The best way to answer the question of what is the future of fleet is to look outside the fleet industry. It is important to remember that fleet is not an innovator of new technology; however, it is a very early adopter. With this in mind, watch how technology is evolving outside of fleet. Ask yourself: How can (or, how will) these innovations be incorporated into fleet management?
There are six trends happening outside of fleet that will have a major impact on the future direction of our industry.
Generational Shift to ‘Digital Natives’
A generational transition is occurring in the workforce that will result in more tech-savvy management. Ultimately, in the not-too-distant future, the work environment will be dominated by “digital natives,” employees who have never known life without the Internet. This new workforce and management will demand and accelerate adoption of technological solutions in fleet operations. I envision future generations of social media will become the new communication medium of choice. At most companies, the corporate technology environment has lagged behind consumer technology. This transition to a work place of “digital natives” will create greater demand by management and drivers that corporate capabilities match what is available in the consumer market.
Technologies ‘Disintermediating’ Vehicles
Disintermediation is a process that provides direct access to a product, service, or information without requiring a vehicle to travel from point A to point B.
One example of forthcoming disintermediation of vehicles is remote visualization technologies. I refer to this as “Visualization-for-Everyone/Anytime” technology, which I foresee becoming more prevalent, easier to use, and a popular communication medium for next generation of employees and customers. There will be a growing personal preference to communicate remotely versus driving in a vehicle to a specific location. Remote visualization will be viewed as a cost-effective and “smart” way to conduct business. Driving someplace to have the same one-hour meeting will increasingly be viewed as an “old school” business practice.
Another example of technology disintermediating vehicles will be the increasing sophistication of remote diagnostics and the use of software downloads to correct equipment issues. The next two or three generations of remote diagnostics will minimize the need for technicians to drive to sites to troubleshoot problems. It will provide increased ability to download corrective software versus requiring a technician to make an in-person visit to a client.
Autonomous Vehicles: Threat or Opportunity?
Everyone is talking about autonomous vehicles. The technology is here, but as they say, “the devil is in the details.” The key questions is how fast will autonomous vehicles become mainstream? My forecast is it will take longer than we think, as a new regulatory framework needs to emerge, while society addresses push-back from interests negatively affected by autonomous vehicles, and as our legal system adjusts to this new environment. For fleet, autonomous vehicles will be simultaneously a serious threat and a wonderful opportunity. The biggest disruption will be the widespread emergence of a vehicle-on-demand/pay-by-mile business model as an alternative option to the own/lease business model for both personal and fleet vehicles. In terms of fleet, the traditional concept of “one driver/one vehicle” will morph into a single autonomous vehicle servicing multiple employees.
Fleet in the Internet of Things
As society and all the devices used in our everyday life become connected to the Internet of Things, so too will the vehicle, which will be able to communicate vehicle-to-vehicle and have vehicle-to-infrastructure connectivity. From a fleet perspective, there will be a tsunami of on-demand real-time actionable data from vehicle connectivity. Today, the cutting edge is predictive analytics; tomorrow, this will morph into prescriptive analytics. This new connectivity will allow for real-time automated data-enforced fleet policy generating real-time digital driver scorecards.
In the near-future, wearable technology will become more pervasive and interconnected with vehicles. For example, wearable technology will be synched to vehicle to control climate control, seating controls, tinting of the windshield and other windows, etc.
Social Media as a Fleet Communication Channel
The new workforce of digital natives will feel very comfortable with the next generation of business-focused social media. Already, Facebook has unveiled “Facebook at Work,” which is designed to let businesses create their own social networks. Using Facebook at Work, employees can create a new work account to connect with coworkers. This account is separate from a personal Facebook profile, but works in similar ways. You can create a news feed to stay updated, join groups to collaborate, send messages, and get notifications about what's most relevant to the user. A connected workplace will be viewed as a more productive workplace.
Technology-Induced Growth Areas in Fleet
Technology also offers major growth opportunities for fleets. For instance, the exponential increase in online ordering will become an ongoing growth market for delivery vehicles. This involves managing new, unorthodox assets, such as drones for “last mile” delivery to remote locations and in congested urban areas.
New opportunities will emerge, such as the fleet management of corporate vehicle-on-demand services, especially those used in an autonomous vehicle environment. In the long-run, vocational fleets will become the dominant fleet segment as new business models emerge as strong alternatives to traditional sales fleets.
We are very fortunate to live in this exciting time, which promises to usher a new era of fleet management that will irreversibly transition our industry from an art to pure science.
Let me know what you think.