By Bernie Kavanagh
The following is an excerpt from “Build, Buy Or Partner: Future-Proofing Your Fleet Enterprise,” a TEK Talk to be delivered during the Fleet Forward mobility conference, Oct. 8-10 at The Pearl, San Francisco.
We know business people can be notoriously resistant to change, so picture the following scenario for a moment:
Arriving at work, Fran Fleetkeeper scans a large board with dots on a map. Some of the dots are green. Some are red. Some are blinking. These are her company’s vehicles, and she notices some are missing while others are clustered too close for optimal efficiency.
But Fran won’t be pinging her drivers. Instead, she taps her phone to implement “Driver Area Eight,” a navigation overlay that directs vehicles in that area to destinations that better serve her operation.
On the right of that board might be a fuel fever chart, indicating the total fuel that will be consumed that day, based on the day’s routes and the navigational instructions Fran set to reach them.
Maybe the fuel spend has a corresponding line chart that compares to the same day last year or last week, or against industry benchmarks for that vehicle, or against expense goals. When these charts hit red, reports are triggered pointing out to Fran the variables that could save fuel costs.
Her phone buzzes. It’s an alert telling her Steve the driver is moving at 60 in a 45-mph zone. She texts him a pre-written alert to slow down. When his seat belt light pings her, it is his second violation in a day, which generates an email to HR for counseling.
Meanwhile, the vehicles – some of them driverless — navigate streets and soon automatically pull in for fuel – or an electric charge – at stations listed as the most price competitive based on real-time data, not published surveys. They drive away and head down the interstate, paying tolls and logging hours of service seamlessly, wirelessly, electronically.
Then Fran notices new orders have come in. She panics. Can her own fleet deliver? She checks a ride-sharing service to see about subcontracting the work. She taps a button on her phone and commissions an instant delivery.
Then a truck pulls up outside her door with an emergency fuel delivery for their bulk tanks, triggered automatically by a hurricane warning with the potential to shut down her company for weeks.
The scenario above isn’t only plausible; aspects of it are already operating in today’s most forward-thinking fleets.
Where it was once a world of drivers, vehicles and mechanics, the new world for fleet managers in the disrupted world of high-tech fleets is data – specifically, the ability to use, handle, interpret and appreciate reams of data, in all its myriad forms.
High-tech innovations are coming to fleet. But they are not replacements for fleet managers. Rather, the inevitable march to implement tech tools that save time and money actually creates a greater need for managers to use their operational expertise to know what the data means, and then to move people and resources appropriately.
Is telematics a precursor to autonomous vehicles? Will fuel payments ever be truly cardless? What software is capable of integrating all these data streams?
It’s still the early innings. Right now, it’s about baby steps.
For example, telematics can tell us where our vehicles are, whether the driver is belted, and more. But the technology won’t actually brake the vehicle or belt the driver.
Fuel cards provide security — and closed-loop cards provide an extra level of security. But, as we’ve all learned, many fleet cards can also be skimmed by inventive crooks.
Electronic receipt capture is a new aspect of all types of mobile payment systems, including those designed for fleets, and it’s better than a hill of crumpled paper with fading and incomplete transaction information.
But it’s still only data.
It’s the story in the data – not using Excel V-lookups and .CSV tables to push the data around – that will continue to make fleet managers valuable to their organizations.
Even in an industry where many of our customers still pay by check and want their marketing offers printed and mailed, rest assured technological disruption is here, and it’s growing.
Expect driverless cars and swipeless cards, exotic drones and robotic drivers.
And expect companies with the savviest attitude toward technological innovation to be the ones whose field operations contribute most to their bottom lines.
As customer demands become increasingly complex with ride sharing, mobile wallets, autonomous vehicles and more, fleets must think a little like Darwin: Adapt or buy.
About Bernie Kavanagh
A 27-year fleet professional, Bernie Kavanagh currently serves as Senior Vice President and General Manager of Large Fleet at WEX Inc. He joined the company in 1996 and his career has been a steady progression of increased sales and marketing responsibility. Kavanagh serves on industry related boards and is a frequent speaker at payment industry conferences focusing on fuel trends and technology in the payment space. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the College of New Jersey and is an active member of NAFA, AFLA, NCSFA and AALA. Prior to joining WEX, Kavanagh held a number of roles with Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Enterprise Fleet Management.