The role of the fleet manager is rapidly changing. Expanding global supply chains, data overload, and encroaching connected car technology place substantial burdens on managers to change the way they work. Many are turning to fleet management system development providers for solutions. And rightly so, for only innovative fleet software and fleet platforms can help managers with the increasingly data-centric responsibilities they face.
In this article, we will examine 5 ways in which fleet management software development is helping fleet managers perform their jobs.
Cloud-Based Fleet Management Platforms
The shift from download-and-install software to cloud-based applications has been phenomenal. Worldwide spending on cloud services in 2017 is projected to reach $107.2 billion, and that is with only moderate adoption levels. In terms of how investment will change as more and more industries opt for cloud-based solutions, you might say the sky’s the limit.
It should come as no surprise, then, that most transportation solution providers now develop their applications for the cloud. And the advantages for fleet managers for using cloud-based software are numerous. Let’s examine a few.
Fleet managers seeking to replace outdated legacy systems can enjoy huge cost savings by turning to the cloud. Since the platform resides on the Internet, there is no need to purchase or upgrade expensive infrastructure components such as PCs, servers, and networks. Consequently, there is a reduced need for IT support staff.
Cloud services offer greater scalability than PC-based applications. Instead of having to scale-up the software application on numerous machines within an organization, only the single cloud-hosted application must be modified.
There are two reasons why applications are safer in the cloud. First, encryption and API keys help keep the application and its data secure. Second, cloud-based platforms are far less susceptible than PCs to data loss resulting from hardware failure.
With PC applications, data storage is usually on the local machine, or on a networked file server in the form of one or more hard drives. As data-hungry processes consume more of that storage, additional hardware must be added to increase the storage capacity of the system. Even though the capacity of onboard storage continues to increase and the cost continues to decline — 1TB HDDs are now less than $50, online data storage cost is much cheaper, and virtually limitless.
Depending on the application and the processes it must handle, some cloud platforms may actually be slower than a PC at performing some operations. Such examples are, however, becoming rare exceptions. In most cases, the Internet server on which a cloud application resides is going to have a lot more under the hood than even a high-end office PC or workstation, resulting in faster performance. Further, by letting the fleet management platform reside in the cloud, the resources of office PCs are freed up for other needs.
Fleet Management Software Features
It is not enough for developers to create fleet management software (FMS) that is just version 2.0 of existing applications. If fleet managers are going to invest in a new platform, it must not only be faster than the system is replacing, it must do more—a lot more. We will now look at a few of the must-haves that fleet managers expect (or should expect) from their next management platform.
As anyone in logistics can attest, no two fleets are exactly the same. Customer bases, supply chains, and fleet vehicles all differ from one company to another. These differences require fleet management applications to offer flexibility, if they are going to avoid frustrating the managers who use them. Even the management styles and personal preferences of managers can affect how they use an application.
To meet the dynamic needs of today’s fleet managers, fleet management platforms must allow users to easily customize how the application interacts with them. And we are not talking about simply changing layouts and charting preferences. If a manager wants a list of reports to remain an active item on the dashboard, they should be able to chose that option. If they want alerts to be sent to them via SMS texts, the application should accommodate them. If the manager needs maintenance records to be automatically sent to corporate when they are generated, it should happen.
Exactly how to best customize enterprise applications requires in-depth knowledge of the industry, as a whole. Even though it is easier for custom developers to provide applications that meet the needs of their clients, those needs will change over time so even custom fleet software solutions must allow for wide customization.
Automated Reports and Alerts
If fleet managers want anything in a software application, it is automation. The more that a platform can automate certain processes, the less burden there is on the manager to perform them. Operations that occur regularly are best suited to being automated, such as report generation and distribution and alert notifications.
Fleet applications that allow managers to automate common operations will quickly win the favor of managers who use them. The opposite is also true.
Integration with Existing Information Sources
A great percentage of fleet managers still use Excel sheets as their “databases”. Many also have reams of statements from fleet card processors, invoices from external repair centers, and gobs of data in a soup of formats from their supply chain. As fleet management software evolves, one can expect that improved integration of such information will be a natural byproduct.
