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With many major automotive manufacturers promising autonomous vehicles to hit the roads within the next couple of years the reality of the autonomous fleet for field service organisations is no longer a futuristic fantasy but a genuine reality - so what exactly could the autonomous vehicle mean for field service?
The hype around autonomous vehicles is getting ever stronger, but what role if any could they play in changing how field service delivery is managed?
“Autonomous vehicles undoubtedly represent an exciting development for fleets, particularly from a productivity perspective,” comments Paul Miller, Product Manager, Fleetmatics.
“They have the potential to disrupt the traditional fleet model of assigning one vehicle to one driver, as in future they will be able to support the workload of multiple field service agents at the same time. Imagine a future, for example, where an autonomous vehicle knows the average job time of each agent, and is therefore able to schedule drop offs and pick-ups to complement their work.”
“By performing the same role for several field agents in a specific area, this could create significant productivity savings across a fleet, particularly in relation to fuel efficiency and workload management, through a reduction in unnecessary time spent on the road or idling.”
David Rodriguez, Chief Marketing Officer for GreenRoad also agree that productivity could be significantly increased if we were to see autonomous fleets emerge.
“Autonomous vehicles should positively affect productivity, safety and costs for field service organisations,” he explains.
“First, they’ll enable field service technicians to recapture productive hours during the day. Rather than focusing on driving, workers will be able to concentrate on customer service, reporting, and other elements of their job while on the road.”
“Autonomous vehicles will also enable companies whose field tasks don’t require specialised equipment to move to a model in which the company owns fewer vehicles (or simply contracts with a car-sharing provider), and employees are picked up and dropped off at their worksite, freeing up the vehicle for the next employee. Most importantly, autonomous vehicles will improve safety.”
“Today, according to the NHTSA 1 in 5 fleet vehicles are involved in accidents each year. Eliminating human error from the driving experience will lead to lower accident rates, repair costs and absenteeism, and overall cost reductions ranging from $16,000 - $500,000.”
1 in 5 fleet vehicles are involved in accidents each year. Eliminating human error from the driving experience will lead to lower accident rates, repair costs and absenteeism, and overall cost reductions ranging from $16,000 - $500,000.
“We are still some time away from autonomous vehicles becoming commonplace in field service delivery,” says Miller
“The means testing programmes being carried out by their developers still have many years to run – and even then, these programmes haven’t focused on the vehicles’ suitability for field service delivery models. As a result, they are still relatively unproven in the professional space, so until they become the norm, telematics provides the best technology solution for safer, more responsible driving. Many of the benefits ascribed to driverless vehicles – such as increased fuel efficiency, improved safety and greater productivity - are actually already possible by leveraging telematics software against a fleet, so in many ways, the benefits of driverless vehicles are already available.”
Rodriguez however, thinks the future may not be quite so far away.
“The Society of Automotive Engineers is classifying self-driving technology in 6 categories, ranging from no automation (Level 0) to full automation (Level 5). Some manufacturers hope to achieve Level 4 autonomy in the coming years, with Tesla promising “full self-driving capabilities” (presumably Level 3 or 4) this year and Ford setting a date of 2021 to achieve Level 4 autonomy.”
“Level 5 vehicles that require no human intervention under any circumstances (extreme weather conditions, uncharted roads, etc.) may still be decades away. But even with level 4 technology, we can expect to see a shift in the preferences of field service companies, as fleets stand to gain a great deal of benefit from the safety, efficiency and operational improvements autonomous vehicles offer.”
“Amazon, Fed Ex and others are already testing out automated deliveries. It’s not unreasonable to think we could see fully autonomous fleets (with human workers on board when extreme conditions are expected) within the next 4-5 years.
Autonomous vehicle fears are mostly unfounded for a simple reason – multiple studies have shown that human error is the cause of 90 percent of vehicle accidents
“Autonomous vehicle fears are mostly unfounded for a simple reason – multiple studies have shown that human error is the cause of 90 percent of vehicle accidents", explains Rodriguez.
“While technology is certainly prone to human error in the development stage (bugs and programming gaps), automakers are taking the responsibility for releasing well-vetted autonomous technology very seriously, understanding that early mistakes could set autonomous adoption back by years."
Many of the fears you hear discussed, such as the fear that the vehicle will sacrifice its passenger if it means avoiding a collision with a school bus, rely on scenarios that will become virtually non-existent once self-driving cars are widely adopted.
“Just as automakers are highly motivated to ensure their vehicles are safe, they’re motivated to work with lawmakers to ensure the needed regulation is in place before their technology is ready for mass adoption. They may not be organised in their efforts yet but a more cohesive approach will no doubt come soon, considering the opportunities ahead. It’s important that reasonable regulation be developed as well as incorporating the extensive amounts of existing professional driver behaviour data that supports comprehensive testing if autonomous vehicles are going to be safe and successful.”
