By Mike Antich If you ask me what will be the greatest catalyst for change in fleet management in the next 10 years, my answer would be "technology." A variety of factors are driving technological change in fleet management. One is cost. It is getting increasingly expensive to operate a fleet, especially in an era of stratospheric fuel prices. Another factor is the diminishing number of opportunities to reduce cost and enhance fleet efficiency using traditional fleet management techniques. The "low-hanging fruit" has been picked long ago and cost reduction options, especially at well-run fleets, are limited. As a consequence, a growing number of companies are investigating (or are more receptive) to technology-based fleet solutions.

Looking ahead, here are my predictions as to how technology will change fleet management in the next 10 years.

System-to-System Integration with FMCs

There is a trend to integrate business processes between fleet management companies (FMCs) and their client fleets involving the automated collection of fleet data without human intervention. This process involves seamless and transparent system-to-system interaction between the FMC and a fleet's HR, payroll, and accounting system. The FMC database is automatically updated in real-time with driver changes such as job title, address, phone, e-mail, etc.

The trend to system-to-system interaction between a FMC and the client fleet will expand to CRM (customer relationship management) systems. The FMC receives direct feeds from a company's CRM system on each salesperson's territory, number of sales calls per day, miles driven between calls, etc. CRM data is used by the FMC to develop applications to increase driver productivity and optimize route efficiency. In addition, this data can be used to optimize vehicle replacement decision-making based on mileage driven. One telltale indicator that this is an emerging industry trend is that client IT operations are becoming more involved in fleet operation interactions with a FMC, in some cases, starting as early as the RFP stage.

Next-Generation Fleet Management Systems

During the next 10-year period, the next-generation Web-enabled fleet management systems will be introduced. These systems will be based on the new Internet protocol, IPv6, which is short for "Internet Protocol Version 6." Future Web-based fleet management systems will include greater levels of user customization of fleet Web tools and enhanced decision-modeling tools. There is a macro trend to automate most driver communications and routine decision-making based on pre-set fleet policy parameters. This includes automated exception-based text messaging to drivers, performance reports to drivers' managers, and automated comprehensive reporting to senior management. The next generation of Web-based fleet management systems will be more intuitive, allowing fleet managers to more easily analyze relevant data amidst high volumes of captured data.

More Robust New-Model Ordering Systems

Fleet ordering will change in the next decade. One key area of change will be improved data quality and connectivity between OEMs, fleet end-users, and FMCs. This will result in faster availability of new-model information, vehicle specifications, buildout notifications, pricing, etc. Fleet managers will also receive quicker feedback on driver satisfaction with models on the fleet selector. For instance, applications will be designed to capture employee satisfaction with driver-selected models to assist fleet managers in developing future model-year selectors. Lifecycle costing decisions will be streamlined through the availability of precise operating and depreciation cost predictions to ensure the optimal model is selected. Also, there will be greater flexibility in managing new-vehicle order timing to coincide with optimal remarketing windows for vehicles taken out of service. There will also be greater real-time information on OTD status and expected completion dates of truck/van upfits.

More Vehicles Remarketed Online

One important change in the next 10 years will be the emergence (and acceptance) of a National Auto Auction Association (NAAA) single portal for access to online vehicle inventory on a nationwide basis in the wholesale market and online sales. In general, there will be a greater acceptance of online vehicle remarketing, electronic condition reports, and vehicle grading standards. The use of technology will pre-identify dealer buyers and wholesalers predisposed to particular models and those auctions that generate the highest resale dollars for specific models.

Widespread Telematics Applications

Fleet using telematic applications to lower operating costs, improve fleet safety, and enhance driver productivity will be widespread. Helping expand this market penetration will be greater customization of telematics applications to specific vocational fleet needs. In addition, telematics-driven data will be integrated with CRM and sales/service territory management systems, mileage reporting, and expense capture. In addition to telematics, RFID (radio frequency identification) will be more widely used in work trucks/vans to track onboard inventory, tools, and cargo. We are already seeing this application with the Ford Work Solutions suite of onboard systems on Ford trucks and vans.

