Fleet managers are placing a large amount of focus on several key technological mainstays within...

Fleet managers are placing a large amount of focus on several key technological mainstays within their operations. Some of the biggest of these key concepts include Big Data analytics, driver safety, and sustainability.

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Fleet managers are placing a large amount of focus on several key technological mainstays within their operations. Some of the biggest of these key concepts include Big Data analytics, driver safety, and sustainability.

Within some of these categories are specific ideas/trends that are influencing how fleet managers view their operational functions now and in the future. Automotive Fleet reached out to some major industry players in the fleet management technology space to see how these categories are adapting to new trends and technologies.

Telematics and Data

Investment in telematics is critical and the industry knows it. The proliferation of telematics solutions in the fleet industry has been rising and will continue its upward trajectory as the technology grows and develops in terms of what it offers fleets

Over the last decade, the North American commercial telematics market grew from approximately 2 million units in service to 6.4 million units, according to a 2019 study from C.J. Driscoll & Associates. Over this period, revenues of North American telematics hardware and service grew from an estimated $2 billion to $5.3 billion.

While several market segments are maturing, overall market growth remains strong and revenues are projected to reach $7.5 billion by 2022, the report also found.

As the technology continues to grow, it will expand to include more data types that fleets can analyze, as well as provide more ways to parse through the data to find actionable ways for fleets to utilize what they discover.

But with so much information available, fleets are in need of effective ways to address the abundance of data.

Sherry Calkins, Geotab.

Sherry Calkins, Geotab.

Ultimately, a harmonization of telematics technologies and data between companies may become the norm of the future, noted Sherry Calkins, VP strategic partners, Geotab.

“One of the key future game changers in the fleet industry will be operating systems that can support open platforms for data integration,” said Calkins. “As businesses continue to merge and streamline operations around the globe, harmonizing data will be critical for fleets to combine data from multiple systems and utilize telematics data to give it meaning.”

Companies like Geotab are making their available fleet platforms open to communicating with other organizations’ systems.

“Having one integrated platform that can make sense of the data, provide predictive analytics and enable businesses to tackle large scale problems will be the future for fleet management operating systems,” added Calkins.

Further still, OEMs are also working in the space through an embedding of telematics tech into fleet assets, including with collaborations with FMCs and suppliers.

Having telematics become a more ubiquitous functionality in fleet vehicles will help reduce logistical headaches for fleets.

“With this technology now factory-installed in many popular fleet models, this eliminates one of the biggest roadblocks companies typically face when exploring a telematics solution – installation costs and logistics as well as the associated vehicle downtime,” said Howie Spangler, VP, Information Technology, ARI.

Howie Spangler, ARI.

Howie Spangler, ARI.

Beyond simplifying installation to prevent potential fleet downtime, having telematics capabilities embedded directly into the vehicle will play a role in how telematics and analytics become more integrated going forward.

“OEM-enabled telematics typically provides richer data and virtually eliminates the need to interpret or re-engineer the data received from traditional third-party OBD devices,” said Spangler.

With deeper insight into fleet specific metrics such as driver behavior, utilization, diagnostic data, etc., fleet operators can leverage the data to improve the efficiency and performance of vehicles and drivers.

 “Updated technology will be revolutionary to vehicle and fleet operations,” said Emily Candib, director of fleet products, Merchants Fleet. “Given fleet is somewhat unique with operating rules compared to consumer use, some technologies may target consumer use prior to fleet application due to the complexities that fleet structures can have. Adaption and agreement between manufacturers must be in-sync to make the technology useful to fleets. Additionally, barriers to entry for vendors to enter and support the connected space must be low.”

Emily Candib, Merchants Fleet.

Emily Candib, Merchants Fleet.

The continued connected between this data expansion and FMCs will also be critical.

“With an eye towards the future, in addition to receiving a myriad of data points from the vehicle, FMCs may be able to push data to the driver via the infotainment system and direct appropriate actions — gaining efficiency-driven and safety-oriented results. For example, we may eventually have the capability to send communications such as PM reminders or warnings about high-risk driving habits straight to the vehicle to further re-enforce behavioral changes” said Spangler.

Taking Data Further

Emily Candib of Merchants noted the significance of connected vehicle technology, particularly with its potential impact on fuel management. This connected technology will provide further insight into vehicles and could eventually lead into eliminating the physical fuel card, she noted.

“These technologies will help streamline operations by reducing downtime and improving information accuracy, so fleet professionals are able to focus on exceptions and outliers to help manage the fleet. Many technologies are expected to provide improved data. Data and technology can be utilized to increase safety operations and vehicle utilization, reduce overhead, and improve driver experience. Leveraging technology seamlessly allows for fleets to focus on their core business operation and less on the operation of their vehicle and ancillary services,” said Candib of Merchants. 

