'Speaking a common language'
Increased IT integration will be the theme for 2006 and beyond with today's software systems talking to each other through one common language (XML], according to Jason Francis, managing director of fleet software and occupational road safety specialists Jaama. 'It means that systems can talk to one another and rather than being separate islands of information within an organisation, information can automatically transcend systems and drive processes,' he said. 'This will enable the fleet department, no matter how small, to devolve some burdensome operational administrative tasks out from a central function to branches/departments or drivers. 'For example, integration with a company's payroll and HR systems will mean that an employee's details require inputting only once. From the HR system, that information will feed into a fleet system along with vehicle grade allocation details.
The fleet system will then match the two pieces of information together and suggest a suitable vehicle based upon availability and vehicle type while taking into account the driver's car grade. Similarly, before allowing a daily rental vehicle to be ordered, the fleet system will search the vehicle fleet to check whether there's a spare or unallocated vehicle as a potential cost-saving alternative.'Direct access to information will continue to increase with the growing use of web-based systems enabling drivers and their line managers to access and change information. Data integrity will be maintained as access will be controlled and validated by the software. For example, if allowed, they could change vehicle allocations within their departments or investigate issues themselves rather than having to contact the central fleet department to query, for example, invoice recharges or allocated costs.'
Mr Francis added: The surge in electronic communication will continue also with SMS and email notifications automatically sent to drivers/line managers with duty of care reminders or updates on information such as fleet handbook acceptance sign-off, requests for mileage returns and prompts that a vehicle service is due.'
He points out that there is no doubt that the fleet industry's acceptance of technology has been slow for a number of reasons. Not least, the cost of development coupled with a low initial investment return resulting in established players being reluctant to develop new products. Mr Francis also suggests that in some cases fleet managers have struggled to obtain the necessary resources from their bosses to improve the management of vehicles through the utilisation of sophisticated online solutions. But, just as in others facets of business life the trend for more electronic communication and greater access to information is now rapidly embracing the fleet industry. 'A new breed of technology company has emerged that is rapidly revolutionising the 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 over the next decade are going to change our industry beyond recognition.'