Episode 4: Philip Nel, Fleetmatic Manager- Bell Equipment

The Full Scoop Podcast
September 14, 2020

Table of Content


In this episode, Clue CEO, Oded Ran speaks with Philip Nel, Fleetmatic Manager at Bell Equipment, manufacturer of Bell heavy equipment, covering the latest updates - and the future - of Bell's telematics system.

Bell Equipment website
Philip on LinkedIn

Read a Transcript of the Episode

Oded Ran (Clue) (00:08):
Hello and welcome to another episode of the full scoop. My name is Oded Ran and I'm co-founder and CEO at CLUE, the host of this show. And today we have with us Phillip Nell from Bell Equipment hailing from South Africa. Hi Phillip.

Philip Nel (Bell) (00:23):
Good evening. And thank you for having me.

Oded Ran (Clue) (00:25):
You bet. It's great to have you. We always happy to have people who work on telematics at the OEMs, which for most people on the show, that’s like the biggest black box. And before we start tell us a bit more, most people in the show would obviously know about Bell and the company, but tell us a bit more about Bell for the very few who don't yet go on a Bell equipment.

Philip Nel (Bell) (00:49):
Well, Bell Equipment started off close to where it is today on a farm just outside in Bongani in the Northern body of KwaZulu Natal and grew worldwide organization today with 64 dealers and branches across the globe at the moment.

Oded Ran (Clue) (01:12):
Amazing, and you have been with the company for how long?

Philip Nel (Bell) (01:16):
Just a short period. About six days ago, I've been with bell for 19 years now.

Oded Ran (Clue) (01:23):
That's great. So we're going to spend time talking about Fleetmatic, Bell's telematics suite. And how long have you been involved with that team?

Philip Nel (Bell) (01:34):
I've been involved for about 12 years in that team. Joined the team initially then moved to a different department and recently joined back again into the team.

Oded Ran (Clue)(01:47):
Okay. So where should we start? How about let's reminisce a bit about the past, from what you can tell us about the origins telematics today. When people purchase a new piece of equipment, it comes for granted, they will have telematics, but that certainly was not the case 12 years ago when you started as a team, correct?

Philip Nel (Bell) (02:08):
No, 12 years ago we also when we started Pacific Island, doesn’t need to be standard. Then we provided as an option for customers and a lot of customers backed in and probably today. And that's one of the myths that we have debunk is that this telematics, snow, there's not actually a tracking utility. So it's not similar to what you experienced in your call that gives you a position. This is actually a production tool.

Oded Ran (Clue)(02:38):
And so the first few days, version one of the telematics system provided what.

Philip Nel (Bell)(02:47):
Very little. I remember the days when we started up our satellite provider that we used at that stage were only able to give us 11 bytes of data. So all the information that we had to package in and we had to package in, the 11 bytes.

Oded Ran (Clue) (03:09):
Wow, and things really changed. So fast forward to today, let's talk a bit about the bells and whistles. Oh, no pun intended of a fleetmatic and telematic systems, obviously like most OEMs you offer the AAMP or the ISO standard of data, but you do also quite a bit more than that. When you think of a telematics, do you think internally, how do you differentiate what additional value you can provide owners of the equipment?

Philip Nel (Bell) (03:41):
Initially, when we designed and developed the system, we were focused on really providing customer with production information. And as most over in, these days we have split down focus and do fields now still providing production information with the customer. But I think that OEMs value the telematics information themselves now. So they are designing and developing more tools and ideas and stuff to use the telematics themselves. And it's gone beyond telematics now where we can actually remotely configure units with our next generation hardware, we'll be able to remotely program units. And I'm sure within the next couple of years, we'll be probably sitting in the office and controlling the units with the remote joystick.

Oded Ran (Clue) (04:35):
Wow. So let's talk a bit about that because that is a sea change, correct, from where we've been, and it sounds like software becomes more and more important within what is traditionally extremely hardware business, right? Equipment that does nothing heavier than heavy construction equipment in that sense. So how does that work? Tell us a bit more, but the mechanics within an OEM, as you designed the new model, in what stage does the telematics team get involved in thinking about how do we enable these, this new functionality or new features or whatever that would be into to customers and to dealers?

