Expert Panel: Telematics

How is technology enabling a shift in the way we travel? And will new mobility trends have a role within fleets? Our telematics expert panelists give their views

New ways of travelling – such as using apps to book taxis in the case of Uber and ride-sharing schemes such as BlaBlaCar are becoming increasingly used by consumers in their private lives.

It is the rapid rise in technology and connected devices that is shaping ‘mobility’, and many firms in the tech space are now competing with traditional car manufacturers to offer travel solutions.

“Technology has catalysed a transportation revolution in the consumer world,” says Mike Hemming from Masternaut. “Car sharing, ride sharing, mobile ticket, GPS navigation systems and the like have transformed how most people travel.”

Many auto-makers are responding to this trend. Ford, for example, has recently launched a Smart Mobility Innovation Office in East London as part of its plans to become a “mobility” company. It hopes the new hub will help the company commercialise smart technologies such as ride-sharing and driverless cars.

Towards the end of 2016, Volkswagen launched a new mobility services company, MOIA, to keep up with changing mobility patterns. It aims to develop a deep understanding of new forms of mobility and devise products such as a ride hailing app and on-demand pooling services.

Ford and VW are not alone, with many other manufacturers investing in ‘mobility’ as well as traditional car production.

Business travel

So what does this mean for business travel?

Much like the consumer market, a new way of thinking about travel is being adopted in fleet operations. For many, it is no longer simply about running a fleet of vehicles, but rather finding the best way for staff to get from A to B – even if that includes a mix of options.

Darryll Finch from O2 Smart Vehicle believes that ‘mobility management’ is a new approach to fleet management that looks holistically at all aspects of personal and business travel. He says: “Fewer and fewer organisations are asking ‘what kind of vehicle do I give Fred?’ and instead asking ‘what’s the best way to get Fred from A to B’?”

“Using a variety of measures and analytics tools – including cost, time, duty of care and health & safety – a mobility management system will make the best choice for the business and the employee in each case.”

Colin Ferguson from Trakm8 points out that some companies are going beyond the traditional use of telematics to exploring new initiatives such as car-sharing and Mobility as a Service (MaaS) apps. He defines these as “apps that aggregate all possible travel options – pool car, car club, ride-sharing, Uber, taxi, train, tram, bus and bike – to provide the fastest, greenest and cheapest travel.”

Fleets and mobility

How can fleets benefit from embracing new mobility trends?

Darryll Finch from O2 Smart Vehicle believes that car sharing is an area that’s seeing lots of exciting innovations, and many of these services need little more than an app on a user’s smartphone to get a fleet up and running.

He says: “For organisations that lease the majority of their vehicles, vehicle sharing is potentially transformational, because it means businesses pay only for vehicles when they’re in use – and not when they’re idle.

“With these kinds of car sharing services, there’s often a simple and low registration fee for each user – then a time-based or mileage-based charge captured on the driver’s smartphone. Things like congestion charge are all included in the service, so these systems are very easy to manage and administer for the business,” Darryll adds.
Colin Ferguson from Trakm8 meanwhile envisages the growth of MaaS will cause grey fleet to disappear. He says: “This is a huge benefit for organisations as it eliminates a great deal of bureaucracy. Ultimately, pool cars will also become virtually redundant. It will simply cease to be cost‑effective in most cases to own or lease an asset that sits idle for 95 per cent of the time like a personal car does.”

Fleet management
Aside from facilitating new ways of travel, technology is also having a transformative effect on day-to-day fleet operations. Mike Hemming from Masternaut says: “Before telematics, managers operated with very little real-time information. Jobs and schedules were set at the start of each day, and companies had few opportunities to be truly responsive.

“Now, the most well-known use of telematics – mapping vehicle GPS locations – allows a fleet manager to change driver schedules to meet real‑time needs. This frequently leads to improvements in service, as the business reacts immediately to customer needs.”

Martin Kadhim from Lightfoot believes that technology really comes into its own when it can deliver results rather than just report data. He says: “In our experience, technology on its own is an important, useful first step, but when it’s combined with an understanding of driver psychology and motivation, it can be used to deliver a whole new level of efficiency within fleets.

“We’ve learnt that through a combination of technology, psychology and motivation, fleet operators provide their drivers with the tools to change their behaviour on the road for the better, with no need for time-consuming data analytics.”

“This means,” Martin continues, “that costs are cut, risk is cut, drivers are empowered, motivated and better looked after, and all this is achieved with minimal impact on management time.”

Self-driving vehicles

The Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill, which was included in the Queen’s Speech, says it wants the UK to be at the forefront of developing new technology for automated road vehicles, and that motor insurance will be changed to cover the use of driverless cars.

Online supermarket Ocado is investigating this new technology with a trial of a self-driving grocery delivery vehicle. The trial sees the CargoPod operating in a residential environment, delivering grocery as part of the TRL-led GATEway Project. The focus of the study is both on the commercial opportunities of self-driving technology and how it functions alongside people in a residential environment.

This is one example of how self driving vehicles could help in a commercial application. So do our panelists believe that self‑driving vehicles have a place in fleets?

Martin Kadhim from Lightfoot believes that autonomous vehicles are the future, but that there is a vital transition period over the next 15 to 20 years where human-driven and autonomous vehicles will need to safely co-exist on our roads. He says: “Connected vehicle technology is the solution, and Lightfoot have just been chosen by the government to lead the only connected vehicle technology project that will address this.

The project is supported by Innovate UK and the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV), with the aim of ensuring the UK is a global leader in connected and autonomous vehicle technology.”

