How does your business stack up when following the lastest technological advancements?
In an increasingly Web and mobile-based world, it seems as if everything is going “to the cloud.” This term, coined to describe a computing environment where hardware, software and other resources are accessed on-demand over the Internet, is more than the name for a new storage solution.
It literally represents a strategic operational shift in the way companies do business. Nowhere, perhaps, is this truer than for fleet-centric firms such as limousine, charter and tour operators, whose very nature makes mobile access to large amounts of data a big benefit.
Where is the cloud and why should my data be there?
Most fleet operators already are using cloud-based data storage and management solutions, many without realizing it. If you use Gmail, LinkedIn or any Internet-based tool such as a real-time fuel finder on your smartphone, the information you see is being delivered via the cloud. That’s because, despite how it sounds, “the cloud” isn’t a place where data is stored. Rather, it’s a term that describes the method of data storage and retrieval.
All hardware used to store data must be physically located somewhere. Often, that place is a giant data center, with hundreds of storage devices in rows protected by so many fail-safe solutions that we don’t have room to describe them. Consequently, that’s one fundamental argument for implementing cloud-based data storage and management — it relieves your firm of the hassle of data security and backup (provided you work with reputable providers).
If your main computer crashes, your building burns down, or a severe weather event causes a power outage and you’ve put your data in the cloud, you should be able to go to any device with an Internet connection and access your information. The more of your business-support data you entrust to the cloud, the more robust your remote operations can be, which leads us to the next step in cloud-based data management —SaaS (software as a service).
What else can the cloud do?
Although our company specializes in cloud-based vehicle management and maintenance solutions, fleet operators benefit from storing and managing all types of data in the cloud. Beyond mere file storage (e.g. online back-up), many fleet operators reap extraordinary advantages by leveraging SaaS, a computing model where your employees access business-productivity software in the cloud.
(If you think we’re straying here from our initial topic — cloud-based data storage and management — think again. Your files are just random bytes unless you have a program that can structure and display them in a format you can use. Cloud-based software provides optimal access to and management of your data.)
With SaaS, the provider maintains the software installation on its secure servers and delivers it to you via a browser or other Web-based interface. (The best of these solutions are device agnostic — you can access the software from any Internet-connected device, including phones and tablets.)
The provider handles all the patches, updates and upgrades, so you know you are always using the latest, most secure version of the product. Usually for these solutions, you pay a set price per seat (user) or device (mobile, desktop, etc.), or, in the case of vehicle management and maintenance, per vehicle. And, you never have to worry about buying a new software license again.
SaaS solutions run the gamut from CRM (customer relations management) to accounting and beyond. Specialized providers can even deliver access to the applications you use every day in the office, such as Microsoft Word or Outlook, via the cloud. In fact, most applications, other than those that require a lot of computing power or extensive customization, work well with a cloud-based model.
Data management for your fleet
Whether or not you’re ready to hand over all your data and related applications to the cloud, any operation looking to save money and increase the reliability of its fleet should consider cloud-based vehicle maintenance and management. After all, your vehicles are your lifeblood, and the easier you can run them efficiently and at low cost, the more improvement you’ll see in your bottom line.
In addition to the benefits mentioned above, you can derive quantifiable value from cloud-based, data-driven software. Below, you’ll find a list of key benefits of SaaS solutions, followed by one or two examples of how they are used for vehicle management and maintenance.
Mobility: Robust solutions enable interactive access, letting field personnel enter data on their tablets or phones, from which it is uploaded directly to the cloud-stored database. Mobile alerts generated in the cloud are delivered to vehicle drivers directly, reminding them to have regular maintenance performed.
Document management: Remote record retrieval lets employees pull up warranty records or maintenance receipts on mobile devices during visits to a service shop. On-demand retrieval also lets field personnel determine whether planned, future events make it sensible to piggyback multiple maintenance visits and take advantage of special offers.
Third-party integration: With your data stored in the cloud, it’s much easier and more secure to incorporate data feeds from trusted partners and suppliers such as leasing companies, GPS tracking services, fuel management operators (e.g. fuel cards) and insurance firms. That information — paired with mileage, expenses, working hours and other information provided remotely by personnel — affords a more accurate and holistic view of the cost and efficiency of fleet operations.
Uniformity of record access: Cloud-based fleet management systems enhance accuracy and save time. Abolishing written logs, receipts and other paperwork in favor of uploads to the cloud ensures everyone shares the same, consistent information pool. No matter what the data might be — from maintenance logs of planned or unplanned work as well as accident incidents and repairs, to warranty information, fuel use and mileage, and more — the information becomes available in real-time as soon as it is uploaded. Never again will one driver repeat maintenance that was performed the day before (or even worse, head out in a potentially faulty vehicle) because the previous day’s notes from another driver are sitting on someone’s desk.
Part of the beauty of transitioning to cloud-based data storage and SaaS solutions is it doesn’t have to happen all at once in a disruptive manner. You can continue to operate as you were previously and slowly integrate it into operations. In the case of vehicle maintenance and management solutions, begin testing when you add a new vehicle. Once you and your drivers are comfortable with the process, perform a bulk export of your existing data (from Excel or your current in-house tool) and import it into your cloud-based solution. Many providers even offer free trials to let you “test drive” the cloud. If you’d like to see firsthand how cloud-based vehicle management solutions work, we invite you to register for a free 60-day trial of Ownersite.com.
About the author
Steve Eppinger is founder of Ownersite Technologies, which provides comprehensive, web-based and mobile asset management tools with large-company functionality. To date, Ownersite.com’s maintenance management solution for fleets has stored more than 250 million miles worth of vehicle records in the cloud. Ownersite.com is distributed directly to businesses and consumers online as well as through a channel of financial service and insurance providers, automotive service shops and enthusiast networks. Eppinger founded Ownersite in 2001 in response to the needs of vehicle owners on the popular enthusiast site he also founded, F150online.com. More information: www.ownersite.com.
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