One of my favorite stories is of how my parents first met. And since Valentine’s Day is this week, I thought this was the perfect time to talk about it.

They are high school sweethearts, coming up on 47 years of marriage this year. I would be remiss if I didn’t first point out that they are two of the coolest people I know. I have always admired their love for each other and wanted to take a minute to tell you how their young romance began. It’s relevant to fleet, you’ll see…

It happened in a suburb west of Chicago. Spanish class at Downers Grove North to be precise. Apparently, Dad was struggling with his “palabras,” so the teacher asked my Mom to tutor him.

Not long after, the pickup line came. “My what beautiful blue eyes you have,” he told her, something akin to the Big Bad Wolf – haha – I made that last part up. But I thought to myself, she doesn’t have blue eyes. Turns out she wore fake contacts to get the look. Love that lady.

Now by this time, Mom was preparing to get her driver’s license. She took a driver’s ed class and braved the exam without hardly any practice behind the wheel. One time out with my Grampa and the simulator from class was all the experience she had.

Well, she failed. As she was recalling the details of this day, she said she thinks she blew it when she hopped the curb during the parallel parking portion of the exam. Seems she has never let this one go, as I have personally seen this lady drive around for miles to avoid parallel parking to this day.

To gain some brownie points, my dad took it upon himself to teach her how to drive. He had a 3-speed with a bench seat that allowed them to sit close, his arm wrapped around her shoulder. He started first by having her shift so he didn’t have to move his arm. I mean really, how adorable, right?

But from there, the driving lessons continued, and eventually he gave her the coaching needed to pass her test the next go-round.

So, as it turns out, my Mom was my Dad’s Spanish tutor. Dad taught Mom how to drive. And the running joke to this day is that he can’t speak Spanish and she can’t drive. Makes me laugh every time.

Now, I have witnessed my father in Mexico, and I can confirm the first part of the joke is true. The latter, however is not. My Mom is a very good driver, and a safe one to boot. She (almost) always drives the speed limit, unless she’s running late…which is hardly ever.

And while my Dad impressed on me his knowledge of how to drive a stick shift without burning out the clutch, Mom gave me many valuable driving lessons. I remember her brave soul riding shotgun once I got my learner’s permit and faced the roads for the first time.

She taught me things like why I should never cross a double yellow line. She helped me understand how to lift my vision, scan the road ahead and watch for moving objects. She also taught me how to take curves, stop for school buses, and keep my hands at 10 and 2. On a funnier note, I believe the year I had my learner’s permit is also where I may have learned there was a thing called the “Oh S#it” handle. See, isn’t she great?

Mom also signed me up for a driver’s ed class. While I thought at the time this was just to keep insurance costs down, it no doubt helped me be a safer driver in the long run.

Now my class was at least a decade ago – OK maybe two (wink, wink). But I still remember the foundations of what it takes to be a good driver. But does everyone? And do I really?

It has become clear to me that many drivers believe they are the “good drivers.” It’s everyone else that you can’t trust.

We recently teamed up with eDriving to create a crash-free culture among employees who drive for work, including our own LeasePlan drivers, like me. I’m using their Mentor smartphone app, and now I get a weekly performance report to see how I’m doing. Did I improve from last week? Did I move ahead of my peers? Am I in the top 10 percent of my company’s fleet drivers? I can even see details of my behavior, from acceleration and cornering to braking, distraction and speed.

And I can view the performance of each trip right from my phone. So, instead of assuming I’m one of the good drivers, I have to face the reality that I could do better.

The app is, luckily, smart enough to know where I could use some help. And like a good mentor, it delivers quick and interactive 2 to 4-minute videos that give me tips and tricks for improving. It’s like a cross between a mini-driver’s ed refresher course and video game, delivered straight to my phone.

To sum it all up, it’s more important than ever to be safe on the road. Having seen first-hand the effects of roadway incidents, I’m glad I have a tool to tell me how to improve so I can do my part in making the roads a safer place. Here at LeasePlan, we also see the cost of incidents, and it’s high. Fortunately, most of these incidents are preventable – NHTSA studies suggesting as many as 94 percent – because they are caused by human behavior.

