By Mike Antich
Ready for another game of pool?
If you remember last Tuesday’s blog, I likened predicting the future to a game of billiards. The analogy was meant to illustrate that seemingly unrelated events can influence the future direction of the fleet market – events we may never even see coming. With this in mind, let’s rack up our hypothetical balls, placing the “fleet ball” in the center of the rack. Let’s whack the cue ball (representing a new seminal event) to see what new fleet scenario may unfold from this catalyst. In this new analogy, the cue ball catalyst is a relatively recent concept called hyperconnectivity.
Hyperconnectivity: A New Megatrend?
Hyperconnectivity is a term invented by Canadian social scientists Anabel Quan-Haase and Barry Wellman, arising from their studies of person-to-person and person-to-machine communication in networked organizations and networked societies. Essentially, the term refers to multiple means of communication.
From this beginning, hyperconnectivity has emerged as a hot trend in computer networking in which all “things” (human and machine) communicate through a network. The essence of hyperconnectivity is that anything that can be connected will be connected. Hyperconnectivity encompasses person-to-person, person-to-machine, and machine-to-machine communication. This isn’t a Buck Rogers fantasy, but something happening today. For instance, the global consulting firm Accenture is an early adopter; however, they refer to it as telepresence. In a nut shell, telepresence offers businesses, such as Accenture, the opportunity to cut travel costs at a time when costs are escalating. For instance, Accenture says that in one 30-day period, its consultants were able to avoid 240 international and 120 domestic trips using telepresence equipment installed in 13 offices around the world.
Another early proponent (and developer) of hyperconnectivity is the U.S. Army. It views hyperconnectivity as an opportunity to digitize the battlefield, where all military elements are connected and in constant communication. To put this in a historical context, it might be interesting to remember that the Internet and satellite-based GPS had their genesis as Department of Defense projects.
Some may remember Mike Zafirovski when he was with GE Capital Fleet Services. Currently, Zafirovski is CEO of Nortel, a huge Canadian telecommunications company, and he believes hyperconnectivity will be the next megatrend. He’s not alone. Cisco Systems believes the same and is Nortel’s biggest competitor.
(The next time you see a Cisco commercial on TV take a moment to think about the implications of what they’re saying.)
Further enabling hypeconnectivity will be a suite of new Web-enabled devices that will emerge in the next generation of the Web – IPv6. The limitation with the current Internet is that it is running out of IP addresses, much like our phone system has run out of phone numbers, necessitating the creation of new area codes. IPv6 will dramatically increase the number of available Internet addresses, which proponents say will usher a new era in which literally everything will have an IP address and will be Web-enabled.
Will Hyperconnectivity Diminish Fleet?
The era of hyperconnectivity will have dramatic implications for fleet. For instance, service technicians will have the ability to remotely diagnose and troubleshoot problems of their Web-enabled equipment and wares located at the customers’ place of business. Remote diagnosis (and perhaps problem resolution) will mean that service technicians will require fewer on-site visits, which will translate into less fuel consumption, less vehicle wear-and-tear, and perhaps the ability to downsize the fleet while servicing the same size customer base.
Although there is no substitute for face-time in business, it is becoming less the norm at multinationals as teams become more geographically dispersed and much of their interactions are electronic. One complaint I hear from a growing number of sales managers is that their sales force doesn’t put in enough “windshield time” to have face-to-face meetings with clients. These managers cite a growing reliance by their sales force (perhaps preference) to using e-mail and other forms of telecommunications as their communication channel of choice.
If you think about sales prior to the advent of the telephone, face-to-face meetings were essential or the sale didn’t occur. But today, in many industries, the majority of sales are done over the phone, with only periodic face-to-face meetings. Hyperconnectivity will be a quantum leap to a completely new level of non-personal interaction. Not only will salespeople prefer this method, but so will their peer-aged clients. I’m not predicting fleet cars will disappear, but I do predict a growing segment of employees will say they don’t need one and would rather take the cash instead, especially if the company car doesn’t reflect their lifestyle. In an era of escalating fleet costs, many corporations will accommodate them, especially if these employees can still perform their jobs without having to drive 2,000 miles a month.
Let me know what you think.