Setting up smart fleet success in 2018

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The past few years have seen huge advances in autonomous vehicles. Trials of wireless trucks travelling in convoy across Europe have been a success, and manufacturers like Mercedes-Benz are creating concept commercial vehicles such as the Future Truck 2025. Despite concerns around legal responsibility and safety in the event of an accident, most major vehicle manufacturers are developing competitive products.

Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025

Mercedes-Benz are creating concept commercial vehicles such as the Future Truck 2025

While smart autonomous fleets offer a range of benefits, McKinsey & Company predicts this technology is still a decade away from becoming the norm – so why should the logistics industry get excited now? The truth is technologies such as supply chain optimisation and control, which will be vital to supporting smart fleets, can transform operational efficiency now.

Smart fleets and autonomous vehicles will both generate and require huge volumes of data. Whether transmitting information from on-board sensors, or downloading ultra-high resolution maps, an organisation’s systems must be able to receive, comprehend and react to this data in real-time. Any firm operating without real-time capabilities is directly at a disadvantage when competing against more tech-savvy competitors.

DHL Germany is a great example of how working to build responsive connected technology platforms brings real benefits now. DHL’s SmartTruck technology has used dynamic route planning operations to reduce CO2 emissions; increase dispatch productivity; improve service quality; and enable greater precision in pick-ups and deliveries. DHL reduced its tour duration by eight percent and decreased mileage by a further 15 percent using this technology – for any logistics company these are huge benefits – all without a single autonomous truck in sight.

If organisations are serious about smart fleets, and eventually adopting autonomous vehicles, then the foundation work should start now – and here are the three key technologies and capabilities required:

1. Harnessing the Internet of Things (IoT)

Whether it’s predictive analytics and automation or advanced sensor technologies and data capture, effective use of IoT delivers data-driven insight so fleet manager can respond in a timely manner. In fleet and freight organisations, this means identifying issues like faulty processes, vehicles or refrigeration unit malfunction, which generate alerts and deploy resources to immediately rectify the issue.

But simply capturing, storing and reading over results is not good enough – rather fleet managers need a supply chain planning and optimisation solution capable of delivering robust KPI-driven operational planning that analyses the IoT data to drive predictive and prescription analytics.

2. Making decisions in real-time

Split second agility is key to delivering effective logistical operations. Having planning, scheduling, tracking and customer facing systems that operate in real time is the only way to deliver such agility. In addition, automation is impossible if the data used to power it is not reflective of what is happening in real-time.

Last year, HCL Technologies revealed almost half of European businesses experienced headaches with data silos. Ultimately, all data sets and systems need to be able to talk to each other – and do so in real-time as opposed to in batches that inevitably lead to delays that impact service standards. Data can now move between systems and can be brought into a cycle of continuous optimisation, enabling fleet managers to better align customer demand with fleet availability.

Whether organisations adopt autonomous vehicles or not, supply chain planning and optimisation solutions can help make informed decisions on where and when shipments need to go, on what vehicle, and then revise plans as they get real-time updates on route progress, traffic and weather conditions or road closure. Leveraging Artificial Intelligence, fleet managers can begin to deploy self-learning supply chains capable of automating and managing less critical tasks, which means they can focus on more complex issues associated with running a smart fleet.

3. Mobile freedom

With 5G networks improving the accuracy of location-based tracking, vehicle monitoring will also become more accurate – even in more remote locations.

For the logistics industry, 5G will better enable time-critical process control, factory automation, remote control, enterprise communication and help smart fleets exchange information in real-time at faster speeds. While 5G is expected to increase the sharing of sensory data to help improve situational awareness and accelerating the progress of autonomous vehicles, fleet managers need to ensure planning and scheduling platforms can accurately capture and analyse the rapid influx of data being generated in a way that is meaningful.

Each of these three areas can fundamentally affect the performance of any organisation moving a large fleet or freight operation. The prospect of replacing mission critical systems is not an easy one, but it is an unavoidable step if businesses want to remain competitive and relevant in the future.

Many of tomorrow’s problems can be answered today, and this preparatory work can bring immediate benefits and set them up for success. Many companies are already on their journey, implementing real-time, connected systems, and gaining the competitive advantage – if they have not done so already.

By Jeff Butler, product manager, logistics, products & solutions from Quintiq

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