Software as a Service in Fleet management: Easy as pie
These last two decades, we have seen booming fleet-based markets and operations blow, almost out of proportion; all with good reason. While the need was already there, it was only after 2001 that technology allowed for these advancements. Especially in the last few years, with the flourishing of cloud computing. Cloud technologies allowed for much more beneficial ways to serve software to non tech-savvy businesses. Software as a Service in Fleet Management is the one that made a world of difference in how we conduct our daily operations.
Software as a Service is a new way of service software. One that brings far more benefits than any other method of distribution used to date.
The problem with traditional software licensing
In the past — and even today — the traditional method to use business software has been via a service-level agreement (SLA). Simply put, an SLA is a commitment between a business and a service provider, where the two parties agree to specific terms and conditions of service. And this is what outlines their conduct in their collaboration.
Legally binding or not, this “traditional” method of software distribution is really difficult and time-consuming. Not to mention, it’s an absolute spending spree; at least as compared to the tools and methods we have at our disposal today. Traditional software licensing will bring at least 4 levels of difficulty in implementation:
Business software tends to require a specific hardware and software infrastructure. That is to say, a business needs to have or obtain at least the basics:
- a dedicated server (or more)
- a dedicated room for it, to keep it cool and in optimal working condition
- licensing for the operating system and all peripheral software required
- a well thought out local area network (LAN) infrastructure
Costs aside, it’s an endeavor that will take time and effort. Especially if the business has nothing to do with information technology (IT).
As expected, computer systems need one or more people to maintain, operate and improve them. This falls under the staffing requirements that comes with such a commitment. And, staffing an IT department in a non-IT business is a lot harder than average. In lack of a better solution, businesses all over the world have strived to make this work for decades.
IT specialists are perfectly capable of maintaining and operating nearly any system that falls into their hands. But, as any of us would, they still need training on any new systems, as needed.
Training is one of the most important aspects of business quality. Software systems are here to serve businesses in improving their performance and quality of service; not the other way around. A well trained staff means more efficient operations, better business performance and less problems in routine procedures.
But, training a group of employees for efficiency doesn’t come cheap. Professional training — usually under some kind of contract — usually goes hand in hand with lavish fees; usually from the software provider with whom we’ve signed the SLA. Not to mention the learning curve involved in training the rest of our employees to use the system as intended and efficiently.
Analyzing the types of costs involved in signing an SLA, one could end up with a monthly or annual cost structure that looks something like — or includes — the following:
- Hardware, operating systems and peripheral software (recurring costs may be involved)
- Renovations and cable infrastructure implementation (potential downtime for business)
- Air conditioning and power stabilization management (oftentimes, a backup generator may also be needed)
- Staffing an IT department (payroll)
- Training specialists on specific systems (also considering employee retention)
- Training existing staff to properly use the system (can be an ongoing process)
- Support and upgrades from the provider (part of existing contract, or an additional service)
Most businesses would prefer to avoid as many of these “headaches” as possible. Especially if they have nothing to do with their actual business with customers. Today, this is possible by using an alternative distribution method; one called Software as a Service.
What is Software as a Service (SaaS)?
Software as a Service in Fleet management — also, in general — is a model for software licensing and delivery. One based on subscription. This on-demand software distribution brings a core benefit; it’s centrally hosted. This translates into a host of benefits for any business that needs a solution fast. And, without any considerable additional costs incurred.
Software as a Service — also known as subscribeware or rentware — is delivered on any device that comes with an internet browser and can connect to the internet. The vast majority of businesses will be able to get right to work with a mere laptop and their broadband connection.
In terms of subscription pricing, Software as a Service can be provided using different pricing models; such as on a pay-as-you-go basis, or by the number of concurrent users, or the features used. And, it can be used — and paid for — per month, per year, or even occasionally, as needed. This is a kind of flexibility most businesses have the need for. Especially when it comes to small-to-medium sized businesses that need to optimize their budget spend.
All in all, Software as a Service seems to be the best option; at least, compared to any of the traditional licensing and distribution methods.
How is Software as a Service better?
Compared to our current reality, especially with regard to more established businesses that completed their infrastructure a few years ago, even a 10-20% reduction in costs would constitute considerable improvement. That said, there are quite a few improvements that come with using Software as a Service in Fleet management; in any business, really.
No infrastructure required
Being centrally hosted and subscription based, Software as a Service requires no infrastructure on the client’s side. The software provider develops and maintains the entire infrastructure, on behalf of all users. To keep it simple, maintainable, robust and reliable, everything is done on the Cloud. This also ensures that all users can enjoy exactly the same — always updated — featureset.
