When we think of the next generation of fleet operations, most attention is given to the concept of autonomous vehicles. But the timeline for the widespread adoption of truly autonomous vehicles is anyone’s guess. Tesla founder, Elon Musk, famously claimed that the company’s cars would be “fully autonomous” by 2017 (a fact which has yet to pass), but that year, one of the motor industry’s main proponents of autonomous vehicle technology said that “true autonomous cars will not happen within the next decade.”
As a result, it is more productive for future-looking fleet managers to consider the cutting-edge technology which can help fleet-based operations compete now, instead of replacing the concept of a human driver. Today’s emergent fleet technologies are, for the most part, focused instead on empowering drivers and fleet managers to work more efficiently. Here we look at a handful of innovations that are already being adopted in the industry, as well as a look ahead to how operations may change as a result.
Computer processing through algorithms or machine learning, along with data storage advances, have opened up possibilities that seemed unimaginable even just a few years ago. For example, an autonomous vehicle collects and analyses more than a terabyte of data in real time, each day. This ability to collect, analyse and process huge volumes of data has spawned on demand services that enable us to watch TV, stream music, order a taxi, or book a hotel room on our phones or online almost instantly – and it has increased expectations of what should be possible for both consumers and mobile workers.
With additional processing power, managers can look at multiple data sources to gain bigger samples or correlate different data sets to provide more detailed information. At the same time, greater processing creates new ways to make extra data easier for people to understand and even automate tasks. This will advance even further as the industry harnesses the ability to collect more contextually relevant data from a combination of devices such as vehicle, mobile devices and other internet enabled sensors.
While the widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles may be some time off, the computing power of non-autonomous vehicles is growing significantly. Vehicles are now capable of reporting more information to managers than ever before. From engine diagnostic details such as temperature, oil or fuel levels, and wear and tear on parts, to things inside the vehicle such as seatbelt use, number of passengers to even what was on the radio.
This enables more effective management of vehicles. Managers can foresee potential engine troubles, and schedule vehicle maintenance before they occur. Or they could gain other insights that could help employee safety or wellbeing and improve customer satisfaction. For example, if a vehicle’s engine is not switched on it’s a fairly safe bet, the driver may be delayed – which can be automatically communicated to customers or other workers. Or if the vehicle’s heater is constantly on, managers could provide better uniforms to help drivers stay warm and avoid getting sick, along with reducing fuel consumption.
Mobile workers could soon expect an almost frictionless experience, where they no longer need to manually input data or update a manager while performing a task, while managers will automatically gain valuable insights to improve decision making. For example, imagine you had a worker in the field who was installing a satellite dish for a customer. If the installation was taking longer than expected, contextual data collection and analysis would be able to determine this automatically and assign their next job to another field service worker or communicate an accurate expected arrival time to the next customer – all without intervention from the worker, or manager.
The rapid take-up of voice recognition technology shows how far the software has come. While it used to be rather unreliable, voice dictation is beginning to replace typing in online queries. Twenty percent of mobile queries were made via voice in 2016, while accuracy is now about 95 percent. Improved voice recognition is a powerful tool for the mobile worker, enabling hands free input of data, activation of tasks and communication with managers. It means that mobile workers can do their job more effectively, without having to take their eyes of the task at hand. This is especially useful in the fleet space – helping create a better, safer field working experience.
Years ago, the concept of streaming films, TV or live sporting events in high definition over the internet didn’t seem possible. But through improved connectivity and video compression technologies, we can create more visually-led communications between mobile workers and the office. Visual sensors between the office and the mobile worker can enable more effective service – enabling remote diagnostic detection or instruction from a manager. For example, an engineer working on a site could use video to remotely consult with someone in the office to find an appropriate solution, rather than having to leave the site or send another worker out.
Mobile and field-working will continue to be improved by technology. The best deployment of technology will reduce the burden on staff, rather than adding to the workload. For workers it will help make life easier, requiring less intervention and creating an almost frictionless process for reporting back to the office. For managers, technology will give increased visibility on how their field workers are performing. There is seemingly no limit to what data can be collected, correlated and analysed to help to improve how the organisation is run, making it safer, more profitable and more enjoyable.
Derek Bryan is the Vice President, EMEA, of Verizon Connect.