Photo: Johnny Bambury/Fennell Photography

The life of a professional driver has changed dramatically over the last few years, with technology playing a huge part in this. One man and his truck has turned into one person, their truck and their digital toolbox.Drivers are now part of a hyper-connected organisation joined up by tech, and this is allowing managers and a network of drivers to be linked in totally new ways.

Almost every piece of driver activity can now be turned into data in real time and then optimised for the operation’s benefit. As a result technology is saving transport businesses millions of pounds and completely changing how a driver operates in the cab.

And it has also matured immeasurably in recent years. Fleet management is now about far more than vehicle tracking; it allows more visibility of fleet performance, and addresses emerging fleet priorities including route optimisation, emissions reduction and the growing influence of AI on commercial vehicles.

In recent months, these priorities have also incorporated the unforeseen challenge to logistics and operations posed by the pandemic. Our research found that commercial drivers across the UK spent half as much time on the road between mid-February and April due to lockdown measures implemented in response to Covid-19.

Most firms and their drivers are now seeing operations return to near previous levels, showing a resilience that would not have been possible even ten years ago without the tech available today.

When first introduced, standard telematics allowed managers to see where their drivers went, the miles they covered, and the fuel they used.

This was followed by the introduction of intelligent software which provided greater insights into the performance of drivers and fleets through data aggregation and analytics.

These software-based services allowed managers to measure driver performance variables such as harsh braking, speeding and fuel consumption, with information collated and stored in the cloud to facilitate remote management of drivers in the field. Relative to the size of the workforce, the output was business critical data.

‘Mobile enterprise management’ software (MEM) connected each member of the workforce more closely than was previously thought possible. It allowed vehicles and drivers to interact in real time, gaining insights from other parts of the network on road/traffic conditions, driver performance and job allocation, which could be applied to inform the more intelligent use of vehicles and scheduling and routing of jobs.

Connecting drivers and ensuring they can communicate with each other has undoubtedly helped revolutionise fleet management. Subsequent software developments mean it’s now even more sophisticated, as organisations prioritise efforts to make drivers’ jobs safer and more efficient.

Dash cam technology’s integration, for example can be instrumental in reducing road traffic incidents. In the last few years we’ve seen significantly improved video quality thanks to higher resolution lenses or live streaming via 4G, and the recent introduction of AI to help sift through footage and identify incidents needing review will transform their functionality and help streamline both incident response and insurance claims for drivers and fleet managers alike.

Geofencing technology is also having a significant impact on driver safety and efficiency. Establishing ring-fenced zones in which drivers must operate allows them to undertake the optimal jobs and follow the optimal routes based on their location, reducing their carbon footprint.

The technology alerts managers in near real-time if company vehicles or assets are moved outside a virtual fence without authorisation. Having this insight helps teams react to problems faster and act quickly to help recover stolen vehicles.

This ensures those on the road are not left in the lurch but are part of a wider system that takes responsibility for them.

The pandemic hugely disrupted supply chains, altered demand in uncharacteristic ways and either froze or held up supply in other cases. Mobile and the cloud has helped connect entire organisations from the front line to the back end, ensuring that in a time of crisis, businesses have been able to push through and pivot operations when they’ve needed to most.

In the current era, drivers are more important than ever before. Whether they are part of a small commercial operation or a sprawling international supply chain, drivers are no longer a remote asset once they leave the conventional four walls of the enterprise.

They are now an extension of that enterprise, creating a constant stream of data and interactions which are fed back to their organisation’s operations team via a cloud-based platform, ensuring all aspects of the network are optimised – but more importantly, helping entire businesses and industries operate throughout global crisis and into the new world we’ve entered.

Derek Bryan, VP EMEA, Verizon Connect