Non-linear revolution

Element event focuses on how technology is shaping the fleet ecosystem

August 16, 2018
Purchasing B2B

From the August 2018 print edition

Technology developments are reshaping fleet management, with the industry at the cusp of seismic change. But until those changes are fully realized, fleet managers are in an in-between period. They must manoeuvre through this phase while also dealing with the challenges that accompany this shift.
With that overarching theme, Element Fleet Management held its annual ride-and-drive event in Mississauga, ON in June. The event brings together the company’s senior leaders and industry experts to discuss issues facing fleets, as well as to test-drive offerings from OEM and speciality suppliers.

The company has begun a new phase of its history, Chris Gittens, Element’s president of Canadian operations, told an audience at the event. A refreshed board of directors and enhanced technology offerings have provided a solid foundation for the company, Gittens said. For example, Element’s Xcelerate, an analytics-driven fleet management system, has seen improvements. “These are significant enhancements that have not been available in the fleet industry before,” he said.

Customers are also looking at fleets, as well as “mobility management” as a whole, differently, said Natalie Sievert, Elements’ vice-president, commercial. The term “connected vehicles,” which once meant GPS systems, has a broader meaning. Element’s connected vehicle capabilities can send alerts about breakdowns before they happen. The company’s platform has been redesigned so that data is customized, among other developments.

Changes afoot
There’s a sense in fleet of great changes on the horizon, said Michelle Cunningham, senior vice-president, product and marketing, at Element and the event’s keynote speaker. Fleet professionals must navigate the changing environment during what Cunningham called the “in-between time” that the industry is experiencing. Old technologies and ways of doing things are disappearing and being replaced by new versions. “There’s never been a more exciting time in our industry,” she said. “We’re making critical chicken and egg decisions on electric vehicles and electric infrastructure.”

Cunningham began her presentation by discussing the technology trends that are affecting fleet organizations. The Internet of Things (IoT) has meant far more devices connected to the Internet. Artificial intelligence (AI) and predictive analytics are performing tasks that once needed human intelligence to perform, Cunningham said. Machine learning—a specific application of AI—has computers accessing data and learning for themselves.

Other trends that Cunningham touched on included on-demand and shared mobility services. The world is moving from owning things to using them as a service. Meanwhile, autonomous vehicles (AVs) are a reality. Perhaps not yet level-five AVs that may one day see vehicles that don’t have a steering wheel or driver, but Element customers have begun ordering level-one AVs. Even now, companies like Waymo, Tesla and GM are testing AVs on public streets. “None of these things are evolving independently,” Cunningham said, adding that the goal was to tie all these trends together. “Going a little further, what about autonomous vehicles that drive themselves to shops while we’re sleeping?” she said.

What can be done now? Connected vehicles are the foundation for these changes during the awkward in-between time the industry is going through, Cunningham said. “Soon, every vehicle will be a connected vehicle and every fleet will be a connected fleet,” she told the audience.

Element is moving beyond predictive analytics to explore AI and machine learning, which Cunningham said could provide automatic insights. The trend was towards connected data visualization with real-time access to data, for example unit breakdowns of driver info updated in real time. When a vehicle’s oil pressure is low or it needs its tires or breaks replaced, these maintenance stops can be scheduled and added to drivers’ schedules or routes. The goal isn’t just to connect vehicles, she said. It’s to connect drivers, fleets and other parts into a larger ecosystem.

Cunningham likened autonomous vehicles to a child going through its toddler phase: they can move around unsteadily but also sometimes fall. Like the toddler AVs will see progress, she said. One of the goals of autonomy is to work towards zero accidents. Many vehicles now boast AI-assisted steering, braking, parking and other functions. It’s therefore ironic that distracted driving has resulted in an uptick in automotive deaths recently for the first time in decades.

“We’re living in interesting times,” she said. The industry may see stumbles and roadblocks in its progress but change continues. “We’re on the front lines of a transportation revolution—but it’s not linear.”