Connected vehicle plots a route to the future

Dec 24, 2013 • FeaturesFleet Technologyconnected vehiclefleet technologytomtom

Technology has long been a key driver for innovation and change in business. Regardless of size or industry, the pace of technological change is a major factor in the ability of businesses to evolve, meet increasing customer demands and maintain a commercial advantage. Giles Margerison, Director with TomTom Telematics explains more...

Rarely has this relationship been more evident than in the recent development in the connected vehicle and the opportunities it offers to field service organisations.

Advancements in fleet management technology have resulted in a growing suite of applications designed to help managers boost operational efficiency and, increasingly, realise new levels of customer service delivery.

As a consequence of the recent economic slowdown, customers are seeking ever-greater value for money and demanding more from business than ever before. The effective application of connected vehicle technology could be crucial in helping field service operators to act quickly and introduce new services and innovations to further improve the customer experience.

What is the connected vehicle?

Although it is undergoing a period of rapid technological change, the connected vehicle is not a new concept. It has its roots in vehicle tracking, which has long allowed businesses to improve efficiency by gaining greater visibility of their mobile workforce.

But we are now experiencing greater degrees of connectivity than ever before - driven in part by the pace of technological innovation in the consumer sphere. Advancements are occurring at an ever-quickening pace, driving adoption and making technology such as smartphones and tablet PCs integral business tools.

These devices can work hand-in-hand with advanced telematics technology to create a seamless IT operation that encompasses all aspects of life – from business to your home, car and leisure time.

The same goes for business, where vehicle, smartphone, mobile hardware and office software can form a seamless loop that allows for greater flow of data through disparate parts of a business and its operations.

For example, a wireless Bluetooth connection might allow the tracking unit fitted into a vehicle to communicate with mobile printers, barcode scanners, signature-capture devices or even smartphones.

The result is an exchange of data which allows such hardware to incorporate precise information regarding time and location for the production of more accurate invoices or proof of delivery. This can then be communicated back to the office in real-time, allowing better management of workflow and fulfilment of customer orders.

Bringing mobile workers into the office fold

Such innovations allow management to exercise a greater degree of control over their mobile workforce, ensuring employees on the road are as connected and accessible as those in the office.

Combined data from in-vehicle technology and mobile hardware can be communicated back to the office and shared with the appropriate software applications - a vital relationship given society's increasing dependence on electronic relationships between companies and their customers, suppliers or partners.

When an order is received by a company, for example, the details can automatically be passed from the e-commerce platform or CRM to the fleet management dashboard.

This allows the mobile operations manager to view outstanding orders and dispatch the most appropriate employee to each job based on how long it will take them to arrive, with directions sent immediately to their satellite navigation device. Once the job is done, data will be sent from the vehicle back to the office, allowing the final details to be added to the CRM or invoicing software, completing the loop.

Such a situation is only made possible through the integration of fleet management hardware and software with existing office applications, which has become a growing concern given the rate of technological change.

IT integration must extend to all elements of a business, including both office and mobile operations, in order to form a flexible framework capable of providing a lasting competitive edge.

What does the future hold?

Even greater advances are close at hand. A number of insurance companies are already using fleet management technology to send driving performance data to a policy-holder's smartphone with a view to helping them drive more safely and reduce premiums.

For field service organisations, it is not hard to imagine a situation where the customer places an order and subsequently receives a message to their smartphone providing an accurate ETA for when the operative will arrive at their house - perhaps even tracking real-time progress on a map.

Not only that, but the smartphone then tells the customer exactly how long it will take for them to travel home in order to meet the operative and provides them with the best possible route, taking into account traffic congestion.

Extending the idea further, deliveries could be sent to a customer's exact location, pinpointed according to the GPS signal from their smartphone, whether that’s home, work or even the local coffee shop.

Roadside assistance companies could allow customers to make a distress call via a smartphone app before sending out the most appropriate responder based on engine diagnostics and location data sent immediately from the customer's vehicle.

No matter the application, the connected vehicle will only continue to offer new possibilities for the field service industry to future proof its service offering.