And, while classic behind-the-wheel driving instructors live on for young drivers like Mom, continuing education can carry on for your employees, too – right from their phone. It’s like learning on demand, anytime, anywhere. How convenient, and effective!

So, you may be asking yourself – when was the last time my fleet went through driver’s ed? Or, have I required them to take a training course recently to improve their skills? How do I know who is at the highest risk? Read more about how to manage your risk in our data-driven safety eBook.

Whether a mobile or online experience is right for your fleet, we can help. Contact us to find out more about how to create a culture of safety!


About the author

Alison Kirkland is the marketing director at LeasePlan USA. She is responsible for strategic planning and leading the team’s execution of marketing efforts. From product messaging and campaigns to events, digital marketing and PR. Ali is passionate about her work, and after 14 years with the company, she is excited about the transformation to the new LeasePlan. As a fleet driver herself, she enjoys working within her own organization to improve the client experience. You may even see her blog now and then about her life as a fleet driver. Please comment, like and share!

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I want to start this blog with a short tale of my own UX (User Experience) superhero, the iPhone. The smart device that got everyone to do a “180″ and rethink UX in its essence. Is it time for the invincible superhero to grow up? Well, maybe, just maybe, some help from cars could be of use…

Imagine the scene as a young dad rushes into a Whole Foods store, on a sunny winter afternoon, in Georgia. In his hurry to grab this new high-end red blend and a gluten-free ham-and-swiss quiche, he has left his phone in his car – then, the two devices start to chat.

As the global market for smartphones has become besieged by devices of all shapes and sizes, a stressed post-pubescent iPhone talks with its older mobile device cousin, the car. They begin to discuss the challenges of reaching adulthood (yes – our automobiles are indeed centennial devices that are mobile… they come with wheels).

iPhone – “I am like a superhero, they said.”
Car – “You are …you are… aren’t you?”
iPhone – “I thought I was irreplaceable.”
Car – “Exactly…”
Car’s inner thoughts – “That’s funny… it’s like the 1970s for us. That poor young telephone, it’ll learn!”

Much like a frightened grown-up, the iPhone and its family of similar gadgets are facing a new stage in their lives. Almost everyone has one in their hands, and they don’t switch them as frequently as they once did before. But irreplaceability is still the case, isn’t it? We can’t substitute our smartphones because there’s nothing to change for. Smart devices need to believe that life doesn’t get dull when you get more responsibilities and different expectations.

iPhone Slowdown?
Last quarter, when Apple warned of cuts in revenue projection because of surprisingly sluggish sales of iPhones, mortals felt like their coronary arteries were getting blocked by an 18-wheeler. Suddenly, people had difficulty breathing. The news of declining sales sent shock waves to other players in the industry, like Samsung for example, and even usual supply chain comrades. But is the most successful device maker failing, or is it going through a life transition – are these devices just reaching maturity?

Humans around the world have chosen smartphones as their most inseparable piece of tech with about 4 billion of all 5.5 billion adults on earth having one (or two, or many) in their pockets. Jaw-breaking figures are often published for smart devices in every geography, like how many apps are downloaded every day or time spent on social media through these platforms. The point is: these devices are everywhere to be seen. People around the world hold more than 14.2 billion mobile devices according to market researcher, Gartner. From streaming, banking, gaming, chatting, etc… men, women, and children found meaning and applicability in carrying these things.

What would my “digital persona” say about me?
All previous UX boundaries have been broken by the smartphone ecosystem. These advances have played a significant role in how the [older] auto industry has found inspiration to ‘fuel-inject’ the passion back into their developers and designers to deliver unique driver and passenger experiences in cabins. The automotive industry is older than a century. Fleets of all kinds have been living in developed markets for a long stretch, where saturation is as common as long replacement cycles. In its most basic definition, market saturation is the state that emerges when the volume of a product or service has been maximized in a marketplace.

When it comes to in-vehicle UX, part of the OEM play here relies on building “digital personas” for drivers and occupants so that user’s preferences are captured, dissected and insights, then, provided. All the data gathered and the mining of analytics through ever-more-complex algorithms is aimed at connecting operators with their vehicles in more meaningful ways.

Substantial investments by automakers are flowing into designing mechanisms to allow drivers to engage with their cars (and be engaged) in touchless conversations with voice-enabled virtual assistants. By doing so, the hope is buyers will factor in the switching costs when considering another Automotive brand. Buyer: “I am kind of torn…this car knows me so well, and it took a while to get here… I will probably stick with my brand.”