Philip Nel (Bell) (05:18):
Yeah, so I'm in the mean telematics team I would say is quite involved. The machine still needs to move dirt or do a basic function like digging or excavating, etc. So that mechanical or ocean, or probably remain there and the need for power and to move dirt and stuff from mainstay. But what we've seen is a lot of focus on big technology is designed into the machines these days and not just telematics, but in efficiency. So what we trying to do is to reduce the cost, to move dirt and to make the machine as most effective. So from that point, we introducing more and more software and some OEMs has got grading systems, digging systems, and that couples into the telematics now, so that you can get actually that information to the machine and back to the database. So you can track your progress and stuff as well. So the way forward I see is that all machines will basically be digitized and call it debt. So in the past, we used to fit the telematics solution onto your machine. These days it's actually designed a machine. So it's fully integrated into the software, into the display modules, etc. So it’s part of the machine, is no longer added on or off the floor.

Oded Ran (Clue) (06:44):
That's fantastic. And on a day by day basis, do you find yourself spending most of the time of the team dealing with end customers and companies or with dealers?

Philip Nel (Bell) (06:57):
I try not to spend a lot of time with end users or customers as we are more focused on developing and delivering unique and more solutions for customers. So we just get involved if there's critical items, but we do go onto, I would call it a road show where we do once or twice do the drive through the States or to the UK. We go and spend a week or two just with customers and discuss the ways forward and stuff. So from a day to day, I would say probably about the same as being with customers, the rest I put aside for development.

Oded Ran (Clue) (07:36):
Great. So tell us a bit more from where you can share, for example, at the type of things you are working on this quarter on again, don't give away any proprietary information, but what does it day in the life or the quarter of a telematics manager like yourself entail?

Philip Nel (Bell) (07:53):
So we've already got the ISO standard up and running. We hopefully at the end of this week, we're going to release the version two, which will provide some more end points for the customer to drive us as close as possible to, I think the 20 end points that's available on the ISO standard.

Philip Nel (Bell) (08:17):
So that’s great breaking news or the full scoop it's coming up.

Philip Nel (Bell) (08:23):
Yeah, and then we are in the final stages of our hardware, three controller designs. So we are about to lay out the PC board within the next couple of weeks. I'm very excited to that, all the way that's going into production. And about two years from now, we'll be able to remotely do firmware updates on our machines.

Oded Ran (Clue) (08:49):
That's fantastic. And companies many, perhaps in transportation, less so in construction still are implementing more and more video and dash cam and with 4G and 5G being pervasive and available, even in remote places. That means there's more bandwidth in the what can you tell us a bit more about the three to five year roadmap, where do you see, for example, Bell or the other  OEMs starting to offer things like video and other bits on top of telematics and what they do today is basically no longer have to worry about the 11 bytes you had to worry about 12 years ago, and now you can send maybe a gigabyte an hour if you wanted.

Philip Nel (Bell) (09:34):
Yeah, absolutely. Like I said, the first thing that we as an OEM is focused on is doing firmware updates because that will free up our support guys instead of spending an hour two on the road, another hour for induction on site.

So we're going to free up those critical skills to out more customers going forward. I mean, we potentially again, activate the camera and give us some inputs and by the telematics system, really these inputs and fault-finding the unit remotely. So there are vast opportunities with the speed data and the peripherals around that you can support with. You can mount cameras around the machine, live stream that into office. And that will enable us to do some sort of autonomous control vehicles.

Oded Ran (Clue)(10:31):
That sounds super exciting to see where the future holds. Now, one of the things that you mentioned with all this functionality obviously will be relevant for people who own bell equipment, but pretty much every company we speak with Clue has a mixed fleet. And we ended up obviously offering a way to aggregate and normalize and standardize all the data from Bell and other OEMs into a single platform. What do you think will be the future for that? Do you envisage that will soon have a new standard by ISO that will normalize data, or actually we will always have to rely on third party companies like Clue and others to end up enabling people, to get all this information from different OEMs and give it to the end user in one place. What are you having seen this industry for so long? What would you envisage will end up happening?

