If you want to stay ahead in the fleet management game, look no further. I’ve culled the internet for five of the top vehicle fleet management trends for 2016, so you can get a drop on the future before it gets the drop on you.
1. Fleet management safety
Safety’s enough of a constant that it’s more than a “trend,” but it’s especially on the minds of managers these days.
If America’s highways are part of the melting pot, they’re coming to a boil. According to an NHTSA report, traffic deaths are on the rise. Fatalities are up by 7.7%, which is the highest total in the last half a century. The figures are similarly sobering for fleet managers, with “a four percent increase in truck-involved crashes with fatalities in 2015 over 2014.” That’s an extra 2,500 deaths in one year. And if the trend is waning fatal, the field service industry must respond.
So what can you do?
Fleet management software systems offer the chance to improve driver safety. According to Jonathan Durkee of Fleetmatics, close to one in three (29%) companies who install fleet management software notice “improvements in driver behavior.”
Software can monitor incidents like sudden braking, sudden acceleration, or breaking the speed limit. Having this kind of data helps you keep track of your drivers and removes any sort of doubt or back-and-forth that might occur should a driver be less than forthcoming with their record.
Fleet management software can also prevent possible accidents. Programs that track warranties, or remind you of regular maintenance, can help prevent crashes that might result from worn-out brakes, or other problems.
2. Autonomous truck technology
Autonomous (self-driving) vehicles are one of the automotive world’s “it” trends. Tesla, Alphabet (nee Google), and numerous other companies are working on autonomous vehicles. As of August 2016, Uber announced it would be rolling out an autonomous fleet in Pittsburgh.
But this trend isn’t a turnkey solution for road safety. For example, one of Tesla’s autonomous vehicles slammed into the side of an 18-wheeler, killing the driver earlier this year. While autonomous vehicles are already touted as a safer alternative to traditional driving, there are still safety concerns that have some influencers concerned.
One oft-cited problem is the question of whether an autonomous car would sacrifice its passengers for the sake of pedestrians, if that choice were to arise.
So what does this mean for fleet managers?
Stay alert, aware and prepared.
Stay alert to the various developments, like Volvo and Autoliv’s recent partnership to make an autonomous car. Aware of what the official word on autonomous vehicles is, like the NHTSA’s ruling that self-driving software effectively counts as a driver. Prepared for the possibility that there could be up to 10 million self-driving cars active in about four years.
Staying alert can be as simple as reading the news, or following a publication like Automotive Fleet, Commercial Carrier Journal, Business Fleet, or Today’s Trucking News.
Alternately, you could follow a Twitter feed like ZD Net or TechRepublic, which keep up to date on things like the NHTSA’s five levels of autonomous vehicles. I’d advise doing so for the NHTSA, but their feed is mostly safety statistics and infographics.
As far as prepared goes, ask your telematics provider, or be prepared to ask them, about what their plans are for the autonomous vehicle future. TomTom Telematics is already prepping for a future of automated vehicles.
Regulations at state, local, and federal levels are enough of an issue that Mike Antich of Automotive Fleet goes as far as to say fleets are “drowning” in them. The chatter surrounding even one regulation, ELDs (electronic logging devices), supports his characterization.
ELD’s will be required in select vehicles by December 18, 2017. ELD’s are computers that track drivers’ hours of service (HOS), in place of the traditional paper logbook. The rule might affect up to three-million drivers, some of whom are unhappy with the rule.
“Some drivers go so far as to say that they may leave the industry before using an ELD,” Tom Cuthbertson notes in Supply & Demand Chain Executive. In an interview with Fleet Equipment editor Jason Morgan, Zonar Systems’ Fred Fakkema lists one possible reason for the hesitation: “Getting them to switch from paper logs—a routine they are more than familiar with—to an unfamiliar technology is going to be tough; there will definitely be a learning curve.” That dynamic’s familiar to any company who’s struggled with implementing a fleet management software solution.
The kind of training a fleet management company offers can be the difference between drivers adapting to a digital solution, and a costly failed implementation. Two big reasons implementations fail are “lack of training and support prior to and post implementation.” If you’re concerned that your drivers might be unwilling to adapt to the ELD regs, check for information on why software implementations fail— learning from those mistakes might help you avoid federal fines. This piece from Software Advice is about CRM software, but the problems they describe are universal to all software implementations.
Fleet managers, like a lot of the rest of the business world, are coming to see the value of big data, especially when it comes to saving their fleet money.
Business Intelligence software has the benefit of connecting disparate parts of your organization. With BI software, companies can unite departments in the field, front office, and back office, by sharing data between them. TMW Systems, for instance, boasts a product that can “blend and analyze data from multiple areas—operations, maintenance, finance, mobile communications and more.” Rather than scheduling an interdepartmental meeting to which few employees show up anyway, the data they’d get from each other is readily available on their computer or device.
Business intelligence also represents the next generation for fuel cards. Business Intelligence software that uses machine learning (getting machines to learn to recognize patterns on their own— sort of HAL 9000, but very useful) has already cut down on unnecessary fuel spend. For instance, waste disposal company Clean Harbors cut their fuel spend “5% to 10% through reduced idling.”
WEX, a major fuel card company, is already using machine learning to determine improper buying patterns. For example, their software can tell if a driver is using regular gas or the more expensive premium variety.
The next stage in machine learning-enabled fleet management will go beyond present observation to future speculation: Vnomics is already partnering with the University of Rochester to predict fuel usage rather than just record it.
5. Procurement’s role
The relationship between fleets and procurement has changed over the last few decades—specifically, procurement’s role in fleet activities has grown. In 28% of companies surveyed by Automotive Fleet—the largest grouping in the data set—fleets were part of the procurement department.
Procurement’s expanded role is not without its speed bumps. Mike Antich tells Automotive Fleet: that “fleet and procurement have tended to have an adversarial relationship.” The problem stems from the different priorities of the two groups. Where procurement’s concern is saving money, fleet’s concern is often with service first. On top of this, the managers in procurement who make fleet purchases may not have any fleet experience. These factors can create friction and misunderstanding between the two departments.
As early as February of 2015, Antich suggested the use of progressive procurement as a solution. In progressive procurement, procurement departments would select “in-house experts” with “fleet expertise” to make fleet-related purchases. Specializing the departments would help bridge the gap between fleet’s operational/service focus, and procurement’s fiscal focus. “This procurement practice works in Europe,” Antich adds, further stating that “there is no reason to believe that it couldn’t work in the U.S.”
North of the U.S. border, a similar solution has formulated. Jeff Meggitt, manager of York, Canada’s fleet services, has found a way to involve drivers and fleet workers into purchasing decisions.
In place of procurement’s traditional tendering process, Meggitt used RFP’s (requests for proposals). Thanks to this switch, the front-line workers could “see what the characteristics of each proposal are and whether it would fit with the job’s needs.” Meggitt’s attitude about the change reflects a concern for the operational details, and the workers who handle them: “It’s their office that we’re designing and buying so let’s make it as useful for them as possible. And if they’re involved since day one, I hope they take better care of the equipment and it lasts longer.”
Fleets in the future
I’ve covered a few big fleet trends here, but I know there are more I didn’t get. Which ones did I miss? Which ones would you like to see me cover when this piece is updated in a few months? Let me know below!