Having learned much from decades of genuine development in mobile tech, OEMs have been inspired by smartphones to build and/or acquire new technology to deliver on the promise to make drivers and passengers’ daily routines more meaningful. The challenge has been how to adapt and adopt the schizophrenic one-year consumer electronics change cycle (let’s call it “CES ready.” Here we go, Vegas!) without giving up much of their heavy-labor margins to the electronics industry.

Superior UX is non-negotiable. Period.
“Cars” have always looked up to the “iPhone” (and its colossal universe of creative think designers, marketers and developers) to mimic what is now labeled as “minimum user expectation.” If you have a smartphone – and I am sure you do – and have taken an Uber before – you know what clean and compelling user experience is. Consciously or unconsciously, we demand superior user experience – frictionless, practical and easy. What is now regarded as the expected level of features has carried itself deeply onto how we choose our new vehicle purchases, too.

But can the “iPhone” get inspiration from a mature industry to get the depth needed and find meaning post-market congestion? As per BayStreet Research, iPhones were being replaced on average after two years in 2015, but that period has jumped to roughly three years now and is anticipated to increase. With increasing water resistance and stronger glass for its screens, smartphones are more resilient than they used to be, so that adds to keeping the device longer, too. The parallel with the Auto industry here is: the replacement cycles for smartphones have been lengthening as brand new models offer only minimal changes and improvements. This is logical when thinking about vehicle purchase cycles.

The Economist said the smartphone market slowdown doesn’t symbolize disenchantment, “quite the contrary…After a decade of rapid adoption, there is much less scope to sell handsets to first-time buyers as so few of them are left.”

iPhone – “People are keeping me longer.”
Car – “That’s a good sign, bud.”
iPhone – “I thought I was irreplaceable, and they will keep wanting me.”
Car – “Exactly… – I said that before.”

What can the iPhone learn from cars?
A large part of an OEM’s success comes from its vehicle’s trade-in value. Removing shortages from the equation, the highest resale value usually means a high perceived value for the brand. It depends on how desirable the vehicle is on the used car market. Automakers understand the importance of the second-hand market because the market can only take so many new vehicles a year (around 16 million in the United States alone). With that, more mature thoughts involve warranty services, performance, reputation and adaptability with green technologies such as over-the-air updates.

So, what is next for the “iPhone” and its alike gadgets? Will it consider how trade-in affects its future resolution? What can it learn from its (not so) distant mobile cousin? Will there be a time when the used market for iPhones will behave like the automotive sector? If it’s in excellent condition and has a clean history and few owners, is it more likely to be sold on the dealer’s used car lot for a good profit?

Who knows… change is undoubtedly coming fast, and that’s always exciting!


About the author

As executive vice president of transformation at LeasePlan USA, Smolka is leading the strategy to drive modernization and innovation across the U.S. subsidiary and launch the company further into its journey to deliver what’s next for fleet, mobility and connected vehicles. Smolka’s career has consistently revolved around digital transformation, developing cutting-edge technologies and leveraging the power of big data to create and deliver value. With a strong history of successes, Smolka is a proven leader poised to transform the fleet industry. Smolka has an MBA from Emory Goizueta Business School.



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LeasePlan USA, a global leader in fleet management and driver mobility, launched a ground-breaking new feature within its MyLeasePlan mobile app. Elle is an intelligent virtual assistant that gives fleet drivers quick and easy access to critical vehicle – and fleet – related information in real-time.

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Do you remember your first “real” job? With only a few days warning, and less than two weeks of training, I went from the receptionist to the fleet administrator for a 1,000+ truck fleet. And this began my adventure into the fleet world.

Mounds of paper
When I entered the fleet industry, paper was the norm at my company. Although society had begun the shift to digital, it was still slowly making its way into fleet. It seemed like everything was done the old-fashioned way and required lots of manual review time.

We received multiple monthly invoices that had to be checked for accuracy – a task that was incredibly time-consuming with no guarantee that items weren’t overlooked. And we managed our inventory with seemingly endless stack of papers.

