"OEMs are not super fired up about providing any telematics provider with some of their proprietary coding," says Sean Stenson, national sales manager for Verizon Networkfleet. However, manufacturers can't afford to push back too hard. Caterpillar has long recognized that if it doesn't help users with telematics, "we are just going to become a carrier for the technology," Stafford says. As such, some users expect telematics to become just as important as the machine itself.

General Motors this year is now including a telematics device built by Telogis as part of its standard factory OnStar package. This integration allows users of most 2015 GM vehicles to do more remotely, such as shut off an idling truck or connect mobile devices to the vehicle, which, for a monthly fee, now can have a 4G LTE hotspot.

Ford Telematics, a dealer-installed option, formerly called Crew Chief, is now available globally for the first time this year since it was launched in North America in 2009. The off-road sector is "a more conservative space," admits Frank Schneider, product manager for Telogis. Smaller machines, for example, do not always come with built-in telematics.

"It's easier to hide the cost of the device and the wireless service on a $200,000 machine as compared to a $40,000 Bobcat skid-steer loader," says Michael Reinhardt, telematics strategy manager for Doosan and Bobcat. All Doosan-brand machines, except mini- excavators, now include telematics, he says.

Komatsu claims to be the only OEM that provides telematics for free for the life of its machines; most others offer a free trial period. Launched in 2006, Komtrax helped the manufacturer debug emission controls on early machines entering the field so it could improve reliability on subsequent units. In summer 2011, as a new round of clean-diesel machines were entering Canada, Komatsu noticed that diesel particulate filters (DPFs) were exhibiting "strange behaviors." Dealers made some tweaks and avoided serious downtime for U.S. customers.

"Big data has helped engineering and service departments," says Goran Zeravica, distributor development manager. Komatsu also has used real-world data to help customers schedule maintenance, such as time associated with active regeneration cycles, an annoying process that can render a machine inoperable for several minutes or longer. On certain occasions, the DPF inside a clean-diesel machine will need to inject a small amount of fuel into the tailpipe to burn off soot. Komatsu discovered through telematics that these cycles make up for 2% of 22 million hours of operating time and advised clients accordingly. "You could decline it several times throughout the week and deal with it on Friday, when the week is over," Zeravica says.

As fleets gain more experience with telematics, some are finding new uses for the information: Used equipment buyers often look at maintenance records before bidding, but savvy ones are taking the extra step of downloading telematics history before making an offer. "In less than 10 minutes, you know everything about that machine," Meese says. Used machines that come with telematics data can command a higher resale value. Also, pre-shift inspections can be completed on a smartphone or tablet and tied to a specific machine with photos attached. Fleets also are using telematics to monitor operators and help them improve.

"If you compare one machine to the other, and one is getting good fuel economy and the other not so much, the difference is likely the operator," Stafford says. Telematics is helping firms cut down theft, false claims and insurance premiums. "If you take advantage of the information available you will have an opportunity to lower your insurance rate," says Stenson, who adds that one Verizon client now saves more than $200,000 a year in insurance claims.

Experts caution that staffing and training must be adequate to handle the data. Generally speaking, one person can monitor 400 to 500 assets on a regular basis, estimates Meese. Some companies may not have the extra hands and opt to pay a dealer to do this for them. Liability is another concern, but fleet managers like Daniel Samford, vice president and equipment manager for Herzog Contracting Corp., says that the new knowledge brings new responsibilities:

"We used to think what we didn't know couldn't hurt us," he says. "But I think now, with the availability of information that's out there, what we don't know can be used against us as well as cost us the competitive advantage." Still, many fleet managers and suppliers are sitting on the sidelines. "They are waiting to see where it all goes," Samford says. "Well, it's moving forward and leaving them behind."