If you have been driving for ten or more years, you are no doubt amazed to see the endless stream of driver assistance technologies being added to passenger cars. You can almost hear your parents grumbling, “In my day, people actually had to pay attention to where they were going!” Such mundane necessities are quickly becoming a thing of the past as drivers are learning to rely more and more on the technology that surrounds them and less and less on their own faculties. If drivers are safer as a result of new technology, then it’s all for the better. But, as a fleet manager, there is more at stake than safely getting from point A to point B.
For the needs of most passenger vehicle makers, it’s enough that all of these integrated systems just work—that people avoid more accidents, get better gas mileage, avoid clogged roadways, and can begin to spend travel time on more constructive things than watching the road. While the same holds true for fleet operators, the real winners in this technology race may be fleet and safety managers. For them, what this new technology adds to the mix is not just safety and efficiency, but data!
The data generated every moment a piece of equipment is in operation can help managers wring every ounce of efficiency from every mile traveled. Data analytics and algorithms combined with on-board technology are enabling fleet managers to anticipate, address, or avoid a previously unimaginable set of parameters.
How well is the drive train of each piece of equipment operating?
How can fuel efficiency be increased?
What circumstances most often lead to accidents?
What is the ideal load per vehicle?
What driver habits or programming by software engineers can be adjusted to increase brake durability?
How can weather and traffic data be tied to driving routes in real time to get products be customers on time?
And how can managers use all of this technology to make operators feel not like they are being watched by Big Brother, but that they have another set of eyes to help—and reward—them for good work?
"The efficiencies [gained by on-board data collection] may be most beneficial to the fleet managers — how's the truck being driven, how long has it sat idling, almost being able to gamify the driving experience and reward the best drivers," said Terry Kline, CIO for Navistar. "We work in an industry where there's a driver shortage. If you win the driver's heart, you're going to come out a winner."
We are, of course, heading for the day when many industries will need far fewer operators than they do now. But that doesn’t mean that fleet managers will have any less need for this kind of data, in fact, they may need more.
The “analog” input provided by real operators in real time can be hard to replace with mere “machine” data. But we have to recognize that society is in a transition period. Before long, the vast majority of miles many commercial vehicles and equipment will travel on roads, across construction sites, in mines and forests and deserts, will be done autonomously. As such, managers will be increasingly reliant on the feedback they receive through telematics.
Managers should applaud and encourage advances that make it possible for equipment to operate without on-board human interaction. They must look at the bigger picture as well, and encourage technology companies to make sure that the data that comes from a widening array of sensors and detectors can be integrated to create meaningful and actionable intelligence.