Fleets today are under increasing pressure to be efficient when delivering the goods and services to customers. As an article by Australian Financial Review points out, the continuing growth of SMEs and the unstoppable rise of e-commerce have both been accelerating significantly in supply chains everywhere.

But the industry is up to the task, equipped with the latest and still-evolving technologies that have been making managing fleet easier even as they scale up.

Here's a look at the key areas in which technology has been driving improvements in fleet management.

1. Unique solutions to unique problems

Clients have unique, individual problems that they need solving, so there really isn't any be-all and end-all solution for all client needs. Telematics solutions providers have been finding out how technology isn't about finding that one solution, but investing in an array of capabilities in order to find the best one to fit a client.

An article by Automotive Fleet reported how global fleet management services company ARI has found that the best way to go about this is finding the right technology — even when it isn't their own. Lou Vella, ARI's assistant manager of new product development, is quoted as saying, "We can't be good at everything. Some things aren't core to what ARI does. There are other companies within that space that provide superior technology and a superior product, and, in cases like that, we would recommend the best provider whether it is ARI or not."

The company maintains a technology lab in that gives customers the opportunity to see firsthand what some of this technology can do, which becomes a learning experience for them. This laboratory features both the company's own telematics and fleet management technology, along with that of partners and outside companies.

2. Practical Business Intelligence

With billions and billions of data points from a huge number of customers and vehicles reporting in real time, telematics companies have been amassing tremendously valuable business intelligence. So much so that some companies are able to turn this into an asset that enables them to help customers take advantage of all that data.

These companies are able to leverage this massive amount of information through various innovations over the past few years. Leading mobile workforce solutions provider Fleetmatics reports that by the end of 2017, when all qualified drivers in the US are required to fully comply with the FMCSA mandate on the use of Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs), this business intelligence is about to grow even more significantly.

In general, these devices will be connected with vehicle engines to automate driving status, and give drivers the ability to keep their record of duty status (RODS) and easily supply such records to roadside inspectors. And ELD systems integrated with vehicle and asset tracking will benefit clients beyond just basic compliance. They will see newly quantifiable returns on investment particularly in efficiency, where estimated times of arrival to customer locations will be improved through real-time visibility into location.

3. Safety and Productivity

Along with the new possibility of creating individualized driver profiles, fleet managers are now able to zero in on drivers to proscribe solutions to problems at the individual level. Individualized risk profiles matter a lot from a productivity standpoint, where companies are enabled to develop a cost per job. This in turn allows them to analyze and understand the cost for each activity.

An article by the Financial Times underscores how advances in telematics change even how employees are behaving. Expenses fraud is effectively reduced through monitoring, and costs are driven down significantly. Richard Perham of Airmax, a hardware and software engineering company, claims that fleet operators are able to save 30% in costs on the first year of installing telematics systems. Drivers simply drive very differently as they know they're being monitored, he adds.

On top of monitoring, improvements are also seen in driver behavior through real-time feedback. That is, drivers can be coached remotely in several key areas, such as speeding, excessive idling, sudden braking, and harsh turning. Besides safer driving, this matters to companies as well in terms of reducing wear and tear on vehicles.

While telematics is largely data-driven, there are also benefits to fleets that tend more towards the qualitative. Something that's difficult to quantify but regularly observed is an improvement in customer service. The increase in usage of telematics systems have on drivers the effect of feeling treated more as professionals. As this drives better driver performance, customer service also enjoys a boost.

JennIndustry Reports blogs about technological issues and innovations affecting today's companies.