While the shift from paper to digital had already begun, our system of hard copies remained at the forefront. Going completely digital – aka getting rid of paper – was still a scary thought for most people.

Welcome to the digital world
Over the years, we gradually shifted to digital systems. Invoices began to come electronically, which was nice since no one enjoyed flipping through a 100-page invoice to check each line item. Records were kept for new-vehicle orders in an electronic format, further simplifying the process.

Fleet management companies also made big changes, adding features like vehicle pick-up requests and note keeping to individual vehicle records that could be done with a few simple clicks of a mouse.

After seven years in the fleet industry, I made the switch to work at one of the fleet companies I engaged with during my time as a fleet manager – LeasePlan USA. Here, I have had the opportunity to see these advancements on an even higher level.

Welcome to the mobility world
With the rise of technological advancements in fleet such as connected vehicles, the rollout of even bigger and better online reporting began to emerge, and solutions like electronic tolls and violations management became possible. And with the introduction and adoption of mobile technology, the fleet management industry began to actively participate in the digital transformation the rest of the world was already experiencing.

Now, more than a decade since my start in fleet management, digital transformation has continued to advance at an ever-increasing rate. We are seeing the rise of autonomous vehicles, bigger and better analytics (more on this later) and mobility services are transforming fleet operations.

Those who are in the industry, both on the provider and the customer side, are going to have to expand their definitions of what makes up a “fleet” in this new world of mobility. Fleet companies will continue to innovate. And fleet managers will continue to explore new ways of keeping their fleet mobile, while focusing on the safety of their drivers and the impact on their budgets. And this probably means looking at the bigger picture to include total cost of mobility instead of just total cost of ownership.

Mobile technology: a game changer
Ten years ago, the smart phone was in its infancy. Now, it seems to be the driving force behind most of our lives, managing everything from our bank accounts, to our calendars, to our order at Starbucks.

With the advancement of mobile technology, applications that free fleet managers from their desks have emerged. Fleet managers can now monitor their fleet activities from a mobile app – something that barely seemed feasible just a decade ago.

Perhaps more importantly, this development has given drivers the ability to remain focused on their jobs by integrating tasks directly into their mobile phone. Things like getting their license and registration data submitted, reporting personal mileage and even getting vehicle order updates can be done from a mobile device through an app like MyLeasePlan.

This digital transformation has made it possible for fleet managers and fleet drivers to accomplish more in less time. In turn, it has helped companies find ways to reduce the cost of managing a fleet in an environment where the cost of running a fleet vehicle will most likely increase. For example, with our new interactive dashboards, you can see all your fleet data in one place to help you make decisions about your future, based on your past and present. If only I’d had that data at my fingertips to help me understand performance instead of paper and spreadsheets when I was starting my career!

In a nutshell
Digital tools are transforming our lives, both personally and professionally. I have been privileged to witness the changes first hand. I can only hope others are as excited as I am by what’s happening in the fleet industry and what’s next.

Are you ready for the transformation? Contact us today if you need some help navigating this new and exciting fleet world we live in.

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Data is king.* These three words are often repeated across many industries, but there is truth to the statement. As consumers and businesses progress into a more connected ecosystem, it’s crucial to optimize and maximize efficiency—and to do that, utilization of data in the proper way means the world.

Data makes the world go ‘round

Today, in the palms of our hands, we have access to nearly all the knowledge in the world. Our mobile phones can do things we would never have dreamt of just 50 years ago. We’re able to consume information at an astonishing rate, and it has created a visible shift in how we communicate.

As technology rapidly improved, our methods of communication shifted: from written letters, to fax, to email, to real-time communication in text messaging and chat programs. And this shift has made information available for us on demand. Companies spend a lot of money to ensure what shows up in social feeds or ad-based marketing are targeted to the desired audience —and they do so using data science – because it works.

Introducing the connected vehicle

It’s no wonder that in the time we moved from the wired telephone to being able to group video chat on our phones that another consumer item also became increasingly connected. And it’s not one that you might think of first: your car.

Cars, and subsequently drivers, hold a breadth of data—and in a world where data is king, not utilizing it is a travesty in and of itself. Our vehicles hold a wealth of information that, to most, is hidden under a sheen of mystery. We know it’s there, but we don’t quite understand how it works.

