Technology capable of making drivers and vehicles more productive while reducing risk was once the preserve of the largest operators. Now every business that runs a fleet can adopt it. Have you?
Bus, coach, rental and logistics enterprises, ‘blue light’ and municipal organizations, retailers and caterers, construction firms and waste managers – plumbers, electricians and carpenters – even estate agents and solicitors. Anybody that moves goods or people around the UK and Europe is facing a revolution in how they work.
Customers, agents and workers are being reliably connected across huge distances. Vehicles, machinery and goods-in-transit are being monitored from within and tracked from without to an extraordinary degree of accuracy. Laborious back office tasks and complex front office analyses are being performed at unimaginable speeds.
These techniques have been tried and tested by the largest fleets to measure and improve efficiency and to offset risk at each stage of the value chain. But the cost of deploying these ground-breaking measures has fallen so quickly and so considerably they are now within reach of middle-sized and smaller fleets.
Those managers savvy enough to bring them into the heart of their operations have a good shot at improving operational efficiency and reducing cost, leading to competitive advantage and increased market share. Those that won’t, don’t.
Four fundamental changes have occurred in the past five years that make these huge shifts in business practice possible for small- to medium-sized businesses.
1) Communication, everywhere
According to Gartner, 1.65 billion new smart phones will ship worldwide this year. Seventy per cent of the UK population alone owns a smartphone. That’s 45 million of them. In every pocket and on every dashboard in every car, van and truck is a device that can both communicate effectively and manage the complexity of changing how businesses function and move.
2) Always-on business solutions
Our world is re-organized by software. Expensive off-the-shelf packages are increasingly being replaced by pay-as-you-go software-as-a-service (SaaS). Regardless of industry, everybody has access to relatively cheap and versatile tools that can perform multiple tasks or be directed at specific problems – from the smallest to the largest.
3) Eyes, ears and hands, in everything
The explosion in the sensing capabilities of devices is not just related to smartphone. Huge increases in the processing power of microchips in the past five years mean that sensors and cameras can be attached to almost anything.
They can send actionable data to an office concerning location, climate, temperature, direction and speed – all in real time. These are being mounted in vehicles and containers, woven into jackets and installed on sorting lines in warehouses. Some estimates suggest there are 20 billion connected devices forming this Internet of Things (IoT) today. There could be 30 billion connected sensing devices in two years’ time.
This radical advance in capability is pushing computing power out into the world and returning data at an astonishing scale. But most importantly, it is giving business-people the ability to both observe and manipulate – in genuine detail – how they work, where they work, and with whom they work.
4) The final piece of the jigsaw
Technology hardware costs are falling, complex business software is being adopted, and IoT sensors are becoming universal. That means organizations can now analyse their data to improve workflows and bottom lines. But with what?
Just as Enterprise Resource Planning systems transformed whole industries in the early ’90s (think SAP and Oracle), ML is beginning to help not just one type of company, but every company. It discovers patterns that no human could possibly find in the data sitting in databases or delivered by smartphones and sensors. It then uses those patterns to find efficient solutions to immediate problems – and to predict the future.
This means that highly sophisticated applications are becoming available to small- and medium-sized businesses as much as to their larger cousins. It is changing the shape of the competitive arena, allowing smaller firms to bite at the heels of bigger players, and giving competitive advantage to those in crowded markets.
The largest operators have been using GPS (the Global Positioning System, “the grandfather of IoT”) to track their vehicles for many years. More recently, they have been combining GPS with mobile software, IoT and ML to form what is known as ‘fleet telematics’.
These new systems not only give a vehicle’s location, direction of travel and speed, but can also monitor the operation of engines and hardware, the behaviour of drivers, and the condition of goods-in-transit.
While some small- and medium-sized businesses might want all of the various telematics options at their fingertips, others may decide on just a few. Regardless, as vehicle manufacturers, tech giants and start-ups make it easier for cars, vans, coaches and trucks to connect both to the Internet and to the new breed of fleet management applications, this will be a battle ground for companies in every industry to fight for.
Perhaps the most obvious use of fleet telematics lies in its ability to connect route navigation and dispatch systems with driver dashboards. It can identify vehicles running ahead, on-time or late, and help remedy difficulties as they arise. By delivering traffic and job updates, it improves arrival times.
By capturing the detail of completed deliveries and automating driver logs, timesheets and other paperwork, telematics can also save hundreds of hours of driver-time and ensure Driver’s Hours regulation compliance.
It can also save a small fortune on fuel. Fuel management is an area that can make or break a business, and fleet telematics can make a fleet operate more fuel-efficiently. The number of miles travelled can be reduced by comparing plans to routes actually taken. Idling can be spotted and stopped. One telematics provider in the United States claims that by reducing idling time by just one hour a day per truck, a fleet of just 20 trucks could save more than $25,000 (£18,000) a year.
(See our Innovation Series report on vehicle electrification and autonomy in the coming months as soon as it is published by signing up here).
Using the sensors already installed in the millions of engines rolling off production lines around the world, diagnostics can now be run remotely to stop small problems becoming bigger ones when a vehicle becomes faulty. While these systems can still be quite expensive for small firms, the cost savings can be immense for those running larger fleets.
That connectivity can be even be extended to the peripheral equipment that vehicles push or pull too – the containers, the pumps, the refrigeration units, the waste disposal systems, the plant machinery – allowing business to know exactly what is going on in the field.
It is perhaps in the area of driver behaviour that fleet telematics is bringing the most unexpected benefits for fleet cost and risk management for businesses of all sizes. Poor driving performance can often mean fuel inefficiency and increased vehicle maintenance costs. Improving driving styles across your fleet can also mean fewer accidents. Where incidents occur, fleet telematics systems can gather a detailed understanding of who was at fault – all of which improves insurance risk and national regulatory compliance.
