The rise of the connected fleet has been discussed as an emerging technology with huge potential to change field service operations for some time now. However, we are now reaching the point where the discussion must move from theoretical to practical – so just what will the impact of the connected fleet be for field service organisations?
As more and more fleets become connected with on-board equipment straight from the OEM, is there still a need for companies operating a mobile workforce to work with traditional telematics providers?
Field Service News spoke to sector experts to understand how the fleet management industry is evolving and what the impact this rapid period of technological change will mean for field service organisations.
So just what exactly does the rise of connected vehicles mean for the fleet management sector?
“Ultimately, the rise of connected vehicles means both telematics suppliers and customers will benefit from a higher quality of vehicle information and reduced operational overheads,” explains Sergio Barata, General Manager, Telogis EMEA.
“It should be viewed as an opportunity for telematics providers to refocus their solutions so they leverage the new possibilities these technologies will bring. For different providers this may mean different things, but at Telogis our focus has been to develop a single connected platform that expands the value of our proposition beyond the vehicle and focuses on improving the operational processes within the enterprise, such as integrated route planning and mobility tools,” he adds.
However, John Gorbutt, Regional Sales Leader, Greenroad highlights that alongside the new opportunities that these latest technologies present, new challenges are also emerging.
“The incredibly accelerated growth of the connected fleet vehicle presents challenges, as well as opportunities” – John Gorbutt, Greenroad
“First, for all fleet operators, both dispatched and un-dispatched, the driver’s function will be drastically different sooner than anyone imagines.
The driver will be at the focus and responsible for their own productivity and safety while behind the wheel. Essentially, as new, non-telematics based solutions enter the market the driver is now more connected than ever.”
“They will not only use their mobile device as the centre of their work day, they will have access to their own driver behaviour data along with various contextual information to make them as productive and safe behind the wheel as possible. These new systems are now coming onto the market at a fraction of the cost of traditional telematics systems but still provide all the same and better functionality.”
Meanwhile Stephen Watson, Microlise Director of Product believes that there is now an onus on fleet management solution providers to harness the technologies and drive the solutions forward for the industry as a whole.
“Any significant change in an industry is always a threat to the existing suppliers in that market, however where there are threats there are of course opportunities!” He comments.
“Provided organisations acknowledge the changes that are starting to happen, the changing requirements of the operators and use the expertise gained within the industry to their advantage, there is no reason to fear the rise of connected vehicles.
More it is an opportunity to embrace the evolution and provide greater value in an exciting area that touches us all.”
So what enhancements can field service organisations expect to see in the not too distant future in terms of their fleet management tools?
Barata believes that fully connected fleets will bring “new levels of data quality and accuracy not seen today, as the connectivity revolution continues apace.”
“We’ve already seen with partnerships, such as ours with Ford, that increased connectivity helps drive new business outcomes, based on data delivered through a holistic, connected vehicle approach,” he asserts.
“Through the integration of more data points – such as seat belt usage data for example – we can help improve the safety of fleets, and we’re already seeing an increase in the use of preventive maintenance on engines to reduce downtime, thanks to Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) diagnostics data.”
However, when questioned on what fleet management will look like as fleets become fully connected across the next five years Watson thinks that we may be getting slightly ahead of ourselves “5 years seems ambitious!” He begins.
“I think we are still a way off fully connected fleet operations. There are a number of EU and UK government innovation schemes designed to support organisations in the enormous R&D costs that come with the technology, however there are still significant legal and regulatory hurdles to be overcome before fully connected vehicles becomes mainstream.”
Yet, Gorbutt insists that the telematics sector as a whole is well overdue when it comes to ultimately delivering the return on investment it has always promised.
“I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone that the promise of track and trace telematics didn’t provide the long term value most fleet operators expected,” he asserts.
“When weighed against the cost of the system, the ROI is minimal at best. So over the year’s telematics providers have raced to provide more and more features to supplement the high cost of live tracking. This has resulted is millions of customers paying outrageous sums for a system grounded in technology from 2001 or earlier.
“With new systems coming on board every day that are based on cheaper, high quality networks and mobile devices, any fleet operator can get an entire fleet up and running on a mobile based system that includes everything from live tracking to driver behaviour at a fraction of the cost.”
However, whilst the promise of improved fleet management tools at a reduced cost is one that will appeal to all field service organisations, it is also worth considering how this will change the role of the fleet manager.
“We’re already seeing an increase in the use of preventive maintenance on engines to reduce downtime” – Sergio Barata, Telogis
“Hence there will be an evolution in the role of the new fleet manager, who will become more of a chief mobile officer in charge of everything from mobile deployment of solutions or cyber/mobile security and will encompass the productivity and usage of everything included in the new smart mobility ecosystem.”
Indeed, as we begin to discuss fleet management solutions that are mobile centric the lines between field service systems and fleet management systems are becoming increasingly blurred. Is there still a need for field service organisations to invest in both sets of tools?
“I guess this depends on the definition of field service management software,” Watson comments.
“It’s fair to say that concepts of engineer location, performance, planning and resource management are all now widely available, however there are a number of functions of field service management that would not currently feature in a standard fleet management software solution.”
“From an investment perspective then maybe M&A activity will see customers able to purchase a suite of products from a single supplier and these products will be more broadly integrated. But with the high levels of API integration available from suppliers like ourselves, companies have the opportunity to get best of breed solutions and services from the organisations most able to support their current and ongoing needs.”
Gorbutt echoes this sentiment commenting that he doesn’t “think there will be a decisive divide between the two technologies.”
With the high levels of API integration available from suppliers like ourselves, companies have the opportunity to get best of breed solutions and services from the organisations most able to support their current and ongoing needs – Stephen Watson, Microlise
He is also in agreement with Watson’s thinking when it comes to the belief that continued integration will be a highly important part of the wider ecosystem of field service technologies as technologies continue to evolve.
“What will be most important is the ability for these different systems to “talk” to each other.” He comments.
“For instance, the fleet management system must be able to send live tracking data to the field service customer location and routing system and all must work seamlessly with the driver safety application that ensure the driver is arriving safely. Connectivity is the new world and any service provider that doesn’t have all their systems sending and receiving data from one another will be obsolete in a matter of 5 years.”
However, Barata holds a different view, believing that as these lines blur it is those organisations that utilise a platform-based approach that will see the greatest benefits.
“The need for enterprises to adopt these solutions will continue to increase rapidly in the coming years, and soon they will become ubiquitous, leaving those who choose not to adopt them behind,” he explains.
“The good news for them is there are already suppliers like ourselves out there who can provide a platform which meets the needs of both their fleet and service operations. The previous challenges they faced in integrating data produced by separate technical, operational and strategic systems – often provided by different suppliers – can be avoided by partnering with suppliers that can deliver a single solution.”
The exact role of fleet management for field service organisations in the near future maybe uncertain, but we can be certain that is set to change.