A Brief Guide to Fleet Automation: Transforming Fleet Management and Boosting Customer Experience

Luke Walker
April 17, 2023
Updated:
8
minutes

Introduction to Fleet Automation

“Fleet automation” is a catch-all term to describe the process of integrating advanced technologies (IoT, AI, GPS, etc) and software to streamline fleet management operations. Fleets are known for their operationally intensive business models, and as a result, the expected impact for fleet automation in 2023 is very high. 

Today, fleets use automation across all areas of their fleet management and business operations, increasing efficiency and providing unique competitive differentiators. Fleet automation empowers companies to monitor, manage, and optimize their fleet's performance, reduce costs, and enhance safety. As fleets move past IoT and data analytics toward broader adoption of AI, we’ll begin to witness the next generation of truly automated fleets and a new tier of customer expectations.

Fleets encompass a wide range of vehicles and devices: freights, rental and long-term subscription vehicles, delivery vehicles, e-mobility vehicles, drones, and more. Each of these fleet types has its own, unique challenges, as well as several operational challenges that impact fleets broadly. Those include:

  • Extreme time and resource consumption on fleet management admin tasks
  • Lack of tracking of daily fleet activities
  • Operator/ Driver’s safety 
  • Vehicle maintenance and repair

Most modular fleet management systems address one or more of these challenges using a range of features, oftentimes in combination with other business tools and databases.

Benefits of Fleet Automation

As mentioned above, “Fleet Automation” is an industry-specific term that covers a long list of technology and use cases. However, broadly speaking, applying “automated” technologies to fleet management – as opposed to manual coordination of fleet activities – can yield significant benefits.

Improved Efficiency

Fleet automation enables fleet managers to optimize routing, dispatching, and asset utilization, resulting in reduced operating costs and increased productivity across multiple business units. Workflow automation, specifically, can eliminate the incidence of double work, and frees up sufficient time for fleet teams to focus on value-generating activities, like quality control or customer experience.

Enhanced Safety

Leveraging real-time data and analytics, fleet automation systems can identify unsafe driving behaviors, such as speeding, driving without taking breaks, or sudden braking, and provide insights to improve driver safety. Automated systems also ensure compliance with regulatory requirements, reducing the risk of violations and fines. 

Cost Reduction

Fleet automation systems help companies save on fuel costs, maintenance expenses, fines, and other administrative expenses. In the freight and delivery spaces, automated solutions can identify fuel-efficient routes leading to substantial cost savings. For car subscription, leasing, or pool car fleets, fleet automation tools can provide preventative maintenance scheduling and coordination, helping the fleet to stay ahead of costly repairs before they’re necessary.

Greater Visibility and Control

Perhaps foremost of all, fleet automation solutions provide complete visibility into their fleet operations, allowing operational managers to monitor vehicle locations, driver/operator performance, and asset usage in real-time. This increased transparency leads to better decision-making and enhanced control over fleet operations. Companies can begin to analyze and optimize fleet processes, and spot opportunities for improvement.

Key Components of Fleet Automation Solutions

Fleet automation systems are modular offerings and typically include the following functional offerings:

GPS Tracking

GPS tracking systems enable fleet managers to monitor vehicle locations and movements in real-time, ensuring on-time deliveries and optimal route planning, as well as enabling predictive maintenance strategies. 

Telematics

Telematics solutions collect and analyze data on vehicle performance, driver behavior, and fuel consumption, providing valuable insights to improve performance of the fleet at-large.

Fleet Management Software

Fleet management software is a centralized platform to manage all aspects of fleet operations, from scheduling and dispatching to maintenance and compliance management. Fleet management software integrates interfaces with firmware to extract data from IoT devices, GPS tracking, and other hardware components of the total automation solution. 

Driver Assistance Systems

Driver assistance systems, such as collision avoidance and lane departure warnings, help enhance safety by alerting drivers to potential hazards and assisting them in maintaining safe driving practices.

Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs)

ELDs automatically record driving hours, ensuring compliance with hours-of-service regulations and simplifying recordkeeping.

Implementing Fleet Automation: A Step-by-Step Process

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for fleet automation. Every business will have unique needs, and the scope of the chosen, modular solution will need to be tailored to those. A comprehensive fleet automation plan will outline elements of each of the previously mentioned technologies.

Additionally, for many mid-market and growth-stage fleets, many all-in-one fleet automation solutions will be purely overkill. Best to perform due diligence and lay all of the facts on the table before jumping straight into solution deployment. 

