Derek Bryan, VP EMEA at Verizon Connect looks at the ever-evolving nature of the professional driver, and how fleets have evolved in response to the pandemic’s challenges
The life of a professional driver has changed dramatically over the last few years, with technology playing a huge part in this. One man and his truck has turned into one person, their truck and their digital toolbox. Drivers are now part of a hyper-connected organisation joined up by tech, and this is allowing managers and a network of drivers to be linked in totally new ways.
With almost every piece of driver activity can now be turned into data in real time and then optimised for the operation’s benefit, technology is saving vehicle-based businesses millions of dollars and completely changing how a driver operates in the cab.
And it’s also matured immeasurably in recent years. Fleet management is now about far more than vehicle tracking; it allows more visibility of fleet performance, and addresses emerging fleet priorities including route optimisation, emissions reduction and the growing influence of AI on commercial vehicles.
In recent months, these priorities have also incorporated the unforeseen challenge to logistics and operations posed by the pandemic. Our research found that commercial drivers across the UK spent half as much time on the road between mid-February and April due to lockdown measures implemented in response to COVID-19. Most firms and their drivers are now seeing operations return to near previous levels, showing a resilience that would not have been possible even ten years ago without the tech available today.
But what have these challenges impacted the role of the driver today? Here we look at the milestones that have seen the fleet driver go from a solo operator to a vital part of a connected system, turning the driving experience on its head.
Not just your basic telematics
When first introduced, standard telematics allowed managers to see where their drivers went, the miles they covered, and the fuel they spent. Drivers responded by paying greater attention to how they drove and managed their vehicles, communicating with head office via telephone systems to find the quickest route to get the job done.
This was followed by the introduction of intelligent software which provided greater insights into the performance of drivers and fleets through data aggregation and analytics. These software-based services allowed managers to measure driver performance variables such as harsh braking, speeding and fuel consumption, with information collated and stored in the cloud to facilitate remote management of drivers in the field. Relative to the size of the workforce, the output was business critical data.
‘Mobile Enterprise Management’ software, or MEM, connected each member of the workforce more closely than was previously thought possible. In a fleet context, it allowed vehicles and drivers to communicate and interact in real time, gaining insights from other parts of the network on road/traffic conditions, driver performance, and job allocation, which could be applied to inform the more intelligent use of vehicles and scheduling and routing of jobs.
A step beyond – focus on safety and security
Connecting drivers and ensuring they can communicate with each other has undoubtedly helped revolutionise fleet management. Subsequent software developments mean it’s now even more sophisticated, as organisations prioritise efforts to make drivers’ jobs safer and more efficient.
Dash cam technology’s integration, for example can be instrumental in reducing road traffic incidents. In the last few years we’ve seen significantly improved video quality thanks to higher resolution lenses or live streaming via 4G, and the recent introduction of AI to help sift through footage and identify incidents needing review will transform their functionality and help streamline both incident response and insurance claims for drivers and fleet managers alike.
Geofencing technology is also having a significant impact on driver safety and efficiency. Establishing ring-fenced zones in which drivers must operate allows them to undertake the optimal jobs and follow the optimal routes based on their location, reducing their carbon footprint.
The technology also alerts managers in near real-time if company vehicles or assets are moved outside a virtual fence without authorisation. Having this near real-time insight helps teams react to problems faster and act quickly to help recover vehicles, in the event they are stolen from drivers. This ensures those on the road are not left in the lurch but are part of a wider system that takes responsibility for them.
Providing business resilience in the event of crisis
The changing role of the commercial driver can’t be assessed without framing their jobs within the context of the global pandemic. We know that the sudden and sporadic onset of lockdowns across the world hugely disrupted supply chains, altered demand in uncharacteristic ways and either froze or held up supply in other cases. State borders became stopovers for quarantine and testing, hugely impacting drivers’ roles in a time when commercial vehicle traffic was critical to keeping the country running.
In this context, mobile and the cloud has helped connect entire organisations from the front line to the back end, ensuring that in a time of crisis, businesses have been able to push through and pivot operations when they’ve needed to most.
For drivers, who faced the most significant disruption to their roles, technology has enabled to be part of a free flowing chain of command and communication, even when undertaking more remote work, which in turn has helped them pick momentum back up – albeit in a socially distanced manner.
The Connected Driver
In the current era, individual drivers are more important than ever before. Whether they are part of a small commercial operation or a sprawling international supply chain, drivers are no longer a remote asset once they leave the conventional four walls of the enterprise.
They are now an extension of that enterprise, creating a constant stream of data and interactions which are fed back to their organisation’s operations team via a cloud-based platform, ensuring all aspects of the network are optimised – but more importantly, helping entire businesses and industries operate throughout global crisis and into the new world we’ve entered.