Staying on top of technological developments in fleet management

Software programs can help fleet managers to make the most of other new technology developments. The transportation sector has experienced rapid technological development in recent years, in part because of the growing consumerization of mobile devices and platforms and the effects of regulatory and economic environments. Whether these developments have to do with fuel conservation, safety or communications, fleet managers must constantly be on their toes to find new ways to control overhead costs and increase the efficiency of their operations.

Success in the freight industry depends on the ability to control multiple expense variables. For example, even if a company has a robust fleet with qualified drivers, it's often still a challenge to reduce fuel costs. In other cases, businesses may operate energy-efficient vehicles but struggle to dispatch fleets in the most effective way possible. Economic conditions regarding industrial activity and other influences on supply and demand are also out of the control of fleet owners. These companies can benefit from a broader use of transportation software tools to take advantage of rapidly changing demands and opportunities affecting their operations.

The fleet industry has access to a variety of technologies to contribute to operational performance improvement:

GPS tracking and driver monitoring
Communication and visibility are important elements of most fleet operations, especially in freight hauling and distribution activities. Fleet managers can benefit from keeping in close contact with drivers to ensure products and services arrive on time and even vehicle tracking data can help improve route planning and optimized distribution activity. The ability to know about delays and breakdowns in real-time can also help businesses to alter routes or load assignments to avoid customer inconvenience.

According to a new report from C.J. Driscoll and Associates, a market research firm in the GPS and wireless communication industries, many fleet managers have benefited from incorporating advanced tracking technology into their transportation operations. The "2013-14 Survey of Fleet Operator Interest in MRM Systems and Services" report found more than three-fourths of businesses that currently use such technology have expressed satisfaction. Sixteen percent of companies that have yet to utilize such tools claimed they have plans to deploy new systemswithin the next year. Automotive Fleet, an industry magazine, cited a separate study from ABI Research, that found the global market for similar driver monitoring systems has grown rapidly in recent years and will continue to expand through 2020.

Maintenance technology
The transportation industry is seeing increased focus on high-tech solutions for fleet maintenance, a critical aspect of overhead cost that directly impacts asset availability and utilization. In fact, a recent article from the industry publication Fleet Owner said innovations in maintenance technology have created a demand for an entirely new skill set.

"You not only need an individual that understands the mechanics of the vehicles but also someone that is able to easily adapt to the ever changing technology that is being introduced by the (original equipment manufacturers)," Mark Lange, a maintenance services specialist with GE Capital Fleet Services, told Fleet Owner.

The magazine also highlighted recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) that revealed the total population of engine technicians in the transportation industry will likely expand over the next several years. With a majority of current technicians in the industry expected to retire over the next decade or so, fleets and repair service centers may have trouble filling these positions in the future.

Fleet managers can further improve their potential benefits from advancements in technology by working with more sophisticated asset maintenance software programs. These management tools not only make it easier to track vehicle life cycle costs and warranty recovery opportunities, but they also help organize the labor planning process for greater productivity.

Green fleets
Fuel prices represent one of the most unpredictable factors affecting the profitability or cost-efficiency of fleet operations. Additionally, many states have made concerted efforts to create more stringent greenhouse gas emissions to limit the negative impacts of global climate change. In response, many transportation organizations are moving toward new vehicles that run on alternative fuels. For example, online news resource Environmental Leader said Republic Services, a waste management company, recently deployed 53 compressed natural gas-powered garbage and recycling trucks in its Charleston, S.C. fleet.

Technology advances quickly in the transportation industry, and businesses can benefit from implementing operational software programs that integrate with many data sources and service providers to help them realize the full potential from their investments. Tools such as routing and scheduling software can address waste and inefficiency in driver planning and order consolidation that may contribute to decreasing overhead costs just as much as vehicles that run on alternative fuels.