Remember the days of fax machines, typewriters and word processors, when data analysis relied on brainpower? Fleet managers today rely more on byte-generated intelligence.

Today's software offers organisations benefits stretching far beyond the limitations of packages that arrived with the inception of the digital age.

Gone are the days of what Chris Black, commercial director at vehicle leasing company LeasePlan UK, calls "static, two-dimensional data with basic functionality".

Packages today provide instant, or real-time, added value which can help drive strategy.

"Historically, fleet data was limited and could only provide answers linked to what was logged on the system," says Black. "Now, however, it's far more advanced and can provide a more comprehensive picture of how a fleet is performing."

It can even make recommendations based on the data it has access to, such as identify who drives well and who does not, to give fleet managers "a more holistic view" of the their fleets' status, he adds.

This has three main benefits: safety, sustainability and compliance. It gives fleet managers a wealth of information at their fingertips and they can use this information to drive their decision making.

The application of such insight helps cut costs because problems are identified earlier and downtime can be managed far more effectively because of proactive servicing.

Black says defects that have the potential to cause significant problems can be identified virtually instantaneously, reducing the likelihood of them becoming bigger problems and causing vehicles to be off the road for longer.

Here we look at how software can help a fleet, and what is in store in the future.


Better, more manageable data

Marcus Bray, head of sales at fleet management company Fleet Service Great Britain (FSGB), says that many fleet management companies have historically provided customers with a service that generated reams of paper-based reports to justify their actions.

Fleet managers would then, "if they could be bothered", be tasked with analysing the reports to find anomalies – rogue vehicles and rogue drivers.

Peter Golding, managing director of FleetCheck, which provides fleet management and vehicle tracking programmes, says the evolution of software in recent years has "very much been driven by availability of more and better quality data".

There are now a far greater number of integration options from a wider choice of suppliers, partners and business users, all of which can be imported into the system to provide really detailed analysis in almost every area of the fleet.

"The best software today helps fleet managers configure that data into formats and reports that allow them to write, measure and meet their strategic aims," he adds.

It is all about providing a better insight, control and understanding over the fleet's entire operation.

Good fleet software can now be used to efficiently handle all core operations in a largely automated manner, which can potentially free up time for the fleet manager to spend on other issues.

"We believe that today, this is really what fleet software is all about – enabling the fleet decision-maker to configure the system in such a way that it takes care of fleet fundamentals within carefully chosen parameters," says Golding.


Ease of use

Major strides forward have been made in ensuring the latest software is relatively easy to use.

Chevin Fleet Solutions managing director Ashley Sowerby says the reduction of manual data entry, easy integration with a wide selection of related software and ease of use have been big advances. His company recently launched FleetWave Forms that allow organisations to build their own customer data collection app.

Employee company car selection is an example, he says, of the latest innovations – offering a graphical vehicle builder tool and software that calculates the best lease price and management of the benefit-in-kind tax in the background.

The number of mobility functions such as pool vehicle booking systems has increased, and easier to use technician tools have been created for use in the workshop or out in the field.

"Since these tools are easy to use, little training is required which increases user acceptability," says Sowerby.


Benefits

Martin Evans, managing director of Jaama, says the return on investment (ROI) of comprehensive software deployment falls into financial and non-financial categories.

"Utilising technology to bring operational efficiencies typically requires investment. Fleet managers must understand what they need and quantify the benefits within their business case to obtain budget approval," he says.

"Successful business cases will typically be along the lines of potential efficiency improvements in addition to making their processes more robust from audit and compliance perspectives."

Fleet managers can quantify the amount of administration time they will save, for example, as well as the ability to deliver huge operating cost savings through efficient management of their fleet and grey fleet and the associated duty-of-care obligations against the investment required for a new system.

The other part, which is more difficult to quantify, says Evans, is the potential costs of being legally non-compliant around areas such as licence checking, general vehicle compliance, and recording driver CPC (Certificate of Professional Competence) details.

"Not only is compliance critical from a legislative perspective, but it is also crucial in respect of corporate image and a company's ongoing focus on cost reduction," he says.

"It is also vital that companies are able to demonstrate to customers that their fleet is as safe and compliant as is possible. Ideally, that objective should be shown to be achieved by all data being stored in one location so it is easy to access along with a complete detailed audit trail. So the ROI falls into financial and non-financial categories."


Smartphones and PDAs

Smartphones are being used to link with fleet software in numerous ways.

"It is an exciting area that we believe will develop more in the future," Golding says. "The most useful are those that allow drivers to record information such as mileage and other aspects of vehicle use, and those that enhance safety."