When our check engine light comes on, we panic. Our tire pressure notification light highlights and we feel inconvenienced. And we, as drivers, occasionally find ourselves going a bit faster than we should… and then we’re angry when we get a speeding ticket. Perhaps, you sit in your car to finish a call, letting it idle so you don’t need to deal with the inconvenience of your Bluetooth disconnecting.

Data is vital for fleets

Currently, utilization of data is crucial for proper vehicle performance and driver efficiency… and it holds even truer for businesses with fleets. If you’ve ever tuned into performance racing, you see people in pit crews holding a tablet with charts, graphs and figures moving about. Gone are the days where this is specific to just that demographic. As vehicles become more connected, understanding what data points are meaningful is as important as the data itself.

It’s important to monitor peak engine performance at all times for a race car to ensure the vehicle can continue driving safely at upwards of 100 MPH. However, you probably don’t want your drivers trying to go that quickly in your fleet vehicle. But if they do, it’s important to know that it occurred. And that’s where data collection from the vehicle comes into play.

Not all kings are created equal

If data is king, understanding and ingesting the data is queen. With tens of thousands of data points available, wading through the noise and excess to extract important and actionable insights is proven as a valuable service – perhaps from your fleet provider.

But the value in understanding data metrics extends beyond simple revenue generation. It’s understanding key performance indicators (KPIs) that measure how impactful certain datasets are. However, in a world where data is king, not all kings are equal. For instance, by understanding your specific behavior patterns, targeted ad campaigns can leverage KPIs to highlight the items most important for you.

Targeted ads show relevant products or services based on your prior search behavior and browsing patterns. Utilizing a vast pool of data across a large population, these advertising campaigns utilize machine learning and neural networks to target the people who are most likely to click the ad. All this data is accrued just by using your search engine or online shopping.

Much like search engines, vehicles provide data in spades—engine hours, engine temperature, diagnostic trouble codes, speed, acceleration, braking, location, fuel economy, distance traveled—and that’s just to name a few. The deluge of information can easily be overwhelming, and the vast amount of data must be corralled and normalized to be useful.

Data normalization, in essence, takes those tens of thousands of data points and derives the data into separate events. Events can be meaningful or meaningless—and the meaning is dependent on your fleet’s goals. For example, if increasing safety is your goal, the data will enable you to see how each driver performing. Then, you can target specific situations as necessary to reduce risky behavior such as, speeding, aggressive acceleration or harsh braking, which can lead to preventable incidents such as rear-ending.

Unfortunately, there’s no cookie cutter solution that fulfills a one-size-fits-all approach. And determining the right event data to optimize your fleet requires a thorough understanding of both the fleet and the data.

Not all data is created equal

Another point of distinction is that not all data is created equal, and should not be treated as such. Different OEMs provide different data points. And all of them use their own specifications to remain proprietary. Some OEMs provide more data than others, and the further back in history you go, the scarcer data becomes (across all OEMs).

It’s unrealistic to expect that a fleet is made up of all brand-new vehicles conforming to a uniform make and model. So, it’s important to understand that discrepancies in data and extrapolating the meaningful bits hangs in a fine balance. This balance is important to maintain through bringing data in from the best source possible for each vehicle.

The ultimate goal: to be data agnostic

Another term thrown around the data conversation and business intelligence utilization is data agnostic. What that means for the world of vehicles becoming more connected is: by sourcing data from different OEMs and from different vendors who make it their focus to bring that data to life, you can see a better picture of the fleet at large rather than conforming to a single data source.

Data agnostic insights are important because it shows the best possible data for each individual vehicle. This alleviates the problem of mixed fleets and tailors actionable insights to the best of each vehicle’s ability—regardless of manufacturer.

In a world where data is king, finding the right queen to reel it all in and give it meaning is a paramount decision. Find out how the power of data via telematics can help your business through our eBook, “How – and why – telematics drives value.”

 * LeasePlan is committed to ensuing we handle customer, business partner and employee data to a high and compliant standard. We were one of the first companies to introduce a set of binding privacy rules across the whole of our organization, and we have established a dedicated Privacy Office to make sure those rules are upheld. But this does not make us complacent. As technology develops and our use of data changes, LeasePlan is continuously working to improve our data protection policies, processes and systems.

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