Businesses are no longer required to deploy their own hardware and software infrastructure, or modify their spaces to support it. Everything is simply available on a computer screen, safely deployed on the Cloud.
Much lower costs
The cloud-based nature of SaaS brings a set of happy side-effects. There is no need to staff an IT department; nor is there the need to educate and train one. The provider handles customer support and upgrades, without the need to bother the users. That goes to say, the costs incurred by hiring IT specialists, bringing them up to specs and constantly having to motivate them, maximizing retention, are all rendered unnecessary.
Software as a Service makes for simplicity. By not being tailor made — or extensively customizable, for that matter — and by being designed for all sorts of businesses in the industry it serves, it leverages best practices in usability standards. Thus, allowing all users to enjoy a much simpler experience with easy to use features; solving daily problems at a fraction of the time.
Using Software as a Service in Fleet management — or any other type of business — will reduce operational costs down to the absolute minimum. All a business needs is a mere subscription to obtain the service; and minimal training time for the existing staff to learn how to use it. The learning curve is considerably shallower than any complex, tailor-made system.
Scalability and integration
Doubling new business is always a good thing. But, doubling the infrastructure available to serve our increased clientele can become a headache, really quick. Using Software as a Service in Fleet management allows for a much more scalable infrastructure; one that can double and quadruple in minutes. One only needs to upgrade to the next tier of their subscription plan, instantly increasing the available resources.
Additionally, the model used in developing Software as a Service, typically includes listening to customer feedback. Once the market signals the need of a specific solution to a specific problem, its realization may only be one software release away. As such, the level of standardization in Software as a Service tends to provide vendors with the ability to work on integrations to other — also standardized — systems; allowing for interoperability and compliance.
Evergreen: Always up to date
Using software that needs to be installed on a server or personal computer needs to be updated manually; and, sometimes, it can only be done by expert technicians. That is another aspect of software management that Software as a Service demonstrates superior performance. Any updates, fixes or new features are automatically available to all users of the software once it’s released, at no additional cost. That way, every user enjoys robust software that is always up to date, more reliable; and in compliance with the most recent practices.
These days, business is becoming more and more about information; or the lack of it. Software vendors are aware that businesses don’t really feel comfortable taking their data from the safety of their own server and placing them on the Cloud. Very important questions come to mind. Is it reliable? Is it secure? Will my data be lost or stolen?
Cloud platforms are managed by cloud experts with the latest practices. And they do it using top notch security technologies and constantly monitoring entire infrastructures for issues of any kind. Compared to locally bred — or provided — solutions that might lack the collective knowledge of highly specialized cloud management experts, Software as a Service solutions are bound to be considerably more secure than local installations. And that’s one more reason for using Software as a Service in Fleet management.
Shallow learning curve
Built with the latest usability practices and all possible user profiles in mind, a generalized Software as a Service solution tends to take simplicity and ease of use to a whole other level. A fleet manager or fleet operator — even the fleet owner or the receptionist — will be able to find their way around a Software as a Service Fleet management system; all in a fraction of the time they would need with a conventional, tailormade, customizable solution. While Software as a Service solutions will accept customization to a certain extent, it does so based on established use cases. That alone allows for a well designed, guided experience that will help any and all users pick up the pace in no time. The learning curve can’t really get much more shallow than that.
Some companies employ a contingency plan, in case of a natural disaster or an accident, such as a fire; some don’t. In all practicality, most companies won’t do it, unless there is a foreseeable danger; a high likelihood that such a scenario may happen. A contingency plan like this may include evacuation plans, data backups, a secondary base of operations and all sorts of similar considerations. But, all these things cost money; and no one will shell out this kind of money for something they’ve yet to see the value of.
Software as a Service bypasses nearly all considerations that would be overlooked on a daily basis. Since a laptop and a broadband connection are all that is needed, business continuity is easier than ever before. In case of an emergency or natural disaster, everyone can temporarily work from home, allowing for seamless business operation. No data is lost and everything remains well organized and in perfect order. Apart from any potential material damages to be amended, the business in question will remain viable and in operation.
Software as a Service in Fleet Management
Following the introduction of the first OBD protocol in 1988 (US), which was initially designed to enable the monitoring of pollutants such as gas emissions from vehicle exhausts, all sorts of different implementations of the technology have emerged. Now, at its second version, it allows proprietary systems to read information directly from a vehicle’s ECU; enabling technologies like telematics to flourish and fleet operators to optimize their business operations for performance and efficiency. A great way to do it all is by using Software as a Service in Fleet management processes.
