Driving the fleet agenda

From the December 2023 print edition

Like other fields, fleet management faces rapid change.

Left: Moderator Craig Pierce with panelists during a digital transformation discussion. From left: Craig Pierce, Holman; Jarrod Phipps, Holman; Phil Nanus, Salesforce; Chad Saliba, Geotab; and Michael Stallone, Holman.

Technology and the post-pandemic business landscape are forcing quick adaptation. To tackle these and other trends, automotive services and management company Holman held its annual Fleet Forum in Boca Raton Florida in November. The agenda included how electrification, the digital transformation, and technology like AI are affecting fleet management.

Holman’s new CEO, Chris Conroy, started the first day with a keynote address. Business is now relatively complex, Conroy told the audience, so ease of transactions counts. Products and services will evolve. Meanwhile, advancing technology is helping businesses improve performance.

Companies must be easy to work with and for, Conroy said. Customers now look for an experience similar to what Apple, Amazon, and others offer. “We want to make it as frictionless as possible, and there are technologies today that are allowing us to do that,” he said.

The event featured several panels, including one focused on digital transformation trends. The discussion highlighted the impact of these trends on businesses and fleet operations. Jarrod Phipps, Holman’s executive vice-president and chief information officer, echoed the point that many expect business-to-business technology to work similar to social media apps. Digitalization is crucial to Holman’s operations, Phipps noted. “And digital to me means simplified, easy, and you can pick it up and know how to use it,” he said.

Fellow panelist Phil Nanus, executive VP, customer success, at Salesforce, stressed data’s importance. Companies have an enormous amount of data, but 71 per cent of it is disconnected on servers, apps, spreadsheets, and other places. “The biggest challenge is, how do you aggregate that data to take advantage of some of these new, AI-based models?”

Geotab collects 75 billion points a day across four million subscriptions, said the company’s AVP of solution marketing and panelist, Chad Saliba. The company is looking at what to do with that data, and how to manage fleets more effectively in the moment. “We’re looking at a ton of data that doesn’t get utilized unless we help the customers, through our partners, help them understand how best to use it,” he said.

Panelist Michael Stallone, Holman’s vice-president of application development, said that generative AI has arrived as a tool. Organizations will begin adding it to their products.

They must be ready, understand how it will be used, and ensure the technology gives relevant feedback.
Ted Davis, Holman’s senior VP and chief operating officer, spoke about vehicle supply chains. Production and sales were good in 2023, with 15.8 million vehicles sold this year. The situation should stabilize in 2024, with just under 16 million vehicle sales expected. But the figure depends on factors like interest rates and what happens with the UAW strike.

Prices will fall next year, Davis noted. At the same time, labour costs will be higher due to the UAW strike. There’s been about a 25 per cent increase in fleet costs from four years ago. Overall, there’s a slow and steady market rebound, Davis said, with more normal conditions next spring.

On the event’s second day keynote speaker Jeff Immelt, former president and CEO of GE, highlighted the challenges facing organizations, and how to embrace change. It’s never been tougher to be a manager, Immelt said. He listed characteristics good leaders need, including acting with purpose. Good companies have a bias for action, Immelt said. In today’s technology-based society, it also pays to focus on speed.
Businesses must keep moving, Immelt stressed. During crises, organizations have gotten trapped by hunkering down in conference rooms, rather than taking action.

He gave advice on working with a team during difficult times: “You only know the team you’re working with on the worst days, not the best days.” Accept that during a crisis and you can get through it, he said.
Overall, the event showed the trends affecting fleet management today, while offering a window into what to expect going forward. Fleet professionals would benefit from embracing the event’s themes, among them using technology effectively, focusing on people, and improving the client and partner experience going into the New Year.