Big Data v Big Brother

Big data has potential hazards, theoretical and practical, as well as huge benefits.

First, the pros. Telematics offer a series of tremendous advantages for individual motorists and, for fleets, even more amazing potential. The information which technology can glean about the behaviour of vehicles includes the way they are being driven, the routes they take, the traffic they encounter in different times and places and a host of other factors.

These kinds of data offer obvious, but in some cases extraordinary, opportunities to improve safety, economy, and fuel efficiency – and to reduce the number of overall journeys, travel time, insurance costs and almost anything you can think of to make the most of the vehicle and to maximise the convenience of the driver.

But, like many other changes wrought by the digital revolution, there are potential downsides as well as advantages, and a fair degree of resistance from those they affect.

The most straightforward is privacy. Like Google ads, supermarket loyalty cards, shared NHS records, surveillance cameras or a host of other things which have become commonplace in an information economy, telematics can be seen as an intrusion. This can be particularly true for professional drivers, as was seen, for example, with the resistance to the EU’s introduction of the analogue tachograph in 1986.

The other potential major concern directly affects companies rather than drivers. Having access to clear and detailed information about the behaviour of your fleet and drivers has self-evident benefits, but it also may create obligations – both ethical and, potentially, legal.

If, thanks to the data provided by digital systems, a company becomes aware of issues – with either their vehicles or the behaviour of their drivers – it needs to be in a position to respond quickly and appropriately. In most cases, of course, the ability to improve maintenance and best practice by drivers is part of the attraction of telematics in the first place, but it’s worth bearing in mind that failure to act on the information could be seen as increasing culpability.

Cases where data is misused, or poorly secured, obviously lend weight to suspicions about the technology, so it is vital not merely to emphasise the benefits telematics can offer, but to ensure there are rigorous protocols in place to safeguard, and where necessary, anonymise the data produced. Those measures should be transparent and clearly articulated to users.

An important part of introducing telematics is to ensure that the front-line users do not regard the technology as being for the purpose of putting them under observation, or designed to seek out excuses for penalising them. The stress should instead be on providing incentives for best practice – bonuses, for example, for drivers who manage to improve fuel efficiency or reduce the downtime of vehicles.

It’s also crucial to make sure this is an even playing field: where there are problems, the object should be to identify whether they lie with the vehicle or the driver. If it is the latter, see it as an opportunity for training and employee development, rather than an excuse to impose penalties.

Substantially the same issues arise when it comes to ensuring that the information being generated leads to constant improvements in your safety procedures, as well as the benefits it offers for savings and efficiency.

Remember that information on its own offers no advantage unless you have nimble and responsive procedures for implementing the changes it suggests. If telematics leads you to identify areas where you business is falling short, regard it as an opportunity to implement models for best practice – any costs are, after all, likely to be considerably less than the consequences of exposing yourself to liability.









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