It will become more expensive to operate a fleet in the coming years. Vehicle acquisition costs will increase to meet new CAFE requirements. Fuel prices, in all likelihood, will trend upward,  maintenance costs will ratchet higher due to increased vehicle complexity, and there will be steady incremental increases in vehicle-related taxes.

The stark reality is that there are diminishing opportunities to reduce cost and enhance fleet efficiency, especially among well-managed fleets. The "low-hanging fruit," so to speak, was picked long ago. Increasingly, fleets will turn to technological solutions to address these problems. In coming years, there will be greater acceptance by tech-savvy senior management that technology can maximize the productivity and the revenue-generating capacity of each company driver at the lowest possible cost point. Concurrently, there is the emergence of a new generation of young fleet drivers, the youngest of whom do not even know how work was done prior to the Internet. This generational shift is resulting in an increasingly tech-savvy work force that is more willing to use technological aids in their day-to-day work environment.

How will these technological changes impact fleet management in the next seven years? Experts from seven fleet management companies (FMCs) offer insights about emerging technologies that will impact new-vehicle purchasing, employee productivity, maintenance management, onboard vehicle technology, the next generation of fleet management systems, and fuel management.

Next Generation New-Vehicle Selection and Purchasing

Over the next seven years, the evolution of the next generation of Web-enabled technologies will change new-vehicle selection and purchasing processes, creating new opportunities for fleets to reassess vehicle selection and acquisition strategies.

Future new-model ordering will offer improved data quality and connectivity between OEMs, end-users, and FMCs. There will be faster availability of new-model information, specifications, buildout notifications, pricing, etc.

Future FMC applications will gain the ability to capture driver satisfaction with previously selected models to assist fleet managers in developing future model-year selectors. In addition, more sophisticated fleet management systems will allow for more precise operating cost predictions to ensure optimal model selection. Also, there will be greater real-time information on status and expected completion dates of truck/van upfits.

"Technology improvements by fleet management companies and OEMs will shorten cycle times, improve communication, and make it easier for fleet managers to complete the OEM planning, bid, selection, ordering, and delivery processes," said Mark Smith, strategic consulting leader for GE Capital Fleet Services.

Technology will make it commonplace for online ordering systems to display 360-degree views of vehicles. In addition to viewing a vehicle's exterior, fleet buyers and drivers will also be able to view the interior content. In addition, these systems will allow users to preview different exterior/interior color combinations before making a final selection.

Chris Tepas, vice president of marketing for Emkay, envisions "virtual test drives" via a manufacturer's online simulator, in which a user can build a virtual vehicle by selecting trim level, options, and colors. "This virtual vehicle could be used to simulate a test drive online that would most likely use video-game-type technology. This will help fleet managers and drivers make quality decisions on fleet purchases without requiring travel," said Tepas.

From a supply chain management perspective, there will be more complex data integration between manufacturers and upfitters with the objective of minimizing order-to-delivery time and increasing accuracy. 

"We predict the industry as a whole will move toward more sophisticated predictive models for lifecycle costs and replacement cycles," said Steve Haindl, CIO for Automotive Resources International (ARI).

A parallel trend is the incorporation of more and more onboard technology in future model-year vehicles by OEMs.

"Our domestic OEM partners are taking aggressive steps in this area by adding more and more technology to their product lineup. As a result, fleet managers are making educated decisions on how these technology-driven vehicles will assist them and their drivers. Fortunately, vehicle manufacturers are making these new technology features easy to understand and utilize. A vehicle equipped with added technology options may show positive results at resale as well," said Carolyn Edwards, director of operations, vehicle acquisition for LeasePlan USA.

In addition, OEM-installed onboard technology will ultimately have real-time integration with FMC fleet management systems.

"Vehicles will become the platform for delivery of driver communications to supplement current [FMC] call center capabilities. This includes the ability to pull real-time information (such as diagnostics, location, and mileage) and the ability to push communication directly to drivers," said Steven Loos, vice president of information technology and chief information officer for Wheels Inc. "This, coupled with location-aware applications via GPS, will provide real-time applications for driver productivity, such as directing them to the nearest fuel station with the lowest priced fuel or to a specific service facility because it is the nearest in-network provider."