  1. Assess Your Needs: Begin by identifying your company’s specific challenges and goals. Consider factors like fleet size, operational complexities, and existing technology infrastructure. Be prepared to identify a list of required integrations and use cases.
  2. Research Solutions / Choose a Vendor: Evaluate various fleet automation solutions available in the market, comparing features, pricing, and compatibility with your business and technical requirements. Check for implementation and onboarding support, as well as any custom integration support you may need. 
  3. Develop an Implementation Plan: Collaborate with your chosen vendor to create a detailed implementation plan, outlining the timeline, milestones, and resources required. Ahead of the implementation plan, you may wish to map out your organizational workflows and team structures, to the extent possible.
  4. Train Your Team: Provide comprehensive training to your fleet managers, drivers, and other stakeholders to ensure they are comfortable using the new technology. This is a must – not a nice-to-have. Most implementations of fleet software fail because of incomplete preparation, training, and poor adoption. Talk to your chosen vendor about best practices and support for team onboarding. 
  5. Monitor and Optimize: Continuously monitor the performance of your fleet automation system, identifying areas for improvement and making necessary adjustments to maximize ROI. As in the cases above, be sure to discuss the best approach to optimizing your processes with your chosen vendor. 

Workflow automation and fleet automation software

Incorporating workflow automation into your fleet automation strategy can significantly increase the efficiency of your fleet operations, and exponentially increase the ROI of your fleet automation investment.  An operations-heavy industry like fleet and mobility demands that fleet operations, drivers/operators, suppliers, and back office administration all work together on core business processes. This challenge derives from the nature of operations itself. 

Workflow automation provides the “thread” that connects each of these stakeholder groups, the integration points to connect them and automate data transfer, and the global oversight to track operations processes end-to-end.

An automated maintenance and repair process in Next Matter, coordinating operations teams and service providers without email.

One shortcoming of fleet management solutions is that they do not integrate fully with your back office operations, communications tools, and other key operational systems. Put differently, fleet management solutions do precisely as advertised: they help you manage your fleet. But there’s much more operational work that goes into running a fleet business than managing the fleet itself. That’s where workflow management comes in. 

Use Case: Vehicle Returns and Maintenance Requests

A simple example of workflow automation in action is fleet vehicle returns handling.

When a rental or pool car is returned, several steps need to be facilitated before the vehicle can be put back into available fleet inventory. Things like vehicle diagnostics, mileage tracking, and other data points can be captured using a fleet management system. 

However, the remaining steps need to be taken by team members, and can be captured and automated using a workflow automation system:

  • Processing the vehicle handover from the customer
  • Capturing final signature
  • Creating and sending the final invoice
  • Preparing and sending a maintenance request 
  • Updating the customer record (CRM) and financial system/inventory (ERP)

Note: Not all workflow automation solutions are the same, and there are clear guidelines on what to look for in a solution. Be sure to do your research.

Measuring the Success of Fleet Automation

Whichever approach you choose, it’s important to evaluate the effectiveness of your fleet automation investment. Consider tracking the following, quantitative key performance indicators (KPIs):

  1. Fuel Efficiency: Monitor fuel consumption rates to assess the impact of fleet automation on fuel savings.
  2. In-Fleeting Turnaround Time: How quickly can you put vehicles back into service after being returned or serviced.
  3. Maintenance Costs: Track maintenance expenses to determine if preventive maintenance scheduling and real-time diagnostics have reduced costs.
  4. Driver Safety: Evaluate changes in driver behavior, such as instances of harsh braking or speeding, to gauge the impact of automation on safety.
  5. Vehicle Utilization: Assess how effectively your vehicles are being used by analyzing metrics like idle time, route deviations, and asset utilization rates.
  6. On-Time Deliveries: Measure the percentage of on-time deliveries to determine if fleet automation has improved scheduling accuracy and route optimization.
Using Next Matter, you can measure the operational efficiency of fleet management workflows over time, based on process, step, team, and other parameters.

Conclusion

Fleet automation has the potential to transform the way we operate fleets today. It offers numerous benefits such as improved efficiency, enhanced safety, cost reduction, and greater visibility. By implementing the right solution and tracking relevant KPIs, fleet companies can unlock their full operational potential and stay competitive in an ever-evolving industry. As AI technology continues to advance, the future of fleet automation holds exciting possibilities that will further redefine the transportation landscape.

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About the author
Luke Walker is the Product Marketing Manager at Next Matter. He is a longtime process hacker, and writes about marketing, business digitization, leadership, and work-life balance. When he's not at work, you can find him listening to records or climbing rocks.

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