Telematics is an interdisciplinary field, ranging from telecoms and wireless communications to electronics and technology for vehicles of all sorts. Software as a Service in Fleet Management uses telematics to handle vehicle tracking and diagnostics. Telematics in vehicle management involves sending, receiving and storing information via telecoms technologies to manage vehicles that are on the move. Vehicle positions, distances travelled, malfunction indications, fuel consumption and driving behavior are all types of information that would help a fleet manager or fleet operator optimize their business for performance and efficiency.
Day 1 efficiency
Using Software as a Service in Fleet Management can, potentially, improve efficiency from the first day of its use. Fleet vehicles — equipped with the necessary IoT telematics device — will start transmitting the full set of information available to the SaaS platform. Automatic alerts, notifications and reports will enable the fleet manager to pinpoint a few important points of improvement that would otherwise not be so obvious.
For example, speeding, excessive idling or existing malfunctions resulting in downtime, can be addressed and fixed within the first week of using the system; thus allowing for considerable improvement in efficiency.
To elaborate, speeding alone costs fleet businesses in the US more than $131.5 million and more than 41K workdays; all in a day’s work! Aggressive driving and excessive idling, on the other hand, can result in more than 37% increase in fuel consumption; while downtime due to engine or mechanical failure can cost more than $500 of income per vehicle, per day.
The 6 benefits of Software as a Service in Fleet Management
Using Software as a Service in Fleet Management can prove extremely beneficial. Not only because all competitors are using one such solution; but, also, because it’s much easier to use and manage than an older — potentially obsolete — conventional solution. Not to mention, it’s cost-effective; only at a small fraction of the cost to deploy a customized solution. There are practical benefits, too. Let’s go through 6 of them:
1. No tech-savvy required
Virtually no technical knowledge is required in using Software as a Service in Fleet Management. The software lives in the Cloud; no installation or configuration is required. The fleet manager will only need a laptop, a browser and a broadband connection.
Maintenance and updates are performed automatically with each new software release. All users enjoy the latest and most robust functionality as soon as it’s published by the vendor. Most of the time, users will be able to work seamlessly through the update process, without even noticing it.
2. A lot more convenient than traditional solutions
SaaS solutions tend to simplify the entire process for the user. The software is ready to use, off the shelf. That’s, by just getting a subscription plan and logging into the app from a laptop or mobile device. Then again, many vendors have begun working with vehicle manufacturers to come up with OEM solutions; which will, eventually, make things all that much easier.
3. Pro safety and compliance
Collecting, and analyzing information about the state of each vehicle and the driving behaviors of the crew is extremely helpful in identifying safety issues; and resolving them before they increase in severity. And that’s why using Software as a Service in Fleet Management is important for the safety of fleet employees; at least in making sure that they employ safe driving practices. And, of course, that all vehicles are maintained in good working order, promoting road safety. Not to mention, with the difficulty in driver retention in these last few years, it’s also a way to work towards keeping the best ones on board and motivated.
Keeping tabs on all aspects of fleet status helps maintain compliance without having to worry about safe driving; or roadside safety inspections. Compliance with state law and regulations is easy to achieve and maintain; especially when an alert or notification will help identify a problem or a sub-par situation anywhere in the fleet. It’s also a great way to optimize for safety inasmuch as preventing the majority of road accidents.
Understanding how well a fleet of vehicles performs and which aspects need improvement or even re-factoring is an extremely important business advantage; one that will tremendously help a fleet manager or fleet operator to resolve performance or efficiency problems at a fraction of the time they would need otherwise.
Automatic reports are also a great productivity tool. Identifying problems and resolving them becomes as easy as it can get. Not to mention, a trip log report that is formatted up to the standards set by the IRS makes bookkeeping for deductible expenses look like a walk in the park.
Alerts and notifications about anything ranging from warnings to malfunctions will help in proactive management; such as emergency repairs when a problem emerges — or in case of a road accident — towing a vehicle with exact location sharing. Thus, identifying low performing vehicles or drivers and optimizing for performance.
5. Integrated customer service
An SLA typically comes with terms and conditions and legal clauses that are designed to smooth out the partnership between a vendor and a customer. Oftentimes, quite the opposite may happen. A vendor may charge a different price for support services, usually outside of the initial contract. This is, of course, a recurring payment charged per month or per year.
