This is a series of in-depth interviews showcasing entrepreneurs and their organizations who are members of tech community Silicon Halton. Silicon Halton is a grassroots technology community located in Halton, Ontario, Canada.

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On the surface, the concepts of fleet management and vehicle tracking technology – also known as telematics – seem fairly straightforward. However, with the advent of specialized apps that focus on analyzing every angle of the logistics process, as well as new ways to implement the intelligence garnered from this subsequent influx of relevant metrics, the notion of how organizations can monitor, control, and, optimize these functions is radically shifting.

To prove this point, I connected with one of the brightest minds in the world of telematics, Geotab’s Mike Branch. As you’ll soon see, this contributor to the Silicon Halton high tech community and newly appointed head of Geotab’s Business Intelligence unit clearly has the inside scoop on just how important telematics are to enhancing employee productivity, improving driver and public safety, and creating a fully-integrated approach to both real world and digital business operations.

Thanks for joining us today, Mike. Before we dive headfirst into the deeper portions of this conversation, why don’t you introduce yourself and tell our readers a little bit about your history in the telematics field, as well as how you ended up as part of the Geotab team?

Well Chris, joining up with Geotab is actually a bit of a whirlwind story on my end of things. Until about two months ago, my team focused exclusively on the development of Maps BI; a visual business intelligence platform offered on the Geotab Marketplace that integrates with MyGeotab fleet management software.

This add-in offers up easy-to-use interactive dashboards that generate a visually intuitive representation of the data collected by connected GO devices. Essentially, Maps BI is all about bringing this information to life in a way that executives, fleet managers, drivers, and everyone in-between can understand.

Because our platform was so heavily intertwined with the Geotab experience, it made a ton of sense to officially join together and start working under the same roof on the enhanced applications of telematics. It also didn’t hurt that both organizations are located right here in Oakville.

It sounds like it was a natural fit to bring you on board and have you focus on enhancing the “business intelligence” side of the Geotab experience.

Exactly. Gathering the data and metrics related to drivers, vehicles, and other aspects of the logistics process is really only half of the equation. Maps BI, other add-ins in the Marketplace, and the Geotab brand in general all have a strong commitment to pushing the boundaries of how to properly implement the knowledge gained from this raw data.

Now that we’re familiar with how your team and Geotab came together, it seems like a good time to delve into the particulars of Geotab’s approach to telematics. Could you give us an overview of your GO device system and how it works?

It all begins with the collection of rich, accurate data. Our Geotab GO device plugs into the on-board diagnostics (OBD) port of a vehicle and keeps track of pretty much any relevant usage or event metric. Longitude and latitude, acceleration, braking, possible accident detection, customer site visit times, lunch breaks, speeding… you get the picture! What makes Geotab unique is the incredible depth and breadth of high-quality data that is captured, and also our open platform, which makes it possible to integrate the data with their own business systems and third-party applications..

The big key here is that whether you’re managing a fleet of 20 vehicles or keeping track of a few thousand, having real-time access via the MyGeotab portal opens up some amazing opportunities for business optimization and refinement; both at the managerial and employee levels of the process.

What kind of features and functionality does the My Geotab portal offer to members?

Outside of replaying trip history and having access to data that spans the entire fleet, the MyGeotab portal touches on quite a few other unique features, including rules implementation. To give you an idea of how the rules system works within this portal, I recently setup a rule that sends my wife a quick little message when I’m leaving the office to let her know that I’ll be home soon. It’s obviously a simple and fun example, but it does a great job of shining a spotlight on just how far the technology behind telematics has evolved in the last few years.

From a more professional perspective, MyGeotab users also have access to one of the richest engine diagnostic data sets you’ll find in the telematics industry. In total, we collect over 650 million records a day that originate from over 500,000 devices.

Wow! Those numbers are even more amazing when you take a second and think about the insight that’s held within such a large volume of data.

And that’s the big selling point for having access to this kind of Big Data. We want to help the end customer utilize this business intelligence from a variety of different angles, so it’s vital to have a constantly updated and accurate collection of both internal data and industry metrics.

While we’re on the subject of data sets, it’s a probably a good idea to take a quick detour and point out that privacy and security play a vital role in the allocation and distribution of this information. These two attributes are not only what we look at first and foremost when handling end user data, but also guide our decisions regarding emerging services and product features.

You mentioned leveraging newfound business intelligence from a variety of different angles. Could you expand on this idea and give the readers out there a few examples?

Sure. Safety is probably one of the biggest considerations on this front. By detecting events like harsh cornering, speeding, potential accidents, and other accelerometer-based data, we can help communities pinpoint potential problem areas and intersections, and cut down on the risk of accidents and other safety issues that plague a significant portion of the fleets currently out on the road. Performance analysis can also be combined with in-vehicle driver coaching to significantly improve driver behavior on the road. Our new GO TALK tool actually allows managers to send spoken alerts to drivers when they’re at the wheel, to warn them when they’re speeding or driving too aggressively.

Of course, performance and emissions also deserve a spot in this conversation. For example, we want to help fleet managers ensure that people aren’t idling for longer than they have to because it’s not only better for the environment, but it’s also better for the company in question’s bottom-line as well.

