Keeping up with e-commerce demand and other challenges
Fleet management is continually evolving, but it’s likely to see more change this year than it typically would. Amid the widespread disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, virtually every sector has needed to adapt, and many will continue shifting to prevent future disruption. Fleet management is no exception.
Fleets today face rising expectations from both consumer and commercial markets. E-commerce’s skyrocketing popularity means customers now expect fast and affordable shipping, and bottlenecks in 2020 are pushing more businesses to demand transparency. Factors like these are driving a new era of innovation in fleet management, one that could be a turning point for the industry.
Here’s how fleet management is evolving in 2021 in response to these developments.
Telematics, especially location services, has long been a staple of fleet management technology. As internet of things (IoT) technology advances and the need for transparency grows, telematics will reach new heights this year. Fleets will use wireless communication to track regulatory compliance, safety statistics and more on top of shipment locations.
For example, fleet operators could use IoT sensors to check in real-time if drivers wear their seat belts or use turn signals. Similarly, they could analyze data about how often drivers break the speed limit or make dangerous turns. This data would help ensure compliance with safety regulations, preventing accidents and improving driver behavior.
Fleets could also use this data to verify their efficiency, safety or other characteristics with potential clients. As these advanced telematics services become more common, some companies could come to expect them from their shipping partners.
Telematics became remarkably popular in 2020, contributing to their growth this year, but this also raised some concerns. With supply chains wirelessly transmitting more valuable data, issues of data privacy become more concerning. Similarly, organizing all of this data can be challenging. Blockchain technology provides a solution to both problems.
These technologies record data as a block in a chain of similar records, facilitating efficient organization. Blockchains are also decentralized and distributed, making them transparent while preventing anyone from tampering with the records. Encryption and anonymity help further improve security while companies can still quickly access the data they need.
Early on in 2021, some hospitals used blockchains in vaccine shipments to ensure safe, efficient transport. As the year goes on and more companies realize this technology’s value, it could see use in other logistics use cases too.
One of the most significant trends to come to the overall transportation industry is mobility-as-a-service (MaaS). Ride-hailing apps and similar services have thoroughly disrupted personal transportation, pushing away from private vehicle ownership. In 2021, this trend could start to break into B2B fleets as well.
Trucks ship more than 70% of products in the U.S., and e-commerce is increasing the demand for shipping. At the same time, more than 50% of trucking employers are having difficulty finding drivers. Companies could help meet this demand despite this driver shortage by using on-demand services akin to MaaS.
Just as Uber drivers help move passengers without their own vehicles, B2B MaaS drivers could move products when businesses run out of available truckers. Drivers with trucks could rent out their services to complete last-mile deliveries for companies struggling to meet demand. While this business model is unlikely to replace traditional models this year, it could start to take hold.
Fleet management is becoming increasingly reliant on digital technologies like IoT sensors. As this trend continues, fleets become more tempting targets for cybercriminals looking to steal data or cause disruption. Consequently, fleet cybersecurity will become a more widespread concern this year.
Earlier this year, a cyberattack on logistics software company SolarWinds put roughly 100 companies and 12 government agencies at risk. The full extent of the breach is still unknown, and it could’ve been far more destructive. In light of this massive attack, more fleets will start paying attention to how they secure their data.
By the end of 2021, many logistics companies may have dedicated cybersecurity departments. Cybersecurity certifications and awards will become a more valuable business tool as businesses look to partner with secure fleets. Fleets that don’t pay as much attention to their data security will quickly fall behind.
Like cybercrime, climate change is a growing concern among both businesses and consumers. Sustainability issues have become increasingly prominent, and the technologies that can help mitigate them are now more accessible. As a result, more fleets will take steps towards minimizing their ecological footprints this year.
The most straightforward path in this endeavor is switching to more eco-friendly vehicles. Electric long-haul trucks are starting to break onto the scene, and more companies will start employing them or researching their own alternatives. Other fleets will use hybrids or focus on fuel efficiency in their route planning.
Warehouses and operations hubs will transition into sustainability, too. Solar panels’ price has steadily decreased over time, and IoT HVAC systems can help minimize energy usage. Technologies like this will become more common across fleets’ home buildings, reducing companies’ overall carbon footprints.
One of the most highly anticipated evolutions to come to fleet management is autonomous vehicles. While the age of self-driving cars is likely still years away, the same may not be true for long-haul trucks. Trucking is a better platform for autonomous vehicles, thanks to its more straightforward routes and highways’ more predictable traffic patterns.
That said, autonomous trucks won’t likely replace traditional options this year, but they will grow more prominent. More companies will invest in them, and researchers may make significant strides. While the industry may not reach full autonomy this year, autonomous features will become more common.
By the end of 2021, more trucks will have features like automatic braking, lane adjustment and adaptive cruise control. These are crucial steps on the journey to full autonomy and improve safety for both drivers and others on the road. As fleets strive to improve this year, they’ll become an industry standard.
Fleet Management Is on the Verge of Transformation
Many industries rely on fleets, so fleet management is always adapting to serve the world’s needs better. After a year as tumultuous as 2020, where fleets have fallen short is exceedingly clear. As a result, 2021 will be a year of rapid advancement.
Fleets in 2021 will embrace digital data and cutting-edge technology. As these trends continue, fleet management will become more agile, flexible, sustainable and safe.