However, the increased cost of technology must be justified by a corresponding return on investment (ROI).

"Technology, in terms of vehicle selection, will come at a cost," said Barry Steel, senior VP of sales development and strategy for Donlen. "Vehicle technology, such as next-generation hybrids, multiplex wiring, crash avoidance technologies, etc., is all about the ROI. We have not seen the final solution yet. The OEMs are experimenting with every technology that can be imagined today. Someone will ultimately invent something new that will be a 'change agent' across the automotive landscape." 

Another future trend is that non-traditional OEMs, along with emerging manufacturers marketing new all-electric and hybrid models, will become integrated into the fleet ordering systems of all FMCs.

"Foreign and new OEMs (electric, hybrid, and others) will be integrated with fleet management companies providing online factory ordering, vehicle status, warranty recovery, and more, similar to the way Ford, GM, and Chrysler are currently engaged with fleet management companies. New technology applications will make it easier for companies to become more granular because it will allow them to better segment their fleets, and they will continue to move away from a one-size-fits-all approach," said Smith.[PAGEBREAK]

New Technological Tools to Increase Employee Productivity

In the next seven years, there will be widespread integration of telematics, navigation, smartphones, and in-vehicle electronics. The trend is to wirelessly connect these disparate devices to "talk with each other," further leveraging their capabilities to help manage fleets.

"The next opportunity for greater employee productivity is to integrate all these tools for a more seamless approach," said Kim Hearn, chief information officer for PHH Arval. "Today, a fleet driver could have a vehicle equipped with a Garmin-type navigation device, a cell phone, a telematics device for tracking, and maybe even a radio-frequency identification (RFID) tag reader. Getting all the disparate devices talking to each other and leveraging the tools available will help fleets reduce overall costs for the technology and have a significant impact on the overall ROI  for the products and services. Integration will be the key for success."

Technology will also play a central role in employee productivity management. This will include remote work order entry, route scheduling, expense reporting, etc. As a result, this will decrease the amount of time spent commuting, reducing fuel consumption and vehicle wear-and-tear. Employees will be able to electronically account for inventory and time without having to return to the office. Tools, such as telematics, GPS, RFID, and smartphones, will allow real-time linkages between managers and their field personnel and assets. 

"Companies will continue to benefit from 'connected vehicle' designs that incorporate enhanced driver interface and mobile office operations," said Dyan Finkhousen, mobile resource intelligence strategy leader for GE Capital Fleet Services. "Connected vehicle benefits are also beginning to evolve into the vehicle-to-infrastructure space, providing companies the ability to leverage the smart grid for vehicular applications. As electric vehicles hit the market, companies will benefit from some powerful connections between the vehicles, telematics, and smart grid infrastructure. Whereas today managers can use telematics as an intelligent decisioning platform for dispatching, routing, capacity planning, and more, the technology will be an essential implement with the onset of electric vehicles.  Technology has and will continue to change the game for mobile resource capacity planning and productivity."

Others similarly foresee a widespread emergence of "smart vehicles" with integrated connectivity using telematics, GPS, RFID, and smartphones to increase employee productivity.

"Telematics has many tangents and applications OEMs will take in-house and provide as a value-add to their product line. 'Smart cars' are coming, but a fleet manager will still need a third party, which could be a fleet management company or a software solution, to make the data actionable across manufacturers," said Steel of Donlen. "Employee behavior and employee productivity will continue to be the single most significant contributor to a fleet's bottom line ROI."

ARI's Haindl forecasts that vehicle data will be fed to advanced historic trending analysis tools to help fleets establish "what-if" models for operating costs and driver behavior. This will also provide fleets with stronger rating tools to compile driver behavior scorecards and reduce operating costs.

Another area where technology will bring about dramatic change is driver communication. "For instance, a driver's fleet-specific social network status may be updated as he or she drops off the vehicle for repairs via a Twitter-like intra-company feed that would allow all fellow employees to view the status of other employees," said Hearn of PHH Arval.

Helping facilitate this upcoming revolution in driver communication will be mobile communication devices. iPad clones and similar tablet PC devices will be the beneficiaries of more fleet-related applications. The fleet market for these mobile communication/computing devices promises to grow exponentially, mirroring what is occurring in the consumer market.

