Innovation is a key driver for the automotive, logistics and transport industry. Toyota’s recent roadmap announcement that it is close to being able to produce a next-generation solid-state battery capable of covering some 621 miles on a 10-minute charge has been hailed as a potential game changer for the electric vehicle (EV) industry.
Bearing in mind the somewhat negative headlines EVs have received lately — everything from the UK’s decision to delay banning the sale of diesel and petrol vehicles until 2035 to ongoing concerns around range anxiety and charging infrastructure — the news from Toyota is to be welcomed.
So too is the UK government’s decision to invest £200 million in zero-carbon freight vehicles. With heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) alone contributing 20% to all transport emissions across the UK, the cash injection could see up to 370 zero-emission HGVs hit the road in the next year or so.
Despite the pressing need to decarbonize vehicles and commercial fleets, innovation isn’t the sole preserve of finding alternatives to petrol and diesel vehicles.
A recent report by the RAC Foundation — the respected transport policy and research organization — explained how connected vehicles ‘offer the opportunity to look into the future’ with the data collected used to ‘help identify dangerous stretches of road before anyone is killed or seriously injured on them’.
It also looked at how real-time vehicle-generated data could improve traffic light timings to improve the flow of traffic and reduce congestion. And it explored how traction data obtained from wheels could identify slippery roads in winter so they can be treated.
In other words, while auto manufacturers battle it out for the best energy source to replace petrol and diesel, tech firms are focused on using data to fuel improvements across the whole transport sector.
Today’s connected operations bear little relation to old-school telematics
In recent years, the world of physical operations — those industries that do the heavy lifting in areas such as transport, logistics and construction — has undergone such a digital transformation it is now one of the largest and most complex Internet of Things (IoT) enterprises on the planet.
Today, these vehicles are bristling with technology that constantly collects data such as location, vehicle performance, tire pressures — and even the temperature of refrigerated units — that enables managers to constantly monitor progress and performance.
Paired with mobile connectivity, this vehicle data is collected and streamed via the cloud to a central connected platform, giving managers complete oversight of their fleet at any time of the day or night.
It means fleet managers can track the location of lorries and vans in real time, update customers about delivery or pick-up times, and assess the performance and fuel efficiency of vehicles.
Dual-facing AI-enabled cameras — designed to help improve driver and road safety — add another layer of IoT sophistication.
The result is a constantly updated system of record — a single pane of glass where all the data is collated to create an overview of total operational performance.
Of course, all this is only possible because connected IoT technology is now affordable and ubiquitous.
After all, vehicle telematics and dashcams have been around for years. The problem with these early systems is that once the data is gathered — be that engine diagnostics or a video of a road accident — someone would have to manually download the information. And even then, the data tended to be siloed supporting a single function such as engine diagnostics.
Connected platforms provide real-world insights
Not only do today’s modern enterprise systems stream information automatically, but the data can be linked with different systems and applications — from maintenance scheduling to payroll. And it’s a game-changer.
But it’s not just the technology that takes center stage. Instead, it’s the meaningful insights derived from the data that help make fleets safer, more productive and more sustainable that are the real show-stoppers.
What’s more, business leaders are setting aside budget to invest in technology.
Danny Lilley is Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at Werner Enterprises, one of the six largest truckload carriers in the United States.
“There's a widely held belief in the trucking and logistics (T&L) industry that we're behind in digital transformation,” Lilley wrote recently. “It doesn’t have to be this way.” He continued:
I've seen a surge of interest in how technology can help the industry deliver better business outcomes. Forward-thinking people, from executives to professional drivers, are creating new and innovative ways to use data to connect their operations.
We know we can't predict every technology development, but by modernizing our systems, we're positioning ourselves to be as flexible as possible when new technologies emerge.
Data is driving efficiency
According to the 2023 State of Connected Operations Report, he’s not alone. Two-thirds (67%) of businesses are increasing their technology budgets this year, suggesting that while the state of the global economy may be in flux, technology that leverages data for greater efficiency is seen as a wise investment.
When pressed, almost all (90%) of all business leaders on physical operations said that having accurate, real-time operational data is critical to decision-making. A similar number (90%) agreed that data is a competitive advantage for their organization.
Those that have embarked on a data-first digital transformation journey reported increased safety (50%), improved compliance (50%), higher revenue (43%), and increased net profit (43%) as a result of their investment.
What’s clear is that savvy companies are investing in data as a competitive advantage. What’s more, this investment is being made despite the challenging economic conditions.
This reflects the importance of technology in a sector where innovation has traditionally been focused on vehicles rather than technology platforms that support them.
In today’s data-driven world, modern fleets are increasingly fueled by data. It’s connected fleets — and their role in the supply chain — that are truly gaining speed.