The future of software
20 November 2017
Author: Debbie Wood
There's going to be more data available as cars evolve, but what does this mean for software providers and fleets? Debbie Wood investigates.
Unlike many toys, fashion accessories and boy bands of the 21st century, big data is a trend that won't be going away any time soon.
Connected cars, autonomous driving, differing powertrains and a variety of driver assistance systems all have significant advantages for fleets from a duty of care and cost perspective, but bring their own set of hurdles when it comes to managing the significant amount of information that they provide.
As technology continues to evolve at lightning speed, it's going to become a key challenge for fleet managers to keep pace with these changes. When speaking with a number of fleet management specialists, it quickly becomes apparent that software has a big part to play in providing the solution.
"Helping fleet managers interpret the data and use it is a big issue," explains David Gladding, global sales and marketing director at Chevin Fleet Solutions. "And with the role of the traditional fleet manager changing, it's going to become even more important moving forward."
Access to software is an area that has drastically changed over the years, and is now no longer confined to a single unit, or an office or individual person. With more people developing varying skill sets dipping into fleet, simplicity will be key when it comes to using software systems.
"The only way businesses will be able to deal with the increasingly complex requirements of transport management and a move to mobility will be through technology."
"Fleet is changing and there are more people coming into fleet management, all with different requirements," Gladding says. "We will need to evolve to accommodate all these different objectives and skill sets. The data available needs to be meaningful for everyone with customisable options and KPIs for different people."
Albert Chu, vice-president at Masternaut, agrees. He believes that fleet software must now be easy to understand and use, particularly as more users are not fully dedicated to fleet management.
"Ease of use for fleet software is now critical. Just a few years ago, fleet software products were niche offerings, designed for companies with complex operational needs," he says. "Often, these fleets had dedicated staff for day-to-day fleet operations, and these employees could be expected to invest time to learn new digital tools. With double-digit annual growth rates, fleet software products - including telematics platforms - are now increasingly mainstream."
One way to provide easier access to data while on the move is through mobile applications, an area that's still pretty new for software companies. According to Gladding, the key for mobile apps to work in fleet is to make them relevant and help to eliminate paper-based processes, thus delivering a tangible cost benefit.
"Mobile applications in fleet management are a new area and something we've got our fingers on the pulse for," he explains. "Mobile is a part of our lives and it isn't going anywhere soon. We'd be foolish to ignore it. It needs to be relevant for fleets, and we're looking at compliance and risk management, especially when it comes to development to help decrease maintenance costs for fleet operators."
Jaama has also seen growth in mobile applications. The company is looking to evolve its service so it can offer the immediacy that fleets now require, while helping companies to relieve administrative burdens.
"There will be mind-boggling amounts of data coming out of vehicles and from other sources, which can be used to help fleets make better-informed decisions about how they do what they need to do."
"Mobile applications is growing month on month, and apps are brilliant for driver self-service and helping to better control a variety of functions," Martin Evans, managing director at Jaama, tells BusinessCar. "People want data at their fingertips, they want to see all the key fleet details at a touch of a button. With fleet departments diminishing, they're not always at the end of the phone for drivers anymore, and companies are getting smarter in how to get information and communicate with drivers."
Mobile apps can also help join the dots from a variety of information sources. According to Masternaut's Chu, the future of vehicle tracking and management will lie in successful technology integration.
"There will be more data available, but this data will come from more sources," he says. "In order to continue improving fleet efficiency, next-generation technology will need to effectively integrate these different data sources to deliver new insights. One way of providing easier access to data while on the move is through mobile applications, an area that's still pretty new for software companies."
However, too many apps can cause more work for fleet managers, says Gordon Lyster, general manager of ODO Drive. "There are certainly an increasing number of apps being offered to fleet operators by their fleet management suppliers. Most, though, are quite one-dimensional, taking care of an aspect like vehicle inspection, for example," he says. "These apps are certainly nice to have, but given their disparate nature, it means you need to install multiple apps on your phone and it makes the fleet operator dependent on their fleet management supplier, like a set of golden handcuffs."
Mobility is very much the buzzword in fleet at the moment and software is going to be integral to helping fleet managers and drivers choose the right mode of transport for each journey.
The role of the fleet manager is also changing into more of a transport management responsibility and Lyster believes technology is going to become even more important to help support that change.
"The only way businesses will be able to deal with the increasingly complex requirements of transport management and a move to mobility will be through technology," he explains. "Add to that the fact that full-time fleet managers are going to be rarer, and software that helps someone who does not necessarily live and breathe 'fleet' is going to be paramount."
The evolution of the autonomous car brings its own set of challenges and opportunities for software companies. However, according to Evans, whatever happens with car ownership, fleets will still need to understand journeys and the workings of the car to be able to effectively manage cost, so software will always be a requirement.
"It's great to have autonomous cars so we don't need to worry about driving, but we do still need to know about that asset, where it's going and who is travelling in the car, and there's still going to be a cost that'll need to be managed," he explains.
Gladding agrees. "When all is said and done, we transact with the vehicle and there's always going to be a need for that vehicle to be managed and maintained, regardless of whether it's physically driven by a driver or owned by a company," he explains. "These autonomous cars will be data hubs and we will learn more about the profile of the driver, which is exciting. I'm sure many people will want to get their hands on this data."
Masternaut predicts that in 10 years, fleet software will move beyond just fleet to become an integral part of overall company operations that could include manufacturing data or supply chain information, particularly as more operations are automated.
"An important development over the coming years will be to ensure fleet platforms can talk with a wide range of hardware and with other software systems," Chu says. "We have invested significantly in this area, building robust and rich APIs; our systems integration capabilities; and flexibility in how
we consume and generate data from different sources."
But Lyster goes further and believes that within a decade, fleet management software will become unrecognisable.
"Technology in vehicles is changing rapidly and the sheer amount of data that will potentially be available to the fleet operator will be overwhelming, so to make use of it, sophisticated systems will be needed," he explains.
"There will be mind-boggling amounts of data coming out of vehicles and from other sources, which can be used to help fleets make better-informed decisions about how they do what they need to do.
"But it'll take some very powerful software to crunch that big data into bite-sized chunks."