There has been an explosion in the number of mobile apps available in the business car arena since our last look at the market a year ago. Jack Carfrae looks at some of the best available for fleet operators and their drivers.

Alphabet Alphaguide

Designed for customers of the UK’s third largest leasing company – and free to download to the same people – Alphaguide is something of a one-stop-shop for corporate drivers. It contains information and advice on vehicle ordering, maintenance and defleeting, plus helpful tips such as how to book in for servicing, windscreen repairs and a guide to short-term hire vehicles. Tyre fitters/vendors authorised by the firm can be located by GPS, and the My Vehicle function allows users to store insurance details and other such information.
There’s also a suite of accident management functionality, including an easy access line to Alphabet’s driver service centre and the emergency services, and an accident report facility with witness, third-party, location and photography abilities.

Mark Gibson, head of marketing and business development, Alphabet
“In essence, we’ve designed the app to act as a portable driver support resource throughout the entire lifecycle of their fleet vehicle.
“Fleet teams should spend less time fielding routine enquiries while drivers experience hassle-free travelling and can access important information while they are on the move.
“On average, people have 23 apps installed and have used nine of those within the past 30 days, while almost a third of time spent online is through mobile devices. With those kinds of figures, it made sense for us to launch an app to the UK market.”

Audi Mileage Tracker

Not only is this app free to download, you don’t have to be operating a fleet of Audis to use it. Its sole purpose is to make business mileage reports and expenses claims easier and more accurate, which it executes by tracking each trip via GPS and automatically generating an expenses report.
It isn’t a case of pinching the data from Google maps either, because the system logs journeys from door-to-door in real time, so it accounts for traffic jams and drivers deviating  from their usual route. Regular trips can also be programmed into the app and replicated later on. The reports can be converted to spreadsheets and emailed to colleagues and managers, so you don’t even have to print them out.

Nathan Dennis, fleet & aftersales marketing manager, Audi UK
“We wanted to help our fleet drivers and make their lives easier. We decided that the best route to do this was by offering them some kind of utility. mileage tracking and its tax implications was something that most fleet drivers could do with some help with. Coupling this requirement with the explosion in the ownership and usage of smartphones and applications led us to the development of the mileage tracker app.
“In the first instance we developed only for iOS, but the response has been so overwhelmingly positive that we are now looking into Android and Blackberry versions. It just goes to show that having utility at the core of your marketing really is important.”


Auto Windscreens Auto M8

Free to Auto Windscreens customers, this app from the vehicle glass specialist has six functions known as Assist, Stats, Trip, Fuel, Vault and Life. We won’t go into all of them in detail, but the post-prang Assist function is arguably the most useful, as it provides a direct line from a driver to the local police as well as the driver’s fleet manager, insurance company or broker, ensuring a speedy clean up after an accident. Photographs, voice recordings and further details of a shunt scene can also be recorded and compiled into a report, while windscreen technicians can be contacted via the same tool if the vehicle’s glass has been damaged.

The other features handle the more pedestrian aspects of fleet management including mileage data storage and reports, a petrol station locator, a policy document storage facility and reminders for servicing, road tax and MoTs.

Richard Barnes, creative director, Auto-m8

“We developed Auto M8 to fill a clear gap in the marketplace. Almost all existing motoring apps had only one function. Auto-M8 combines multiple functions, including fuel logs, trip tracking, due date reminders, document storage and accident assistance.

“Telematics can be very useful in helping fleet managers keep track of their vehicles, but it’s all too easy for drivers to forget about that hidden ‘black box’. Auto M8 connects drivers directly to the box via their smartphone to encourage responsible driving, and helps fleets control the accident management and windscreen repair process, all at the touch of a button.”

Specsavers Sight Check

This one’s a little off the wall compared to the other apps on these pages, but it’s arguably the most useful of the lot. Free to download to all, the Specsavers Sight Check app essentially allows the user to conduct an eye test on the spot. Developed in collaboration with optometry specialists at City University, it checks the user’s reading and visual acuity as well as carrying out what’s known as a fan test to check for astigmatisms.

When the test is up, the app analyses the data and sums up the user’s vision, risk factors and tells them whether or not they need an actual eye test, with a link to book one directly online. It also includes a version of the company’s ‘ask the optician’ tool from its website, which acts as a Q&A system for users with questions about their eyesight.

Specsavers is quick to point out that the app is no substitute for a physical examination, but it’s certainly enough to get employees to at least start thinking about their eyesight and whether or not they’re fit to drive, which can’t be a bad thing in terms of duty of care responsibilities.

Paul Carroll, director of professional services, Specsavers

“As an eye test, it’s a bit of fun, but with a serious side to it. It makes the user aware of the importance of regular eye examinations as well as helping them to appreciate that some people are more at risk of preventable eye conditions than others because of their family history.”


