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APPS: Useful tools of the trade or a case of form over function?

Date: 20 December 2013   |   Author: Jack Carfrae

Should apps be seriously considered by fleets?

There has been no shortage of smartphone apps pouring their way onto the market inside the past five years. 

Some of them are more than worth a fleet operator's attention - and lot of them aren't - but with so many appearing at such an escalated rate, it's worth assessing what apps actually bring to the table for the business car community.

Are they really worth the download (okay, a lot of them are free) or are they just a gimmick to drum up a bit of interest around the company that has put its name to the technology? And equally, is it a wise move to give your company's drivers yet another potential distraction on their phone?

Hitachi Capital is one of the leasing companies to champion the app. The firm won the Best App category in this year's BusinessCar Techie Awards with its Mobile Solution, which has a plethora of core fleet features such as the ability to prompt drivers to report any damage before their vehicle reaches the end of its contract, and advises as to whether a smart repair would be worthwhile.

David -Jackson -01National sales manager David Jackson explains why the firm invested in it: "People are very quick to embrace technology, but in their rush to get to the market they miss the real issues. The way people are doing stuff now is on the move, so we've tried to tackle the real issues.

"When a car is renewed, the big thing in the industry is end-of-contract damage costs, and everyone thinks they're going to get done. The app walks them through that and gets them to take pictures on their phone. That goes through to our remarketing team and they appraise the vehicle, and they then suggest whether it's worth getting a smart repair or just returning the car. It's a tangible benefit."

Hitachi's app also has a grey fleet tool, which takes the responsibility off the fleet operator's back and places it on the driver to update the details of their vehicle.

Jackson continues: "A spreadsheet is only as good as someone updating it. If you've got a list of 200 people with cars and someone changes their insurance details then it's a manual job to get that driver's updated details. The grey fleet element takes the onus off the employer and onto the driver."

Hitachi's app does have concrete benefits for fleet operators because it's targeted specifically at the business car arena.

Ghost in the machine

Not every leasing company believes that the app is the way forward, though.

Rather than developing individual systems for different platforms, Lex Autolease effectively decided to leapfrog the app and just make the new website compatible with every platform - iPhone, Android, Blackberry etc. - a move it believes will be significantly more practical than developing a suite of apps.

Christian Hook, e-commerce manager at Lex, explains why: "We were the first to market with the Mobile LAi [Lex's existing app] and having seen how the market has progressed, there are quite a lot of similar apps around.

"There are bits of functionality offered by different ones that are good, like the mileage tracking on Vauxhall's Roadtrip app, but no one app offers everything company car drivers need.

"People have been quick to jump on the bandwagon. In some instances, there has been the option to book a service [as part of an app] but that just takes you through to a page with a phone number to ring - that's not good functionality."

He continues: "It's hard to always use apps. I understand that there's some kudos to having an app and it looks good in your marketing material, but if you can have swipe functions on your website then you're offering the same experience to all users.

"We're also making use of the capability of the device [smartphone or tablet], such as the ability to upload accident photos and use GPS coordinates."