He believes the most useful safety software allows drivers to carry out and report the regular safety checks required under employers' duty of care.

"These can then have a definite and positive impact on both attitudes to fleet safety and the processes used, especially when it comes to commercial vehicles," he says.

Features offered by some of the latest smartphone apps include:

* Interactive notifications, prompts, reminders and alerts

* The ability to arrange bookings for service, maintenance and repair, including tyres

* Facility to report incidents or breakdowns using GPS-enabled location services

* Uploading of images to capture incidents and vehicle condition

* Real-time updating of vehicle mileage

* Multiple vehicle management options

* Bespoke check-sheet for vehicle condition reporting

Evans says smartphones and driver personal digital assistants (PDAs) are a good route for enabling driver 'self-service' with the constant need for fleets to do more with less resource.

"Driver app data gives real-time information on both vehicles and drivers which means fleets can be more dynamic and take immediate remedial action."

Driver behaviour apps are also available which give drivers instant feedback and advice.


Return on investment

Evans says ROI for the majority of end-user fleet customers includes, for example, risk and duty-of-care management along with legal compliance.

It provides the optimum time to dispose of vehicles before they become too expensive to maintain.

Software identifies high-cost or 'rogue' vehicles and high-cost or rogue drivers. It also identifies fuel savings, and maximising fleet utilisation will avoid hiring when you have spare vehicles.


The future

Software is only going to become more intelligent, which bodes well for fleet managers being able to drive efficiencies and cost savings, says LeasePlan UK's Chris Black.

"I fully expect AI to become integrated into systems which will only increase functionality. While fleet management software is improving user experience, it still relies heavily on people," he adds.

AI should be able to deliver a seamless 'concierge' service, which, he says, his company has started to provide with UpTime Live – an app that enables proactive fleet management thanks to telematics such as fault code analysis.

The app alerts fleet managers to possible issues. It signals when an affected vehicle is close to an approved maintenance workshop so vehicle downtime can be minimised as problems can be fixed "near-instantly", minimising not only the repair time but the cost, too.

"As time goes on I also expect the implementation of tools that predict driver behaviour to evolve, with the potential to further enhance forecasts of how a drive or fleet will behave – similar to risk profiling but more intelligent," Black says.

He gives the example of a driver speeding at 3am on a quiet street. Even though this may be less risky than at busier times of the day, the purpose of such an application was to eradicate such risky behaviour in the first place.

"Encouraging drivers to be more safety conscious will not only reduce the number of accidents, but cost and downtime, too."

Black says to truly enter the age of the connected vehicle, manufacturers must start releasing more vehicle data.

"While this is starting to happen, having access to this data would really help the businesses managing those vehicles as it would provide a full picture of how the vehicle is being driven," he adds.

Once ownership and the use of vehicle data is unlocked then the profiles of vehicles will be enhanced significantly.

"It will enable the transition from traditional vehicle management systems to enhanced mobility solutions that optimise how the vehicle can be used, make it simpler to use it and enhance convenience while being flexible to accommodate individual demands."

The best data comes from the vehicle itself, says Black, so to provide the best provision, fleet operators need access.

FleetCheck's Golding believes the industry will see more of the same in terms of software development in the short term, but with more – and higher – quality data imported into the system, enabling fleet managers to make better, more informed decisions.

Further into the future, Golding believes we will start to see software increasingly suggest courses of action to managers based on the data that is being recorded.


Q&A: Steve Mulvaney, head of fleet, VPS Group

Having immediate access to a wide range of data through a fleet management software system has helped VPS Group improve processes and efficiencies.

The company, which provides protection of people, property and assets on a temporary or emergency basis, does not use in-house software, but instead logs into its fleet management partner's system remotely through a customer portal.

"The portal holds all our vehicle data along with our driver information," says Steve Mulvaney, head of fleet at VPS Group, which has 570 vans."I use it to run reports around costs, service and vehicle off-road time – I can see all the data I need at the touch of a button."

The data is driving savings on the VPS Group fleet with vehicle performance insights informing actions that bring down costs.

Driver performance data comes from a variety of sources including telematics, details of any fines and collision history. This allows Mulvaney to identify any issues and take targeted interventions if needed.

The fleet management software system also takes information directly from a VPS Group driver phone app.

This includes data from a daily walk-round van check to ensure compliance, while the app also provides interactive notifications to drivers, as well as giving them the ability to book appointments such as services and tire repairs.

Source: FleetNewsUK

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