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Feb 14, 2017 • Features • Fleet Technology • connected fleet • connected vehicles • John Gorbutt • MIcrolise • field service • fleet management • Greenroad • sergio barata • Stephen Watson • telematics • telogis
The rise of the connected fleet has been discussed as an emerging technology with huge potential to change field service operations for some time now. However, we are now reaching the point where the discussion must move from theoretical to...
The rise of the connected fleet has been discussed as an emerging technology with huge potential to change field service operations for some time now. However, we are now reaching the point where the discussion must move from theoretical to practical - so just what will the impact of the connected fleet be for field service organisations?
As more and more fleets become connected with on-board equipment straight from the OEM, is there still a need for companies operating a mobile workforce to work with traditional telematics providers?
Field Service News spoke to sector experts to understand how the fleet management industry is evolving and what the impact this rapid period of technological change will mean for field service organisations.
So just what exactly does the rise of connected vehicles mean for the fleet management sector?
“Ultimately, the rise of connected vehicles means both telematics suppliers and customers will benefit from a higher quality of vehicle information and reduced operational overheads,” explains Sergio Barata, General Manager, Telogis EMEA.
“It should be viewed as an opportunity for telematics providers to refocus their solutions so they leverage the new possibilities these technologies will bring. For different providers this may mean different things, but at Telogis our focus has been to develop a single connected platform that expands the value of our proposition beyond the vehicle and focuses on improving the operational processes within the enterprise, such as integrated route planning and mobility tools,” he adds.
However, John Gorbutt, Regional Sales Leader, Greenroad highlights that alongside the new opportunities that these latest technologies present, new challenges are also emerging.
“The incredibly accelerated growth of the connected fleet vehicle presents challenges, as well as opportunities” - John Gorbutt, Greenroad
“First, for all fleet operators, both dispatched and un-dispatched, the driver’s function will be drastically different sooner than anyone imagines.
The driver will be at the focus and responsible for their own productivity and safety while behind the wheel. Essentially, as new, non-telematics based solutions enter the market the driver is now more connected than ever.”
“They will not only use their mobile device as the centre of their work day, they will have access to their own driver behaviour data along with various contextual information to make them as productive and safe behind the wheel as possible. These new systems are now coming onto the market at a fraction of the cost of traditional telematics systems but still provide all the same and better functionality.”
Meanwhile Stephen Watson, Microlise Director of Product believes that there is now an onus on fleet management solution providers to harness the technologies and drive the solutions forward for the industry as a whole.
“Any significant change in an industry is always a threat to the existing suppliers in that market, however where there are threats there are of course opportunities!” He comments.
“Provided organisations acknowledge the changes that are starting to happen, the changing requirements of the operators and use the expertise gained within the industry to their advantage, there is no reason to fear the rise of connected vehicles.
More it is an opportunity to embrace the evolution and provide greater value in an exciting area that touches us all.”
So what enhancements can field service organisations expect to see in the not too distant future in terms of their fleet management tools?
Barata believes that fully connected fleets will bring “new levels of data quality and accuracy not seen today, as the connectivity revolution continues apace.”
“We’ve already seen with partnerships, such as ours with Ford, that increased connectivity helps drive new business outcomes, based on data delivered through a holistic, connected vehicle approach,” he asserts.
“Through the integration of more data points – such as seat belt usage data for example – we can help improve the safety of fleets, and we’re already seeing an increase in the use of preventive maintenance on engines to reduce downtime, thanks to Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) diagnostics data.”
However, when questioned on what fleet management will look like as fleets become fully connected across the next five years Watson thinks that we may be getting slightly ahead of ourselves “5 years seems ambitious!” He begins.
“I think we are still a way off fully connected fleet operations. There are a number of EU and UK government innovation schemes designed to support organisations in the enormous R&D costs that come with the technology, however there are still significant legal and regulatory hurdles to be overcome before fully connected vehicles becomes mainstream.”
Yet, Gorbutt insists that the telematics sector as a whole is well overdue when it comes to ultimately delivering the return on investment it has always promised.
“I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone that the promise of track and trace telematics didn’t provide the long term value most fleet operators expected,” he asserts.
“When weighed against the cost of the system, the ROI is minimal at best. So over the year’s telematics providers have raced to provide more and more features to supplement the high cost of live tracking. This has resulted is millions of customers paying outrageous sums for a system grounded in technology from 2001 or earlier.
“With new systems coming on board every day that are based on cheaper, high quality networks and mobile devices, any fleet operator can get an entire fleet up and running on a mobile based system that includes everything from live tracking to driver behaviour at a fraction of the cost.”
