Convoy of 4 trucks on a highway. Highway transportation with trucks.

Companies from many verticals have vehicle fleets to manage, whether they are cars, trucks, trailers, or forklifts. Today’s fleet managers often use connected sensors to monitor vehicles, gaining real-time access to information on fuel consumption, telematics, driver behavior, and GPS location. Let’s take a look at how IoT solutions are transforming the fleet management industry.

A Brief History of Fleet Management Technology

As early as the 1970s, automobile manufacturers in the U.S. adopted a computer-based telematics system that cataloged new cars as they emerged from factories. When dealers ordered cars, the manufacturers used mainframe-to-mainframe communications to process the transaction. Computer technology was also used to create vehicle status reports. 

Fleet company ARI launched the first online fleet maintenance management system in 1982 (yes, you read that right—well before the modern internet, the system connected via modem). The online system allowed fleet managers to work much faster and more efficiently, cutting back lead times on vehicle deliveries.

Later, the introduction of GPS technology allowed for real-time fleet tracking. By the mid-1990s, GPS was available to fleet managers, who quickly put it to use. The internet was becoming ubiquitous around the same time, driving fleet management innovators to design more advanced telematics systems that tapped into the new technologies. Using GPS, they developed tracking systems that took advantage of machine-to-machine (M2M) connectivity.

Today’s technology continues to foster the development of fleet management tools. With a combination of tiny IoT sensors, powerful in-vehicle computers, and cloud-based management systems, fleet managers are better equipped than ever to manage their vehicles.

How Does IoT Benefit Fleet Management?

IoT fleet management and asset tracking systems offer many benefits, driving increased efficiencies and better outcomes in several areas. Let’s take a closer look at a few. 

Safety

While earlier technology only monitored the vehicle’s location along a route, today’s IoT sensors can deliver much more detailed information to fleet operators. For example, they might monitor tire pressure and coolant temperature and be able to trigger an alert if there’s a problem. Access to this type of information gives fleet managers a heads up when a safety risk is detected—and if a part is on the verge of failure, they have time to intervene. In-vehicle sensors also deliver constant, valuable information to drivers, helping them make safer decisions.

Vehicle Maintenance

Similarly, IoT sensors can alert drivers and fleet managers to upcoming maintenance needs such as oil changes and tire rotations. Connected sensors can also be installed in the engine to provide insights about the function of essential parts, allowing companies to initiative preventive maintenance—fixing things before they break down completely.

Route Optimization

Advanced GPS systems detect traffic and weather conditions along a vehicle’s route and recommend alternate routes as needed. Fleet-wide, this cuts down on fuel consumption and yields other benefits in saved time and increased safety.

Cost Savings

IoT fleet management solutions provide companies with layers of useful data, which they can use to increase efficiencies around maintenance, routes, driver accountability, and more. All these optimizations ultimately yield cost savings as the company can run its operations in a much leaner, more effective way.

Current Challenges for IoT in Fleet Management

While IoT solutions are very successful in fleet management, adopting many sensors and data streams always presents some challenges. Here are a few areas that continue to prompt innovation as IoT evolution continues in this space:

Data Processing and Analytics

Installing multiple IoT sensors on every vehicle in a fleet generates a large wave of diverse, real-time data. Unless processed and analyzed quickly, much of the data can remain unused and unhelpful. To make the most of it, companies need to speed data processing and analytics. Innovative tools and platforms are helping fleet managers do that—and those that include data visualization and customizable dashboards are especially helpful because they give fleet operators a clear, big-picture view of the data.

Systems Integration

Once a company sets up an IoT fleet management solution, they need to connect the new data streams to existing IT systems and business processes to get the most value. Integrating data flows between business systems is another challenge that innovations can overcome. Major cloud services such as Oracle’s IoT fleet management solution allow companies to integrate fleet data with existing customer relationship management (CRM), payroll, and supply chain management (SCM) systems.

Device Management

Once devices are deployed, fleet managers must be able to monitor them—not just to receive data about their environment, but also about the status of their mechanics, connectivity, and battery life. Long-term device management is often overlooked when companies plan an IoT deployment, but it’s essential to continued success. Some SIM providers include comprehensive device management services—for example, Hologram’s dashboard gives you real-time visibility into device health, data limits, and usage.

9 Revolutionary Applications of IoT in Fleet Management

Now let’s look at some of the ways IoT applications are impacting fleet management.

