Saturday, 6 April 2013

Driving the Fleet Industry Forward: Mobile Applications

The ever increasing sophistication of mobile technology is driving a revolution across the entire global workforce, with a third now thought to be on the road. Our smartphone or tablet acts as our mobile office, keeping us constantly connected not only with our colleagues, but also integrated in real-time with all of our businesses management systems; offering us a more flexible working environment.

The benefits of adopting mobile technology within enterprise are widely acknowledged, but to what extent can mobile applications really improve fleet operations in the current climate?

Rapid development in the mobile technology sector could not be in starker contrast with the flat lining economy. Low cost, high capability mobile applications and platforms, increasingly ones which are dedicated to business use. This is no coincidence - mobile technology for businesses is all about managing rising costs and improving operations. By adopting mobile technology, many fleet businesses are able to buck the depressed fiscal trend.

Fuelling lower fleet costs

All businesses are under extreme pressure to deliver efficiencies; faced with a stagnant economy and the rocketing price of fuel, so gaining efficiency by using less fuel is an obvious way of controlling costs.

In 2007, before the financial crisis struck, a service company with a fleet of 200 vehicles, averaging 40 miles per gallon, would have an annual fuel bill of around £5.9m. Taking into account the current price of fuel per litre, that bill will have shot up to £8.86m in 2013 – an eye watering rise of nearly £3m in just four years.

Using mobile technology to up fieldworker productivity can actually work to offset the increased fuel bill. For example, a field service company with 200 engineers who each perform five jobs per day at an average invoice of £150 each. A modest 10 per cent increase in productivity would raise an additional £75 per day, per engineer. Over 12 months, the field service company would have earned £3m, enough to off-set the rise in fuel expenditure.

The latest real-time scheduling technology can also significantly decrease the fuel bill. Dynamic scheduling tools constantly update individual workflows as changes occur, efficiently allocating appointments, and intelligently plotting routes with integrated sat-nav. The result is a reduction in customer revisits, double booked appointments, and an overall reduction in road miles; leading to an additional saving of £864,000.

Assessing the damage

The days of a buoyant used car market have long since gone and leasing companies are increasingly strict when it comes to invoicing for vehicle damage which goes beyond fair wear and tear. This spells yet another ballooning overhead for fleet owners.

Despite this, a recent survey found that almost a third of fleet managers still fail to carry out end-of-contract damage checks before returning vehicles to suppliers – resulting in nasty surprise bills. The average cost of undertaking remedial repairs is £300 per vehicle, which may explain fleet operators’ reluctance to implement proper de-fleet processes.

Leaving the responsibility of vehicle appraisals to suppliers clearly holds some appeal. After all, it’s one less process to oversee. However, having a clear picture of vehicle damage costs across your entire fleet, brings with it the opportunity to spot and troubleshoot negative patterns. The BVRLA (British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association) recommends that vehicle appraisals are conducted 12 weeks prior to their return, allowing ample time for any damage to be rectified and resulting costs to be effectively managed.

Some fleets have already deployed mobile applications to assist in the vehicle appraisal process. Using tablets or smartphones, fleet staff can follow a step-by-step vehicle damage assessment process, ensuring nothing is missed. Some mobile solutions also utilise photography to make data capture easy and help generate more accurate repair estimates. All data captured can be integrated with central office systems, enabling you to monitor costs and damage more readily.

The future for fleet applications

Mobile technology is advancing at an unstoppable pace. In the automotive sector, research and development is fuelled by the need to reduce carbon emissions and cut congestion. Such is the speed of mobile innovation that vehicles come to market lagging several years behind in terms of technology. 

Working closely with motor vehicle manufacturers, MIRA (Motor Industry Research Association) is steering a concept known as Mobility Internet, which is set to revolutionise the in-car experience for drivers. Mobility Internet means all future vehicles will be wirelessly connected, enabling them to become an extension of your mobile device and its apps. This is already happening to an extent with voice command technology in vehicles, which synchronise with mobile devices, and will continue to play a key role in future with Internet Mobility.

The connected vehicle will also integrate other data from your mobile device, such as your calendar. This will enable the vehicle to be automatically navigated to an appointment address, at the appropriate time.

Due to the nature of mobile technology innovation, the smartphone will soon become a centre of vehicle technology, and applications dedicated to improving the motorist’s experience will quickly follow. Satellite Navigation is one driving tool which is already being developed with Mobility Internet in mind.  

Not only can Sat Navs adjust routes to real-time congestion information, they will soon be able to co-ordinate with other drivers, so that traffic is diverted evenly across various alternative routes to mitigate traffic jams elsewhere. As voice recognition technology advances, drivers will be able to ask for the Sat Nav for more guidance to their destinations. Sat Navs, along with other creative apps, will also promote economic driving by monitoring individual driving behaviour.

Connected vehicles will be able to communicate with car parks to save time and stress for motorists. They will guide drivers to a car park local to their destination with available spaces. Upon leaving the car park, the smartphone app will automatically pay without the need for tickets. With 25 per cent of city traffic being drivers on the hunt for parking, a parking app would certainly help reduce unnecessary congestion.  

Currently, there are collaborative traffic applications which provide a platform for people to share journey information with one another. Other driving tools which connect the smartphone and vehicle are also beginning to come to the fore. Automatic is an app that connects your smartphone and car wirelessly via a data port that taps into all the rich information collected by the vehicle’s existing computer system.  Using this powerful information, it analyses driving efficiency in real-time and generates a score, offering tips on how to improve and reduce fuel consumption on your smartphone.

For fleet operators, future mobile technology can further enhance existing fleet management tools which help drive process adherence and ensure efficient scheduling. By automatically monitoring driver behaviour, Mobility Internet will save fuel; cutting carbon emissions, but also enforce safer driving within fleets.

Whatever the future holds for fleets, two things we can say for certain are that fuel prices will continue to rocket and innovations in the mobile technology arena will continue to facilitate efficiencies. The burden of rising costs means that resources in the fleet sector are becoming increasingly stretched, but traditional processes are quickly becoming inadequate under the strain. Mobile technology is offering the fleet sector a vital lifeline which can help it to fight back, but also differentiate companies from their competition.

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