Products made in plants and factories in one location have always needed to be distributed to customers elsewhere; fleets of vehicles carried physical products and staff providing service. It is not just the commercial world, but also humanitarian missions, defence and government agencies also rely on efficient fleets to carry out their missions. The modern-day Fleet Manager is experiencing changes. Changes that have been brought about by technology, the preferences of business customers and consumers are all disrupting the status quo. These changes are creating opportunities for new players to lead the space.
We at Varasi, have been building digital platforms to enable Fleet Management solutions and this work has helped us form and shape a point of view we hope to present in this series of articles.
First, a clarification that ‘Fleet’ in the phrase Fleet management could refer to a number of different assets – it could be vehicles including automotive (cars and trucks), powered mobile equipment (forklifts, bulldozers, cranes), aviation (planes, helicopters, drones), Ships (Ships, boats, yachts) or rail. In this article, we will assume and make references to Automotive Fleet Management. The principles discussed here apply equally well with variances of course, to other fleet types.
Unless you are a provider of completely digital products or remote services, fleet management touches your customer and thus contributes and may even shape the customer experience. As part of the digital transformation revolution, every company wants to connect with, sell to, service and delight their customers. Any physical good or service needs to be safely and reliably delivered to the customer hassle-free and on time. Your own fleet management operations or the partner you rely on, impacts your customer satisfaction and your profit margins. What may appear to be contextual and incidental to your business could well affect or worse, erode the core.
The Fleet Management Actors
First, let us look at the various players who make up this space of Fleet Management.
- Fleet Owner-Operators – These are companies that own or lease and manage their own fleets. Ranging from Pepsico, AT&T, Disney, Walmart, and Amazon, the list goes on across the business world.
- Fleet Management Outsourced Service Providers – These are companies that may offer Fleet management as a service. They provide services to manage fleets that are owned by someone else. Element, LeasePlan and ARI are examples of such service providers.
- Fleet Support Service Providers – The service providers cover a gamut of services for efficiently operating and managing your fleet. These services could fall under two categories:
- Vehicle management – Services required to manage your vehicle from initial procurement to final sale – including preparing the vehicle, management of vehicle inventory, inspections, scheduled and unscheduled maintenance, repairs, title and registrations, processing of claims, compliance, resale or salvage.
- Value-added services – These are services that aid your fleet users on the road. These services include emergency roadside assistance, parking assistance, telematics, location-based services, loyalty programs and so on.
The Service providers may have different models to run an efficient operation with a combination of in-house personnel and outsourced service partners.
The Need for a Digital Platform
Most of the pain in Fleet Management operations today is caused due to friction in information flow and suboptimal user experience for the actors involved. A superior fleet management offering has to be backed by a strong digital platform that seamlessly brings together all the actors.
There are three core areas that the digital platform needs to get right:
- A stellar customer experience – this includes various stakeholders like fleet managers, drivers, partners, service providers, part suppliers and executives.
- Visibility into various aspects of fleet management operations – the ability to monitor, analyze and optimize any part of the fleet management value chain. This is critical to provide clarity into operating expenses (vehicle, drivers, expenses) with the ultimate goal to reduce the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)
- Integrate, extend and adapt – make it easy for partners, new technologies and systems to work with you
This can be your guiding light, whether you are investing in your own fleet management platform or seeking a partner to provide fleet management services.
Drivers for Transformation of Fleet Management Processes
Next, let’s look at some strategic pillars of digital transformations and indeed relevant to the transformation of the fleet management business process
- Partnerships – There are a number of innovations and technology shifts happening around fleet management – Electric Vehicles (EV), vehicle ownership, location-based services, cloud, and mobility just to name a few. Time-to-market and key partnerships to provide ever-increasing value to your fleet customers is the only way to stay in the game. Strengthening your core services with key partnerships is a great way to tap into new innovations and serve your constituents well.