However, whilst the promise of improved fleet management tools at a reduced cost is one that will appeal to all field service organisations, it is also worth considering how this will change the role of the fleet manager.
“We’re already seeing an increase in the use of preventive maintenance on engines to reduce downtime” - Sergio Barata, Telogis
“Hence there will be an evolution in the role of the new fleet manager, who will become more of a chief mobile officer in charge of everything from mobile deployment of solutions or cyber/mobile security and will encompass the productivity and usage of everything included in the new smart mobility ecosystem.”
Indeed, as we begin to discuss fleet management solutions that are mobile centric the lines between field service systems and fleet management systems are becoming increasingly blurred. Is there still a need for field service organisations to invest in both sets of tools?
“I guess this depends on the definition of field service management software,” Watson comments.
“It’s fair to say that concepts of engineer location, performance, planning and resource management are all now widely available, however there are a number of functions of field service management that would not currently feature in a standard fleet management software solution.”
“From an investment perspective then maybe M&A activity will see customers able to purchase a suite of products from a single supplier and these products will be more broadly integrated. But with the high levels of API integration available from suppliers like ourselves, companies have the opportunity to get best of breed solutions and services from the organisations most able to support their current and ongoing needs.”
Gorbutt echoes this sentiment commenting that he doesn’t “think there will be a decisive divide between the two technologies.”
With the high levels of API integration available from suppliers like ourselves, companies have the opportunity to get best of breed solutions and services from the organisations most able to support their current and ongoing needs - Stephen Watson, Microlise
He is also in agreement with Watson’s thinking when it comes to the belief that continued integration will be a highly important part of the wider ecosystem of field service technologies as technologies continue to evolve.
“What will be most important is the ability for these different systems to “talk” to each other.” He comments.
“For instance, the fleet management system must be able to send live tracking data to the field service customer location and routing system and all must work seamlessly with the driver safety application that ensure the driver is arriving safely. Connectivity is the new world and any service provider that doesn’t have all their systems sending and receiving data from one another will be obsolete in a matter of 5 years.”
However, Barata holds a different view, believing that as these lines blur it is those organisations that utilise a platform-based approach that will see the greatest benefits.
“The need for enterprises to adopt these solutions will continue to increase rapidly in the coming years, and soon they will become ubiquitous, leaving those who choose not to adopt them behind,” he explains.
“The good news for them is there are already suppliers like ourselves out there who can provide a platform which meets the needs of both their fleet and service operations. The previous challenges they faced in integrating data produced by separate technical, operational and strategic systems – often provided by different suppliers - can be avoided by partnering with suppliers that can deliver a single solution.”
The exact role of fleet management for field service organisations in the near future maybe uncertain, but we can be certain that is set to change.
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At the inaugural Field Service Summit held in Oxford last month Field Service News and Greenroad co-hosted a series of five 30 minute roundtables on Fleet Management. With Chatham house rules in place to allow the participants to speak freely...
At the inaugural Field Service Summit held in Oxford last month Field Service News and Greenroad co-hosted a series of five 30 minute roundtables on Fleet Management. With Chatham house rules in place to allow the participants to speak freely about both positive and negative experiences of fleet management, these sessions provided fascinating insight for all of those who took part.
Here we share with you three of the key points of discussion from across the day.
Who is responsible for fleet management?
One of the most crucial factors for understanding how field service companies manage their fleet operations is to understand where fleet management fits within the organisational structure of a company.
During the day there were a number of different alternatives brought up as to who is responsible for fleet management.
Perhaps unsurprisingly it was amongst larger organisations that we saw the role of a dedicated fleet manager, however, even when a fleet manager is in place, their role doesn’t necessarily involve the implementation of telematics or routing and tracking solutions. Often these more strategic elements ,that are designed to yield business improvement, sat within the field service division. Whilst the fleet manager role is more logistical, responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the fleet.
"For a number of companies fleet management as a discipline sat alongside the health and safety department..."
As one participant commented: “For us it’s more about managing the health and safety side, health and safety in the UK is now getting to a point where it is actually tying us up to a certain degree.
We are dedicating a significant amount of time to dealing with health and safety legislation in work.”
Another option that was utilised by some companies was to completely outsource their fleet management requirements as part of the lease arrangement for their vehicles. In fact as telematics becomes more and more embedded by vehicle manufacturers in the not too distant future it may be that such arrangements become more common.
Meanwhile, for those smaller companies with more manageable fleets, the responsibility for fleet management sat firmly with the field service management team.
What was clear however, was if companies are to get the most out of their telematics solution, which currently many companies admit they are not doing, then the field service management team must have some input and control over the decisions made around fleet management and telematics.
It is also clear that the use of telematics is now becoming far more encompassing than simple vehicle tracking.
