The way to cut fleet costs is in your hands - as smartphone apps bring new-to-market tech to help drivers and save money
However did we manage without a phone full of amazing apps at our fingertips? Already part of our personal lives, they are spilling into our work lives too.
Apps are a perfect tool for fleet management, helping to monitor and protect travelling workers. There are smartphone apps to record mileage, to check for vehicle faults, do pre-and post-use vehicle condition checks, help you find the nearest garage or petrol station, guide you through what to do after an accident or a tyre blowout. And there are those that provide audit trails to prove drivers are assessing roadworthiness.
They can all bring tangible savings, and cut out a lot of admin, says Caroline Sandall, director of fleet firm ESE Consulting. But many businesses, particularly those with a small fleet, are unaware of the progress in app technology, and don’t know what they are missing out on, she adds.
An app for every occasion
These tools are really changing the space, agrees Paul Hollick, managing director of The Miles Consultancy (TMC). “They are making the employees either more effective or more efficient when out in the field, and they increase compliance and control.”
While they bring an obvious level of monitoring to fleets that can’t justify the cost of installing telematics into the vehicle engines, they have a different focus. “The black box tells you what the vehicle is doing, but it won’t tell you there’s a scratch on the side and record it with pictures. There is a bit of an overlap, but you still need both,” says Sandall.
Sandall believes that the biggest driver convenience is mileage recording. Simply using a smartphone app with GPS to accurately record mileage can deliver upwards of 10% of savings alone, she calculates. That’s not because the drivers have been fraudulent in the past, she adds. “It can be a real pain to have to record your miles, so they are just doing the thing that is most convenient.” If they don’t take a note of the mileage at the start and finish, they might check the route on an online mileage calculator, others will just guess and round up by five miles here or there. “Accuracy alone delivers savings,” she says.
These apps also provide an automatic audit trail in some form or another, simplifying expenses returns, photographing fuel receipts. Just launch it at the start of the journey, select business or private journey, and when it is closed at the end of the journey, the app stores the data. Click a button and – ping – it goes to your expenses. “The idea is that you should be able to get your claim done by just typing in a few figures,” says Hollick.
Validating the vehicle condition before and after trips is another regular activity that can be simplified by a smartphone app, with cameras particularly helpful in recording bodywork condition on lease or hired vehicles, for example.
Using an app for accident assistance does more than save time or money – it protects your employees. “Drivers don’t often have crashes and so when there is a problem, they tend not to remember what they read in the manual three years ago; this keeps a level of visibility,” says Hollick. The driver can take photographs at the scene and report the incident there and then, which helps with accuracy, speeds up insurance claims, and helps to prevent fraud. Insurance firm Aviva has recently launched an app that turns your phone into a dash cam.
The level of assistance via apps continues to improve, agrees Sandall. After an accident or breakdown, they can connect the driver to local services – where to get a tyre, who to call for roadside assistance. “One of the apps gives you customer ratings for garages and the option to use the one that you want to use,” she says.
There are also corporate versions of the car parking app Ringo, gaming apps that improve driving skills, apps that advise the best route to take – and these offerings are likely to keep growing.
So where do you get them? “Start with your current supply chain and talk about what they could offer in the app space already. Go to your providers and ask what they have got,” says Hollick.
What used to be a paid-for extra is now becoming standard issue for fleet firms, he says. “About five years ago, we used to charge for our app. Now there are benefits for everybody. Everybody is moving away from paper-based systems to everything being online. Apps really help with that throughput.”
Leasing companies, such as BMW subsidiary Alphabet, also offer apps, says Sandall. “There are not many fleets that completely own and manage everything themselves – most are renting in some way, shape or form. And most of these leasing companies will be offering something in the way of apps, even if they haven’t told their customers,” she adds.
Insurance companies too provide increasingly sophisticated apps, specifically in monitoring driver behaviour more effectively to reduce accidents, or to simplify recording incidents, thus helping to process an accident claim.
While these services are currently delivered through mobile phones, they will ultimately be done via smart cars, says Hollick: “Shell and Jaguar launched something last year where a vehicle rocks up to the filling station and automatically pays for the fuel.”
Much of the smart tech ability is already in cars but not switched on, he says, pointing out that while working at BMW he could put his key fob into the network and see where his vehicle had been driving and how much fuel was in the tank. “Everyone is working through privacy and cyber security issues,” he says, but in three or four years the connected car will make its mark. “The window is not long really. Then it all gets overlayed with electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles, smart technology in terms of smart cities. All of that is gradually becoming a reality.”
Where to find your apps
Start by talking to your insurance company, your leasing company or your fleet management firm. Below are a few examples of apps that will help with fleet costs.
AlphaGuide and AlphaCity Sync with calendars, find service partners, charging stations for electric cars, car sharing
Safo App Assistance
Access to services and maintenance alerts
Create a carsharing or ridesharing community
Point to point travel search, including public transport