Jaama's Jason Francis predicts a fleet software future so bright, he's wearing shades (not pictured), no one would argue that our lives have changed considerably during the past 10 years.

Step back to 1995 and Robbie Williams was still topping the charts with Take That, Diana was about to give her infamous Bashir interview and John Major won his leadership re-election battle to finally put an end to the question about the leadership of the Conservative Party. Call me back in 1995 if you wanted to get a message to someone in a hurry you would phone them and if they weren’t available you’d leave a message. That would be that. Today you can count the ways it can be done: call their landline, call their mobile, send an email, send a text message, send an instant message or send a voicemail.

The ease of communication brought about by the mobile phone and the internet revolution has changed our lives forever. Communication is instant. Information is instant. Some sectors of business have been natural adopters of this ‘communication’ technology and have changed dramatically as a result. Take banking and insurance. 10 years ago we were still visiting local bank branches and insurance was bought from brokers on the high street. How things have changed.

Fleet feet-dragging With the technology available for information to pass freely and quickly electronically, why is it that on the whole, our industry has changed relatively little during the past 10 years? Sure, there have been advances: we can electronically track vehicle movements, maintenance transactions can be authorised electronically and it is possible to get vehicle quotations online, but these advances represent only a tiny amount of the total ‘fleet’ park, and have yet to become the norm.

Advancement in our industry has been slow for a number of reasons. The cost of developing new technology coupled with a low initial investment return has made established players reluctant to develop new products. It doesn’t help that frustrated fleet managers struggle to get the necessary resources from their bosses to improve the management of their vehicles – is there any other business area that costs so much, yet gets so little management investment?

This is all about to change. A new breed of technology companies has emerged that is rapidly revolutionising our industry – developing the necessary tools to bring together and electronically link the disparate areas of the vehicle, suppliers, customers and drivers. The advances we are going to see in the next decade are going to change our industry beyond recognition.

I’d be surprised if it’s not the norm in less than five years to electronically choose your vehicle specification, order it and be able to track the order status in the same way as you can today when sending a parcel. Electronic invoicing and payment will complete the process.

Good news ahead look 10 years ahead and things will be even more “joined up’. Vehicles will be manufactured as ‘telematics enabled’ and include tracking and navigation as standard. Electronic vehicle management systems will be integrated into cost control systems.

Suppliers’ systems will appear as a seamless extension of your own. Masses of information will be recorded about the vehicle, its movements and its performance, and this information will be stored and monitored electronically. This will mean that everything from a driver fuelling the vehicle to servicing and repairs will be electronically compared against approval parameters.

Systems will communicate electronically to enable information to flow freely between them. Is it a valid fuel transaction based on mileage? Is the vehicle due for servicing? Is the driver taking sufficient rest stops? Are the journey locations planned well to avoid congestion? Is the vehicle performing as it should? Has the driver’s latest speeding conviction just disqualified them from driving? Intervention will become the exception as most checks and approval decisions will be made automatically and electronically.   Sounds far-fetched? Our industry is about to make the same transitional leap in the next decade as sending a message has in the last.

How communication is advancing 1995 – Wanted to get a message to someone in a hurry? You’d phone them and leave a message if they were out 2005 – A choice of contact options: call their landline or mobile, send an email, text message instant message or a voice mail 2010 – You’ll be able to electronically pick your car and spec, order it and be able to track the delivery just like a parcel 2015 – Expect an even more ‘joined up’ industry. Cars will be built as ‘telematics enabled’, including tracking and nav as standard. Electronic vehicle management systems integrated into cost control systems.

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