Lost in the cloud? Get a provider to manage data
Editor's Note: This piece was written by Frank Schneider, director product management at CalAmp SaaS Business. CalAmp's construction solutions capture real-time visibility into equipment and fleet activity, utilization and predictive maintenance with cumulative engine hours and AEMP data feeds.
Construction companies are accounting firms that happen to erect buildings, a common saying goes. Yet while the industry generates a tremendous amount of numbers and other data, it’s known to be slow in adopting technologies that can use that data to streamline operations and improve efficiencies.
One such technology that has begun to achieve broader acceptance, though, is that of telematics. Telematics systems track the location, usage, condition and status of a construction fleet — monitoring all field assets, from trucks and tractors to smaller items like welders.
The way such telematics data can best help most construction companies is simply to make the data it collects accessible for practical uses. A good data platform needs to provide an easy and economical way for construction companies to get the data they need when and where they need it — whether that means integrating it with accounting software or making it accessible in a stand-alone application.
Accessibility is the name of the game when it comes to cloud computing. And specifically, Platform as a Service (PaaS) is a type of cloud-based offering through which a service provider manages data collection, normalization, security and connectivity so that enterprise solutions can be more rapidly deployed and scaled up.
Cloud-based services such as PaaS make it possible to develop applications that collect, aggregate, process and analyze data from hundreds, thousands or even millions of internet-connected objects and make insights available at a central point to those who need it.
Connected objects that send large amounts of data to the cloud via installed devices such as routers and gateways are using what is called Internet of Things (IoT) technology. With PaaS, real-time, detailed information about equipment utilization can be transformed into analytics and insights to drive informed business decisions.
Because it’s based on cloud computing, PaaS sidesteps the need to purchase and set up racks of servers in a data center. All of the infrastructure and security assets required are managed by the service provider. Data that is processed and stored in the cloud is available remotely from almost anywhere through a wide variety of programs and systems.
Managing the whole project or fleet
Connecting heavy equipment to the cloud — and thereby making it part of the IoT — enables contractors, for instance, to manage a whole project or a mixed fleet at a glance. Fleet operators can see comprehensive data about engine health, utilization, location and status for an individual asset or for the fleet as a whole.
Centralized mobile access to information enables you to manage your equipment and your projects from anywhere. Emerging telematics standards like those developed by the Association of Equipment Management Professional (AEMP) for construction fleets are making it possible for different types of equipment, from different original equipment manufacturers, to report their statuses coherently to cloud applications.
Robust, off-the-shelf connected telematics devices, designed for easy installation on heavy equipment, connect to the engine computer to provide real-time access to engine hours, odometer readings, fuel levels, service interval indicators, hydraulics, and a variety of other information that can help you optimize operations, improve safety and enhance processes.
At just a glance, the system provides data on which individual pieces of equipment need repair or preventive maintenance. That knowledge can help save money and extend asset lifespan. Engine utilization data is logged in real time, which is more accurate and less costly than manual logging of engine hours. Engine usage data can be used to help automate reporting and billing, simplify accounting operations and improve future job costing efforts. Engine hour rules can even be set to regulate normal and overtime use by day, week or month to optimize billing and reduce disputes.
On-board GPS units track and transmit equipment locations from the field to the cloud, where the data can be aggregated to identify which project areas are busy and where equipment is idle. Aggregated utilization and location data can help identify trends and predict future needs to to help with the optimization of the size of equipment fleets and smoothly scaling as business grows.
For management of individual jobsites or projects, you can create geozones (virtual boundaries around specific areas) to alert you to local situations that occur, such as when assets enter or leave unexpectedly.
Those events can be captured in reports, which can help during audits or at any other time you need to provide a timestamp of when materials arrived at a jobsite. PaaS solutions that integrate with mapping technology such as Esri ArcGIS can let you view your mixed fleet using custom map layers that show infrastructure and add the proper context to your data. You can view an entire fleet at one time, or drill down into a complete view of daily activity for one particular piece of equipment, including its precise path, any events that triggered alerts and the number of hours it was used.
Importance of real-time data
Real-time data is especially important when working with time-sensitive materials such as ready-mixed concrete. A fully-loaded concrete truck takes about 40 minutes to pour, but must be completed within 90 minutes after the water hits the mix. Knowing how long a truck has been on the road before arrival is critical for compliance and safety. By connecting and tracking concrete trucks, it is possible to locate them in real time, to help truck drivers with route guidance that updates automatically in response to unexpected traffic or other conditions, and to know whether they have arrived on time.
With a telematics solution — whether that means a PaaS or a complete application — you can manage your heavy equipment from anywhere. The comprehensive information made available in dashboards and reports shows you exactly how and where equipment is being used, which equipment needs maintenance and how to bill your clients for its utilization. The reports are beneficial for compliance and auditing, and can help you drive smarter business decisions.