"Most everything a fleet manager does today will be made to fit on an iPhone or iPad-like device," said Steel.

 "Fleet management companies will most likely gain access to the systems drivers use to log personal and business mileage for each trip. RFID will become more standard with keyless entry, vehicle starting, inventory systems within delivery vehicles, etc.," said James Semsey, vice president, IT for LeasePlan USA. "RFID via gas pumps will allow drivers to gas up without having to swipe a credit card. The transaction could immediately go to the fleet management company and be linked to that particular vehicle/driver. Also, onboard diagnostics could be sent at the same time, stored with the vehicle information, compared to previous diagnostic information, then alert the driver to any potential issues."

Scheduling is one example of the use of onboard vehicle equipment to increase employee productivity.

"Third-party job scheduling and logging systems will be able to provide information to the navigation system to automatically set up the next route, provide navigation to the next stop, etc. Bluetooth connections between cell phones and vehicles will become ubiquitous," said Semsey.

Yet another future onboard vehicle application could include compliance monitoring for corporate sustainability programs. "Carbon emissions will be measured on a real-time basis with alerts triggered back to the fleet manager for vehicles that are out of compliance," added Semsey.

Some of today's fleet products could be made obsolete by new or emerging technologies.

"Over-the-air mobile payment transaction capability will increase through utilization of mobile handset and wireless/cellular networks. There will be immediate authorization and potential payment capability for maintenance and fuel transactions. This will eliminate the need for fuel cards, p-cards, and passports," said Loos of Wheels.[PAGEBREAK]

Fleet Management Systems Employing Social Media

The next generation of Web-enabled fleet management systems will include greater levels of user customization of fleet Web tools. This will include enhanced decision-modeling tools and automated analytics. There is an ongoing trend to automate most driver communication and routine decision-making based on pre-set fleet policy parameters. Ultimately, there could be automated exception-based text messaging to drivers, performance reports to drivers' managers, and automated comprehensive reporting to senior management. These next-generation systems will be more intuitive, allowing fleet managers to more easily identify relevant data amidst high volumes of captured data. In addition, there will be increased migration to touchscreen navigation.

Looking beyond the next several generations of Web-based fleet management systems, there will be an ongoing, gradual evolution to automated, self-serve, driver-based fleet management.

"The Web will continue to be an integral part of fleet management for the foreseeable future; however, I do see changes. The technology lines will begin to blur as fleet managers and drivers start to interact with fleet management systems in different ways. Instead of logging in to a website and selecting the work that needs to be done, such as ordering a vehicle or maintaining driver information, it will come as a request or invitation," said Brian Kirchner, chief technology officer for GE Capital Fleet Services. "Access will be ubiquitous and not dependent on a device or technology. Processes as we know them today will be automated to a point where most interactions will be a result of automated workflows, prompting managers and drivers for information or notifying them of events or exceptions that require attention. There will be less 'pulling' of information and more 'pushing' of event-based workflows and exception-based analytics."

To the end-user, the fleet management system will be one system, not a grouping of disparate systems. Data from all departments and various third-party providers will be consolidated into a single system. Fleet management of the future will be performed with real-time information, all the time.

Next-generation Web-based fleet management systems will become more proactive in enforcing policy-based requirements by proactively notifying drivers that specific tasks need to be completed using notifications on the driver's online dashboards.

Technology will also provide drivers greater empowerment in managing their fleet vehicles. There will be increased use of technology to modify driver behavior in terms of safer driving, fleet policy compliance, and becoming more fuel efficient.

In addition, there will be greater integration between OEM-installed onboard technology and FMC fleet management systems. Observers also envision improved data sharing, especially information on policies and best practices. Also, there will be continued development of sophisticated analytics with more complex predictive analysis, allowing specific decisions to be made without human intervention.

"Web-based fleet management systems will, for the most part, continue as-is, but fleet management companies will have broader two-way communication capabilities with information streaming between themselves and the driver, manufacturer, and repair shops," said Semsey of LeasePlan USA. "This closer affinity to manufacturer and service providers allows for a more thorough integration of information for clients. Reporting, exception reporting, and driver alerts will continue to improve so FMCs can better identify client-specific exceptions and then notify the driver and/or the client when such exceptions occur. Being able to send information to a driver's vehicle directly will provide an additional level of communication for notifications and alerts."