"It is also clear that the use of telematics is now becoming far more encompassing than simple vehicle tracking..."
Other comments around the ownership of fleet management and the drivers behind implementing a telematics solution included:
“The ownership of managing the vehicles is all down to our fleet department in terms of health and safety. Telematics and fuel consumption is in our [field service] space.”
“Through risk assessment we make sure our service engineers are doing everything correctly, and we send them on advanced driving training courses, to ensure we comply with health and safety regulations and procedures.”
This last point is something that Ryan Davison, Enterprise Sales Manager, Greenroad, believes is becoming more and more prevalent. He explained:
“We are starting to get approached a lot more now about the health and safety and environmental factors of fleet management.”
“Whereas traditionally telematics has always been logistical and operational, we are starting to see a lot more around a duty of care compliance side of things.”
“Companies are coming to us now and saying effectively we’ve got our telematics system running on the operational side but we are looking for something independent of that, that will take care of our R.O.I. that will look into duty of care that will make sure our drivers are behaving responsibly on the roads.”
“What we are looking at now is finding the synergy between fleet management and performance and health and safety and where you can transfer that data. Data is abundant at the moment and any telematics system can produce an enormous amount of data, but it’s how you interpret and manage that internally that is the key. Handing somebody 20/30 spread sheets in their inbox is not going to create any value for your organisation.”
Data, Data Everywhere:
Indeed, one of the common themes of the day was how to harness the amount of data that a telematics system could produce and how to effectively utilise that data.
"The consensus was that it was important to be able to access that data in an easy to manage visual manner, with configurable dashboards being high on the wish list for most companies..."
In general most companies now see the value of data available to them.However, there is also a clear fear of drowning in data if it is not possible to access it in a meaningful fashion.
Also as more and more providers are developing APIs for open integration the flow of data is becoming increasingly seamless.
What was also interesting was that there seemed to be a dual use for data, highlighted throughout the day’s conversations.
Firstly, it became apparent telematics data is used as a day-to-day management tool, but it is also used secondly as a strategic tool to help push a business forward.
This concept was neatly summed up by one particular participant who said:
“There are two main elements. There is the data that provides the behavioural stuff and we are a fortunate position where there are sixteen area managers and they are directly responsible for the field engineers and their behaviour and being able to send data around whether their engineers are driving too fast, or braking too hard etc. is something that they can use as a tool to deal with these issues as line management.”
“But from an organisational perspective the big win is the data that outlines the utilisation of our equipment.”
“We have a big fleet and before, whilst this information was there it was in paper format so wasn’t easy to access. But now it is easier to access and it can inform our decisions on whether to buy or rent new assets, whether we can move things around the country and so on.”
Driver behaviour and fleet management
It is however, the first of these uses, feeding data back to the field engineers that was discussed the most across the day’s sessions. And gamification played a significant role in how a number of companies utilised their telematics data to improve their engineers driving standards.
"Gamification played a significant role in how a number of companies utilised their telematics data to improve their engineers driving standards..."
And gamification tools can actively encourage improvements . Indeed, there was almost universal acceptance that gamification could be used as a tool to improve driver behaviour across an entire mobile workforce.
However, the first battle, which is quite a common one it seems, is getting the field engineers to accept a telematics solution in the first place.
All too often we heard similar stories from the delegates – namely that of push-back from unions and engineers. “Definitely there is a kind of resentment.” Commented one participant.
“It comes down to trust, they believe that you just don’t trust them and then it becomes an issue. The mind-set is ‘if your putting something in it’s because you don’t trust how I do something.’ And then you get the push-back against it.” another delegate commented.
“It can then become a vicious circle where the company says if your not doing anything wrong there is nothing to be concerned about, whilst the engineers say if I’m not doing anything wrong why do you need to track me.”
However, it does seem to be a problem that often heals itself over time following implementation.
“Eventually they saw it wasn’t being used as they expected it to be and now it is accepted” another delegate replied before adding “some of the guys are even asking for print outs from the system so they can see their own performance.”
Yet getting that initial acceptance can still be a tricky balancing act as Davison explained further.
“The two sides of the scale are encouragement and enforcement.”
“To begin with you can take the approach of explaining this is for your own benefit and what those benefits are, but with those who are persistently driving badly then it is a case of falling back on policy and saying to that engineer ‘we need to take you off the road and explore training before we can get you back on.’”
"In terms of driver behaviour, data can also play a crucial role in streamlining training..." strategies
“Applied driving techniques is a good example, what they will do is work with us in partnership and use our data to avoid taking a scatter gun approach, but rather focus the training on areas that it is needed.”
“So each individual driver will have their own risk profile and therefore we can assess how effective is that training been in improving them and reducing the risk they pose on the road."