An integral aspect of corporate fleet management is effectively managing fuel spend, an oft-fluctuating area to oversee.
As this facet of the industry evolves, so too must the fleet managers and all the supporting players who work in the space.
Start with Data
The benefits of data in the fleet industry cannot be understated; being able to benchmark industry averages and compare with like-minded peers is certainly key. Due to the rapid pace that data can be parsed in the industry, immediate evaluation is possible, and a fleet can review more data than ever before, which means timely decisions can be made to keep a fleet in top shape, including with regards to fueling.
“I think we’re just at the start of capitalizing on data and technologies that go along with it,” said Lanelle Duke, director, analytic products, WEX. “So I think we’re going to see growth in that, with more use of data, collecting data, combining various data sets of insight, and marrying that up with machine learning and data science to get increased insights.”
Rusty Barron, VP of Shell Fleet Solutions, North America, observed how important these data sets are in evaluating the specific needs of a given fleet, since every fleet is different.
“Different fleets can have different needs at different times, and then you address those needs,” said Barron.
And being able to understand those needs will heavily dictate how fleets address other areas of management, including vehicle acquisition and considering MPG and alt-fuels.
“Flexibility and choice will remain front and center for fleets. There will continue to be a mix of vehicles and fueling needs as new vehicles are acquired and older vehicles are retired,” said Travis Lachinski, vice president, Group product manager, Voyager Fleet Program. “There will be a variety of hybrid, electric and autonomous vehicles available and fleet managers and drivers will need to adapt how they operate.”
When discussing the future of fleet and its major components, conversations sometimes gravitate toward how the abundance of fleet data in the industry will heavily impact fuel spend, and other key areas of fleet in the future.
“Fleets are investing heavily into getting data about their day-to-day operations and how their fleet is performing, and if it’s on track to meet its goals, especially environmental goals these days,” said Marco Della Torre, CTO of Derive. “If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it. Fuel management is an important element of a fleet’s ability to be sustainable, safe, and profitable.”
Although not every fleet is investing in the technological developments of this area, these advancements are becoming even more ubiquitous and increasingly beneficial.
A concern with regards to the abundance of data — which will only continue to grow especially with the burgeoning acceptance of telematics solutions — is understanding the best types of data sets for individual fleets to evaluate and focus on.
“One of the pitfalls of early use of data is that it’s overwhelming. There are tons of information that come from telematics. And what we have found is that it works well to focus on a problem. What are you trying to solve for and what data is available to solve that,” said Barron. “I think how you focus your efforts will go beyond a particular issue or problem at hand. The basics of fuel efficiency can be driven by information and data that’s coming.”
Fraud in an Advanced Fleet Market
Concerns of hacking and other breaches of privacy pervades nearly every aspect of our lives, and this is no exception for corporate fleets. One major area of concern is fuel fraud, which is already a growing concern.
“We know fuel cards have gotten smarter and allow managers to put caps on spend and that mileage must match — but there are still opportunities out there for drivers to use their cards for more than fuel,” said Della Torre of Derive.
While certain types of fraud can be directly related to improper driver etiquette, e.g. via the misuse of a company card or “slippage” by way of employees using fuel cards to purchase non-fuel items, fraud can also be perpetuated by a third party through skimming, which is when a device is attached to a fuel pump credit card reader that is used to steal purchaser information.
And while technology has helped enable practices of fraud, on the flip side, it has also helped fuel management professionals to combat this issue, including through predictive analytics.
“There’s a lot that can be predicted just by looking at past data, and so one of the best examples of predictive analytics is to do fraud detection,” said Justin King, SVP of product and innovation for Comdata.
For example, available technologies are available to detect potentially fraudulent activity and send necessary alerts to fleet manages.
“There are a lot of innovative things going on in data today. We are very focused on business intelligence and predictive analytics,” said Barron of Shell. “From a security standpoint, we are very focused on marrying disparate pieces of information about a purchase, or a fill up, and knowing the vehicles location as a well as pings along the route and combining that with the actual purchase that happens on the car.”
Current evolutions in the realm of managing fleet fuel spend also includes changes happening in related industries.
“These decisions will ultimately improve safety and foster more efficient operations. The use of EMV chip cards is growing as more fuel dispensers are upgraded and we expect our payment solutions will continue to evolve to offer greater flexibility, control and integration for all stakeholders,” said Travis Lachinski, vice president, Group product manager, Voyager Fleet Program.
Phil Baker, director of product management, for WEX also mentioned that their company was exploring this technology more as another means to further curb fuel fraud.
Beyond contemporary fleet fuel management technologies, these companies are keeping an eye on developments in other areas of the industry, which includes EVs, changes to payment solutions, and further down the line, autonomous vehicles, especially for trucks.
“I’d say autonomy is another big macrotrend, and something folks are watching in the trucking space, and I think we’re a long ways away from full autonomy, just look at the seriousness of the implications of that, but certainly there is partial autonomy that is a lot closer,” said King of Comdata. “But then we have to think about how that changes our business and its certainly going to change our customer’s business-automation.”
Beyond self-driving vehicles, automation elsewhere in the industry can be seen via data analysis in the fuel management process. Fuel management professionals have expressed interest in the feasibility of new technologies that may change how people pay.
“One idea I find intriguing is this idea to grab vehicle data during the transactions and use it to make decisions around that transaction,” Baker of WEX mentioned. “Not only with telematics but with the coming wave of connected vehicles that we’re seeing out there. There’s a huge opportunity to grab that data in real time to make decisions.”
These companies have also considered how the future of EVs may impact how fleets pay for fuel.
“That’s another big change that’s coming, and coming fast,” said King of Comdata. “How do we focus our resources on the data and security element of that type of transaction, that’s something we’re very focused on, from a product standpoint.”