While certain industries have enjoyed significant restructure and change thanks to the advent of autonomous technology, as yet, fleet service management remains rather entrenched. However, artificial intelligence has the potential to take us beyond the current operating procedures and into new opportunities that many fleet managers are only beginning to consider. Transportation scientists are hoping that the fleet ecosystem will embrace “not only the vehicle, but also the occupants of the vehicle – the mobile workers – and, more importantly, the work and activities they perform” to transform the way that transport fleets are managed.
The Emerging New Role of Fleet Ecosystem Managers
A few decades into the future, the next generation may look back with amusement at how long it took these ideas to reach fruition. They will be comfortable in a ‘new normal’, in which artificial intelligence and robotics take care of the drudge that still clogs our working days. But while we have already seen certain roles such as warehousing, packaging and even customer service begin to be replaced by more automated solutions (think fewer bank tellers thanks to online banking, and the self-service ordering screens at your favourite fast food chain), few of us would consider transport to be a near-future possibility for automation. However, having vehicles and occupants working together as a part of the broader fleet ecosystem is already changing the way we work.
If the transport sector is able to embrace the changing nature of our workforces and the introduction of off-site operation in such a way as mining and other industries already have, transport managers may soon move from being desk-bound to becoming digital nomads. After all, if accountants can provide services from the convenience of their homes, what is there to stop fleet ecosystem managers from controlling both autonomous and driver-driven vehicles from almost anywhere?
From Vehicle Centric to Mobile Worker Orientation
Drivers and support personnel have already become more central to the fleet ecosystem’s management now that they can connect with nothing more than a smartphone. Advances in technology mean that smart fleet managers are now even able to intervene at first signs of fatigue, thanks to automated detection. However, without a doubt (and despite these technological advances offering increased safety) man-driven vehicles are set to become a thing of the past. As automated vehicles from the likes of Tesla and their kin reach the market, we will see drivers become caretakers of autonomous vehicles. This will mean that new opportunities emerge to make creative use of the previously vehicle-bound drivers’ time.
Towards a Healthier Transport Workforce, in Real Time
We are not in that position just yet to see drivers removed from their vehicles, but with several driverless trucks already on the way, the change is imminent. Already, however, new technologies such as ‘wearables’ allow fleet managers to monitor employee health online and track the progress of the day’s deliveries in real time. With clever fleet ecosystem management, these technologies will be able to anticipate human downtime, and allow managers to find a workaround.
While wearable devices can assist with a more self-aware workforce, there is no doubt that human error and fallibility plays a large role in the significant safety concerns of the transport industry. The Transport Accident Commission of Australia believes, “If a driver falls asleep for just four seconds while travelling at a speed of 100 km/h the vehicle will have gone 111 meters without a driver in control.” The move towards driverless vehicles will put an end to these kinds of risks. But what is to happen to the drivers?
The role of the fleet manager continues to evolve from mainframes, to cloud systems, to apps that constantly challenge the way we go about managing fleets. The future of fleet management lies in the retraining of the current workforce and the introduction of new recruits with technology skills to take them from repetitive, mundane and often dangerous tasks, to mobile, location-independent roles. Fleet ecosystem management will see the labour and safety costs of transport become minuscule while allowing the human workforce to monitor and manage their fleets much more efficiently.