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Comment: The road ahead for van fleets

Never have SME van fleets needed smart tech solutions more. Beverley Wise, sales director UK & Ireland for Webfleet Solutions, explains.

The tech revolution is set to see Service 4.0 – the marriage of business service operations with smart digital systems – having an enormous impact on fleet businesses and the wider world of post-Covid commerce.

The digital transformation playbook, however, should not be regarded as the sole preserve of large enterprise.

Rather it should be embraced by all and seen by small and medium-sized (SME) van fleets as the route to heightened productivity, cost savings and improved customer service. What’s more, with all organisations having access to the same smart processes, the door has opened on a more equitable business landscape.

Healing LCV pain points

While the financial and operational challenges now facing SME van fleets are many, the opportunities for using connected tech to transform business performance are equally profuse.

Pre-pandemic research carried out by Webfleet Solutions found that SMEs were 10% less likely to be early adopters of emerging technologies than their larger counterparts.

A cautious approach to tech investment is understandable in light of concerns ranging from financial and business resource limitations to doubts over digital competences and standards.

But buying power muscle is no longer a prerequisite for efficient, data-driven workflow. Advanced IT systems no longer require specialist tech expertise and deep coffers are no longer necessary to finance smart, end-to-end software solutions.

Consequently, cautiousness should not give way to inertia. Van fleets have the catalyst for smarter, more cost-effective ways of working within their grasp – and in the current climate, this may prove business-critical.

Turbocharging efficiency and productivity

Whether a van fleet operates with field service engineers, tradesmen or delivery personal, the digital processing of data, from the field to the back office, using open platform technologies such as telematics, can dramatically streamline workflow.

Service 4.0 means more than just digitisation, it mean interoperability – connected software and hardware systems that seamlessly share business intelligence.

For van fleets, this means using a single interface to not only gain detailed insights into the activities of their vehicles and mobile workers, but relaying this digital data into back office systems, such as workflow management or accounting software.

In turn, this translates to going paperless, completing more jobs and improving billable time through improved planning, scheduling and responsiveness.

At the start of each working day, vehicle checks can be made by employees via an app on their driver terminals, with the results updated in the back office to ensure maintenance schedules are met. Daily workflow can then be automatically loaded onto these devices, the sequence of customer visits optimised and drivers routed directly to their destinations. At the same time, automatic alerts advising customers of their arrival times can be sent via text or email.

Furthermore, job statuses can be updated in the back-office system and proof of product deliveries submitted via the app’s signature capture functionality, in-built camera or near field communication (NFC) chip.

Vehicle connectivity enables invoices to be generated automatically when customers sign on mobile devices. Data passes from mobile hardware to vehicle and then onwards to the office, allowing accurate invoices, including GPS timestamps, to be created and sent within minutes, helping boost cash flow.

An open window on cost and safety

With data collection, reporting and analysis no longer onerous or laborious, this greater control and visibility for van fleets extends to easy-to-use solutions for managing costs and improving safety standards.

Telematics systems can create profiles for drivers, for example, based on their performance in key areas of safety and efficiency, from speeding and fuel consumption to harsh steering and braking.

Integrations with on-board cameras mean that in the case of more serious incidents, reports can be automatically generated, complete with footage, to help managers make informed assessments of why they occurred. If they resulted from evasive action to avoid accidents, camera footage will support the drivers. In other cases, advice or training may be offered to improve their performance behind the wheel.

Businesses typically benefit from significant fuel, maintenance and insurance cost savings.

Tomorrow’s world… today

SME owners and fleet managers are approaching 2021 with very different mindsets to the ones they had this time last year.

With Covid-19 turning the world of business upside down, SMEs have had to contend with a range of new challenges, from managing cash flow in the face of increased payment times to stretched staff resources and supply chains.

These challenges continue. While large corporates dig deep into their resources and capital reserves, SMEs must continue leveraging their flexibility and agility to navigate the tribulations facing them in the months ahead.

Technologies that support these important qualities should be embraced with alacrity. For van fleets, this calls for laying the foundation stones for Service 4.0 – the digital solution to tightening processes and unlocking the door to more efficient ways of working.

Connected fleets will ultimately work faster, more efficiently and with greater dexterity. And with smart business tech fast evolving, ever greater opportunities are emerging to build that all-important competitive advantage that can help protect business futures.