The need for data integration is, alas, two-fold. New platforms must have the ability to easily import existing data stores that appear in standard formats. The last thing a manager wants to do when learning a new platform is to manually enter months or years of information that they may still need available to the system.
Second is the issue of dealing with an overwhelming amount of information that flows from customers and from the supply chain. Apart from some XML-based document standards, which some companies have adopted, there exists no standard data exchange format by which fleet managers, customers, and supply chain vendors can share data. The non-standardization of information limits the ability of even the most innovative developers to automate data importing from external sources. Processing the month’s repair invoices is easy to do; getting a hundred invoices in dozens of different formats to import into the system — all in a usable format — is an enormous challenge.
While it is not for us to suggest what format such data can or should follow, it is clear how such information will be shared at some precious point in the future: blockchain.
In a few words, blockchain technology utilizes shared databases that are secure, fast, and which can store any type of digital asset, from digital currencies to contracts. The banking industry is already investing millions in developing shared ledgers that will allow multiple institutions to share data on a common platform. Blockchain also lends itself well to, for now, small logistics networks where getting everyone on board with data standardization is feasible.
Developers who develop fleet management solutions with blockchain in mind will be wielding the very knife of cutting-edge technology in the fleet management space. Likewise, fleets that are able to transition into blockchain technology, now or in the future, will see huge paybacks in terms of operational efficiency and data quality.
Fleet managers do not just want data, they want actionable information that can help them make decisions. That means more than presenting information, it requires applications that can help managers make intelligent use of it.
Fleet management platforms must allow managers to intuitively prioritize information, and to direct that information to the correct process once, rather than every time they access a certain type of data. Auto-archiving must be a standard feature, and moving data back out of archive into an active state must not be harder than it needs to be. And flagging compliance issues should be easy to configure.
There are a whole host of data-centric duties that fleet managers will expect their applications to handle well. We cited just a few, and we didn’t include the obvious ones, such as fuel management and driver license renewals — those should not need to be mentioned, but must be included. The next generation of fleet management platforms will bristle with data management options and features, many of which we’ve yet to realize.
Reports are central to any fleet management system. We have already mentioned that adequate platforms will allow select reports to be generated and distributed automatically. Now, let’s look at a brief sample of the reports that must be included in any fleet management platform.
Operational Reports take selective information about the daily operation of the fleet and present it in ways to help managers make day-to-day decisions, and sometimes moment-by-moment decisions. Operation reports include the following minimum data:
- driver monitoring
- accident claims
- inspection and maintenance schedules
- vehicle maintenance histories
- warranty management
- driver license and permit expiration dates
- fuel consumption costs
- route efficiencies
Management Reports allow fleet managers to pull data from ongoing fleet operations and to analyze it in a manner that helps them make business-wide decisions. Such reports include:
- fleet cost and performance summaries
- vehicle life cycle management
- vehicle depreciation and replacement timelines
- fuel useage trends
- risk management analysis
- supply chain analysis
The Operational and Management Reports we listed are just a very brief sample of what can, and should, be included as standard reporting features. But beyond the standard reports a system generates, managers must have sufficient options to generate custom reports. If data is properly categorized, it should be easy for the manager to pull multiple data blocks into a custom report and to chart meaningful relationships between them.
For example, the manager may wish to plot fuel usage on top of driver experience levels and to have the report plot the correlation. Managers want this level of reporting flexibility.
Managers should be able to save custom reports, and those reports should have the same automation features as standard reports.
Of course, advances charting features go hand-in-hand with advanced reports.
Big Data Analytics
Big data can be of great value to fleet managers, just as it has proven to be of value in other industries. By collecting and analyzing raw, often unstructured data, big data analytics technology can identify information with a high relevancy value, and can show meaningful relationships between information items.
Big data analytics comes in two flavors, and each can benefit fleet managers in important ways.
In the context of fleet management, real-time data analytics empowers a platform to supercharge a manager’s ability to make operational decisions. Rather than swimming through endless streams of data, managers can use big data analytics to make sense of data in real-time, helping them to make better operational decisions.