With the testing of autonomous vehicles expected to start on UK motorways by 2019, the role of automated vehicles will grow within fleets, believes Darryll Finch from O2 Smart Vehicle. He says: “At first, fleets may feel risk-averse towards autonomous vehicles. So it’s great to see the government continuing to support this exciting area. But once drivers catch on to the productivity gains of working on the motorway like they could on the train, for example, I think user demand will drive uptake. And of course, haulage and logistics firms recognise the potential for driverless vehicles to dramatically reduce their labour costs.”

Colin Ferguson from Trakm8 says: “We fully expect automated vehicles to play an increasing role in transport and travel, which is why we are already working in this space. We see advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) as the next phase, ahead of fully-autonomous vehicles. ADAS can help prevent collisions and even warn drivers about traffic congestion further up the road. But ultimately ADAS will be an enabler of autonomous vehicles.”

Mike Hemming from Masternaut sees autonomous vehicles not significantly affecting fleets in the short term, mainly because he believes the technology is still many years away from maturity. Mike also points out that for many companies, it is not just driving that employees do. He explains: “For most fleet operators, mobile workers do more than just drive. They also deliver packages, carry out field services, work at construction sites, and so on. Thus, labour savings from automated driving will be minimal, as mobile workers must still be fully staffed for the same jobs they have today.”

“That said,” Mike continues, “fuel and maintenance cost improvements and safety gains from optimised driving mean that automated vehicles will become commonplace fairly soon after the technology matures – likely 10 to 25 years from now.”

The future

With technology driving mobility changes and autonomous vehicles rapidly progressing, we asked our panelists what they think fleet operations will look like in 10 years. Will diesel no longer be used? Will vehicles be all electric? Will vehicles drive themselves?

Mike Hemming from Masternaut believes that fleet operations will be even more reliant on data and connectivity but with less human intelligence needed to connect the dots with business operations or other systems. He says: “Telematics systems will become increasingly integrated with other operational systems. For example, HR information, customer addresses and job schedules will be displayed automatically within the telematics platform, while location and vehicle data will feed automatically into ERP and CRM systems to improve supply chain efficiency and customer service.”

Mike goes on to say that the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) will increasingly become reality. He says: “As more and more of a company’s assets – and its partners’ assets – are connected to the cloud, software will be able to further optimise operations. Imagine if your mobile worker schedules were determined by smart sensors reporting maintenance alerts, or if the right vehicle for the right job were determined automatically based on which equipment is already onboard.”

Darryll Finch from O2 Smart Vehicle echoes this thought, saying “We’ll see deeper and more sophisticated vehicle telematics more widely embraced by all types of organisations, as businesses push their fleets to operate as cleanly, efficiently and profitably as possible.”

He also points out the younger workers will make an interesting change to the profession. He says: “As millennials advance in their careers, for example, their willingness to consume almost everything as a service may well see personal and business vehicle ownership move into the hands of a few large service providers.”

Because of factors like air pollution and high running costs, Colin Ferguson from Trakm8 believes diesel and petrol vehicles will decline in numbers, with low-emission alternatives growing. Colin adds: “Fundamentally we see fleets being smaller. They will own fewer assets – and the majority of what they do own will be ultra-low emission vehicles. Through advanced algorithms such as Trakm8 Optimisation, these vehicles will have far higher utilisation rates than they do at present. We predict that fleet managers will retain core fleets for predictable, high‑utilisation operations; and augment them with on-demand MaaS applications.”

Martin Kadhim from Lightfoot sees more electric vehicles entering fleets in the future, but that it will take time. He says: “At the cutting edge, there are some fantastic exciting changes happening but these will inevitably face many ups and downs before they become mainstream applications. Our sister company, Ashwoods Electric Motors, makes highly innovative and efficient electric motors and we know the lead time between initial development to mainstream production can be several years.

“That said, there was a 29 per cent growth in electric and hybrid registrations last month and Volvo have just said all their cars will have electric motors by 2019. So, things are definitely moving.”

Martin goes on to say that despite all innovations in technology, vehicles still have to be driven by humans,
[unless autonomous] and so they are fundamental in all future fleets in terms of fuel efficiency and safety. He says: “We believe some of the excitement around the new technologies ignore the biggest fundamental truth that, while they are still driven by humans, the way they are driven probably matters more than anything else.”

Expert final thoughts

Darryll Finch

In the future, we’ll see more sophisticated telematics more widely embraced by all types of organisations, as businesses push their fleets to operate as cleanly, efficiently and profitably as possible. I also think we’ll see a steady rise in electric vehicles, with the rapid advances in passenger vehicles being replicated in the light commercial market, as van operators start to enjoy real choice.

Colin Ferguson

The nature of fleet operations will change significantly over the course of the next decade. We expect to see diesel and petrol vehicles decline in numbers, partially due to air pollution but also due to higher running costs than low-emission alternatives. Self-driving cars, vans and trucks will definitely be on the rise, along with ADAS. Fundamentally we see fleets being smaller. They will own fewer assets – and the majority of what they do own will be ultra-low emission vehicles.

Martin Kadhim

Regarding autonomous vehicles, there’s the question of how we can safely integrate them into road transport systems currently comprised (almost wholly) of human-driven vehicles. Lightfoot engenders a driving style in human‑driven vehicles that is more in-tune with the emerging autonomous vehicles of the future, so it is certain to minimise the conflicts and the resultant accidents caused by the two co-existing. So, technology will see big changes in our fleets, but what we really need to work on is how they are driven.

Mike Hemming

Telematics systems will becoming increasingly integrated with other operational systems. For example, HR information, customer addresses and job schedules will be displayed automatically within the telematics platform, while location and vehicle data will feed automatically into ERP and CRM systems to improve supply chain efficiency and customer service. What’s more, as more and more of a company’s assets are connected to the cloud, software will be able to further optimise operations.

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