But this is not about Big Brother leaning into the driver’s cab. By understanding performance, you can empower drivers to improve their skills. Erratic or just plain bad driving could be symptomatic of driving-related health issues where an employer’s intervention could save time, money and possibly lives.
There is another, much talked about area in which IoT and telematics are pushing the boundaries of fleet management. Insurance.
Personal car insurance has led the way in this area for several years, with high-risk drivers being asked to install simple telematics systems to reduce their insurance premiums. The commercial fleet insurance sector is playing technology catch-up, with few insurers capable of understanding the risks that telematics can solve, and the new risks that telematics might invite.
As these technologies are adopted and the risk landscape changes for small- to medium-sized fleet managers, QBE is well placed to work with brokers and policyholders in a true partnership. The global commercial fleet specialist has been involved in working with customers on the development and deployment of large scale fleet telematics for many years across the UK and Europe. As a result, it has actively developed the insight necessary to help smaller fleets prevent and offset risks too.
“We are fully supportive of telematics, and actively speak to customers about our experience in this area,” says Roger Ball, Director of Motor at QBE. “Our aim is help our commercial customers by providing insights into options for their own businesses. But more than that, we are on a mission to standardize data coming from any vehicle so that we can absorb it too – in order to aggregate data and actively support our customers in ways they may not themselves have considered.”
QBE has two commercial fleet telematics programmes that small- and medium-sized fleet managers can work with if they so choose. Salford-based Vision Unique Systems (VUE), provides camera technology that monitors roads and driver behaviour to improve road safety, understand vehicle use and reduce accident frequency. The system not only helps reduce the direct and indirect costs of vehicle insurance premiums, but also speeds up claims turnaround times.
When an accident occurs, footage data can be automatically transferred across to QBE’s claims operations. VUE’s cloud-based data storage system accepts files from almost any source format. Successful deployments at scale include a large number of public sector customers around the UK, which QBE has funded. This supports a prompt assessment of liability and helps to promote early and fair settlement of insured losses.
QBE is set to launch a programme with another provider, Cambridge Mobile Telematics (CMT), using its smartphone-based DriveWell telematics and behavioural analytics software for fleets of between 10 and 50 vehicles. The emphasis here is on improving drivers’ awareness and reducing distraction to mitigate risks on the road.
“These programmes are a learning journey for us as much as they are for our customers,” says Ball. “We talk to people, work out whether they think this kind of technology makes sense for them, and test it out with them. There is no one-size fits all solution, and we aren’t demanding that customers use it. But we do want to help our customers reduce their risk. And this is one way of doing that.”
Another method is in the sharing of data QBE holds alongside telematics information. Just as businesses around the world are digitizing their workflows and investing in ML analytics capabilities, QBE has developed a series of sophisticated tools that look at the information it holds on policies and claims, and extract meaning from it for its customers.
“At any time during a customer’s policy period, we can analyse the claims data on our systems to look for how many have been made, what repeat characteristics such as the types of accidents are re-occurring, and then suggest what they might do to improve that risk exposure in the future,” Ball says.
“We can look at which vehicles are causing the most accidents, what they are being used for, including identifying which locations are generating the most claims. This enables the customers to pinpoint problem areas and quickly focus their attention on those locations.
“If there are particular drivers that have a higher ratio of claims incidence, we capture that information too. Multiple claims don’t make a given driver a bad driver. What it helps fleet managers do is investigate underlying causes such as whether these are the result of working really long hours, or personal aspects such as an illness they are not aware of. We often share information with customers that they don’t capture themselves.” Included within this data is analysis of promptness of the claims notification. This is absolutely key to enabling vehicle repairs to be managed effectively, injured persons to receive suitable rehabilitation support and third party costs to be contained.
If a large firm continues to draw a blank as to what is going wrong, QBE offers free, direct support from its in-house fleet risk management experts who will visit customers to give practical onsite advice.
Add the advantages of real time telematics to this kind of data capture and assistance, and a holistic, 360 degree approach to fleet risk management emerges. It can even include industry benchmarking. With all of this data flowing through QBE systems, the company is able to compare information from across its portfolios to give customers an indication of how they are faring at managing risk in relation to others running similar operations.
For smaller fleets, QBE has another trick up its sleeve – QRisk. This online self-assessment tool asks a series of questions that pinpoint where claims are likely to arise within a business. It provides an overview of a firm’s risk management activities, and helps managers assess controls against best practice standards, monitor risk improvements, and access guidance on the latest risk management thinking. QRisk’s Knowledge Centre hosts a wide range of publications on best practice and guidance on current industry hazards, claims, legal cases and emerging risks.
“Sometimes a customer might complete the assessment and find that while they are doing well in some areas, there are others where there are gaps in controls.” Ball says. “We are very open to discussing these. After all, without the advice and support we can give them, how can they manage the risk exposures in the areas that really matter to them?”
QBE also offers a free practical guide on Fleet Risk Management, written by experts with extensive experience in this field.
 MIT Technology Review – ‘A Batteryless Sensor Chip for the Internet of Things’, Suzanne Jacobs, 2014 https://www.technologyreview.com/s/529206/a-batteryless-sensor-chip-for-the-internet-of-things
 AT&T, Assumes one gallon of diesel fuel consumed per hour when idling, $3.50 per gallon and 7-day workweek, https://www.business.att.com/content/productbrochures/fleet-management-solutions-product-brief.pdf.