Zonar Takes the Wheel with a Machine-to-Machine Solution

 

About Zonar

Zonar Facts

Business Needs

Secure, rapid data reporting between in-vehicle devices and in-office systems; efficient, verified driver compliance; improvement in predictive maintenance

Networking Solution

M2M solution with customized network access and service management platform

Business Value

Reliable, secure network helps deliver critical information to support customers and enhance their operations; Web portal allows for ease of in-house management of solution components

Industry Focus

Electronic fleet management solutions

Size

250,000 devices installed

Based in Seattle, Washington, Zonar is a leading provider of electronic fleet management solutions for heavy-duty vehicles. From commercial trucking to public transit, Zonar helps fleet operators improve vehicle inspection, safety and compliance – and save money. The company’s innovative processes and devices use radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology and on-board diagnostics to create and communicate near real-time reports of vehicle and driver performance.

Situation

Zonar’s fleet management solutions collect, report and analyze data before, during and after a vehicle’s trip. The company needed Machine-to-Machine (M2M) connectivity to enable communication between in-vehicle devices and back-end systems. To deliver potentially sensitive information from and to moving vehicles – and keep pace with its rapid business growth – Zonar wanted a solution that it could easily manage and that had the required national and global reach.

Solution

Zonar chose AT&T to provide an M2M connectivity solution which includes a secure, reliable private network connection that delivers a continuous stream of data in real time. An AT&T service management platform allows Zonar to easily manage the data, devices and services that support its customers. The extensive international roaming arrangements of AT&T also help Zonar meet its global expansion plans as well as those of its customers.

In the Zone

Long-haul trucking is a foundation of the U.S, economy. “The truckers always say, ‘If you bought it, we brought it,’” said Chris Oliver, Zonar Systems’ Chief Marketing Officer. A well-maintained, properly driven vehicle is the key to a safe and profitable trip. This is where Zonar steps in. “The company was founded in 2001 around a novel new concept for safety inspections for trucks,” said Mike McQuade, Chief Technology Officer. “Our method ensures the driver walks around the truck.”

We have the ability to fully diagnose what happens with the device through the AT&T network.”

Mike McQuade, Chief Technology Officer, Zonar Systems

It’s simple but revolutionary. The Electronic Vehicle Inspection Report (EVIR) uses the EVIR 2010, Zonar’s proprietary handheld device, to scan a series of RFID tags adhered to critical inspection zones on the vehicle. At each site the driver enters the condition of the tires, brakes or other inspection subject. After electronically recording the driver’s observations, the EVIR 2010 transmits the data to Zonar to analyze and report to the customer.

Expanding upon the EVIR, Zonar has developed a wide range of products to serve a diverse customer base. In addition to commercial vehicles, the company provides fleet management solutions to school buses, utility and construction vehicles, transit buses and waste and recycling vehicles. “Zonar is really unique. There’s nobody that does the breadth of applications that we do,” McQuade said.

Zonar’s solutions not only streamline pre- and post-trip vehicle inspection, they also help improve in-route oversight through real-time tracking of vehicle speed, location, fuel consumption, miles traveled by geography, vehicle maintenance and even how long a vehicle has been idling. The detailed data enables customers to easily create and track performance standards and meet regulatory compliance. And it doesn’t stop there.

Zonar has teamed up with high-profile customer Daimler Trucks North America to develop the Virtual Technician, an
on-board diagnostics system customized to address the complex needs of long-haul truckers. “The Virtual Technician collects performance data of the truck – not just fault codes but ancillary data around them,” McQuade explained.

On top of that, last year Zonar won the prestigious Edison Award for Innovation for another breakthrough, its ZPass solution, which tracks students traveling on school buses through scanned RFID passes. The solution gives parents peace of mind while improving ridership tracking for school funding reports.

Critical Mass

Zonar’s M2M solutions require rapid, reliable and secure two-way transmission of large amounts of data. “We take what is similar to a phonebook of streaming data out of the truck as it’s going down the road,” said McQuade. And it’s not just for one truck, but for tens of thousands of vehicles all across the country. From business-critical performance data to student location, much of the transmitted information is sensitive, so Zonar needed to ensure secure access to a secure network. At the same time, the company wanted customers to have flexibility in how they access the data. For example, with the student-tracking solution, ZPass, Zonar is pushing data right to parents’ smartphones.

Network reliability is another top priority as Zonar’s customers expect the best. “Our customer retention rate is north of 98 percent, and we intend to keep it that way,” said Oliver. From cost savings to regulatory compliance, the data Zonar provides to customers plays a critical role in the success of its customers’ businesses. “Our systems are used by Fortune 100 companies to run their business processes. It can’t be down,” McQuade said. “For elite trucking companies, the savings to their fleet is sometimes as much as $1,000 per truck per month.”

