Riding the Fleet Management Digital High Road

Recently I read a post that proclaimed fleet management was dead, that new technology was outpacing the conventional fleet manager’s abilities and a new breed of cyber techies was on the horizon who would ride in to eliminate the need for any management.  Throughout history similar claims of doom were cast upon those who were on the edges of industry transformation.


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My family comes from a long line of “auto” men. Each generation managed to avoid becoming irrelevant while somehow remaining connected to the ever-changing world of transportation. From my great-grandfather’s steam engines, through generations of automotive machinist, engineers, designers and entrepreneurs, they all somehow bucked the end. None of this makes me uniquely qualified to comment or predict the future of the auto-truck industry except for the inherited enthusiasm for change and innovation.

Riding the Fleet Management Digital High Road

In this current era we have witnessed the evolution of electronic ignition systems and the once unshakable mainstay of carburetors give way to cars and trucks equipped with integrated processor controlled systems some 1000X more powerful than what landed Apollo on the moon. And yes, along the way drivers and technicians have embraced the technology and our businesses have thrived with new management capabilities and strengths. Why would we expect anything different for tomorrow?

The transformation continues with the acceleration of the Machine-to-Machine (M2M) revolution.  Fleet Telematics is just a slice of the estimated two billion connected devices in use and is expected to grow some 400% in the next five years.  This new era of machine technology is quietly defining its place in history, not unlike the debut of the PC or the internet.  The technology is already proven itself, unmistakably enabling efficiency and fleet management for the early adopters and will unquestionably be embedded in the world’s greatest transportation developments of the future.

Telematics today is all about data.  If something has a sensor or an actuator it generates data. Collecting and interpreting that data improves performance, efficiency and reliability.  The number of sensors on an average truck has grown from six or seven to dozens in just the last few years.  Likewise, the Telematics space is changing from what was a “track and trace” proposition to a “sensor capture” and reporting powerhouse.  The magic in Telematics is combining the various sources of data in meaningful ways that can be quickly actioned. We can measure fuel economy and predict vehicle reliability across vast and diverse fleets.

Assessing driver inputs as “behaviors” has become common place and key to improving fleet safety.  By narrowing in on the variable human factors associated with harsh driving, fuel economy soars 35%, all through the use of Telematics.  The vehicle manufactures are moving towards open architecture systems that allow us to tap into the onboard systems and combine with other data points unique to a specific business or industry segment.  This seemingly cooperative sharing of data is not out of generosity, but rather recognition of the inevitable dependencies of a connected world.

Riding the Fleet Management Digital High Road

There is a lot of talk about how vehicle Telematics the precursor to the driverless, autonomous car.  As exciting as this is, we can expect a progressive evolution in the space that has greater and more immediate mass adoption opportunity.  Better connecting the driver to the vehicle is an example.  Think how integrating today’s small wearable devices that measures health, fitness and fatigue alongside vehicle operating data could dramatically improve highway safety. Driving under the influence- eliminated.  Standard Hours of Service reporting- antiquated.  Here and now.

Fast forward to the next phase of Telematics involving vehicle-to-vehicle or vehicle-to-infrastructure communications and we really experience game changing technology.  We move from data capture and reporting to on-board actions based upon real time conditions.  In the simplest of examples, traffic enforcement will be a thing of the past – vehicles (not drivers) will simply obey speed limits.  Efficiency and performance breaks though the barrier of an individual vehicle. People, vehicles and roadways become an interdependent ecosystem.

So why then, considering the present benefits, ROI and promising future isn’t every fleet operator already jumping on board with Telematics?  I’m sure my great grandfather asked similar questions when horses were still plowing fields his tractors could complete in a fraction of the time.  The truth is Telematics is not a product but rather a new way of business and any time a new industry or technology is introduced there will be initial barriers to overcome.

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The main goal of this course is to provide the knowledge and the skills to manage any kind of vehicle fleet through all its activities and key aspects. The course is aimed to executives, middle managers, fleet managers and any professional related to fleet management.

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First, the rewards require a personal commitment.  Telematics is a tool and not unlike the earlier steam engines, one must learn how to use it and adapt it to the business, something not everyone is anxious to do. One large fleet introduced telematics and improved fuel efficiency from 8.7 gallons per day per vehicle to 6.8, a 30% improvement.  Impressive, but it wasn’t telematics that achieved the results.  It was a strong management commitment and an already extremely focused organization that was able to leverage telematics to achieve results.  Many organizations are comfortable staying the course and do not have the fortitude or discipline to introduce new technology, regardless of the benefits.  In such cases complacency will eventually succumb to competition, adoption considered only after it is required for survival.  This pattern is repeated throughout history.

Second, adoption of Telematics requires a firm grasp on change management.  I have written before on the pitfalls of introducing a telematics solution without a clear change management plan.  Opposing thoughts can create division and keep an organization from even considering new technology.  Telematics will touch nearly every department and group of the organization including maintenance, safety, finance, IT, Human Resources and of course the vehicle operators.  A poorly defined or communicated purpose can needlessly spiral into privacy or labor relations concerns.  Everyone will have a slightly different take on how the technology will affect their respective areas but all share a common discomfort of trusting a new technology.  Trust and comfort is built from knowledge.  “How can I talk to my drivers about telematics if I don’t understand it myself?” is a comment I remember from a supervisor struggling with an early implementation.  Establishing a road map that includes specific objectives and targets is key to avoiding early “boss in a box” perceptions.  Build upon basic measures that are easily understood and achievable.  “Reduce idle time from 28% to 10% over the next 60 days” is an example of an entry fuel efficiency goal that everyone can buy into.  Goals and targets associated with driver behaviors should be introduced incrementally as the program matures.  Start with scoring drivers on speeding events, post overall results and show progress.  Resist the temptation to add too much too soon.

Lastly, potential fleet customers can be confused by various service offerings and are quickly frustrated by the lack of real world Fleet Management experience with many of the service providers.  The industry has been inundated with easy entry, watered down solutions leading to a proliferation of over promising and under delivering.  Customers share disappointing results or ROI’s that never materialize due to poorly planned implementations, installations or limited functionality of the systems.  It is said 75% of the innovation is being driven by 25% of the providers.  Many are simply resellers of GPS tracking products already outdated by the demands for reliable Telematics.  All of this adds to the trepidation of would-be adopters trying to navigate a real Telematics strategy and understand how to use the products for real world results.

There is no doubt this is an exciting time for fleet operators.  Telematics is a game changer.  Adapting the technology to your business is essential and not as daunting as it may first seem.  Choose wisely, plan carefully and implement thoughtfully.  Remember, Excellence is not a final destination, but a path traveled along the Digital High Road.


Greg MillerGreg Miller

Accomplished Fleet Management Professional