Web-enabled fleet management systems will continue to be the cornerstone of tomorrow's fleet management but will be further integrated with other systems.

"To the user, the fleet management system needs to be one system, not a grouping of disparate systems. Data from all department areas and from various third parties need to consolidate into this one system - at both a detail level for the fleet team and at a summary level for the executive's dashboard," said Steel of Donlen. "Empowerment of drivers to make good financial decisions on behalf of their companies is an area of significant opportunity. Customizable platforms are the future as they can be designed to be customer- and driver-specific. This allows fleet managers the ability to manage the driver/employee experience with centralized tools and data decision engines. As time goes by, the fleet manager and driver data will continue to merge and simplify all of the activities managed by fleet departments."

One key difference between today's fleet management systems and those of tomorrow will be the increased use of fleet-specific social media. Fleet-specific intranet social media use will increase as an important tool to benchmark and share best practices among fleet managers.

"There will certainly be more blogs that will pop up for fleet managers that enable better sharing of data, especially information between end-   users on policies, best practices, etc. Continued sophisticated analytics with complex predictive analysis based on 'if/then' statements will continue to progress to help make specific decisions without human intervention," said Andrew Griffith, VP, information technology for Emkay. "This will happen more due to the fact that all companies involved in the lifecycle of fleet vehicles will improve their communication and enable easier access to data in integrated formats."

The next step in the evolution of fleet management systems will be to fully automate these systems so it requires minimal user interaction.

"We are entering the age of automated fleet management. Web-based fleet management systems are beginning to move from being used to complete transactions to monitoring vehicle statuses and driver habits. The not-too-distant future will evolve these systems into a proactive, policy-based stance, where the fleet management company blueprints action items that must be accomplished," said Hearn of PHH Arval. "Instead of the fleet manager needing to know that something is needed, we would monitor and proactively notify individual drivers that a task must be completed. This way of looking at Web-based fleet management systems will pave the way for even further automation, where Web-based fleet management systems will likely evolve into a notification and reporting dashboard."

Web-enabled fleet management systems of the future will allow fleet managers to have a real-time view of all the vehicles in the fleet.

"We imagine that Web-based systems tied to in-vehicle technology may one day allow the fleet manager to have a real-time view of the vehicle dashboard while the vehicle is in operation. Also, with the next generation of employees coming up, we do think Web 2.0 tools will be more integrated into our daily communication with drivers and fleet managers," said Haindl of ARI. 

Another vision is that each vehicle will have its own Web page based on a specific ID or VIN number. "The entire database would be linked with the fleet management system to have even more robust analytics and vehicle profiles. This would continue to change the way fleet managers review data, especially more complex vehicles and fleet programs," said Tepas of Emkay.

In the future, new and unanticipated fleet applications will emerge by "mixing and matching" new technologies and applications.

"Mashup technologies, in which different Web applications are integrated, will enable new and interesting technologies to be deployed. For example, these Web applications could take a driver's address from an online fleet management tool, the address of a repair facility from that company's locator, and produce a map to that location for the driver through a mapping website. Another area is leveraging cloud computing solutions. This new technology is hosted computing, where a provider hosts a software application and allows a client to utilize it without having the software on their own server," said Semsey.

One consequence is that many of the technological tools we use today may very well be obsolete or even viewed as "quaint" in tomorrow's world of fleet management.

"Ultimately, there will be the demise of the voice [phone] and e-mail as the primary driver communication tool, primarily due to the generational impact of new workforce entrants. There will be a move to texting and social media as the preferred choice. This will impact driver mobile applications," said Loos of Wheels.[PAGEBREAK]

Integration of Mobile Devices in the Management of Fleets

Influencing tomorrow's fleet management systems will be integration and interaction with smart mobile devices, which have proliferated to the point where they are rapidly becoming integral parts of our day-to-day lives.

 "The smartphone trend is obvious, but the trend is still in its infancy and will continue for the foreseeable future. Most everything a fleet manager can do will be made to fit on an iPhone, so the tools belong there," said Steel of Donlen. "If they want to, drivers and fleet managers should be able to do the bulk of their job while riding the bus or in the airplane, via their smartphone. iPads are amazing devices, and the clones are coming - this is a market that will grow exponentially."