Telematics will improve accident recreation provided by recorded vehicle data. It will enhance driver safety by reporting airbag deployments and emergency breakdowns. Telematics will also help minimize vehicle overloading, the No. 1 cause of unscheduled truck maintenance. Weight-sensing telematics will automatically alert drivers and the fleet manager/FMC of overload conditions. Wireless technology will also improve driver safety with the continuing integration of real-time information to drivers on traffic, weather, and road conditions.

Greater Data Mining by Fleets

One thing is certain, in the next 10 years, fleet managers will be inundated with data. Extracting useful, actionable data will become paramount, resulting in the development of enhanced data mining tools. These tools will allow analyses of actual versus expected performance of models for selector development. Data mining will be used to determine optimal replacement cycling. In terms of remarketing, it will provide real-time information on best geographic locations/auctions to remarket vehicles. Fleet managers will data-mine for driver productivity and safety analyses, to populate automated driver risk profiling programs, and be the basis of predictive maintenance analyses.

Predictive Maintenance Technology

In the next 10 years, there will be a greater accessibility to real-time, onboard vehicle data by fleet managers. This data would include enhanced remote diagnostic capabilities, predictive analysis using onboard diagnostics to detect maintenance-related problems before actual occurrence, electronic driver notification of impending vehicle-related problems, scheduled PM, failure codes, recalls, and other actions related to servicing. (Twenty years from now, people will marvel at how today's fleet managers were ever able to manage their fleets without this technology!)

Real-Time Fuel Management

Fuel management will evolve to be even more precise and deal with transactions as they occur. I envision real-time pump controls to stop transactions when a dollar threshold is met, based on a day's total purchases, determined by data contained on a card's mag strip. Telematics data will be more fully integrated with fuel management applications. These include applications to minimize idling, unauthorized personal use, fuel fraud prevention, and optimize routing and scheduling. Telematics using RFID will possibly enable paperless fuel transactions, such as drive-by payment at pumps, similar to Mobil's Speedpass. Also, there will be widespread, everyday use of onboard GPS by drivers to find the nearest, most cost-effective fueling stations.

New Generation of Fleet Drivers & Managers

In the next decade, there will be a generational change among median-age employees, resulting in a more tech-savvy workforce. Many of these employees will have never known life without the computer; some will have been born post-Internet. Plus, a generational shift is occurring in the senior management of corporate America. There is greater acceptance by tech-savvy senior management that technology offers the potential to maximize the productivity and revenue-generating capacity of each company driver at the lowest possible cost point.

Employees will accept many of these technological enhancements, such as remote work-order entry, route scheduling, expense reporting, etc. Field employees will be able to electronically account for inventory and time without returning to the office. These technologies will decrease the amount of time spent commuting (by not having to come into the office), not to mention reduce fuel consumption and vehicle wear-and-tear.

However, a potential exists for legislative and/or risk management backlash that may result from increased driver distraction (due to greater driver/technology interaction) and the subsequent uptick in preventable accidents.

Fleet Beyond 2018

Let's have a little fun and project beyond the next 10 years to see how fleet management may further evolve. My prediction is for the emergence of self-serve fleet management, resulting in the migration of traditional fleet management functions to drivers. (In fact, I predict entire segments of our service economy will transition to technology-based self-serve business models.)

I also envision the emergence of fleet networking/communication Web sites; however, ones that are much more sophisticated than the networking sites of today. We already see prototypical sites such as for physicians or for telecommunications workers. Why not something similar for fleet professionals? I envision the creation of online fleet communities, virtual fleet industry conferences, online best practices sharing, the emergence of consortium fleet-buying groups, etc.

The second decade of the 21st Century will see telematics become "standard" equipment on more and more OEM-produced models. OEMs and third-party providers will incorporate a suite of telematic functions/options in all-new model vehicles. Fleet vehicles will evolve into data collection assets.

Information providers, such as "Google-like" companies or even "post-Google" companies, will enter the fleet management market with sophisticated data mining resources, data warehouse capabilities, AI-based fleet management, and potential partnerships with major OEMs and/or FMCs. This would represent a "game changer" to how commercial fleets are managed.

Let me know what you think.

Originally posted on Automotive Fleet

About the author
Mike Antich

Mike Antich

Former Editor and Associate Publisher

Mike Antich covered fleet management and remarketing for more than 20 years and was inducted into the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2010 and the Global Fleet of Hal in 2022. He also won the Industry Icon Award, presented jointly by the IARA and NAAA industry associations.

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