I’m kicking off a research project on fleet management planning solutions for companies that operate private fleets. If you conduct an online search for “fleet management” you’ll find three distinctly different types of solutions: routing and scheduling; telematics; and fleet maintenance solutions.
Telematics solutions are currently more focused on execution than planning, but their real time sensor data could create new forms of planning optimization, as well as close the chasm that often exists between planning and execution. As part of this study, I’m interested in learning how “connected vehicles”-i.e., vehicles that are linked to navigation satellites, communication networks, and (in the near future) to other vehicles directly-could transform fleet maintenance, routing, and safety.
According to an interesting article in The Economist, “a modern [vehicle] can have as many as 200 on-board sensors, measuring everything from [tire] pressure to windscreen temperature.” Another thing I am curious about, and will be researching, is the degree to which we can move beyond simple preventive maintenance to predictive maintenance. Could a fleet management solution analyze data from multiple sensors (e.g., temperature, oil viscosity, vibration, etc.) and “predict” a service failure before it happens? In other words, while a single data point like engine temperature might not trigger an alert, the combination of multiple data points, and how they’re trending, could prompt the system to suggest a maintenance call sooner rather than later.
To what extent can real time traffic congestion information improve routing and scheduling? This is another question that I’ll be exploring. The GPS device maker Garmin says that drivers can avoid traffic tie-ups by adding a traffic receiver and traffic services to their GPS device. The GPS navigator uses traffic information to minimize traffic delays on your route. Depending on where you live and the GPS navigator you own, traffic information can be available in one of three formats: alerts via FM radio, FM signal from MSN direct, or XM NavTraffic.
The Economist article, however, highlights a company called INRIX that takes traffic congestion routing a step further. Their congestion services are based on information from static sensors in the road, combined with GPS information collected wirelessly from more than one million fleet vehicles, to provide real-time information about traffic flows. This information can be sent to in-vehicle navigation devices (or smart-phones) in order to adjust a delivery route in response to an accident, for example. This sounds like a higher degree of automation than what Garmin offers. But even more interesting, INRIX claims it can forecast traffic flows on a particular route, by day and time. This predictive congestion capability could, if accurate enough, improve route planning. But is it accurate enough?
Information specific to individual drivers and vehicles could also present new opportunities for companies to lower their insurance rates. Some insurers, for example, offer dynamic insurance schemes that use GPS to determine a driver’s premiums, based on distance traveled, driving behavior, and where the vehicle is driven and parked. Telematics solutions, in turn, can provide data on speeding incidents, hard braking, abrupt turning, and whether drivers are taking their required “Hours of Service” breaks. What types of telematics data are these insurers using? A company called MiX Telematics offers “journey management services.” They point out that elements of an organization’s culture, systems, vehicle selection / specification, routing, and individual driver behavior are all components of an integrated approach to driving excellence. If your company had such a program in place, could you go to an insurer with very granular telematics data to prove your excellent safety record and low-risk profile and get rewarded with even lower rates?
I’m just beginning this research study, and I’m trying to separate futuristic hype from current reality. I’d welcome your help. Do you have experience with a cutting edge fleet management solution? Do you have robust cross functional processes in place? Post a comment and let me know!