What is happening in the mobile marketplace, particularly with fleet?
With mobile and fleet we really see it in three main areas. We have notification, location and task. What that really means is — notification: how do I tell managers as well as drivers things that they need to do, tasks that they need to look up and items that they need to resolve. That is the space that we have been in for quite some time. That could include emails where we are directing drivers to pick up their vehicles because they have arrived at the dealership lot or notifying drivers that they need to come in and report their business/personal mileage on our personal mileage site.
When you get into location we have some great capabilities around it. If we are trying to direct drivers to the most effective cost for fuel, we can provide them with a tool that basically allows them to see the lowest price of fuel in their area that runs off of GPS. Drivers can easily find the cheapest price possible by simply logging on and finding it from their mobile device. Likewise, we have a managed network where we would like to direct drivers to take advantage of the price savings that we offer our fleet customers. So, when a driver needs to get some maintenance work done, the driver will be able to click on our app on their mobile device and quickly find that location without having to get back on to a laptop.
The area where we are focusing on more now is around task. That is both effective for our drivers as well as fleet managers. We allow them to either log in to the application or respond to communications that we send out. One example is reporting personal mileage. We will notify the driver that they need to do that and they can complete the task in an instant either on their phone or tablet device – so big advancements there. We are seeing a lot of other things such as notifications that we might send out to a fleet manage, like a spike in off-hour usage. Or the driver is taking the vehicle when it is a service fleet and shouldn’t be taking the vehicle. We will be able to notify the fleet manager who will be able to pull it up on their tablet or mobile device and see where that vehicle is; so a lot more interactivity, real time capability and function that we are bringing to the fleet space.
To what extent have you encountered push back from drivers about being tracked? Is that an issue at all?
We do see some challenges in the fleet space in that sometimes we are not able to get to the end user. What I mean by that is that we may have a customer that has a closed network so even though they are mobile device enabled, even though they may have some type of tablet device in the truck, in the vehicle they may not be able to access the Internet and as a result they may not be able to access the GE fleet tools that we provide. It is something we continue to look at in different ways – perhaps we can get ourselves into that fleet customer’s eco-system and actually add that functionality into their closed network thus providing them with the level of service that we want.
What do you think is the most exciting of all the things you are doing?
We have a number of new tools that we have launched from a driver prospective. We have a customized website called “my vehicle.” The “my vehicle” website contains all fleet specific information, such as policies, or acknowledgements that they need to complete. And traditionally when we offered that in the past it was something that was offered on a desktop or laptop platform. Because our drivers are so mobile, particularly in the sales area, we want to get that information into their hands with the greatest ease and simplicity possible. So with our mobile version of “my vehicle” which houses all of the customized content specific to the fleet, they are able to pull up that detail and be able to respond appropriately.
What would you say is the biggest challenge that a fleet manager has or a company has in terms of implementing effective mobility to communication systems?
Some of the challenges that we see in the fleet space are essentially platforms. What I mean by that is we have seen a rapid shift in the types of devices that are out in the hands of drivers. So, if I even look back to January of 2010, Comscore provides statistics on what types of devices and what types of operating systems are used on mobile platforms. And, of course, when you are developing for those different platforms we really want to know where the layers are and where things are going to change over time. As I mentioned, back in January of 2010 Comscore reported that 43% of smart phone users were using Rim productsor the Blackberry. Had we focused all of our effort on developing for that platform we would be in trouble now because, sadly, Rim has declined into the teens in terms of overall operating systems. Android has gained prominence as well as Apple IOS.
So in looking at those changing platforms, that is a challenge for fleet management companies to say where am I going to place my larger bets in terms of investment? And then with that we have also started looking at other capabilities, meaning mobile web. And mobile web resolves a lot of those because I don’t have to develop specific to a device; I can use technologies like HTML5 – it will work across devices and provide an experience for that user without being locked in to the device.
Just to clarify what you are saying, is there no longer any issue where a fleet manager has to say everybody is going to use an iPhone, everybody is going to go Android, or can they have any of those platforms and it will still work? Amplify on that a little.
That is correct. We have seen mobile device market changes over time and we see different adoption rates of the various operating platforms within mobile devices. We are trying to be as agnostic as possible by providing mobile web as well as potentially those leading device application formats. So, a little bit different. We need to think about what will happen in the near future as we move to 4G devices, as primarily most of what we see today in this space are 3G. The benefits of a mobile app versus mobile web is the speed and snappiness of the performance of the application. Well, that no longer becomes a problem when we transition to 4G where we get speeds that are equivalent to or greater than the general Wi-Fi that you would use on your laptop today. So, those advancements in technology meaning we can do more and offer more to a user without sacrificing performance will be really great.
What is this going to look like in five years in 2018?
In 2018, I think the form factor is really going to have a lot to do with types of capabilities that we render on a mobile device. Today we are a little bit hamstrung by, let’s say, an iPhone. If I want to offer a lot of capabilities to a fleet manager I might be able to show them a few little widgets, a few dashboard elements that they can pay attention to, promote some alerts and items that need their attention, but being restricted by that size is a little challenging. Newer technologies that are being deployed more broadly across to fleets and fleet drivers, things like the iPad, offer me a bigger form factor and I can communicate more information as well as have them interact in a more genuine way with the information that I am presenting.
Today it is a lot of basic, simple inputs as well as reading and viewing. I envision a world tomorrow where essentially all of the functionality that lives on a desktop today or work on from a laptop will ultimately be either/or – I can use a mobile device to complete all of my computer functions or I can use a laptop to use all my mobile device functions.
I believe that tablets will actually again a large prominence within fleets, particularly in sales fleets where we are seeing a number of our larger customers deploying them on a broader base. At GE, in fact, we have deployed them to our commercial organization as an excellent tool that is helping users become as productive as possible on the road. And we really see that as that technology evolves, and as some of the capability we can render to a tablet improves, we think that it will have a strong place in the mobile fleet market.
Paul Millington is the Technical Sales Leader at GE Capital Fleet Services. Paul joined the Canadian operations of GE Capital Fleet Services in 1998 and has had the opportunity to live in a number of cities across the United States contributing to his strong North American fleet perspective. Paul holds a Business degree from Bishop’s University with concentrations in Marketing and Economics. His successive roles in project and product management have supplied unique insights into the technology life cycle. His focus on the broader market and emerging trends factor heavily in the development of GE Capital Fleet Services’ web capability centered on improving the user experience and helping drive customer productivity. Paul partners closely with both GE’s National and Technology Client Advisory Boards to hone the strategy and capability of GE’s technology platform.