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Automotive Industries interview with Charles Tasker, CEO, MiX Telematics (International)

MiX Telematics, a global provider in fleet management and telematics, recently signed a strategic agreement with Equitel in Colombia, to further their business footprint in Latin America. This was an important step for the company as they strengthen their position as a global player with a huge product portfolio that includes all levels of vehicle telematics. MiX Telematics’ main business segments include vehicle tracking, driver safety, stolen vehicle recover and and fleet management. The business was originally established in South Africa and has operations across the globe in 75 countries and boasts an installed base of around half a million fleet management and vehicle tracking units worldwide. The company has offices in South Africa, the United Kingdom, United States, Germany, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Australia. 

MiX Telematics, which started business in the 90’s, works with a number of partners including Continental Corporation. A couple of years back, MiX Telematics created a new remote tachograph data collection and fleet management solution exclusively for Contintenal. Called the VDO DLD, it was the first in a new breed of intelligent remote data harvesting systems. The VDO DLD system revolutionized the process by securely connecting to vehicles via GPRS cellular networks and directly transferring the data to backend archiving systems over the Internet, with no manual intervention. This remote data access was enabled by Wavecom SA’s wireless microprocessor, an industrial microprocessor which also acted as a wireless modem for voice and data transmission over GSM/GPRS networks 

Earlier this year MiX Telematics decided to focus on what it said were the currently critical trends in the commercial vehicle and transport sector. Such as reduction of carbon emissions – fleet owners are increasingly tracking the carbon footprint of their vehicles. Similarly, MiX Telematics feels that its mobile applications and solutions will play an increasingly important role for fleet owners – the company’s MiX Mobile app helps deliver relevant information and features to users on their mobile phones. Location based services or LBS has also been identified by the company as an increasingly important segment as personal tracking becomes important in the consumer market. “The potential of LBS has not yet been fully recognized. However, it is expected that 2010 is the tipping point for the use of LBS in enterprises, which will be an interesting development for the telematics industry,” says MiX Telematics. 

Other important trends for the next year identified by MiX Telematics include the replacement of on-board computers by mobile devices and changing web front-ends to help manage fleets. “More sophisticated, faster applications put more control in the hands of users and will be a key differentiator between telematics services,” says the company. 

MiX Telematics also says that telematics will play a critical role in addressing health and safety issues, with on-board telematics becoming the norm to ensure federal rules on maximum driving hours as per the Motorcoach Bus Safety Bill that was passed by the US Senate in December 2009. “Many of these challenges facing the fleet owners are interconnected and can be addressed with sophisticated vehicle tracking and fleet management solutions as provided for instance by MiX Telematics. The Fleet Manager (FM) range of products and services provides fleet managers with much needed information ranging from vehicle and driver performance to vehicle tracking, from driver behavior to two-way messaging and navigation,” says the company.

The company has a slew of products to help manage fleets of vehicles. For example, the RIBAS™ Panel provides information to assist drivers in improving driving styles, by alerting the driver to pre-configured vehicle or driver events. This unit is very effective in the bus and coach industry as it leads to improved driver behavior, therefore giving passengers a smoother journey. The MiX Telematics FM Impact Sensor accurately detects and records any impacts to the vehicle or equipment. Then there is the FM Sat Comms, which is a new satellite communications solution providing FM-Web users with global communications coverage and enabling extended Mobile Asset Tracking and Emergency Communications in areas which have no other communications infrastructure.

Automotive Industries spoke to Charles Tasker, CEO, MiX Telematics (International).

AI: Tell us about your company’s journey to becoming a global leader in vehicle monitoring with half a million vehicles worldwide being monitored by MiX Telematics.

The business was established in 1995 as Matrix Vehicle Tracking – a business focused on providing personal safety solutions to consumers using cutting edge GSM –based tracking technology to offer superior vehicle recovery services. Matrix soon became one of the leading vehicle tracking and stolen vehicle recovery service providers in South Africa and the first to focus on the safety of the individual as opposed to the vehicle – a position it still holds today.

While Matrix Vehicle Tracking was growing their consumer base in South Africa, another South African business (then known as CI OmniBridge) was making significant strides into the international commercial fleet management market, as the designer and developer of the Siemens VDO “Fleet Manager” (FM) product range. The product range was branded VDO and sold by Siemens worldwide.

In May 2007, the business acquired the distribution rights for its Fleet Manager range of products from Siemens VDO and also acquired Siemens VDO’s UK-based fleet management business, including the Datatrak product range and network. In October 2007, these two businesses merged under the TeliMatrix holding company and listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange in November the same year.

Given the group’s vision of being the leading global provider of information and related services for mobile assets, the company decided to adopt a new name, to be applied to all businesses within the group. The philosophy being one vision, one company, one brand. As such it was decided by shareholders at an Annual General Meeting on 16 September 2008 to rename the group MiX Telematics – Mobile Information Exchange, signifying the birth of a new global leader.

AI: What are some of the innovations your company has made to live fleet tracking?

We pioneered GSM based tracking and were the first South African (possibly global?) business to introduce a GSM based Stolen Vehicle Tracking device (ie as opposed to RF only solutions). This meant that we could pinpoint a client’s vehicle in less than 30 seconds – a promise that still stands today and is hard to beat.

We embraced all GSM features including SMS, Data Calls and GPRS in our fleet products, being one of the first (if not the first) fleet management providers to provide all communication methods including GPRS with built in configurable least cost routing options. Since we are a global player we also offer Satellite Comms as an option for areas where GSM coverage is weak or non existent.

Last year we launched an iPhone application to enable users and clients to track the whereabouts of their vehicles from their mobile phone and this year we launched Blackberry, Android and iPad versions of the same app. This takes information and tracking features another step closer to the end user, making it easier to manage your fleet from wherever you are.

AI: Give us an idea of MiX Telematics applications for the transport and logistics industry.

Our customers in the Transport and Logistics market use our products for various reasons: 

• Billing: our products accurately report on vehicle mileage, usage hours and driving errors. This provides critical information to leasing companies who charge on a per mile or hour basis. Our data is used to improve billing accuracy and has resulted in significant increases in our clients’ revenue. 

• Fuel & Carbon Emissions Management is a big issue for fleet owners, particularly in Europe and Africa. Our solutions enable vehicle owners to monitor and improve fuel consumption, thus saving significant amounts of money and at the same time reducing the negative impact their business is having on the environment 

• Driver Safety is another important issue facing many fleet operators: our products help save lives by ensuring controlled access to vehicles, real-time monitoring of critical vehicle violations such as over-speeding and providing objective input into driver safety programs. 

• Hours of Service: in the USA and Europe we provide functionality that assists our clients to be compliant when it comes to regional driving hours legislation. 

• IFTA: We help US clients automate their fuel tax calculations and holding patents in this arena for hands-free, hassle-free compliance.

AI: What was the impact of MiX Telematics VDO DLD product?

This product was borne out of a strategic partnership with Continental Corporation, with whom we have had a longstanding relationship. It is hard to quantify the impact, as I believe we have yet to see the full benefits of this initiative. These will be realized over time as we unleash some of the potential this product has, through services such as MiX DriveTime releasing this year.

AI: What do you think is currently the biggest challenge in the vehicle telematics industry?

I believe the challenge is to stay ahead of the converging technologies and to maintain a sustainable profitable business given the significant investment in R&D that this requires. This is vital for customers to know that the vendor they choose is going to be around for many years to come as these are typically significant investments designed to reap rewards to customers for a long period of time.

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