Significant dates in the history of fleet management, which ushered the start of profound change in the industry, include:
● Oct. 16, 1973: The first OPEC oil embargo, which completely altered the types of vehicles driven by fleets.
● August 12, 1981: IBM’s launch of its first desktop computer, which expanded computerization beyond the IT department to the desktop of every fleet manager in the industry.
In future years, a new milestone date will be recognized:
● June 29, 2007: The release of the first Apple iPhone that launched an era of the use of mobile devices in fleet management. I also predict a corollary date will be recognized — Jan. 27, 2010 — the debut of the first Apple iPad and the creation of tablet computing.
Dawn of a New Era
The use of mobile communication devices promises to become an integral factor in managing fleets of the future. Mobile technology opens a new world of opportunity to maximize fleet savings and control, while contributing to a company’s workflow efficiency. Mobile devices are quickly becoming extensions of today’s desktop fleet management systems. Ultimately, almost all of the applications we use today on a desktop will have a mobile device counterpart. This isn’t a fleet phenomenon, rather it is a broad-based trend spanning all industry segments. For instance, a Cisco-commissioned survey of 600 businesses found that 20 percent of all IT spending in 2014 will be for mobility initiatives, up from 10 percent in 2010. As phones become smarter and are accepted as indispensable tools in the work environment, there will be even greater pressure to develop fleet applications for these devices. A growing number of progressive fleets view mobile applications as a means to lower fleet costs, increase driver efficiency, and improve fleet management control. Mobile applications empower drivers. In addition, the availability of real-time data in a mobile setting will allow drivers to have the information needed to conform to fleet policy requirements on demand, when needed.
Quickly, within just the past five years, drivers have gained the ability to use mobile devices for activities that previously required a traditional desktop computer. Current fleet applications for mobile devices include personal-use mileage reporting, maintenance scheduling tools, driver updates, resetting a service/fuel card PIN, along with a host of other driver-related activities. Nowadays, fleet managers are encouraging drivers to use mobility technology to find the lowest priced fuel along their route by using tools, such as the Gas Buddy app, on their smartphones or to conveniently locate the nearest national account service provider. Another important benefit of using mobile applications is the ability to send and receive real-time notification and updates.
However, mobile application technologies are still in their infancy. Presently, mobile applications display only basic data due to the current state-of-the-art technology limitations. Typically, the best content for mobile applications is simplified, non-complex data using minimal graphics. However, this will be a short-lived limitation as mobile networks increase connection speeds and as larger, higher-resolution screens proliferate allowing enhanced and expanded content viewing.
Without a doubt, as smartphones become more sophisticated, drivers will rely on the devices for a greater range of day-to-day work activities.
Applications for mobile devices will also increase the productivity of fleet managers. Mobile applications maximize a fleet manager’s efficiency by not keeping them tethered to a desk. Mobile applications allow fleet managers to access FMC databases to authorize service repairs, approve orders, or receive exceptions and alerts, etc., even when they are away from their office.
The Long View
In a very short period of time, mobile applications have become an important tool in a fleet manager’s toolbox to manage their fleet. However, the expanding use of mobile applications creates a real concern that they will contribute to distracted driving. I believe this concern will be short-lived. My prediction is that, ultimately, NHTSA will mandate onboard vehicle technology to disable hand-held cell phones while a vehicle is moving. In addition, there has been a history of naysayers whenever we are on the cusp of a technological transition, as witnessed by the resistence to minicomputers in the 1970s, the questions about the capabilities of desktop computers in the 1980s, and now those who diminish the viability of mobile devices as business tools. As the past has shown, these technology critics tend to be on the wrong side of history.
Although the use of fleet applications for mobile devices will increase, for the foreseeable future, the PC will be the preferred tool of choice, because there continues to be a need to access more data on a large screen, such as the ability to manipulate a spreadsheet or print reports on demand. Critics say there are too many limitations to today’s mobile applications, which they believe will never surpass the convenience of a desktop computer. I say, wait and see.
Let me know what you think.
By Mike Antich