Erin Knight, WEX Inc.

Erin Knight, WEX Inc.

Erin Knight, VP product and innovation, Global Fleet, WEX Inc., echoed similar thoughts on technology streamlining fleet payment processes.

“Data will be increasingly relied on to solve inefficiencies,” said Knight. “Payments systems will be simplified across industries. There is, and will continue to be, movement toward AI and automation that will dramatically improve routing efficiencies and driver safety.”

Artificial Intelligence will play a large role in further development in these technologies. Improvements in this technology seek to make fleets smarter and more efficient, improve the bottom line and help curb future issues with fleet.

“Ultimately, AI helps managers more closely address their business needs and supports the adoption of new technologies,” said Mathew Long, product success, Verizon Connect. “Thanks to machine learning, the component of AI that enables a system to ‘learn’ and continually refine its interpretation of big data sets, fleets can improve the accuracy of telematics-derived data related to driving behavior, asset tracking, utilization and overall operations to improve safety, productivity and cost-efficiency.”

Another potential trend observed by Ryan Driscoll, VP marketing, GPS Insight included considering field service management, especially as a further enhancing addition to what is available through telematics. Field service management is a system for managing end-to-end activities in a field service organization including, scheduling, dispatching, invoicing and billing.

Ryan Driscoll, GPS Insight

Ryan Driscoll, GPS Insight

“While the technology has been around for a while, it has only recently really started to pick up steam. Field service management makes businesses more organized and efficient with their mobile workforce than ever before possible. Telematics combined with field service management connects the business to all its mobile assets to drive accountability, efficiency, and safety more holistically,” Driscoll said.

Video Safety Tech and Beyond

Safety is a top area of concern for fleets where technology continues to play a large role in improving the well-being of drivers and making safety risks easier to control.

“Despite a recent decline in U.S. auto accident-related deaths, over 36,000 people still die on American roads every year. In 2020 and beyond, we anticipate fleet safety will remain top of mind for every transportation company and in turn, technology innovation to support these safety initiatives will be more important than ever,” said Eleanor Horowitz, safety product marketing manager of Samsara.

The telematics technology mentioned earlier has played a major part in contributing to driver safety, with capabilities that allow managers to monitor driver behavior and observe overall road safety.

Video/dash camera technology was mentioned by several companies as a state-of-the-art technology that will greatly influence improved safety for fleet managers in the future.

“Smart video makes safety programs easier to manage and more effective than they could be with traditional telematics only,” said Driscoll of GPS Insight. “Video takes telematics to another level by being able to give context and identify positive driver behaviors that telematics cannot detect.”

Some actionable information fleets can assess with this technology include alerts and playback on accidents, hard braking, rapid acceleration, distracted driving, traffic signal violations, stop sign violations, tailgating, seatbelt compliance, U-turn violations, etc.

“But the real game changer will lie within technology that enables managers to be proactive about these incidents,” said Horowitz of Samsara. “For example, leveraging sensors that can warn about safety-related events before they happen. Or in-cab alerts that engage a driver if they’re displaying distracted behavior.”

Driscoll added thoughts on regarding the benefit of AI with the video technology.

“For example, if a driver slams the brakes to avoid hitting a child that ran into the street to chase his ball, with regular telematics data, the driver would be dinged for hard braking and it would negatively affect his score,” said Driscoll. “With video, the AI on the camera would see that the hard braking was to avoid hitting someone, so it would give them a positive score.”

Long of Verizon Connect echoed sentiments emphasizing the capabilities of this technology, particularly in how it can communicate event significance to managers using AI.

Mathew Long, Verizon Connect.

Mathew Long, Verizon Connect. 

“When powered by AI, smart video solutions can automatically classify events by severity and minimize the burden of even more data on fleet owners and managers of situations by only alerting them to events that require immediate attention,” said Long of Verizon Connect.

These safety benefits ultimately service the corporations that the fleets are operating for and may provide a deeper ROI than expected.

“The main feedback we get from customers is that dash cams have made a marked improvement across multiple areas of their fleet: reduction in insurance costs and litigation fees, increase in driver retention rates, and improvement in driver safety scores measured by accidents and harsh events,” said Horowitz of Samsara.

Like the advent and further development of telematics, further additions to the technology such as these, are becoming more ubiquitous aspects to fleet technology.

“Companies that are keeping pace with technological advancements here will start to gain a lead on their industry competitors and ultimately spur more widespread adoption,” said Long.

Another great example of contemporary technology that is continuing to impact not only fleet but every industry around the world is the ubiquitous smartphone. Smartphone apps have changed the way people go about their lives significantly in the last decade, and the same can also be said about fleet management. But it’s also brought about new levels of demand.