In comparison, the vast majority of SaaS products offer customer support services on a tiered basis, according to the subscription plan and feature-set each customer needs. Customer support is provided via a chat-box, email, an automated knowledge-base system or over the phone. Often, we use a combination of these methods, for convenience. This way, the monthly or annual subscription includes everything the user needs to keep working on their business.
6. Better performance, better ROI, more growth
A vehicle fleet that is optimized for performance will bring a better Return on Investment (ROI). This benefit functions as an enabler towards growth. Growing a fleet business beyond mere viability is probably the dream of every fleet manager, fleet owner or fleet operator.
Efficient and timely maintenance, safe driving behavior, optimal fuel consumption and reduced wear and tear, prolonging the lifespan of each vehicle are all practical benefits that come from using Software as a Service in Fleet Management. An initial investment in a good Fleet management system and a basic process in maintaining fleet vehicles and training drivers on safe driving practices may seem like a lot. But these are the three pillars a healthy business can be built upon. And it is how better fleet performance, better ROI and more growth will happen.
Fleet Management with Telematics
As established, to perform vehicle management with telematics, one needs to complement their SaaS subscription with a piece of hardware. Depending on the type of device, one can install and set it up in a couple of minutes or in a couple of hours. Either way, there are considerable benefits coming from the information collected.
Vehicle location and distance travelled
Knowing whether a vehicle has reached its destination, the distance travelled, current location and route followed offers an advantage towards optimizing customer service, routes and time schedules. Fleet managers can use telematics to identify possible imperfections in their daily routine; these may either be easy fixes or may mean rethinking a certain process. Whatever the case, they will be able to improve the quality of service.
Trips and stops
Small fleet or larger fleet, a fleet manager faces a daily struggle to understand how well fleet drivers understand the company mission and how they perceive the values by which the company conducts its business. Knowing what trips they made, where they stopped and how long they idled their engines is extremely important in verifying that drivers take their job seriously.
Additionally, an automated trip log and mileage report makes an easy job of keeping track of all business-related trips; ready to export into an Excel file and send to the accountant for deductible mileage expenses. And, taking it a step further, optimizing mileage may also mean lower insurance rates.
Idling and fuel consumption
Be it because older software didn’t have a way to know a stop from a trip or because a driver didn’t want their employer to know they made a stop, a big issue in vehicle management is uncontrolled engine idling. Then again, so is, of course, aggressive driving. Both of these behaviors come in for excessive fuel consumption. This is a severely sub-optimal situation; one which a fleet manager needs to address. And, using Software as a Service in Fleet Management can help with that. Idling is now easier than ever to identify and put on a comprehensive report, along with aggressive driving behaviors. Fleet managers are now able to identify areas of improvement and train their drivers towards top notch customer service.
Driving behavior management
Along with aggressive driving, many drivers may be used to certain behaviors that eventually lead to faster wear and tear of certain parts of the vehicle; even to breakdowns. And that includes distracted driving or plain negligence. Defensive driving programs, many of which are State certified, can help optimize driving performance and maintenance costs. Additionally, regardless of the type of the fleet, customer satisfaction will go through the roof. Driving behavior makes a world of difference in customer satisfaction; and how professional they perceive the service to be. That’s true regardless if it’s a:
- delivery fleet
- taxi, limo or VIP fleet
- construction fleet
- moving/shipping fleet
- fleet of hearses
More numbers, less spreadsheets
Using Software as a Service in Fleet Management comes with a high degree of automation. A fleet operator or fleet manager is now able to produce more meaningful statistics and forecasts than ever before; while all the while laying off the spreadsheets and the long hours needed to make them work. With automated reports about:
- driving behaviors,
- vehicle status,
- fuel consumption,
- engine errors and alerts,
- trip logs or mileage reports and
- deductible expenses reports,
ROI is much easier to calculate, in a fraction of the time and effort.
Fleet management & Software as a Service — TL;DR
There is a host of benefits in using Software as a Service in Fleet Management. From convenience to safety and compliance, time-saving features, such as automated tracking and reporting, as well as integrated customer service options will improve a fleet’s performance towards better ROI and more growth.
Be it a construction fleet, a delivery fleet, a taxi, limo or VIP fleet, a shipping fleet or a fleet of school buses, Software as a Service in Fleet management can make it easy as pie, with features like vehicle location and distance travelled, trip logs, engine status, driving behavior management; and all kinds of helpful, automated reports to help optimize for fleet performance and efficiency.