver behaviour and performance (driver scorecard)
  • Cycle times
  • Time spent at locations (customer or receiver delays)
  • Fuel consumption and idle time

Make no mistake, this data is very powerful and can often be very useful in improving your trucking operation. That said, it nearly always comes at an additional cost, and requires a commitment from management that the data being gathered will actually be used for something. The ability to pull a report that is never pulled is a bit redundant, don’t you think?

More and more, the ELD and EOBR are being packaged together as one product – or as one product with modules that can be added with the features you like. Many software companies in this space really started out as developers of EOBR systems designed to provide telematics information to trucking company management and have simply added on an ELD option to comply with upcoming regulation and retain market share. Look at the product carefully as these may be stronger in telematics and late to the game in developing a good ELD solution.

On the other hand, companies whose sole initial purpose is to develop an ELD solution to take advantage of a rising tide marketplace may be well behind in developing the telematics pieces that you may be looking for to provide operational information.

There are companies out there that balance both an excellent ELD system along with strong telematics data. Best advice: do your homework.

Operational realities
There are some operational realities of moving to an ELD system that every company needs to consider and plan for. The most fundamental question you need to ask yourself is, “Does my business currently operate within the hours of service regulations?” Of course you do! No, really, you need to sit down and look at your runs and the current practices of your drivers and dispatchers and determine if you comply.

The fundamental reason for introducing ELDs is to improve industry safety by having a higher level of comfort that trucking companies and their drivers are working a “reasonable” number of hours each day, without the ability to cheat the system. The fact is, once you make the switch to ELDs, the opportunity for your driver to falsify his logbook goes way down. For instance, systems will be required to automatically place drivers “on-duty, driving” when the embedded GPS system in the device senses that the vehicle is moving at a certain speed for a specified minimum length of time. Same thing goes for recording locations – it’s all automatic now. Things like unit odometer readings, unit numbers, etc., will all be pulled automatically from the truck’s ECM.

While this may make you twitch in your seat a little, it’s important for you to know that there are also a whole bunch of positives that come with this. There will be no more tickets received for clerical or form errors – like the driver who forgot to include some information on his logbook. Your drivers’ logbooks will always be complete, will always be up to date, and will always be legible. On the back end, your safety manager or dispatch team can stop reviewing all logbooks, and just review the exceptions, which good ELD systems should automatically identify. For instance, if a driver exceeds his hours of service, your system should flag this logbook day only, and identify the regulation that the driver is out-of-compliance with, such as failure to take the required time off-duty before continuing.

Now, if you are anything like me as a trucking company owner, this gives you great comfort in knowing that your drivers are always in compliance and their logbooks are accurate. Or, if one goes out of compliance, it is brought to your attention to be dealt with rather than relying on someone thumbing through hundreds of logbook pages to try to determine compliance. It is much better to be aware and take steps to prevent this in the future than to have a provincial enforcement auditor pull up and start uncovering issues.

So step one is to start looking with a critical eye at your current level of compliance. If you find that you aren’t in compliance, now is the time to start making changes to your operation to make sure you can continue to operate successfully in an ELD environment. Many industry colleagues I know who have taken this step have had to make changes where it became obvious that certain runs just are not possible given the hours of service requirements. This has led to operational changes, and often meant some serious conversations with shippers who have, up to this point, had unreasonable expectations for deliveries. One thing is for sure, in an ELD environment, if you can’t do it, there won’t be anyone else who legally can either – the proverbial “levelling of the playing field,” that has been the talk of the industry for decades.

Modern ELD systems are intuitive and require minimal driver interaction. For example, an embedded GPS should automatically recognize that a truck is moving and record the truck in “driving” duty-status.

The right software
There are literally hundreds, maybe thousands of choices when you start down the road of ELDs – and the choices are growing every day. From large, multi-national companies that have successfully developed ELD solutions for the U.S. market, to the kid down the street developing the next smart phone app to track your hours of service. Some things to consider:

Solution provider size: The largest companies can provide turnkey solutions with proven software, training aids and resources, however, this option may come at a hefty cost and with very limited customization flexibility. These companies are more likely to have the resources at work to ensure they comply with all pending legislation, including such important details as engine control module (ECM) connectivity and third-party accreditation (the latest Canadian requirement holding up regulation). But don’t expect a tailored solution here – this is often a one-size-fits-all approach.