Other technology trends on the horizon will be more focused on the driver than the fleet manager. The most obvious are applications available on drivers' mobile devices that allow the driver to accomplish a variety of fleet-related vehicle tasks/functions in a touchscreen or click-through format.

"These capabilities are just in their infancy but growing rapidly into major productivity enhancers and differentiators for the fleet management companies that offer them," said Hearn of PHH Arval. "Mobile devices are going to see us into the next decade, and wireless technologies such as Bluetooth and 4G WiFi networks allow us to connect vehicles to drivers, drivers to managers, managers to vehicles, and vehicles to fleet management providers faster than ever - and any combination thereof. The amount of information that can be computed and transmitted in nanoseconds is incredible. Advanced telematics solutions are continuously feeding information from a vehicle and being turned into usable data faster than we can think to observe it. This is the future of fleet technology: real-time information, all the time."

Mobile technology will also impact unexpected areas of fleet management, such as license and titling. "Utilization of mobile technology to allow drivers to receive notifications as well as enter plate and expiration dates, and improved online renewal bulk processing technology (in-house processing of renewals), will be new uses of this technology," said Steel.

Future Fleet Maintenance Management Technology

Everyone agrees that vehicles will continue to get "smarter" in the next seven years. More in-vehicle data will be available each new model-year. This will undoubtedly impact the future of fleet maintenance.

Future fleet maintenance technology will allow greater accessibility of real-time onboard vehicle data by fleet managers. Enhanced remote diagnostics capabilities will be available. In addition, predictive analysis, based on onboard diagnostics data, will be used to detect impending maintenance-related problems before actual occurrence. Initially, there will be the rudimentary capability for electronic notification of drivers of impending vehicle-related problems, scheduled preventive maintenance (PM), failure codes, recalls, and other actions related to servicing. Potentially, there could be real-time electronic communication between service desks at repair vendors, FMCs, and fleet managers.

"To date, the focus has been remote diagnostics to assist with or prevent catastrophic maintenance events from occurring. However, fleets in the future will derive the most benefit from the ability to fine-tune PM schedules with additional information - items such as oil life monitoring, improved mileage gathering, or using engine hours as a gauge for setting up PM schedules," said Hearn of PHH Arval. "Fleets can now have preventive maintenance done when it is really necessary and not necessarily more often." 

Potentially, fleets in the future will be able to download software for remote repairs or adjust preventive maintenance schedules based on parameters other than just mileage.

 "Vehicle onboard diagnostics will be leveraged even more for simple PM reminders to a combination of services and safety items," said Eric Strom, maintenance & safety product manager for GE Capital Fleet Services. "An expansion is foreseen for OEM remote repairs, such as downloading software updates directly to the vehicle. Imagine a driver receiving a message while en route that informs her of a software update being sent, similar to your work PC messages."

In-vehicle systems monitoring technologies will also offer earlier detection and proactive alerts for potential failures, which will lead to reduced downtime and operating costs.

"The future for remote diagnostics will include more in-cab information center notifications. Most over-the-road heavy truck fleets are already using the available OEM and aftermarket in-cab notifications, but we expect additional car and light truck OEM information and usage by fleets," said Strom.

Ultimately, each vehicle's onboard computer will generate real-time data on the vehicle to allow fleets to better manage vehicle maintenance.

"There will no doubt be a streamlined way to enable the Web to be linked to each vehicle's onboard computer; therefore, all stats coming in on the units will be real-time. In addition, we see third-party development of mobile-type apps to schedule mobile/remote PM services wherever the driver will be the day the service is desired," said Griffith of Emkay. "There will also be apps that will run within the onboard computer. These computers will download apps that will allow the vehicle's computer to alert the driver as well as have a 'scheduler' button on the touch screen to schedule routine maintenance. The apps will also work for more specific work needed and show the best choice of vendor for that specific repair need."

This vision of the future of fleet maintenance is shared by many in fleet management.

"Future enhancements in fleet maintenance management technology will include remote diagnostics and other tools. Similar to telematics integration by the OEMs, there will still be a need for a third party to operationalize this data stream in a way that adds value to a fleet manager. Many new car and truck manufacturers will want to participate in fleet's future. They will need a support mechanism to plug into," said Steel of Donlen.

