The connected fleet
The world around us is becoming ever smarter, with machine-to-machine (M2M) communication automating our lives.
Transport and mobility sits at the heart of this connected ecosystem, with tech advancements promising greater convenience along with quicker, cheaper and more sustainable journeys.
Automotive and fleet transport innovations are providing the foundation stones for developments in the connected car, smart mobility and autonomous vehicles. What’s more, these digital forces of change are altering the ways that we work and the ways that businesses plan their operations.
Connected business vehicles, underpinned by telematics solutions, have already become so much more than simple modes of transport – they are data hubs, providing insights into everything from the activities and performance of the mobile workforce to vehicle maintenance, driver safety and service delivery.
And as we look to the future, they are set to become increasingly integral to the evolution of the internet of things (IoT).
Raising the bar in fleet performance
The M2M fleet has been transformative over recent years, with companies using data sets sent from their vehicles to save money and streamline their operations. What’s more, year-on-year, the opportunities for doing have continued to grow.
Car manufacturers offer a variety of connected vehicle services, initially designed to serve the consumer market, helping motorists control and monitor vehicle features from their smartphones, from vehicle health to fuel and oil levels.
Such telematics systems have developed and been expanded for commercial customers, but functionality has remained limited in comparison to what has been offered by aftermarket solutions. Furthermore, lack of standardisation for mixed fleets has proved a problem.
Aftermarket systems can also offer access to vehicle diagnostic information, providing fleet managers with early warnings when mechanical issues arise, but they can do so much more.
The core track and trace functionality of telematics systems originally opened the door to greater fleet visibility, helping to manage the mobile workforce and cut costs, most notably fuel spend. These traditional tools now represent just a fraction of what today’s powerful systems can offer.
They can help support companies’ risk management programmes, for example, by providing insights into driver behaviour, monitoring their performance standards behind the wheel, and profiling them according to the number and severity of incidents, such as speeding or harsh braking. This is helping businesses target driver training where it is most needed and ensure road safety initiatives are sustainable.
The fleet management data hub
The true potential of M2M, however, currently resides in the ability of telematics to act as a ‘connectivity hub’. This has extended the possibilities for paperless, automated end-to-end processes.
Instead of existing in isolation, different business technologies are being seamlessly integrated to raise the efficiency bar. Data from one area of an M2M system is being combined with data from another, using one single platform and interface, to provide greater levels of operational insight.
Fleet data, for example, is being integrated with business information from a range of sources including CRM and ERP systems, accountancy software, routing and scheduling suites and mobile hardware. Consequently, we are also increasing seeing this connected data being shared across different departments, from finance and HR to sales.
From a business performance perspective, this means more dynamic operations.
Integrated mobile apps, for example, can process orders or provide proof of delivery for drivers out on the road. Information from the customer can be relayed directly into these back office systems. Customers can also be kept up to date with automatic email or text notifications that make them aware of ETAs and changes to schedules as they happen.
Most recently, this type of single platform technology has offered businesses an invaluable solution during the coronavirus pandemic, helping enable the remote working of management teams and to keep information flowing while minimising the number of person-to-person interactions.
The road ahead
Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) – where digital platforms provide real time information on a range of transport options for businesses and individuals – may still be in its infancy as a concept, but it is gaining traction.
Connected vehicle platforms offer a foundation stone for MaaS development, generating important cost, activity and behavioural insight data that can help mobility software solutions optimise the financial, efficiency and sustainability impact of all journeys.
Furthermore, as demand for shared mobility intensifies, and employee mobility allowances are increasingly adopted by businesses, M2M data will become more integrated with transport payment services, and ever more integral to travel planning.
Another area the connected vehicle is set to play a vital role, as we glance to the horizon, is in the evolution of autonomous transport.
Although connectivity is not critical to the development of autonomous vehicles, data exchange with other vehicles, infrastructure, external devices and networks is likely to be important in their safe and efficient operation.
Developments in connected infrastructure supported by the roll out of 5G, for example, are expected to support advancement in mapping services, hazard warning technologies and real-time traffic updates.
Research into collision-avoidance systems, meanwhile, is using live vehicle-to-vehicle radio messaging to enable them to ‘cooperate’ and manoeuvre around obstacles, including each other.
A great many technological, logistical and regulatory hurdles must yet be overcome before autonomous vehicles become commonplace on our roads, but the will and ambition of all interested stakeholders suggests it will only be a matter of time before they become a cornerstone of our connected M2M world, catapulting fleet businesses into an exciting new era.