The truth of the matter is that there’s so much that we can do when it comes to generating relevant data and insight; Geotab is still very much pushing the envelope and testing the boundaries of how to interpret and apply the subsequently generated business intelligence.

We keep touching on Geotab’s “end users” and “clients” as abstract concepts. What kind of brands and organizations use your devices and add-ins on a regular basis?

It really feels like this should be an easy question to answer in just a few words, but the companies that tap into Geotab’s services are far too varied and spread across too many industries to really lump them all together into one response. A better way to approach this question and give you a feel for Geotab’s target audience is by highlighting some of our current end users.

Specifically, brands like Pepsi and Enterprise currently use our devices and software to track all of their delivery vehicles, manage optimal routing, and handle other logistics functions. We also help several municipalities keep track of winter snow operations during the less hospitable months of the year. Giving these clients the power to keep track of the amount of salt, sand, and brine being spread on the road in real-time via our interactive dashboards can really help lower costs and increase efficiency.

We even have a local customer that utilizes the temperature tracking capabilities of one of our Marketplace partners that connects to the GO device through sensors located in the rear compartments of their food delivery trucks, to monitor deliveries en route to local restaurants. If the storage area of the delivery trucks ever falls out of the predetermined safe temperature range, then this entire shipment of perishables could get turned around and replaced with a fresh batch of goods, so you can certainly see the importance of monitoring these temperatures.

If you absolutely had to boil Geotab’s target audience down to one “quick and dirty” description, then I think you could easily say that we have something to offer to virtually any brand that manages a fleet of vehicles (all the way from yellow iron construction vehicles and lawn mowers to long haul tractor trailers) and wants to optimize and refine their operations.

For virtually any base of customers, there are certain “pain points” that lead to the adoption of new technology as a way to combat these issues. When connecting with new clients, what concerns or problems do you illuminate to help these end users understand the need for a proper approach to telematics?

We really want to drive home the concept of “management by measurement.” The basic premise behind this idea is that it’s impossible for a business to know how well or how poorly it’s performing if it isn’t willing to track and audit itself.

Once we’ve established this baseline and brought to light inefficiency issues that might have been flying under the radar up to this point, the conversation then turns to what these organizations have to gain by implementing the Geotab solution and leveraging the influx of business intelligence and insight that follows behind this decision.

It’s amazing how discussing the importance of lower engine idling times, reduced fuel consumption, and other improvements that affect the entire operational process can completely shift a potential client’s viewpoint regarding the importance of telematics.

Once you’ve moved past the adoption phase and your GO devices are locked into the OBD ports of the end user’s fleet vehicles, what’s the next step?

At this point, it’s important for the customer to really embrace the customization and functionality that comes with the Geotab experience. Of course, the best way do this is by exploring the Geotab Marketplace – something we touched on a littler earlier in this conversation.

Why don’t you give us a quick rundown of the current capabilities of the Marketplace, as well as what members of this community can expect from it moving forward?

The Geotab Marketplace is actually really cool. Customers who utilize this platform have access to numerous add-ins, apps, custom reports, and software solutions that all translate the raw data of GO devices into actionable insight and business intelligence. From utilizing gamification techniques to reviewing simple analytics, the current roster of inclusions in the Marketplace ensures that there’s a little something for everyone.

Although it just started, the Marketplace is growing at a substantial rate thanks to our intrepid development partners and Geotab’s open architecture and application program interface (API.) Going a step farther, if you currently leverage our products and want to build your own custom tool or software, then the framework – and access to our rich data sets – is ready and waiting.

Jumping back to the fact that you’ve recently been called upon to lead Geotab’s Business Intelligence unit, what goals do you hope to accomplish in this new role?

As the head of this unit within the organization, my team and I want to do our best to “unlock” the rich data that exists within our system for both existing and new customers. We’re really only scratching the surface in terms of the uses of this information, so it’s imperative that we work hard to build even more connections between this data and its applications in the real world.

Benchmarking in particular is a big one that we want to bring to Geotab customers. If we’re able to compare metrics for a client – idling time, fuel expenditure, etc. – to established industry thresholds and present concrete evidence that supports the need for change, then the sky’s the limit in terms of how much money these customers can save via operational optimization.

Coming from my prior perspective as a Geotab partner and only having access to the data that correlates with “end user X” or “end user Y,” seeing the potential that’s held within the full range of this information is truly astounding. At this point, it’s just a matter of disseminating the insight held within in a secure, private, and accurate manner.

Expanding this question out to an even wider perspective, where do you see Geotab heading in the future? Not just in terms of placing a greater emphasis on utilizing data to promote business intelligence, but also as an organization in general?

Outside of the obvious room for growth in the data portion of our business, I also think that the Geotab Marketplace has the opportunity to really foster some amazing advancements for our customers. We want to push our open API to new heights and give the development partners currently operating within the ecosystem the ability to create the tools they need to truly extract the maximum value from their data. This area of growth is a big part of Geotab’s future, so we’re doing our best to place a major priority on bolstering functionality within the Marketplace.

Well, there’s no denying that you’ve given myself and our readers a whole new outlook on telematics, as well as shed some light on the increasingly important role that data plays in this industry. Thanks so much for taking some time out of your day to talk with us, Mike.

Thanks, Chris. I hope everyone following along with our chat had as good of a time as I did and I’m sure we’ll connect again soon!