“Today, fleet stakeholders expect fast, easy-to-use, and context-driven experiences; and rightfully so,” said Spangler ARI.

Another company that is similarly taking advantage of this technology is eDriving. Ecolab, a global provider of water, hygiene and energy technologies, is utilizing eDriving’s Mentor app to track driver behavior, and monitor vehicle accidents and risky driving.

The continued development of new software and cloud services will be the game changer and major differentiator for fleet operators in the coming years, according to Darryll Harrison, senior director, global communications and social media, for ChargePoint. He added how this will further impact EV implemntation into fleet operations for the coming years 

"The continued implementation of smart software and the cloud services and solutions will be the key differentiator for fleets as more EVs hit the roads. Each fleet is different with a unique set of needs and applications, so it will be vital for fleets to have the right optimization platform that will enable them to configure charging solutions to best meet their business needs and requirements," said Harrison. "In addition, software will enable fleet managers to adapt as their fleets scale and their fleets complete the transition to electric."

Alternative Fuel Tech

Alternative-fuel technologies are also influencing fleet decision making. Many corporations have sustainability goals in place and are using fleet to help accomplish this.

However, identifying the right types of assets to incorporate is essential, as every fleet has differing needs and certain assets may work better than others.

 “Another key concept related to technology which will be necessary for fleets of the future will be in relation to how fleets can use and operate hybrid, plug-in EV and full electric vehicles,” said Calkins of Geotab.

While a majority of fleets still depend on internal combustion engines (ICE), many automakers are continuing to push for engagement in alternative fuel technologies on a larger global scale, which means fleets, too, must consider potential implications of this to their operations.

“As fleets move to zero-emissions and begin to gain traction, fleet managers will feel the pressure to switch to EVs and will need to start planning for this transition now and in the immediate future,” said Calkins of Geotab.

However this change will be gradual and will not occur overnight.

"While the public’s attention around electric mobility has largely been on passenger vehicles over the years, fleets are poised to see much more substantial growth within the next five to ten years," said Harrison of ChargePoint. "Innovations in charging, the proliferation of autonomous vehicles, the deployment of smart technology and better ways to monitor and manage all types of electric-powered fleets will dramatically change the way fleets are operated."

Desmond Wheatley, president and CEO, Envision Solar International, echoed the significance of EVs for fleets of the future.

“All fleets will electrify. Starting with sedans and then working up through medium to heavy duty. There will be no exception,” he said. Wheatley added that inductive (or wireless) charging may be a critical and game changing technology for fleet operators, due to problems that may arise with using charging cables, such as forgetting to charge vehicles or finding locations to perform charges.

However, there is gamut of technologies in the alt-fuel space that can be considered here, so preferences may vary depending on the fleet and its type of application. 

Eric Foellmer, XL Fleet.

Eric Foellmer, XL Fleet.

“As battery prices become more manageable and the charging infrastructure continues to mature, we are all rooting for the day when full battery electric vehicle (BEV) propulsion becomes the norm, not the exception. But the EV market share in the U.S. is still around 2%, and you can’t displace a century’s worth of ICE infrastructure overnight, so a BEV-dominated transportation industry remains many years, if not decades, away,” said Eric Foellmer, director of marketing, XL Fleet.

Knight of WEX also expressed the significance of alt-fuels and how this will influence future partnerships.

“Hybrid technologies and more rigorous fuel efficiency standards will have a big impact on the industry,” said Knight. “As fuel volume slows and purely electric vehicles become more of the norm, technology needs to reflect new markets that may be opening up. That means new relationships with new merchants and constituents. New technologies will force the fleet Industry to evolve in order to meet demand.”

Hybrid and PHEV vehicles can work as viable alt-fuel solutions for fleets until then, but other industries, too, may find value in other fuel types.

For example, UPS has made major investments in renewable natural gas vehicles. UPS currently operates more than 6,000 natural gas vehicles – and this is doubling in the next five years, according to UPS.

Other fueling options available include compressed natural gas (CNG), and adsorbed natural gas (ANG) technology particularly for the light-duty vehicle segment, which is designed to be cheaper than gasoline, use less energy, fuel faster than CNG and emit fewer GHG emissions.

David Newton, Ingevity.

 David Newton, Ingevity. 

“Rather than one fuel type as the singular solution to all the challenges faced by various vehicle classes, low-pressure ANG technology demonstrates the value of utilizing multiple alternative-fuel options that best suit the needs of different vehicle segments,” said David Newton, commercial director, performance materials, Ingevity. Ingevity is a provider of specialty chemicals and carbon materials and technologies, which includes automotive components that reduce gasoline vapor emissions.

About the author
Andy Lundin

Andy Lundin

Former Senior Editor

Andy Lundin was a senior editor on Automotive Fleet, Fleet Financials, and Green Fleet.

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