If anything is better than understanding what is happening in a fleet in real-time, it is understanding what is likely to occur in the future. Through using powerful predictive analytics technology, fleet management platforms can alert managers to problems that are likely to occur, such as maintenance issues, supply chain breakdowns, and even vehicle accidents.
Connected Car Integration
Fleet management information systems (FMIS) are incorporating telematics as a way to show how fleet vehicles are performing. By tapping into the plethora of data originating from Internet-of-Things (IoT)-enabled sensors throughout the vehicle, that data can be used to improve fleet efficiency, to reduced downtime, and to improve safety.
A platform that makes use of connected vehicles must, of course, be used with a fleet of connected vehicles. However, since the majority of new vehicles will soon include connected car technology, it only makes sense for managers to choose solutions that embrace the technology.
The Challenge to Go Green
Reducing a fleet’s carbon footprint and impact on the environment is not only good for the company image, but instituting a policy of sustainability can have a positive ROI, as well.
With the heightened public awareness of environmental issues, next-generation fleet management platforms will increasingly provide tools to help managers “go green.”
Those tools will include the following:
Vehicle Selection Analysis
By pooling fleet vehicle performance data and performing proper analysis of it, fleet platforms can help managers identify which models of vehicles operate the most efficiently, thereby with the least impact on the environment. Long-term histories and large samples are required to make an accurate analysis, but large fleets with multiple models of vehicles can use this data to make “greener” purchasing choices as vehicles reach the end of their life cycle.
Driver behavior has a great impact on how efficiently a vehicle operates. How long a driver lets a vehicle idle, how aggressively he or she accelerates and brakes, and how fast they drive all add or remove several percentage points from the fuel efficiency and carbon emissions of the vehicle.
By analyzing driver behavior within the context of environmental impact, fleet management platforms can identify the need for training or corrective action. Even “tweaking” a driver’s driving behavior can have measurable long-term effects on the driver’s green footprint.
Fuel Performance Analysis
Every fleet management platform analyzes fuel usage, but analyzing it in the context of a green operational policy goes further. A platform feature that looks at fuel usage as a contributing factor to environmental impact will analyze the following:
- fuel efficiencies and opportunities for improvement — from vehicle to vehicle and from driver to driver
- fuel quality — not all fuel is the same and brands and grades must be considered
- fuel supplier — some fuel providers are greener than others
Like vehicle selection analysis, accurate analysis of fuel performance requires sufficient history to get the sample size required. However, few aspects of fleet operation have a greater impact on the company’s environmental impact.
Big data can help identify the environmental record of fuel providers.
Supply Chain Analysis
As with fuel provider analysis, a company that wants to minimize its total impact on the environment must look at its supply chain. Again, big data can empower a fleet management platform to identify suppliers that have a poor record of environmental best practices.
The routes that GPS information suggests may be the quickest in theory, but may not necessarily be the most efficient and, thus, environmentally friendly. Big data can pull in external information such as elevation changes that can have a hidden effect on vehicle efficiency.
Further, a platform analysis of vehicle idle time, route distance, and actual drive time can sometimes provide surprising information on where changes need to be made to support a policy of sustainability.
Any platform that provides environmental impact analyses of vehicle performance will pull vehicle maintenance into the context. Not only must vehicles be maintained properly and according to schedule in order to operate efficiently, but proper maintenance can identify issues that may not impact efficiency but that affect emissions.
How Ignite Can Help?
The auto industry is evolving, and so is fleet management. In each case, technology is both the driver of change, and the solution to the issues that subsequently emerge. The solutions fleet managers need, today, must incorporate vehicle technology, connected car technology, big data, and cloud technologies. Not just any developer has the unique combination of skills to succeed in this space.
If you are a fleet manager looking for a custom solution, or a developer looking for a technology partner to see your project through, Ignite invites you to consider our outsourcing technology services. We operate R&D labs across Europe, and have the expertise in-house to develop your fleet management platform. Why not contact us today for a no-cost consultation?