Zonar has expanded rapidly in both size and reach, and shows no signs of slowing down. “We’re growing at 61% over the last five or seven years. Our growth rate is really staggering,” said McQuade. The company has added thousands of devices at a time so Zonar needed a network that could keep up, and scale up as needed. And the company’s customers are growing as well. “A customer might one day decide they’re going to pick up a new truck route or bus route and drive into Canada,” said McQuade. A network with global capability and responsive to exponential growth was necessary.

Behind the Wheel

Zonar chose AT&T to provide the connectivity for its M2M solutions. With years of experience, global roaming reach, a large and dedicated team of experts and state-of-the-art technology, AT&T is a leader in M2M solutions.

After listening to Zonar’s needs, AT&T put together a solution using a custom Access Point Name (APN) wireless connection to the AT&T network and a highly secure IP-based connection to their backend systems. This ensures that Zonar’s devices connect reliably to the AT&T network, creating a truly private network that enables two-way, real-time data communication between the in-vehicle devices and Zonar’s in-office systems. It also provides redundant data paths and failover capabilities to help meet Zonar’s high reliability requirements. Access is managed through the Enterprise
on-Demand (EOD) service platform. This platform in effect puts Zonar behind the wheel by providing a custom Web portal to directly manage its own data, devices and AT&T services.

AT&T is also supporting Zonar’s migration to the expanded wireless capabilities of the 3G network. Zonar is already looking ahead to 3G’s new possibilities. In terms of application development, 3G has larger, faster bandwidth to enable an increased range of services. “We’re one of the first heavy-duty telematics companies to come to market with a
3G-based device,” said McQuade. “There’s a wide range of applications that will come. Maybe a company president wants to send a short message to all of his truck drivers who are scattered all over the country. The 3G broadband connection opens that up.”

Responding to the Road

For Zonar’s customers, rapid communication of vehicle performance data promotes greater fleet oversight. The on-board devices transmit data to Zonar’s cloud. Zonar correlates this data with other performance information and creates
easy-to-understand reports, which are sent to the fleet manager or directly to the driver over the same network. “We give them the ability to drill into the data, but generally it’s just a high-level report such as ‘slow down five miles an hour and you’ll increase your fuel economy 22 percent,’” McQuade explained.

The custom APN provides reliable network access for increased data security. “Only our servers can talk to our devices,” said McQuade. And it’s a lot of devices – currently about 250,000 and growing. “We also have the security of having a redundant connection into two AT&T data centers,” said McQuade.

The Enterprise on-Demand Web portal is easy to use. “I never hear about it,” McQuade said. “There was a period last summer when we were activating 10,000 to 12,000 units a month and nobody in our operations ever had an issue with it. It just works.” Through the portal, Zonar can activate devices, manage and track SIM card inventory, change service plans and get usage alerts and detailed reports. “We have the ability to fully diagnose what happens with the device through the AT&T network,” said McQuade.

AT&T provides the scalability and wide reach Zonar needs. With AT&T using the global standard for mobile phone networks (GSM), Zonar’s devices will work the same in any country. The company is already looking to expand its business to Europe, the Middle East, and India. The global capability of the AT&T network through its roaming arrangements also helps Zonar accommodate its customers’ own route expansion. “Not only is it a global friendly technology, but the network is massive and it’s continually being built out ahead of us,” said McQuade.

On the Horizon

Zonar continues to grow, as it both innovates and responds to new industry standards. Strict new emissions and compliance regulations will eventually require all heavy-duty trucks to have electronic on-board diagnostics systems. “The only way that trucking companies are going to survive is to adopt technology to help them stay compliant. The days of truck drivers maintaining paper logs are gone,” said McQuade.

The AT&T commitment to investing in M2M is a commitment to Zonar’s future. “They have never rested. Every time we turn around there’s something new in the management or the tools,” said McQuade. When Zonar runs into limitations, AT&T is right there to respond to its needs. “Our growth rate has put us out there where the ice is thin, but we always have AT&T to guide us and help us make changes. They’ve been very good about putting senior management in the room to help chart the way. They’ve really been a partner for growth,” McQuade explained.

Zonar is expanding its product offerings. Last year, the company launched the 2020, a ruggedized tablet for use both on and off the vehicle. In addition to providing applications for inspection, messaging, navigation, driver behavior and hours of service, the 2020 allows customers to customize the device and its applications. Zonar has also started to talk with AT&T about application development with the Mobile Enterprise Application Platform (MEAP). “If we use AT&T MEAP, we can quickly stand up applications to solve business needs for our customers,” said McQuade. “We’re excited about that for sure.”

As Zonar and its customers speed ahead, the future looks as bright and inviting as a truck stop at night. As McQuade put it, “We just have to keep showing up to work every day, keep executing and keep innovating.”

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