In addition, technology will internally streamline the vehicle maintenance processes at FMCs.

"With the advancement of smartphones and other hand-held devices, we forecast advancements in call center technology that will ease processes, such as scheduling maintenance and obtaining roadside assistance. In-vehicle technologies will offer earlier detection and proactive alerts for potential failures, which will reduce downtime and operating costs," said Haindl of ARI.

A driver's company-provided mobile device will be preloaded with applications, which will automatically sync with the new vehicle to coordinate inventory control, routing, product delivery, and personal/business mileage reporting. Any trouble codes will automatically be sent to the FMC maintenance department, which will make a service appointment based on the driver's work schedule and arrange for a rental car.

Advanced technology will also have an impact on the vehicle repair industry.

"As more technology is built into newer vehicles, mechanics and shops will have to become more specialized because of the greater costs for proprietary equipment and training limits for their employees. As a result, dealerships will retain or increase their market share for repairs and service," said Hearn.

How long until fleet maintenance is virtual? "I believe we may see the ability to diagnose mechanical issues while the vehicle is still in service, then have live webcasts with the repair facility to see the damage and the work being done to the vehicle," said Kris Bush, vice president, marketing for LeasePlan USA.[PAGEBREAK]

Next-Generation Fuel Management Technology

Technology will be increasingly used to manage fleet fuel spend. In the future, fuel management technology will include real-time pump controls to stop transactions when a dollar threshold is met based on a day's total purchases. There will also be greater integration of telematics data with fuel management applications. This will include widespread use of onboard GPS by drivers to find the nearest, most cost-effective fueling stations.

"Telematics technology reduces fuel costs by eliminating speeding over certain limits and reducing idle time. In addition, you can use telematics data to improve routing (resulting in less fuel consumption) and territory alignment to reduce the overall number of vehicles necessary to get the job done," said Hearn of PHH Arval.

Technology will make it possible to integrate all fuel purchase information into a single, centralized repository for easy access and comprehensive reporting. This technology solution will be useful for fleets that operate both cars and trucks and is also available for similar situations in the maintenance arena.

"Fuel pump technology will change with real-time pump controls. These 'smarter' pumps will have the ability to enter more information (project codes) or send messages to the driver. The pump/station will act as a hub to offload information from the vehicle (odometer/diagnostic codes)," said Loos of Wheels.

Information management technology is key to managing fuel costs. "For fleets whose vehicles fuel up at various types of locations - retail, on-site facilities, or in Canada, cardlock facilities - technology is making it possible to integrate all the fuel purchase information into a single, centralized repository for easy access and comprehensive reporting. This gives fleet managers the total picture on their fuel costs," said Hearn.

Over the next five years, smartphones are expected to play a greater role in fuel program management, and may even replace magnetic stripe cards as the payment instrument for fuel.

"Perhaps more important than the adoption of smartphones by fleets is the increasing adoption of smartphones by consumers. This trend will increase the likelihood of smartphones becoming a new payment mechanism, and having smartphones at the center of every fueling transaction could result in data transmitted on a real-time basis to the fleet manager," said Sung Lee, fuel product manager for GE Capital Fleet Services. "This would translate into more timely alerts for unauthorized fuel purchases or purchases that fall outside fleet's parameters. Smartphones could also be used to wirelessly collect odometer readings and other vehicle information, which would then be transmitted back to the fleets. We believe there will be a convergence of smartphones, payment instruments, and telematics." 

The use of mobile devices for transactions will increase, but will require investments by merchants to become a widespread application.

"Many major fuel retailers are continuing to build mobile prototypes to eventually develop as products for customers. Technologies that have been emerging and are now moving at an even faster pace are mobile commerce, specifically smartphones. Similar to many other applications within fleet that will utilize mobile devices, so will fuel-related transactions," said Tony Blezien, vice president, operations for LeasePlan USA. "The driver will be able to buy fuel and any other merchandise using their mobile phone using mobile payment. For mobile payment to be possible, merchants must install RFID equipment and phone manufacturers need to introduce near field communications (NFC), wireless technology that enables the exchange of data between devices in close proximity."