Philip Nel (Bell) (11:25):
Yes, we've seen a big move in the past. A lot of customers were happy to have six to seven week binders open to view all the animatic systems. But I mean, we all are moving into a digital environment. 10 years ago we didn't have mobile phones with mobile apps and stuff like that. So the speed at which we developing and the direction we are going has opened up the playing field, if you want all of that for third parties like yourself to provide a single platform for customer to have a single log on and to compare apples with apples, because if you even compare OEM information with other OEM, the way we measure certain barometers is different. So I think the ISO platform is a great platform because it has standardized all the data. And for the customer, you can then see all this data on one platform.

And I think going forward, that's going to a probably remain the same because a lot of development that's happening as on our OEM level as well. We rather focus on developing support for our customers, from our diagnostics and stuff, and then provide a little bit of information on that rather than developing third party solutions for them and stuff. So we also, at Bell, I've got the capabilities of reading in other OEMs or the body information's on the website, just convenience sake and we also rolling out odd way solutions for our customers that would like different third party solutions or third party products with our solution.

Oded Ran (Clue) (13:05):
Do you think with things such as remote connectivity and controlling equipment remotely, we're going to end up having a standard for that. So in 10 years’ time, I can have a third party app that lets me control my equipment, but it works with every OEM or that's a bit too farfetched and too specific to have a single set of functionality.

Philip Nel (Bell) (13:25):
That is coming definitely. If I'm not mistaken, there is already a standard available. We'll just have to confirm that, but that's what balance done. So, just jumping a little bit to the side on from telematics, we've developed an odd way solution that the customer come back can buy it for today and install on this machine. And then he can remotely control the device using stood body with a set of parameters that we provide. And if I'm not mistaken, that is a standard or by holding given the standard. I'm sure there is some sort of, I suspect really available for that.

Oded Ran (Clue) (14:06):
Great and I'm sure we're going to be seeing more and more of that coming up. And with that in mind, you must be seeing companies deploying and using telematics to varying degree of success. What have you seen that you feel that's the best practice? If I would speak with all of the Bell install base and customer base, I would encourage them to use telematics to the extent that this client has done. Can you share with us some best practices that you've seen?

Philip Nel (Bell) (14:36):
Yes, the best practices that I've seen is way companies is taking the telematics data and as written procedures in the organization to use a data and they vigorously check daily or weekly and take action from it. From the guys that are seen as way gunk mistake, telematics data, they look at it for weeks. This is great information and stuff. And then kind of folders away with the Gaza, really integrated into the daily work checks and put dogs in for them. It's substantially made a difference in the business.

Oded Ran (Clue) (15:20):
And more and more companies now, perhaps due to the impact of COVID-19, which we'll speak about in a minute are concerned about their top line as well as bottom line and the measuring more and more of the total cost of ownership of the equipment, not just the price of the equipment, but the ongoing maintenance parts, utilization, idling, and so on. Is there anything on the telematics side that you thinking about providing, helping customers see the value of owning a piece of Bell equipment compared to any other OEM?

Philip Nel (Bell) (15:52):
Not too much on the telematics side, but what we are doing on the product side is we are investigating various sensors to measure how hard the equipment is working. And then obviously through telematics provide feedback to the customer. For example, if a machine spins 50% of the storm idling, you might have one to service it sooner or later, they are talking about remote diagnostics or oil analysis. So you can do oil analysis on board. Normally we change hydraulic fluid at 4,000 hours based on the song ball that's onboard. We postpone it to 5,000 hours. So obviously that feeds through with telematics, but yeah, there's lots of development to digitize the machine itself as well and using the telematics platform just to provide that information to the customer.

Oded Ran (Clue) (16:50):
Great, so it sounds like a lot of things are going really well, according to plan. And sometimes we learn the most from things that are not going at all according to plan. So can you share with us any story of something in the last 19 years or 12 years in telematics that didn't go according to plan and then what happened?

Philip Nel (Bell) (17:11):
Well, I can remember one specific instance and I'm sure out there I've got a nickname of water tanker and the reason being is, we did some end of line, a configuration one evening, and the next morning I received the first call about the machine and thought nothing of it. But after the third or fourth call, I started digging and found out that we had a mistakenly sent along wrong parameters to the machines and I will all convert it into water tankers.

Oded Ran (Clue) (18:02):
It's interesting. And I'm sure no one was injured in the other than a bit of perhaps pride, but that's it.

Philip Nel (Bell)(18:11):
Yeah. Luckily no one was injured and we managed to fix it remotely fortunately and it went again.