TomTom Webfleet Mobile

This app from TomTom focuses on operational benefits more than any other and behaves more like a software dashboard than a mobile application. In its latest form, the Webfleet Mobile app allows managers to issue drivers working in the field with new jobs (providing they have a TomTom Pro satnav device with them) and update them with additional information while they’re out and about.
Fleet operators can also keep track of drivers via the app and view business journeys by date and vehicle or groups of vehicles. The system generates estimated arrival times and allows businesses to view a traffic map, which in turn allows them to plan around congestion.
It’s also possible to send text messages straight to a driver’s in-car TomTom system and keep track of order messages, while managers get automatic notifications when vehicles enter or leave specific areas.  The downside is that it’s the only paid-for app of our selection, costing £6.99 from the Apple and Android stores.  

Giles Margerison, director, TomTom UK and Ireland

“In developing the Webfleet Mobile fleet management app we were very mindful of evolving business requirements – particularly those of service company managers who are frequently in the field, away from their office, yet who still need data about the activities of their fleet and mobile workforce to make quick, informed, business decisions.
“[This gives] businesses the flexibility to access important data on their mobile workforce, such as job ETAs, at all times, and critically to ensure their customers are kept informed. They can view details for all current orders, manage workflow and meet service agreements, and new jobs can be sent straight from a smartphone or tablet to a field workers’ TomTom Pro device.”

Vauxhall Roadtrip

Regular readers will be familiar with Roadtrip as it won best app in our 2012 Techies Awards. It’s another liberal manufacturer app that doesn’t require you to own the make of car in question in order to reap its benefits, nor does it cost anything.
Much like Audi’s Mileage Tracker, its purpose is to simplify business journeys and generate accurate expenses reports. It can operate across several vehicles and different mileage rates, too. It can also track trips via GPS as well as transfer information from journeys to other devices, and back up saved data.
Business drivers who carry out the same journeys regularly can save them within the app and refer back to them later to draw up identical expense reports.
The final report can be previewed on the phone and emailed directly to the accounts department, fleet manager or anyone else who is in the business of signing off expenses.
As a security measure, the app has a back-up function, which allows the user to save and back up all of the mileage data processed by the phone. It’s saved within a cloud system, so it’s even safe if the phone dies.  
At the moment, Roadtrip is only available to iPhone users, but it won’t be long before Vauxhall rolls it out across Android and tablet platforms.

Linda Unsworth, fleet communications manager, Vauxhall

“We launched Roadtrip in 2011 as part of our strategy to provide a fully integrated fleet solution. The app has nearly 9000 users who appreciate the time-saving and value-added benefits of the tool.
“The app also provides the facility to look-up competitor vehicles and mileage rates, check postcodes, build a library of journey favourites, track journeys using GPS, and generate expense reports downloadable to Excel spreadsheets.
“It will be available for Android and iPads soon.”  


Best of the rest

The explosion of smartphone and tablet usage and resultant boom in apps means there are more than ever that are of use to fleet operators, so we couldn’t fit them all in. There are a few, though, more worth mentioning, such as Volvo’s Oncall (pictured above, left) , which won the app category in our 2011 Techies Awards and creates business journey expense reports, as well as allowing drivers to operate elements of the car remotely such as the door locks and check the fuel level. The Mobile LAi app by Lex Autolease (pictured above, right), meanwhile, includes booking forms for services, MoTs and other such essentials as well as an emergency help function and a GPS locator for approved tyre fitters.

Fleets operating in and out of the capital will appreciate the Traffic View London app by Chris Oklota, which has views from the city’s traffic cameras and is designed to give a heads up before you hit congestion. Finally, Toyota’s Company Car Tax Guide app includes a handy BIK calculator, legislation details and a “quick consideration” guide. 

Apps: the next step

The smorgasbord of handy apps on these pages prove that the technology is becoming ever more useful to the fleet community, and it is now creeping beyond a straightforward download for a smartphone. Some firms are tipping it as a replacement for wired-in telematics systems, with the intention of reducing the need for a physical box in the car and the downtime that creates.

Greenroad is one of the first companies to pick up the idea and run with it and has effectively created a full telematics system running off the driver’s smartphone (pictured). It’s not as cast-iron as the usual black box that comes with your average telematics system, as the driver is required to drop the phone into its cradle and hook it up to a charger, but if compliance isn’t an issue then it makes a lot of sense.

The system picks up on hard driving and emits an audible warning to overly keen drivers, while a traffic light system grades their driving habits. Greenroad reckons that a large proportion of drivers treat the system competitively and aim to hone their driving so they’re constantly in the green, with top scores. 

It works on a subscription basis, similarly to most telematics packages, so there’s a regular cost rather than it being a one-off download. It’s a novel idea in every respect and could well be the way that apps and smartphones are commonly used in future.

 . Downloads as well as further information on the featured apps on these pages can be found on the companies’ websites and also the Apple and Android app stores.