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Transforming business mobility with tech innovation

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(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Bloomicon)

Disruptive technologies are transforming transport and mobility – and we’re just at the start of the journey. 

A paradigm shift in how we live and work beckons, with tech advancements promising to make all our journeys fasters, cheaper, more convenient and sustainable.

And as exciting new opportunities emerge for the transportation of goods and people, alternative commercial models will be ushered in that shape the future of business. 

Connecting the dots 

The internet of things (IoT) has been a topic at the very fore of the tech world for some time, but its full potential is still to be realized.

Although businesses are investing in a wide variety of connected solutions, adoption has been somewhat stifled by interoperability limitations. Scalable deployment, in many areas of business tech, has struggled to take off beyond proof of concept.

The challenge remains one of commercial proclivity. Connected business must be driven, at least in part, from the bottom-up – innovations in connectivity must be business-led to succeed. Indeed, where the true value of the IoT is being demanded and unlocked, the market is accelerating. 

Business transport is a case in point, where connected vehicles have already become so much more than simple modes of transport.

Connected commercial vehicles, underpinned by open telematics platforms and their application programming interfaces (APIs), sit at the very heart of Service 4.0 – the marriage of service business operations with smart digital systems.

Demand from fleet operators for greater automation of key business processes has led to data being harnessed like never before. Consequently, the impact on service provision, the flow of goods and the efficient use of transport resources is being felt far and wide. 

Mobile workforces, out on the road, have been metaphorically glued digitally to back offices, and traditional business processes – from company HQs, depots or warehouses to customers – have been transformed.

This powerful example of business-led interconnectivity has resulted in meaningful and scalable integrations between fleet management software and office suites, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP), invoicing systems, routing and scheduling optimization, supply chain planning and asset management. 

The real-world efficiency gains being realized by thousands of global companies, thanks to the seamless integrations between WEBFLEET, the cloud-based fleet management platform from Webfleet Solutions, and more than 300 third-party business applications, perfectly illustrates how demand-led connected innovation can flourish.

Against this backdrop, mobility management is also gaining increasing traction, with the connected vehicle platform offering an important foundation stone for the development of Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS).

From a business perspective, MaaS sees the integration of everything from journey planning to payment services across all modes of transport, whether public or private. Telematics data has a big role to play here by providing the cost and behavior insights that are needed to optimize the financial, efficiency and sustainability impact of all mobility decisions. 

Employee mobility allowances that are being ushered in by businesses across Europe – along with the rise of shared mobility, such as car-sharing and micro-mobility – are sure to help to accelerate this trend.

Intelligent vehicles will be connected and autonomous

The development of the connected vehicle is also intrinsically linked to the development of autonomous transport.

While autonomous vehicles do not necessarily need connectivity, vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communications – wireless data exchange with other vehicles, infrastructure, external devices and networks – is being regarded as key enabler and vital to unlocking their safety benefits.

Timelines for when we are likely to see autonomous vehicles on our road have been continually pushed back by those in the race, everyone from General Motors to Tesla.

This is understandable. After all, the complexities of the undertaking are considerable. But with vehicle manufacturers and tech companies investing heavily in R&D programs, self-driving vehicles are still firmly on the horizon.

In the business world, self-driving commercial vehicles should help cut fuel spend by eliminating driving performance inefficiencies and minimizing idling time through the use of smart algorithms. Elsewhere, the technology convergence of vehicles that are both connected and autonomous is also playing out in real-life platooning trials, where autonomous trucks travel in line to form wind-resistant ‘road trains’.

Raising the artificial intelligence bar 

Artificial intelligence (AI) under the guise of data processing and task automation has long been an integral element of many transport technologies, but we can expect advanced algorithms and machine learning engines to become increasingly sophisticated.

Bridgestone, for example, already uses AI to improve product quality by optimizing the placement of tire components and has now collaborated with Microsoft in developing a world-first monitoring system for detecting tyre damage issues in real-time.

The Tyre Damage Monitoring System (TDMS) uses Microsoft’s Connected Vehicle Platform (MCVP) which, among other things, provides access to AI and internet of things (IoT) functions.

A burgeoning marriage of connected vehicle data sets with AI beckons, and is set to increasingly integrate the fleet automotive supply chain. 

For businesses, this will mean fleet service, maintenance and repair (SMR) becoming increasingly pre-emptive, based on vehicle diagnostics, with booking processes automated.

The opportunities for AI to help inform fleet management systems and enhance the interpretation of large data sets will continue to grow, improving road safety and operational efficiency while saving businesses time and money.

As the rollout of 5G gathers pace, connected vehicle data sets and AI are also likely to become essential ingredients to smart city developments and advancement in shared and autonomous transport, helping optimize traffic flow, environmental sustainability and more efficient, flexible working practices.

Harnessing the electric transition for business 

The drive towards cleaner road transport through electrification is a key component on our road to zero and a greener economy.

The Covid-19 pandemic may have slowed market growth, but the numbers of electric vehicles (EVs) continue to rise, and as manufacturers increase availability, prices can be expected to fall.

EV tech innovations over recent years have been extraordinary and they continue apace. Tabless batteries with larger cylindrical cells are now being engineered, for example, in Tesla’s labs, while other manufacturers are making waves in solid-state R&D. 

At the same time, our charging ecosystem, including on-street and ultra-fast EV charging, is expanding.

The business transition to EVs, however, requires a mindset change for both companies and drivers, with driving range and charging availability having to be factored into the way fleets are managed and operated.

Connected fleet data remains pivotal for businesses embarking on their EV journeys. New functionality is consequently being built into telematics solutions, such as WEBFLEET, that provides remote insights into companies’ electric and hybrid vehicles. These include insights into the battery levels, remaining driving ranges, information on real-time charging statuses and remaining charging times.

Further reports and data insights can help businesses identify those internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles in a fleet that could be switched to EV equivalents, and to retrospectively calculate exactly how financially beneficial the addition of EVs to fleets has been, comparing running costs with ICE vehicles to signpost future EV strategies.

The race to CASE 

The advancement and proliferation of these autonomous, connected, electric and shared (CASE) tech developments signpost the future of our transport ecosystem.

The market is a complex one, with telematics just one important piece of the jigsaw. With shared visions across business, consumers, government and industry, we are likely to see increasing industry and business-wide collaboration to achieve our ambitious, collective goals.

There are a great many challenges, but there are even greater opportunities for driving change and ensuring that transport technology advancements offer the golden ticket to a more efficient and sustainable mobility future.

Beverley Wise, Sales Director UK and Ireland, Webfleet Solutions

Beverley Wise, Sales Director UK & Ireland; TomTom Telematics, has more than 20 years’ fleet industry experience. She is responsible for spearheading the growth of TomTom Telematics within the UK.