I recently attended the technology portion of the 2017 South by Southwest Conference (abbreviated as SXSW) in Austin, Texas, as part of the Element Fleet Management customer advisory board (CAB). The idea for the selection of SXSW as venue for the CAB meeting – in my mind – was brilliant. Each CAB member was given the freedom to attend whichever sessions they wanted (and there were a multitude from which to select). The idea was to reconvene as a group and discuss which sessions we attended, what we found interesting, and how might some of these technology concepts be incorporated into fleet management.
As a first-time SXSW attendee, the conference content was mind-blowing. I focused my attention to the sessions dealing with artificial intelligence, machine learning, autonomous vehicles, virtual reality, and augmented reality. With most sessions, attendees queued, sometimes for an hour in advance, to make sure they had a seat.
Most of the presenters in my sessions were not what might be perceived as nerdy software geeks, but were sober business people with high levels of responsibility within their corporations. For instance, I attended a panel discussion on the use of human holograms in real-world business applications. This may sound sci-fi, but the panel was comprised of a VP of virtual reality from Sony Pictures (yes, such as job title exists), a virtual reality marketing manager from L’Oréal, and an editor from Time Warner. Sony and L’Oréal discussed monetizing the use of holograms.
The key takeaway from Sony Pictures is that this technology will be here sooner than we think. The technological breakthrough will be what they called untethered virtual reality that will allow device-free, location-based holograms in retail applications (demonstrating the use of cosmetics, in the case of L’Oréal) and in entertainment where Sony envisions participants actually becoming part of the game or movie.
My point is if we become fixated only on what is happening in the fleet world, it makes our industry vulnerable to being blind-sided by very disruptive technologies being developed elsewhere.
Another key takeaway was gleaned from the artificial intelligence sessions, which illustrated how this disruptive technology will eliminate many job categories and how it will revolutionize the transformation of most businesses into digital entities requiring a fraction of the human workforce. One prediction is that 40% of today’s jobs will be eliminated by artificial intelligence by 2040. Most of these jobs will be administrative, but, I’m sure many will be jobs that today are assigned company vehicles.
There was a fascinating session on the use of wearable computers embedded in clothing that was presented by a panel of fashion industry representatives, along with university academics specializing in this field. Likewise, I know from other open events I’ve attended several OEMs are seriously studying wearables as a way to automate/ personalize climate control in a vehicle based on skin temperature or micro-adjust seats based on muscle tension biometric data.
Disintermediation of Fleet Vehicles
As a student of the industry, I too see signs of this change compiling a list of the Top 300 U.S. fleets. For years, we have been witnessing many fleets shrink in size. My prediction is this will continue and technological advancements will be the catalyst bringing about this change. I call it the disintermediation of fleet.
Disintermediation is a process that provides direct access to a product, service, or information without requiring a vehicle to travel from point A to point B. One example of forthcoming disintermediation of vehicles is remote visualization technologies. Today, it is manifested through Facetime or Skype technology, but what will be the capability of this technology two or three product generations later?
I refer to these future manifestations as “Visualization-for-Everyone/Anytime” technology, which I foresee becoming more prevalent, easier to use, and a popular communication medium for next generation of digitally immersed employees and customers. I believe there will be a growing personal preference to communicate remotely versus driving in a vehicle to a specific location. In the future, remote visualization will be viewed as a cost-effective and “smart” way to conduct business. While driving someplace to have the same one-hour meeting will increasingly be viewed as an “old school” business practice that is inherently inefficient.
Another example of technology disintermediating vehicles will be the increasing sophistication of remote diagnostics of office/medical/industrial equipment and the use of software downloads to correct off-site equipment issues. The next two or three generations of remote diagnostics will minimize the need for technicians to drive to sites to troubleshoot problems. It will provide increased ability to download corrective software versus requiring a technician to make an in-person visit to a client.
The takeaway from this editorial is that technology will exert inexorable downward pressure on overall fleet size and will eliminate altogether the need for some fleet vehicles. Despite this, fleet management will survive, albeit in a smaller capacity, and, most likely, in a completely different form than what we know today.
Let me know what you think.
P.S. At the 2017 Global Fleet Conference in Miami June 6-8, 2017, Tata Consultancy Services in Silicon Valley will discuss in detail "The Impact of Disruptive Technologies on Global Fleet Management" that will significantly alter how businesses operate, forcing companies to fundamentally change the way they approach their businesses.