On the opposite end of the provider spectrum are the small, independent firms or even individuals who are burning the candle at both ends to develop solutions that might be simpler, cheaper and easier to use, but are almost solely dependent on that small company or individual having the resources to fully develop the product and comply with the complex regulations. These providers are often ready to promise the world in terms of customizing a solution to meet your every need.

You may find the sweet spot somewhere in between. There are a number of mid-size companies emerging in Canada that balance the technical depth with deep enough pockets to provide a robust “local” solution, while not being so rigid in their development that they aren’t willing to provide reasonable custom solutions to meet your needs – and maybe at a cost that doesn’t break the bank.

Hardware and software considerations: A fundamental question you need to answer early on in this process is whether cellular connectivity is enough, or you require a satellite link with your ELD/telematics system. Some solution providers do not offer satellite connectivity, which will narrow your vendor choices. Satellite communication can be expensive, so really think about how imperative constant communication is. Cellular-based systems have real-time communication and updates while the vehicle is connected to the network and store information when out of service, uploading it as soon as it returns to cellular service. Even when out of cellular coverage, the system in the vehicle still remains up-to-date for driver ELD purposes. As cellular coverage becomes more and more reliable and widespread, many companies find that cellular connectivity is more than adequate.

Many ELD providers offer software solutions, but stop short of providing the hardware to operate it. They will suggest compatible hardware, but are not prepared to offer the complete package.

Others, particularly the big players that often have custom-matched hardware, offer turnkey solutions. These are typically well-developed, comprehensive solutions that are both stable and continue to have progressive development. Just watch your wallet – these solutions and their recurring fees can creep up.

Do your research to find an ELD provider that also offers cost-effective hardware matched to their solution and meeting all pending regulations. Compatibility of components and software are key to a good ELD experience. Effective hardware solutions can be relatively simple and inexpensive. Many use common android or Apple tablets connected to a “dongle” which ties the tablet and ELD to your truck ECM through your J1939 connection – the same connection your local dealer uses to read your engine fault codes.

ECM connectivity will absolutely be required to meet pending regulation, but this doesn’t need to cost thousands per truck to acquire.

Installation and support: Installation cost is an often over-looked expense that trucking companies should consider and negotiate into any ELD solution agreement. Of course, this is possible only if the solution you choose is from a provider that offers both software and hardware. Solutions that include a tablet, mount and ECM dongle can often be completed in two hours or less. Complex systems using proprietary hardware and satellite systems could be much more involved and costly.

After sales support is crucial to a successful ELD experience. Problems with something as mission-critical as your driver’s daily logbook are more than just a headache. As we all know, enforcement officers don’t have a lot of patience for drivers and companies not in compliance at all times. ELD suppliers need to have strong customer support cultures and provide quick responses to customer issues. Support costs range widely, but should not be a significant additional cost from regular monthly fees.

Product and development: If I have one suggestion more important than any other it would be to ensure that any system you choose is easy for your drivers to use. Driver acceptance in the early days of implementation is crucial to having an enjoyable (OK … acceptable) ELD experience. These systems need not be complicated to use. Modern ELD systems are intuitive and require minimal driver interaction. For instance, any system you choose should not require a driver to put him or herself in the “driving” duty-status; the GPS embedded in the hardware should automatically recognize that the truck is moving at a minimum speed for a minimum length of time.

Continuing development is important in terms of telematics capabilities, but over-complicating the driver’s daily log component is probably not going to be a big requirement if they got it right the first time. In this case, the KISS (keep it simple stupid) principle definitely applies – there is no need to make your professional driver’s job more difficult by complicating the logbook use.

Summary
The road to ELD and telematics implementation will not be without its challenges, but the rewards will quickly outweigh the costs. The sooner you get started, the more smoothly the transition will go, and the more time you will have to onboard your staff in a positive way.

Watch for Part 2 of this series in the next issue of CFI.


Greg Munden is the president of Munden Ventures Ltd. – a B.C.-based, fourth-generation log hauling, harvesting and commercial vehicle inspection, repair and maintenance business. Reach Greg at 250-828-2821 or gmunden@mundentrucking.ca.