Monitoring Driver Behavior

IoT sensors can monitor driver behavior and notify fleet managers if something out of the ordinary occurs. For example, if the vehicle is speeding or the driver brakes or accelerates suddenly, sensors can process that information and trigger an alert. Capturing this data keeps them accountable for their actions—and gives operators a clear picture of how their drivers’ behavior affects the fleet’s overall safety and compliance.

Predictive Maintenance

IoT sensors track a variety of vehicle data such as coolant temperature, tire pressure, and engine and battery status. Fleet managers can set up the IoT solution to trigger alerts when maintenance work is needed on particular vehicles. For example, if a sensor detects that a vehicle’s battery is near failure, it triggers an alert for the manager saying it needs to be replaced. The ability to predict future mechanical problems before they happen can yield tremendous time and cost savings—and extend the lives of vehicles.

Process Automation

By combining streams of data into intelligent algorithms, today’s IoT fleet management solutions allow companies to automate complex processes that are labor-intensive and time-consuming when carried out in traditional ways. For example, an IoT solution might collect all the needed data for compliance requirements and create an automatic report.

Optimizing Fuel Consumption

Using IoT sensors to monitor driver behavior also lets companies optimize fuel consumption throughout their fleet. Long periods of idling, excessive cruising speeds, and rapid acceleration and braking can all increase fuel consumption. When managers have access to data about driver behavior, they can work with their team to improve decision-making and optimize fuel consumption.

Improved Fleet Operations Management

When IoT data is integrated and able to flow into existing ERP systems, fleet operators can make quicker, better-informed decisions. Data dashboards can give an overarching view of data, helping teams identify key performance indicators (KPIs), track progress, and conduct operations research.

Big Data Analytics

Before IoT, fleet operators had to manually collect information about vehicle speed, performance, fuel consumption, and mileage logs. Now, connected wireless devices produce a breadth and volume of data that can be maximized through big data analytics. When that information is flowing in real-time, its value increases because—if analyzed quickly—fleet managers can use it to make real-time decisions.

Increasing Visibility

IoT implementation increases overall visibility for fleet management operations. That means stakeholders—including drivers, fleet managers, and other team members—can access a central pane and see critical, updated information about every facet of their operations. Visibility has many angles, but here’s one example: when fleet managers know where their vehicles are at all times, they can keep clients and customers updated about the status of deliveries. 

Reducing Environmental Impacts

Using IoT sensor data, companies can identify driver behaviors that waste fuel and signs that a vehicle is malfunctioning. Recognizing these issues early can help fleet operators deal with them, maximizing compliance with environmental guidelines and regulations.

Monitoring Shipment Conditions

IoT devices inside trailers and shipping containers can monitor factors such as temperature, tilt, and light—especially important for high-value or cold-chain shipments. Incorporating this with vehicle sensor data in the on-board computer can notify drivers and fleet managers if there’s a problem. (For example, if the truck’s refrigeration unit is malfunctioning and the ice cream is melting.)

Successful Fleet Management Examples

Let’s take a look at a few fleet management providers that have successfully implemented IoT solutions at scale:

Fleetsu

Fleetsu’s cloud-based fleet management software gives fleet owners the ability to monitor vehicles and drivers with fine-tuned precision, gathering data that are useful for everything from meeting maintenance schedules to detecting driver fatigue. The platform is customizable, and the company’s telematics devices can be adjusted to include custom parameters such as seatbelt, handbrake, and door status.

Samsara

Samsara’s fleet management solution includes GPS tracking along with real-time compliance and safety information. Their AI dash cams capture incidents and enhance driver safety, and a Driver App includes logging, routing, messaging, and other capabilities to keep drivers and fleet managers connected.

Fleetpin

New Zealand-based Fleetpin is a GPS tracking solution for fleet management. The company’s GPS devices can deliver real-time tracking with anti-theft alerts, engine reporting, and movement reporting. On the platform side, fleet managers get access to maps with pinpointed vehicles and related information such as speed, current street address location, and past route.

The Future of IoT in Fleet Management

As time goes on, IoT is likely to play an even more pivotal role in fleet management and become common in both large and small fleet deployments. Other emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomous vehicles are also set to impact fleet management in dramatic ways. It’s quite possible that one day, fleets of trailers could be unmanned, driven entirely by AI-equipped on-board computers, and tracked with IoT sensors.


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