Oded Ran (Clue) (18:21):
So it's interesting because one thing that definitely we are realizing is that as a digitization of equipment will become more and more important so is the introduction of skills like quality assurance and so on that previously perhaps was not the most important thing. So for example, if God forbid tomorrow, a machine is remotely operating and there is a software bug and it started doing something you see in the movies that would be a problem. So, are you from an engineering perspective, are you already employing, I'm assuming people whose sole job is to check the quality of the code that goes in and build the architecture in a way that's safe to operate?

Philip Nel (Bell) (19:06):
Absolutely and we need to combine to some soak labels when we develop that kind of software. So there needs to be even done the hard way and you're allowed to use specific controllers. So they need to be EMI tested and needs to be verified, etc. And at this stage, we all in trials with autonomous vehicles, but because for that reason, no one is allowed on site when those vehicles operate. So if a vehicle breaks down or something goes wrong, the whole site needs to gust is still standing stone, or I need a broken one, but the company site, and then I need people all out. So yeah, the people or the industry is still a little bit scared about the technology, I would say, but they are really embracing it and they are taking their own robust safety precautions to test it and run with it.

Oded Ran (Clue) (20:04):
And I assume that will in future include even the cyber security, right. Ensuring that a machine cannot be tampered with and so on.

Philip Nel (Bell) (20:12):
Absolutely, if you look on social media or YouTube, you'll see lots of videos where they potentially hack into automotive vehicles already and they control it over. So yeah, we're definitely doing encrypting of data, encryption, etc. So going forward, we will definitely make sure that there's sufficient security on our equipment.

Oded Ran (Clue) (20:39):
Great. And I mentioned COVID-19 earlier, what was the impact so far on, COVID-19 both for the company operating from South Africa and for business, and we're now already in July when we are recording this, what are you seeing in the market at the moment?

Philip Nel (Bell) (20:55):
Yeah, so the goal with this had a significant impact on valid equipment and that's a direct impact on our customers, which is transferred onto the factory, obviously. So we still have African market is absolutely dead at the moment. We are running at about 50% capacity at both factories at the moment. So we did start up production when South Africa moved to level four lock down. Luckily we also have a similar plant in Eisenach in Germany, where we also manufacture ADTs for Europe. So we enforce some tough challenges, but it also opens one's mind again, to see our digital platforms and stuff and telematics data, you can get where you need to be. So it's not just a doom and gloom, there's some opportunities as well. And we're confident that we're going to get through this.

Oded Ran (Clue) (21:55):
Perfect and definitely sending best wishes of getting back to normal for both the country and for the company. And we'll finish with one question. I ask everyone that comes on the show and that is you work at Bell equipment. So you can probably get the keys for any piece of equipment, maybe for any piece of recommended manufacturers. So if you could have a fun day with a piece of equipment and do whatever you wanted to it, which one would it be?

Philip Nel (Bell) (22:26):
Well if I decide, so, let me just put it that way Bell Equipment manufacturers, ADTs, tractors, wheelers and stuff as well. But we also a dealer for various other brands in South Africa, and we recently had a product introduction or familiarization done on our desk form. And I must say, I really enjoy operating an excavator.

Oded Ran (Clue) (22:57):
Great, excellent. So an excavator it is, for anyone watching this, if they wanted to get in contact, ask specific questions and use 1% of the 10% of the time you spend with customers, what would be the, what would be the best way to get it, to get hold of you and then speak with you digitally?

Philip Nel (Bell) (23:15):
And the best way is probably the LinkedIn. If they want to leave a message there, we can touch base day or on. Or our website hs also contact details.

Oded Ran (Clue) (23:26):
Fantastic. So Phillip, thank you so much for being with us, as always after this episode, you will find resources and more information about Bell, about Fleetmatics system and Phillip's LinkedIn contact and link to Fleetmatics contact us. So thank you so much for being with us on the show. I very much look forward speaking with you when lots of the exciting innovations that you've described come to life and thanks for joining us from South Africa today.

Philip Nel (Bell) (23:53):
Yeah. Thanks very much then if you are in South Africa and come to visit Gaitan or it's by, more than welcome, I'll give you some geese IDT.

Oded Ran (Clue) (24:06):
Consider it done. Thanks so much Philip.

Philip Nel (Bell) (24:09):

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