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Introducing Xcelerate: Element's New Fleet Management System

February 2017, by Mike Antich - Also by this author

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.com.
Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.com.

Element Fleet Management has launched Xcelerate, the company’s next-generation, all-new analytics-driven fleet management system. Xcelerate replaces the company’s previous fleet management systems called InterActive (developed by the PHH fleet business, which the company acquired in 2014) and a separate fleet management system called MyFleetOffice2 acquired with the GE Capital Fleet Services acquisition in 2015.

Spearheading the development team for the all-new technology platform was John Wall, chief technology officer for Element globally. Xcelerate is designed to function on a mobile, tablet, or desktop platform. The first release was called Xcelerate for Drivers, which launched in late July 2016. Xcelerate for Drivers allows fleet drivers to:

  • Manage business trip mileage logging and personal use reporting.
  • Report lost or stolen service cards.
  • View vehicle and service card information.
  • Review company policy documents.
  • Place new-vehicle orders and check status.
  • Authorize motor vehicle records requests. 

In addition, Xcelerate for Drivers provides a proactive tool for common vehicle-related tasks, such as location-aware maintenance shop and fuel locators, plus a smart dial feature for fast access to call center specialists.

Xcelerate Client Portal

At a Glance

Xcelerate is an all-new analytics-driven fleet management system designed to function on a mobile, tablet, or PC platform.

  • The foundation of Xcelerate is Cassandra, a highly scalable, high-performance database designed to handle large amounts of data across many commodity servers.
  • The first rollout of Element Xcelerate was the mobile platform called Xcelerate for Drivers.
  • The Xcelerate client portal gives fleet managers access to a wide spectrum of fleet information, such as inventory management, transaction management, vehicle ordering and reporting, with the eventual capability of performing high-level analytics using this data.

The next phase of the rollout of the new technology platform is the launch of the Xcelerate client portal.

“The customer portal, which includes our core analytics, allows clients to perform day-to-day fleet management tasks in an easy and intuitive manner,” said Samantha Rosati, director of products for Element. “Our user-centric design approach delivers a simplified modern Web platform, while allowing a flexible interface to meet the varying needs of our fleet customers and users.”

During the process of integrating the former GE Capital fleet business into Element, a special-purpose integration client advisory board (CAB) was created, to share with Element developers their vision as to what the user experience should be like with Xcelerate. CAB member Erin Gilchrist, director of fleet operations for Safelite AutoGlass, said: “How I see the fleet user experience evolving is the ability to perform strategic analytics in a robust, nimble, and flexible platform.”

This vision became a guiding principle and the consensus from the members of the integration CAB is that the new user interface met this goal.

“The new user interface is very intuitive, very user-friendly, making that user experience so much better than it has been in the past,” said Frank Tagliaferro, fleet manager for American Water, who is also a member of the integration CAB.

Opportunity and Justification

The acquisition of the fleet business of GE Capital provided Element the opportunity and justification to build an all-new technology platform from a “clean sheet of paper” perspective. This decision was made very rapidly. The GE fleet business was acquired on Sept. 1, 2015, with the development of Xcelerate starting one month later in October 2015. Soon after, Element announced that it would invest more than $75 million in technology upgrades, including infrastructure, business systems, and the Xcelerate platform.

“We wanted to design a platform that allows us to go incredibly broad on data sources and create the capabilities to look at data in ways we weren’t doing so today,” said Wall. “We designed the system from the wire up, with the idea that architecture begets performance.”

An early decision was not to look at technology inside the fleet industry and, instead, to look globally for a new technology solution.

“We decided we wanted to do things differently. The integration wasn’t going to be the standard tuck in, transfer data, load it up, and call it a day,” said Michele Cunningham, senior VP of products and services for Element. “Fleet is a horizontal solution used as an enabling function in a variety of industries and it creates the opportunity to enable our own customers’ businesses in different ways.”

Some of the key design goals in the technology plan are to create a system that features:

  • An infrastructure designed for scale, speed, and stability.
  • Development of a client portal that is personalized, simplified, and made more flexible for efficiency and insights.
  • Creation of mobile driver tools to make it easier for drivers to self-serve.
  • Incorporation of advanced analytics to deliver insights and actionable intelligence.
  • Data-driven products and services to make fleet management more proactive and productive.

At the very start of the development process, Element designed a system that could accommodate the anticipated avalanche of data generated from connected vehicles and that will incorporate entirely new data sets into the system, such as weather conditions and traffic flow. 

Soon, according to Wall, it is anticipated that data volume will increase 50-fold. “We wanted a platform that could handle that volume of data,” said Wall.

This requirement led Element to Cassandra, a distributed database, which was first created at Facebook. Cassandra is currently being used by high-volume data users, such as Twitter, Cisco, Rackspace, eBay, Instagram, Twitter, Spotify, and Netflix.

“Cassandra is designed to handle reads and writes at speeds of a million writes a second and a million reads a second,” said Wall. “It’s designed to run at a scale, which is why companies like Netflix and Instagram are huge users. With Cassandra, you can read or write at wire speeds.”

Cassandra is a highly scalable, high-performance distributed database designed to handle large amounts of data across many commodity servers, providing high reliability with no single point of failure.

“With Cassandra, we can store data much more efficiently, generally, 20 times more efficiently. It’s a columnar data store,” said Jim Peregord, VP analytics, business intelligence, data management at Element.

A columnar data store is a database management system that stores data in columns instead of rows, accelerating the writing and reading of data, which reduces the time for a user to get an answer to a query.

“This infrastructure improvement gives clients a massive amount of CPU compute power. We bought extremely high-end hard- ware with tremendous high-speed CPU capacity that has 10 times more memory.” 

Helping to accommodate surges in data volumes, Element will also use Amazon Web Services (AWS), a secure Cloud services platform, which offers compute power, database storage, and other functionality to seamlessly scale to meet data needs.

“Essentially a fleet management company is an aggregator of data. In the case of Element it receives data from 16,000 maintenance points of sale, hundreds of thousands of fueling stations, and tens of thousands of telematics devices on client vehicles,” said Peregord. “As more data comes in, ASW will automatically flex to our needs and is a way to scale in the cloud by pulling data from all of our suppliers.”

Powerful Analytics Platform

One planned cornerstone of the Xcelerate system is that users will soon have the ability to perform advanced analytics, which is the analysis of fleet data using exploratory and predictive data mining to produce insights.

“Xcelerate will allow customers to get insights much more quickly than they have been able to before,” said Paul Millington, technology product leader at Element.

Big Data analytics examines large data sets to uncover hidden patterns, unknown correlations, market trends, customer preferences, and other actionable business information.

“Big Data has been talked about for the past five years, but there is now a big push for fast data,” said Peregord.

Fast data is the application of Big Data analytics to smaller data sets in near-real or real-time in order to solve a problem by providing actionable insights. The goal of fast data is to quickly gather and mine structured and unstructured data so that action can be taken.

“With so many streams of data now coming into a system, you need to be able to quickly process the data to analyze it in real-time. Xcelerate was designed to reduce the window from data insight to action,” added Peregord.

Processing speed will become increasingly more critical in fleet analytics. Data flow has increased at breakneck speeds providing numerous real-time analytic opportunities. But what’s the point if you aren’t processing the data as fast as it comes in?

“What this ultimately means is that rather than just using all this computing power for interesting analyses and being able to retrospectively or even predictively share things that are likely to happen, it means we will be able, in conjunction with mobile apps and other transaction processing engines, to actually do something about it in the moment, or in the millisecond,” added Cunningham.

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