Mark Thomas of Ridecell takes attendees at his NAFA session last March through how to implement digital keys into their fleets. - Photo: Amanda Huggett

Mark Thomas of Ridecell takes attendees at his NAFA session last March through how to implement digital keys into their fleets.

Photo: Amanda Huggett

Using new technologies can totally transform your fleet organization, Mark Thomas, VP of marketing and strategic alliances at Ridecell, proclaims. But connected vehicles are not enough. Automation is essential.

But first, what does that even mean? “It’s using digital technologies to create new or modify existing business processes, culture, and customer experiences that can meet changing business and market requirements,” Thomas explained.

But how the heck do you digitize a vehicle? Well, you can’t move an entire vehicle to the cloud, but you can digitize a few physical objects connected to it, thereby changing everything. The most important object here: the key.

“Whoever holds the physical key, holds access rights to get in and use that vehicle,” Thomas said. “By taking the key and moving it to the cloud, you can dramatically change the kinds of things you can do with your fleet.”

“Keyless has always been thought of as something for shared mobility,” he continued. “That’s what companies like Zipcar use. What we're here to talk about today is actually challenging that assumption of what happens if you were to move the key to the cloud and how would that potentially make people’s lives better.”

The three phases of transformation fleet businesses through digital transformation are:

  1. Automation: Turn fleet management insights into automated actions.
  2. Digital Control: Digitally change the vehicle state with access and immobilization.
  3. Operational & business models: Process transformations; New consumer facing value propositions.

Thomas made clear that this is not about getting rid of jobs; rather, it’s making parts of our jobs easier and more streamlined by removing the drudgery and making manual processes automatic.

He used the example of all your systems that monitor your fleet and send notifications or “triggers” — including GPS and telematics, cabin and driver monitoring, asset management, scheduling, accounting, maintenance, and diagnostics — and turning them into a series of automated workflows such as self-created work orders or dispatching a vendor.

“Having the ability to understand and automatically begin resolving these issues means that you’re in the process of moving from connected vehicles and fleet management systems with insights to something that probably most people consider impossible, which is moving toward self-managing fleets,” Thomas said.

But back to the key. Digital vehicle control is keyless, but it’s more than about entry, he argued. It’s also about immobilization. “Having the ability to digitally prevent that car from starting even if somebody has the key is one of the huge advantages of keyless.”

Just like a valet key restricts access to parts of a vehicle, using a keyless solution you can restrict access to the glove box or trunk, or offer the maintenance worker access rights where they can enter the vehicle but not start it. Management could also digitally unlock a vehicle for service or assign a driver a new key for an alternate car. 

Think of it like badging into a secure facility, where the vehicle could know if a driver has been terminated of it’s already been reserved for someone else. “So, the concept of keyless really changes the notion that the key is associated with the vehicle and instead the key becomes associated with the person,” Thomas said.

For last-mile delivery fleets, keyless technology can actually improve uptime. In one example Thomas provided, one person realized that at any given time, 20% of vehicles had a check engine light on. “Drivers are not incentivized to stop their shift and say, ‘Hey there is an issue with this van, can you give me a different one?’” he said. “Having the ability to create automation that does the vehicle health check before the driver arrives, rather waiting for them to turn the key and see if something wrong, is a simple but important step.

In another example, the typical delivery driver doesn’t lock or turn off the vehicle because their hands are full of packages and they’re on a time constraint. When the key is in the cloud, they would just need to bump the door closed. Once they’re an assigned amount of distance away, the vehicle locks. “And if somebody has the audacity to look in and see if there's keys in the ignition and breaks the window and jumps in and tries to steal the van, they won’t be able to because of the digital immobilizer,” he explained. “This is a game changer because it not only secures the vehicle from theft, but it improves customer satisfaction.”

And in the off chance a thief loads the vehicle on a flatbed, GPS steps in to sense movement, track the location, and send an alert. In the case of an actual Ridecell custom with this system installed, they were able to reduce their vehicle recovery time from weeks to mere hours. “All they did was activate the immobilizer, so once the vehicle was stopped and parked, it wasn’t able to be restarted and the thieves abandoned the van. The company didn't even need to involve the authorities. They just sent their driver in an Uber with a digital key. Driver got there, unlocked the vehicle, brought it home” and saved the company thousands of dollars with that vehicle being back in service sooner.

For companies that perform driver’s license checks, the system can run a background check, make sure a license isn’t revoked and an individual isn’t on a watch list. “There are huge, huge implications to a company brand they can help safeguard through digital transformation,” Thomas said.

Lastly, for motorpools, government fleets, and universities, Thomas endorsed Geotab’s keyless solution, calling it an “easy plug and play style of integration that will let you experiment and start adding keyless into fleets” and a smart alternative to lock boxes.

To get started on implementing keyless technology into your fleet, Thomas recommends looking closely at your needs and pain points to pick the right solution.

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About the author
Amanda Huggett

Amanda Huggett

Managing Editor, Automotive Fleet digital, Auto Rental News

Amanda Huggett serves as a managing editor for Bobit’s fleet group brands.

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