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We expect to see the beginning of a new year accompanied by prognostications, a forecast of changes based on current trends. The year 2017 is no exception, and it’s a safe bet that what is in store for us will be a continuation—and acceleration—of events that have been in motion for some time.

Fleet managers can anticipate that the revolution in telematics technology which began a few years ago will pick up speed. A popular adaptation of the global positioning system--GPS fleet tracking—is already in wide use. Look for more of these innovations to take hold--some more quickly than others, but all destined to transform the business we are in.

Technology Diffusion

Nearly twenty years ago defining the term telematics was a challenging task, and today it is recognized in the trucking industry as a valuable tool. But the present reach of this fleet management method is limited.

Telematics technology has become integrated into the day-to-day operation of larger fleet operations but the practice of applying this solution to any trucking business is bound to increase.

An individual owner-operator can gain many of the same advantages that telematics provides to a large fleet—better fuel management and maintenance monitoring, optimized routing and enhanced communication with the customer. Given the decrease in implementation cost that accompanies a maturing technology, more truckers have the opportunity to make it a part of their routine.

Ultimately, they may not be able to remain competitive unless they do.

If they delay too long, they can fall behind in a proficiency that their customers expect, clients who will be accustomed to having it in their private vehicles. Professional service organization Ernst & Young predicted that 88 percent of new cars will feature embedded telematics by 2025.

To accommodate the spread of this development, the design of fleet management hardware and software will evolve to become increasingly user-friendly. Setup and utility features will increase in simplicity and transparency to the point where operating this will not be much different than using a smart phone.

Technology Compatibility

Along with telematics systems moving toward more simplicity, they will begin to share more features and interfaces in common. That is driven by the fact that vehicle manufacturers are building in more of their own in-cab technology. The data from different vehicles, using a variety of software, have to be consolidated and understood in one platform--so look for a level of standardization to emerge.

A good analogy is the evolution of transportation itself. At the dawn of the motor vehicle age in the 1890s, every auto manufacturer devised his own setup for driver controls: different arrangements of gears, steering wheel or tiller placed on right or left without any reason why, engine speed controlled by pedal or lever—and in some passenger vehicles the driver position was in the rear seat. This randomness proved so unwieldy that within a fairly short time every automobile was made to operate more or less the same way, using the same skills. That process will be duplicated in telematics hardware and software, which will find a common standard.

The Autonomous-Vehicle Issue

Any set of predictions on the future of fleet management is going to take into account autonomous motor vehicles. They have not managed to take over the road yet, but it would not be accurate to relegate self-driving vehicles to the same limbo as that occupied by flying cars—which motorists have been told are going to be in their driveways “within five years” for at least the past 50. Compared to those futuristic flying carpets, autonomous cars and trucks have dramatically fewer technical obstacles in their way.

That’s not to suggest these difficulties will be easy to resolve. Or that the public at large will accept driverless trucks, especially, without reservation. In a 2014 survey, more than two thirds of respondents believed that autonomous large trucks would be “less safe” than human-controlled ones. That is 10 percentage points higher than the 56 percent who felt this way about driverless passenger cars.

But autonomous commercial vehicles remain an attractive proposition, not least because the shortage of trained drivers is likely to persist, if not become more severe.

That’s another aspect of the immediate future that fleet managers will have to contend with.

Green Technology

No matter which political philosophy holds temporary sway in government, one lasting trend will be the movement toward products and practices that are environmentally friendly. This will be motivated by simple economics more than ethical considerations. The saving in fuel cost is a salient factor. Technical advances that deliver less than three additional miles per gallon would deliver a decrease in fuel consumption in North American trucking that would cut expenses by $40 billion per year. Even adding some simple aerodynamic features to one truck and trailer can save that operator nearly $33,000 in fuel costs over five years.

We can foretell the future only in general terms. But there are some characteristics of fleet management that are certain to change over time. If the need to maximize profit and decrease risk stay the same, the technologies that support these objectives are sure to grow into a larger role.

To learn more about the advantages of fleet tracking, download the free ebook- The 10 Benefits of GPS Fleet Tracking.

Oswaldo Flores is a Safety & Compliance Product Manager at Teletrac Navman.

As a former fleet supervisor, Oswaldo has first-hand experience managing drivers and vehicles, ensuring his fleet maintains adherence to all internal and external regulations, policies, and guidelines, including DOT compliance, ANSI/OSHA certifications, and CHP Biennial Inspection of Terminals. Prior to his current position at Teletrac Navman, Oswaldo held fleet and compliance administrative management, fleet supervisory,  sales and business development roles with Pepsi Cola, Time Warner Cable, British Petroleum North America and Legacy Supply Chain Services.