28 Mar 23

Untying the Gordian knot of connectivity

The benefits from a data-driven fleet sound assuring and full of promise. But persuading upper management of ROI, soothing the surveillance anxiety of drivers or extracting the correct data to keep your fleet management from slowing down can turn out to be a Gordian knot. The industry experts at the Connected Fleets Conference detailed the priorities and showed how to set the proper framework. A common understanding is key to success.

The ecosystem for connectivity is governed by a quality push towards less misfortune in traffic and more environmental responsibility while driving costs down. This changing context doesn't necessarily spawn from inside a company. "Legislation gradually moves towards data collection and digital solutions as well. For example, emergency call devices and intelligent speed assistants have become compulsory for passenger vehicles in the EU," illustrates Paul Maupin, Marketing director at PTOLEMUS Consulting Group.

The standards of connectivity are also forged by the priority of electrifying car and van fleets, which is "politically motivated" as countries, even outside Europe, have fixed rigorous goals for the decarbonisation of transport. "More than 40 countries worldwide are outlawing the ICE engine, most aggressively in Europe," said Maupin.

So, fleet managers who are still hesitant to jump today and doubt if connectivity fits their purpose will be met by an environment that is legally pushing them. Maupin highlights how connected data can offer suitability assessments, recommending fleet managers on the potential of switching combustion-engined cars for EVs.

Bringing the benefit down to numbers, Mauping illustrated that "Fleet managers who are serious about bringing their TCO down can't neglect connectivity. Per vehicle, it represents a cost reduction of 10%, realised by savings on fuel, driver cost, and insurance premiums among others." 

Soothing driver concerns

Numbers like the above are a windfall for fleet managers needing to defend the connectivity transfer in a board room. But such benefits rarely suffice to make it acceptable on the driver's side. "The top concern by far for drivers, unions and worker councils is geolocation", says Agnès van De Walle from Arval Connect, "followed by the fear that managers obsessively start measuring working time and thirdly, the question on what exactly happens with the data." Clearly, drivers don't want their companies to interfere with the mileage they put on the digital odometer during private time."

The way around this is to opt for a customized telematics platform. "Only in a few specific use cases the advanced tracking option is necessary", advises Sara Belgacem (pictured above), Chief Information Security at Arval Connect, "Lifting the option still offers fleet managers most of the needed valuable data like CO2 emission, fuel expense, driver behaviour and servicing."

Companies with an indispensable need for tracking can introduce an exclusive trial period in which fleet managers don't have access to the data, but the driver can classify between private and professional journeys. 

Four steps to keep in control 

It's not only drivers questioning connectivity. Kalyan Yalamanchili (pictured above), Head of Digital Solutions Continental Tires, referred to a survey claiming that, amidst their transformation process, only 16% of fleet managers demand further digitisation. As complexity is the main obstacle to the seamless integration of data, Yalamanchili lays out four key steps that prevent fleet managers from slipping out of the driver's seat:

  • Prioritise. Look into a technology that is of critical importance to your operations. It's about a solution that brings maximum benefit.
  • Focus on what you need. There's no one-size-fits-all. Don't overload yourself with unnecessary options and related costs. Go for modular.
  • Don't add to the complexity. A fleet manager of a mid-size company quickly has to deal with ten to fifteen different systems, ranging from invoicing to driver management. Considering whether you need standalone or integration.
  • The usability of the system (UX) is vital. Drivers aren't software engineers. The interface must be as easy to use as sending a message to a friend on WhatsApp.

An interesting fact that Yalamanchili pointed out is that tires might only represent 5% of a fleet's cost but indirectly is responsible for 53% of costs through their influence on fuel, maintenance and safety. Continental supplies the software solution ContiConnect for commercial and heavy-duty fleets, suited for continuously operational or depot-based fleets.

When the data think for themselves

You can only hold a conference these days by concluding the day with an informative session on artificial intelligence (AI). The honour was for Fabian Seithel (pictured below) from Geotab, who elaborated on what's probably the hottest topic of these days. "Data powers AI, but this is a case of garbage in, garbage out. If those data are of poor quality, it breeds misinformation and erodes trust", is how he mentioned the pain point for the future.

What quality means is not completely universal across the fleet market, as he admittedly added that this would need to be determined partly by specific use cases.

Concretely, Geotab already recognises a few interesting fields today where AI can make a difference. "Predictive maintenance, like detecting battery health issues, is an important one. Next is providing a context for benchmarking. In that way, fleet managers can compare to peers under the right circumstances, avoiding that apples end up next to pears."

Finally, Seithel also saw a benefit in intelligent zoning based on stopping frequencies, which could be interesting for taco companies. 

The role of AI will - of course - grow significantly in the near future. And fleet managers will certainly need to augment their capabilities by receiving helpful insights from smart algorithms. Because the data flow looks to become a wild river in the near future.

"At BMW we are currently working on leveraging the speed of data, generating them per second in our car models", is the short preview that Gregor Schley, Manager Sales Digital Fleet Solutions for BMW Group, gave on what's around the corner for connectivity. 

The next Connected Fleets Conference will be held as a one-day webinar event on the 6th of June. Registration is free of charge.

Discover the key takeaways of the 2023 edition in this video!

Authored by: Piet Andries