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The connected fleet: an M2M revolution for business

The connected vehicle is set to transform the future of business. George de Boer, International Alliance Manager, TomTom Telematics, explains how open platform telematics technology is shaping the development of M2M workflow systems.

The Internet of Things (IoT), big data, mobile and cloud technologies are gaining traction in all walks of life from the smart home to the evolving workplace.

Connected technologies are at the heart of this emerging third platform, driving the rapid development of M2M systems – and nowhere is this more prevalent than in the field of telematics. ITProPortal recently reported that the telematics sector will outperform all other machine-to-machine (M2M) markets over the next five years.

The forecast was made by Juniper Research in its recent white paper, M2M In An IoT World, where the claim was also made that by 2019, one in every five passenger vehicles globally will be connected.

Despite being widely regarded as a consumer innovation, in the world of business, connected vehicles are leading a revolution in mobile workforce management. Open platform technology is, in particular, opening up new opportunities for firms to improve their business workflow and benefit from automated, paperless processes.

By seamlessly integrating different business technologies, data can be brought together to improve business efficiency and provide greater insight into operations. Rather than existing in isolation, data from one area of an M2M system can be combined with data from another, providing information of benefit to both. This removes the need for management to analyse different data sources on different platforms, improving efficiency and increasing the sharing of intelligence across different departments.

The evolution of the API economy has seen a number of big names in business technology, such as Salesforce and Mendix, benefit users by an open platform approach. Such companies have evolved from mere technology providers to platform as a service (PaaS) companies, with ecosystems of partner developers. They provide the underlying technological infrastructure but allow developers to apply their specific expertise to add further layers of functionality.

The power of the platform for the mobile workforce

Fleet operators are now also reaping the rewards of software developers creating scalable integrations and applications that add extra functionality to core telematics systems. Using an open telematics platform, information from a range of sources can be integrated with fleet data, including CRM or ERP systems, routing and scheduling software, transport management systems (TMS) and mobile hardware.

The costs associated with technology integrations, in the past, meant this was out of reach for many businesses. Out of the box software integrations available today however mean that back office systems can be seamlessly connecting with vehicles and mobile workers in the field without the need for expensive IT consultancy.

Efficiency through apps

The new enterprise app landscape seems to offer almost limitless possibilities for smarter working and is consequently set for considerable growth according to industry analysts. A recent report from Strategic Analytics estimates that revenues from business apps will rise from around £20 billion in 2012 to around £40 billion by 2018.

Events such as the recent TomTom Telematics .connect Developer Conference are helping to drive on-going innovation in the creation of new apps, offering more choice for improved workflow management and a better customer experience across a wide range of industries. Customised applications can be adopted to meet the specific requirements of different business sectors.

The practical outcome for businesses is smarter and more efficient workflow processes and more immediate insight into field processes with business intelligence being gathered in one place.

Any business with a mobile workforce operating vehicles can benefit but a good example to illustrate the possible efficiency gains might be a delivery company’s potential use of the system. Mobile workers can be given access to tablet-style device with apps relating to their business processes that allow them to complete a number of daily tasks. This is connected to back office systems, meaning management can monitor and manage operations with access to data that is always available – all the while the driver is fully connected for simple and smooth workflow in the field.

Obligatory vehicle check can be made via the device, at the start of each day or week, with the results instantly updated in the back office to ensure maintenance schedules are up to date and that Duty of Care responsibilities are met.

As soon as the check has been made, daily workflow can then be loaded onto the device and navigation provided to each destination along the worker's route. Using live traffic data, the fleet management software can generate accurate ETAs for each journey, with automatic alerts sent to customers via text or email to advise them of arrival time.

On arrival, the worker can submit proof of delivery using the app's signature capture functionality or by scanning with the device's in-built camera or NFC chip. Once jobs are completed, status is updated in the back-office system, along with daily mileage records and worker hours, eliminating the need for separate, laborious record-keeping processes.

Digital transformation for a competitive future

Netscape and Andreessen Horowitz co-founder Marc Andreessen famously announced in 2011 that “software is eating the world”. Indeed software companies are disrupting traditional businesses – notably around the adoption of the third platform. Amazon, for example, has been doing so for a number of years in the retail arena while in the public transport sector, Uber is expected to hit an annual revenue run rate of $10 billion by the end of 2015.

The reality is that organisations built on connected software platforms and automated processes are gradually forcing a digital transformation on all businesses. Market intelligence specialist IDC is even predicting that third platform systems will account for around a third of all IT spending in 2015 and 100 per cent of all IT growth.

Business fleet operators can ill afford to be left behind. To remain competitive, they must look to embrace the connected vehicle – and by doing so they will ready themselves to enjoy unprecedented levels of efficiency and business flexibility.