The growing predominance of technology in fleet management has been no more apparent than at January's 2023 CES gathering in Las Vegas.
At that marketplace of all things electronic, major and newcomer automotive manufacturers have begun to take center stage, previewing and demonstrating their new, innovative and tech-heavy vehicles, with electric and solar-powered models leading the way.
Other exhibitors included the proliferating numbers of telematics and software system providers.
Technology is changing how fleet management is done. Indeed, some pundits refer to EVs as merely “computers on wheels.”
For many fleet managers, much of the technology landscape can be daunting: what is it; how to use it; how can it help my fleet?
“Don’t be afraid of technology,” advises Wes Wamer, associate product manager for fleet management software provider Fleetio.
“Technology will not replace the fleet manager. It is simply a tool” that can help create efficiencies, cut costs, safeguard drivers and reduce paperwork and save time, says Wamer.
Let’s examine some of technology’s latest developments for fleet management.
Telematics Collects the Data
As a system, telematics describes data collection from vehicles, assets and operations — through wireless networks or satellite connectivity — data that offers valuable and practical information and guidance to optimize how fleets operate.
Growing more sophisticated as technology improves, fleet telematics systems now offer wide assortments of data services to manage and track such areas as dispatch, assets, drivers, fuel, GPS, vehicle maintenance and routing. According to industry analysts, the telematics market is expected to grow to $251.05 billion by 2031.
Fleet telematics systems and software management providers include Samsara, Fleetio, GeoTab, Azuga Fleet, GPS Insight, CalAmp Fleetio, MobiWork, Netradyne, Autosist, UFO Drive, and Optimo Route.
Data produced by telematics systems can be stored on computers or, increasingly, on the cloud where it can be accessed by cellphones, electronic tablets or other handheld devices.
The key value of this collected information is not the huge volume of data points gathered, but the analytical capabilities telematics systems can provide.
The systems' software can be customized for each fleet’s needs, programmed to filter and analyze specific data, producing reports that help fleet managers pinpoint important insights, define management priorities, monitor operations and identify trends.
As technology continues to innovate — 5G broadband and artificial intelligence for example — telematics will expand and refine its data collection and analysis, becoming a more vital fleet management tool.
5G Broadband: Faster & More Data
Simply put, 5G broadband —the fifth generation of wireless technology — sends more data faster.
The technology improves communication because its increased speed and coverage,
As its deployment becomes more universal across the connected world, 5G’s enhanced upload and download speed is expected to advance fleet telematics in such areas as proactive maintenance and driver safety.
Some industry experts believe the high speed 5G offers is poised to become a game-changing fleet management trend, particularly in creating greater operational transparency for fleets.
Projections for 2023 indicate 5G will become more accessible, leading to a growing selection of 5G-compatible hardware for fleets and fleet management teams.
Artificial Intelligence: AI
According to IBM, artificial intelligence (AI) “in its simplest form,” combines computer science and robust datasets to enable problem-solving.
AI can perform some tasks better than humans, particularly repetitive, detail-oriented tasks. AI tools often complete jobs more quickly than humans and with relatively few errors.
The technology does have a few limitations: it only knows what it has been shown, and it cannot generalize from one task to another.
Critically for fleets however, AI technology can instantly analyze and interpret data to provide operational insights.
Businesses produce enormous amounts of data daily from manually entered spreadsheets or fleet management system reports. For this reason, future fleet technology will increasingly incorporate AI-powered solutions.
A New Generation of Dashcams
While dashcams in vehicles have been standard for years, AI has enabled a new generation of smart cameras that provide not only real-time video and audio, but also help reduce incidents and insurance premiums, prevent fraudulent claims, and identify ways to improve driver behavior.
Using built-in sensors, the cameras can detect activity within and around a vehicle’s environment to better analyze what happens on the road in real time.
Enabled by AI and 5G speed, dashcams offer wide range of features, such as:
- Real-time alerts of risky driving behavior.
- Live view of forward-facing and driver-facing cameras
- Distracted driving and fatigue detection.
- Secure cloud storage of HD videos.
Dashcams have helped further spur efforts using technology to improve existing fleet safety programs and initiatives. The technology and collected data will help fleet managers develop new policies and standards to improve driving records.
Companies offering dashcam technology include Samsara, Geotab, Azuga and Trimble.
Verizon Connect’s recently announced AI-powered dashcam product illustrates the technology’s capabilities for fleets.
According to Lisa Donnelly, Verizon Connect product leader, the new dashcam can detect a greater array of events visualized on the road.
“You're actually able to detect when the driver is drowsy in real time,” said Donnelly. “We’re uploading more information on event types over time, so it’s a more expansive array of events that we’re actually able to detect.”
Although issues of privacy have been raised, the industry is working on addressing those concerns while maintaining a valuable management tool.
Moving to Proactive Maintenance
Technological advances in creating and collecting data will enable fleet managers to enhance preventive maintenance practices in identifying vehicle issues before they cause a vehicle breakdown or become inoperable.
Many vehicle maintenance issues — e.g., tire condition, battery power — are caught in routine maintenance checks. However, real-time telematics systems can alert the driver and fleet manager of a problem before a scheduled check and in time to prevent costly vehicle downtime.
Remote Management a Reality
Prompted by the COVID pandemic and promoted by advancing telematics and greater connectivity via 5G broadband, new mobile applications has made remote fleet management a reality in many companies and a trend for the future.
Fleet managers are pinpointing new ways to monitor driver productivity and manage tasks remotely, with drivers and managers communicating and completing tasks via one mobile portal.
Choosing a Technology Vendor
How to decide which telematics or fleet software provider is right for your fleet? Wes Wamer, associate product manager for fleet management software provider Fleetio, suggests asked the following questions:
- Does the vendor employ a modern scalable platform.
- Does the company provide customers a robust support team: email responsive and/or a non-recorded human voice on the phone? Who will assist vehicle operators with routine requests, e.g., “How do I retrieve my password?”
- Can the system utilize application programming interfaces (APIs) to integrate data from differing devices and vendors?
- Does the company’s system provide data analysis to prioritize and help solve prevent or problems?
- Ask for references. Any good vendor should be willing to supply customer references.
- Consult other fleet managers at industry conferences or in local fleet organizations. Their experiences can provide valuable input.
The Future: More & Better?
The certainty is that technology will continue to innovate and transform business operations. The challenge is to keep informed enough to separate the flash-in-the-pan from the truly effective new products. And the fortitude to adapt.