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The Future of Fleet is Managing the Connected Vehicle Ecosystem

November 27, 2017, by Mike Antich - Also by this author

In the next decade, several major megatrends, such as autonomous vehicles and mobility management, will begin to disrupt the fleet industry. One thing is certain; the term fleet management will soon become inadequate to fully define the scope of our industry and it will be viewed as an anachronistic label. In addition, there is a third concurrent megatrend driven by embedded and aftermarket vehicle technologies, which will be the catalyst of an expanded fleet business model focused on managing a connected vehicle ecosystem. This fleet ecosystem will encompass not only the vehicle, but also the occupants of the vehicle – the mobile workers – and, more importantly, the work they performed and the tools they use.

Shifting Away from a Vehicle-Centric Model

Technology trends will ultimately steer the fleet management industry to build solutions targeted to the mobile worker. For its first 50 years, the fleet industry has focused on asset management, but technology now allows us to expand our reach to the mobile worker and, ultimately, to managing the work application itself.

The evolution of a connected commercial vehicle ecosystem will parallel the concurrent evolution of a consumer connected vehicle ecosystem. The trend will be to manage beyond the vehicle itself and transition into the domain of the mobile workforce. When vehicles are connected between themselves and the surrounding infrastructure, it will create a multifaceted conduit to provide new solutions to the vehicle occupants – both the driver and the passenger(s) – and the opportunity to digitize many of the off-line analog work functions that exist in today’s mobile work environment. The work vehicle will evolve beyond a transportation and cargo-carrying tool into a mobile connectivity work platform. The trend will stimulate the development of new vertical software solutions designed to streamline workflows for mobile workers. In this new environment, the term fleet management will only capture one facet of a broader mobile worker strategy. These expanded capabilities will prompt some fleet service companies to reposition and redefine their value propositions.  

Redefining the Mobile Workplace

In the coming years, the world of the mobile worker will dramatically change with the convergence of a multitude of technologies, such as mobility, augmented reality, cloud-based computing, the Internet of Things, Big Data, etc. Increasingly, corporations are looking for solutions that will increase field workplace productivity and efficiency to drive a much stronger growth curve in their businesses. As a result, fleet service companies have the opportunity to expand beyond the vehicle to also encompass the mobile worker and their work application. Historically, fleet has had a vehicle-centric mindset, but this emerging megatrend offers the potential to evolve to an employee-centric mobile strategy that manages the tools at a mobile worker’s disposal, including the vehicle. According to International Data Corporation (IDC), the U.S. mobile worker population is growing and is expected to grow from 96.2 million to 105.4 million in 2020. In the future, it is not inconceivable to foresee formidable software providers entering the mobile worker space who today are not present. As they develop the domain expertise in the fleet space, third-party software providers will build solutions and products for corporate customers and their mobile workers. As this new business model emerges, it will change the competitive landscape and attract new players into the fleet space.

In the late 1990s, the fleet management industry made a rapid and breathtaking transformation from mainframes to web-enabled fleet management systems. With a potential proliferation of third-party apps developed for mobile workers by non-traditional software providers, today’s fleet management systems have the potential to morph into software-as-a-service (SaaS) platforms. There will be many synergistic opportunities for fleet service companies and vertical software providers to partner to complement each other in terms of products, skillsets, and strategies.

Wearable Tech to Link Us to the Mobile Worker

One important component of the newly emerging connected fleet vehicle ecosystem will be wearable technologies. For those unfamiliar with wearable technologies, it is a wide range of miniature electronic devices worn for extended periods by a user on either his or her body or clothing. These devices will have numerous consumer applications, such as healthcare (continuous physiological monitoring, for example blood pressure or glucose levels), physical fitness accessories (heart rate monitoring or calories burned), or augmented reality devices.

In terms of a work environment, wearables give employees web-enabled access to the information they need to perform their tasks and continuously updates management on their progress without interrupting their workflow or interaction with a customer. Proponents are already talking about in-vehicle integration with wearable technologies worn by a driver. For instance, physical fitness monitors in the future will help vehicles determine climate control settings and measure the driver’s stress and fatigue levels, or even monitor a driver’s alcohol or blood sugar levels. Wearables offer many interesting and unorthodox fleet-related opportunities. For instance, could an employee wellness monitoring program for mobile workers be a future service offered by fleet management companies?

Traditional Boundaries are Blurring

The fleet world is fundamentally changing at the macro level where even the definition of what is a fleet is starting to blur. For instance, does Uber have a fleet? As the Ubers and Lyfts of the world transition to autonomous vehicles there will be new fleet management opportunities to ensure the vehicles remain clean, tires are regularly inspected, and vehicles are safely marshaled during non-working hours. In an increasingly complex mobile work domain, there most likely will arise a corporate desire to outsource the management of this technology-enabled work anywhere-anytime job environment. Could this need be met by tomorrow’s fleet service providers offering a comprehensive field management solution?

What is exciting about the discussion in this blog is that it only scratches the surface of what is possible. The ancient Chinese curse dictates “May you live in interesting times.” In hindsight, history will view us as not living in interesting times, but rather revolutionary times.

Let me know what you think.

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Mike Antich

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Mike has covered fleet management and remarketing for more than 20 years and entered the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2010.

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