- Analytics – You need to have the ability to monitor and continuously improve the key metrics that help you optimize your operations without compromising on service quality. Optimization of Fleet Management requires you to control costs. Some of the major costs associated with fleet management are:
- Vehicle – Self-financed or leased.
- Fuel – Fuel pricing, refuelling strategies and partnerships
- Repairs and maintenance – Preventive maintenance and emergency repairs
- Driver – Driver costs coupled with driver behaviour, driver training and monitoring driver behaviour.
- Route planning – Efficient route planning assisted by telematics
- Compliance – Driver and road safety regulations have to be followed and audited for compliance.
- Safety – Driver and vehicle safety is important. The ability to locate, help and even prevent accidents will lead to better operations.
- Utilization – Ability to plan vehicle and driver capacity to maximize utilization while having the ability to expand vehicle inventory for short-term demand spikes.
Your ability to collect, analyze and optimize data related to these costs and take timely actions to optimize plays a key role in your success.
- Technology – Technology can be a massive strategic advantage in this space. Most providers are using old antiquated digital platforms to run their operations. While it serves the core needs of fleet management, they are seriously challenged to provide the services and value that consumers and corporations have now come to expect. To list a few aspects of technology that are relevant
- Cloud – A modern 100% cloud-based platform
- Security – Identity and access management. Data security. Protection against cyber attacks
- Mobile first – The digital platform has to be a mobile-first platform for all stakeholders.
- Analytics – The ability to collect, analyze and monetize your data. You have to have a platform that lets you do more than just improve your operational efficiency. The data has a high potential for monetization.
- API – your platform needs to be easily accessible to your partners
- Expansion of Revenue Streams – The changing landscape and innovations in the automotive industry has given companies opportunities to expand their addressable market. There are many avenues that may lead to the expansion of customer base and revenue streams. A few examples:
- Data monetization – Being a platform of choice allows you to get visibility across the ecosystem. This lends itself to using data to improve and evolve the services of all the players.
- Expand customer base – Ability to expand the scope of services offered to your existing customers and also bring in new customers.
- Innovative pricing strategies – Having a larger scope and visibility allows you to package your offerings in innovative ways e.g. monetizing underutilized vehicles, loyalty programs, financing options
Some of the trends that are causing major disruptions in the fleet management space:
- Electric Vehicles -. Slowly and steadily both consumers and businesses are moving towards EV. Major brands including Amazon, FedEx and UPS among others have announced big investments in EVs. Government regulation and policies around the globe are increasingly leaning towards more EV adoption. Although the fleet management aspects remain the same, the entire ecosystem around EVs is very different from traditional vehicles. For example, the services for EVs are completely different.
- Telematics – Telematics systems apply the Internet of Things (IoT) to vehicles. They use hardware (typically combining Global Positioning System (GPS) functionality with onboard computers) to collect data from sensors inside the vehicle. Storing and analyzing detailed information on fleet operations over time is a game changer in making fleets more efficient through predictions and timely alerts.
- Autonomous vehicles – Autonomous vehicles will directly impact multiple cost components of the total cost of fleets like driver cost, driver hours-of-service rules, driver availability and allocation, safety and discipline.
- Shared economy – The new generation of consumers and businesses are thinking and acting very differently when it comes to owning vehicles. The services to be offered change drastically if you want to be ready to serve these new-age customers.
- eCommerce – The increasing share of eCommerce and online retail needs retailers to provide efficient deliveries and returns. Often the service provided to consumers for deliveries, returns and support is what builds loyalty.
- Direct-to-consumer – Most businesses are now building a direct-to-consumer model. This needs them to behave very differently in service delivery and support of their products and services. The last mile is often what makes the difference in customer experience.
We see businesses investing and giving serious thought to what their Digital Strategy ought to be; their Fleet Operations and Management are no exception. Getting the digital platform and strategy right could well become the key to surviving and thriving in the changing landscape of fleet management. Whether these considerations become part of your Fleet Management roadmap or influence your choice of the appropriate Fleet Management partner, decisions in this aspect of your operations directly impact your profitability and customer relationships.