The use of mobile devices to assist in fuel management, or mobile commerce,  will provide many conveniences to fleet managers previously unavailable.

"I foresee convenience-away-from-the-office trends. For example, the ability for fleet managers to add and delete drivers and vehicles from their fuel program and receive specialized alerts via their mobile device, such as fuel exception reports. They could also pay invoices by phone and check balances," said Blezien. "In addition, new technology will allow for mobile marketing, such as coupons, to mobile phones. Drivers will also have the convenience of location-based services with maps to the nearest fuel retailer as well as the lowest price. Both services will help companies save money on their fleet's fuel and other fuel-related purchases."

Another future trend will be the incorporation of the management of new vehicle energy sources in fuel management.

"The infrastructure is being built right now to support the fueling needs of these new vehicles," said Haindl of ARI. "Advanced technology may involve refueling stations and vehicles communicating directly to each other with real-time data feeding to the fleet manager for cost and compliance reporting."[PAGEBREAK]

SIDEBAR: Integration of Business Processes Between FMCs & Fleets

There is an ongoing trend to integrate business processes between fleet management companies (FMCs) and their client fleets. This includes the automated collection of fleet data without human intervention. In addition, there will be seamless and transparent system-to-system interactions between the FMC and the fleet's HR, payroll, and accounting system. The FMC's database will be automatically updated in real time with driver changes such as job title, address, phone, e-mail, etc. This integration of business processes promises to accelerate in the future and become even more comprehensive and pervasive.

System-to-system interaction with the FMC will also extend to the client's CRM (customer relationship management) system. For instance, this data could be used to increase driver productivity and optimize route efficiency. This system-to-system interaction will allow the FMC to receive direct feeds from company's CRM system on each salesperson's territory, number of sales calls per day, miles driven between calls, etc. This will also allow for the development of fleet applications that optimize the performance of each vehicle in a fleet. In addition, this data could also be used to optimize vehicle replacement decision-making.

Eventually, all routine, day-to-day fleet activities will be automated based on programmed, pre-established fleet policy.

SIDEBAR: License and Title Technology Trends

The forecast is for licensing to become more electronically based. "In line with Web-based systems and in-vehicle technology, we predict licensing will become more electronically based with technology that can 'read' a vehicle and see a full list of the vehicle's licensing requirements and status of each. This would include truck stations and the monitoring of driver logs. For instance, if the log indicates the driver is exceeding regulations, the vehicle would not be allowed to leave the station," said Steve Haindl, CIO for Automotive Resources International (ARI).

The other prediction is for increased automation of the registration process. "From a registration perspective, it would be ideal to begin automating the exchange of state renewal requirements, such as safety and emissions inspections. However, with each state - and in some cases each country - having its own renewal processes, that level of automation is unlikely to be available in the near future," said Michelle Nissen, title & license product manager for GE Capital Fleet Services.

SIDEBAR: A Fuzzy View of Fleet Management Post-2020

The next decade of fleet management (post-2020) will see the full-scale emergence of self-serve fleet management. Currently, there is an ongoing migration of traditional fleet management functions to drivers; however, this will take several software generations to fully implement.

There will be a widespread acceptance and utilization of functional fleet networking websites. These would be fleet versions of www.sermo.com or www.INmobile.org. However, they will be much more advanced and sophisticated than today's rudimentary sites. These advanced-technology networking sites will include the creation of online fleet communities, virtual industry conferences, sharing of best practices, emergence of consortium fleet-buying groups, the rapid assembly of "viral" ad hoc groups to address specific industry issues, etc. These online networking sites currently exist; however, it will be the next generation of fleet managers (and drivers) who will fully embrace them, which will be powered by the next generation of software technology that will enhance the level of sophistication. In the next decade, telematics, or onboard connectivity, will become "standard" equipment on many OEM-produced models.

In addition, there may be all-new service providers (or rather, information providers/intelligent data aggregators, such as "Google-like" companies) entering the fleet management market with sophisticated data mining resources and data warehouse capabilities, which potentially could enter into partnerships (or private labeling) with major OEMs and/or FMCs. This hypothetical development/partnership could be a potential game changer in how commercial fleets are acquired, managed, and remarketed.

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