Software has come a long way from floppy disk DOS days to the modern interface of point-and-tap on mobile devices. So have fleet maintenance software applications – a fact that will remain true going forward.
While specific innovations in software and technology products are closely held competitive secrets and hard to predict, it is possible to envision where it’s heading.
With our knowledge of 30 years in fleet maintenance software, the changes we can anticipate over the next several years are both human and technological.
The most important change will be in human terms because today’s technicians are tomorrow’s fleet managers. Fleet maintenance applications will be commonplace and permeate the entire industry, as compared to less than 45 percent of fleets that report using fleet maintenance specific software today.
Tomorrow’s fleet managers will not know life before computers and software.
Other major changes will be the technology that the software will be used on.
Today’s computers, mobile PDAs and similar devices will morph into different configurations and become lighter and more powerful. With easier, faster, real-time data exchange interfaces, data entry will become more automated requiring almost no keyboard time.
Another driving force for change is the aging of experienced fleet technicians and managers. The lack of young people entering the fleet maintenance industry is due to, in part, the under-valued paychecks and tomorrow’s even higher personal tool investment requirements.
Add to that the change from a “fix-it” mentality to a “cheaper-to-replace-it” mentality, and technology turns from a nice thing to have to a must-have item, to allow for less-experienced technicians who will be operating in a much higher vehicle-to-technician ratio.
Examples of this future technology might be:
- Star Trek glasses: As the technician approaches a vehicle, he automatically receives all the information he needs about the unit through a pair of special application safety glasses wirelessly linked to the company’s computer and OEM’s database system. This eyewear automatically displays the unit’s self-reported problems, issues or maintenance schedule, along with its utilization reading (mileage-hours-energy consumed). Using his voice, as we do today with our cell phone ear-bud, and finger pointing, he will call up appropriate information, such as repair history, specification details, PM service schedules, component schematic diagrams and more, along with specific instructions and part requirements on how to perform the work required. This information will all be displayed on the inner lens of the glasses.The work he performs will be recorded vocally, translated to text and stored digitally. When required, the unit’s issue can also be stored visually, such as accident damage or problem components. This will eliminate redundant data entry, increase accuracy and decrease downtime.
- Data sharing: The sharing of fleet data with various types of OEMs (equipment, components and parts) will be more prevalent as OEMs begin to offer special incentives, such as extended warranties and guaranteed end-of-life re-marketing values.
- JIT purchasing: Part vendors will be offering more incentives to partner with them for single supplier contracts. They will interface their system with the fleet’s maintenance management system’s parts module and the company’s purchasing system. Examples of this exist today with NAPA and other part suppliers. Appropriate vendors will insure just-in-time (JIT) parts delivery, and the technician and his computer system will be informed of delivery status in real-time. This will reduce on-hand inventory values and downtime waiting for parts, eliminate data entry and increase the vendor’s cash flow.
- More interfaces: Standalone systems will be a thing of the past as integration is made easier through computer API (application programming interface) software development tools. It will be commonplace for the fleet software to have real-time interfaces with numerous other systems, both internal and external. This includes interfacing with the company’s purchasing department to issue purchase orders and control spending, payroll, accounting and more. Even government agencies will seek, and in some cases mandate, access to certain fleet data to insure compliance with future regulations, especially if the vehicles in question are covered or registered as for-hire or funded supposedly “green” fleet equipment.
- Greater use of VMRS codes: Use of Vehicle Maintenance Reporting Standards (VMRS) will expand with both fleets and OEMs. According to the VMRS website, that will make it possible for adopters to “simplify, clarify and unify” their maintenance efforts. Developed by TMC, VMRS is a coding system in which alphanumeric characters represent equipment type, manufacturer, familiar labor tasks and more than 24,000 parts. Used with good maintenance software, VMRS provides a concise method to manage fleet assets and analyze costs.
- Less OEM spec choices: OEMs will continue to reduce spec options to provide more standardization and maintain competitive pricing levels as the market becomes more global in nature. This will make software even more effective and valuable as the fleets will be better able to compare the data from vehicles of the same configuration – apples to apples, so to speak. More uniformity will make it easier to spot anomalies in the data and negotiate better pricing, acquisition terms and warranties.
- Onboard filing cabinet: Vehicles will incorporate more powerful on-board computer/memory systems with their own data storage and reporting capacity. In-dash screen reporting capabilities will include items like specifications, work histories, PM service performance, compliance data, driver histories and more. If current trends continue, onboard data systems will be federally mandated within 10 years or less for for-hire equipment, and shortly thereafter for all commercially registered equipment. The data will be made accessible to appropriate government agencies at roadside inspection and during in-house inspections, as may be required by future state and federal governments.
Four potential issues