Someone once told me that if you want to know what the next big trends will be in fleet management, you need to look outside the fleet management industry. Fleet management, for the most part, is not an innovator of new technology; however, it is often an early adopter of new technology as exemplified by the industry’s almost-overnight conversion to Web-based fleet management.

The next 10-15 years will bring a generational shift in fleet management. About half of the fleet managers reading this column today will be retired by then. (Currently, 57 percent of all fleet managers are 51 years or older.) The majority of fleet managers in 2017 will have never known what it was like to manage a fleet without the assistance of a Web-enabled fleet management program, or not have the ability to capture fleet data on a real-time basis using telematic devices. It is the fleet managers of tomorrow (today’s high school and college students) who will influence how fleets are managed and serviced in the future. I recently had a conversation about this with John Possumato, CEO of the Corporation of Automotive Remarketing, at the 2007 Automotive Fleet & Leasing Association conference. John’s vision of the future is the development of a networking Web site (a business version of MySpace and Facebook) specific to fleet management. This conversation got me thinking about the feasibility of this concept.

Emergence of Business Networking Sites
Web-based social network services, which have been around since 1995, provide a variety of ways for users to interact. Since then, their popularity has skyrocketed. In fact, by 2005, one social networking service – MySpace – was getting more page views than Google! In 2007, FaceBook began allowing externally developed add-on applications, which, in itself, has many intriguing fleet-related possibilities. Recently, what’s emerging are business-specific networking sites, which give inspiration to possible fleet applications. For instance, is a networking site for physicians. Currently, 25,000 physicians use to consult with other physicians. Another example is, a networking site launched in 2006 for the wireless industry. According to a Dow Jones article, even the Central Intelligence Agency is launching a networking site for its operatives. There are many more examples, such as a newly launched social-networking service by Reuters Group PLC. It is tentatively named “Reuters Space” and is geared toward fund managers, traders, and analysts.

Why not something similar for fleet management? Why not create a “FleetBook”? Remember those high school and college students referenced earlier in this editorial? They are today’s users of MySpace and FaceBook. They are not only the next generation of fleet managers, but also the next generation of IT managers, sales managers, and HR directors, who will be quick to grasp the potential of integrating business networking services into their enterprise systems to manage their businesses and lubricate worker productivity. Perhaps the biggest mental stumbling block to envisioning this new fleet reality is that we are looking at this technology from the perspective of today. What will the second, or third, or fourth generation of this technology look like?

Take the Reins Off Your Imagination
Business networking sites will supplant many of the traditional face-to-face networking practices employed by realtors, consultants, or even fleet management suppliers. The vision is for businesses across the globe to network with one another online, with only minimal face-to-face contact.

On the surface, our hypothetical “FleetBook,” can be a venue to share best practices, discuss fleet-specific issues, solicit supplier recommendations, etc. Business/social networks allow the ability to create subgroups of individuals who share common interests and affiliations. Why not the same with fleets? Why couldn’t virtual fleet conferences be created that do not require fleet managers to fly around the country and are available at any time, not only at a specific hour and day? Why couldn’t fleet management companies or OEMs create their own FleetBooks to allow a client base to communicate with one another in a secure environment? The possibilities are only limited by our constrained imaginations. As you ponder the possibilities, one entrepreneur is already operating a beta test site of an online fleet community.

Brave New World
Fleet management will change in fundamental ways. Another change agent is IPv6. This entirely new Internet protocol is short for “Internet Protocol Version 6,” the foundation for the “next generation” of the Web. Its implications for fleet management, especially telematic applications, are breathtaking. If you think this is “pie in the sky” speculation, I can tell you there are fleet management companies today exploring IPv6 fleet applications. (My prediction is to watch out for new “information providers,” such as Google-like companies, entering our market and turning it upside down.) But this is the topic for next month’s editorial. It’s an exciting time to be in the fleet business.

Let me know what you think.

Originally posted on Automotive Fleet