CEO and co-founder of Hologram, a global cellular platform for IoT.
When it comes to fleet management, most business professionals often envision trucks and other commercial vehicles transporting goods as part of the supply chain. While that’s correct, it’s not the only answer.
In the broadest terms, a fleet is a large set of anything — for example, delivery drones for last-mile delivery in urban settings or rural areas, ATMs and the companies like Brink’s that service them, or even vending machines and other “unattended retail” stations. Equipped with sensors and connectivity, each becomes another source of data on inventory, consumption, location, energy usage, demand, and more — gathered and transmitted across the Internet of Things (IoT).
Greater innovation continues to expand how IoT is deployed in manufacturing, transportation and logistics, as well as in diverse uses from the fast-growing scooter and bike rental market and to medical devices that transmit patient data in real time. In addition, electric vehicle charging stations are also fleets — and one that is expanding, given the Biden Administration plan to increase their number by 500,000 across the U.S.; indeed, sustainability has been seen as a driving force behind the growth of IoT deployment.
Deployment Is Not Enough
With IoT being the new frontier in much of business, the focus is understandably on deployment. In leading my organization, a global cellular IoT platform, I’ve seen how imperative it is that business leaders understand that deployment is only the first step. This is particularly vital as these devices make their way into the field — and sometimes across borders — in ever-increasing numbers.
A fleet management approach is essential for tracking and maintaining widespread networks that may be dispersed across countries or around the world. This starts with a change in thinking. While many business leaders and their teams understand how to manage software across an enterprise, IoT devices are also hardware. They are things in the physical world that require a different type of management, from logistics to connectivity.
A major consideration in managing the device fleet is determining who needs to be involved and how, especially given the holistic nature of IoT and how it is integrated within a business. For instance, building the product requires the involvement of the engineering team. But as the fleet is deployed, operations personnel need to ensure that devices are performing well in the field. Customer support teams may need insight into individual devices used by consumers and other end users to ensure they are working properly. In addition, other departments may need access to sensor data and to track performance; for example, finance may analyze user data to ensure costs are being captured and billed accordingly.
To accomplish all these steps, business leaders should take a fleet management approach. Here are four key considerations:
1. Expect the unexpected.
An IoT network that functions well within one country may face unexpected connectivity issues when devices cross borders. There may be “dead zones” that result in data loss, or roaming charges may increase the cost of data transmission across international borders. Planning for such contingencies in advance, such as with multicarrier coverages across dozens of countries, can prevent future headaches.
2. Get organized.
Categorize your devices by location or customer so you can see what is happening within any particular location or customer site. With large deployments of devices, analyze the data gathered across the entire fleet to compare performance and experience. Are there big differences in data consumption? What does the data per device tell you about connectivity and disruption?
3. Be aware of connectivity fraud.
If a scooter that’s supposed to be in Paris suddenly indicates it’s in Berlin, this kind of red flag can indicate connectivity fraud. Scooters and similar customer-facing fleets can be at risk of SIM card theft from the device. Fleet management means being prepared for such incidents and knowing what to do when they occur.
4. Plan for the disconnects.
Have a response plan when a device stops transmitting or connectivity is impacted. For example, will someone be sent into the field to retrieve or repair the device? Or can it be handled remotely? Plan in advance before problems arise.
As more devices are deployed, managing them becomes increasingly important. Approaching IoT devices themselves as a fleet can help shift the mindset for how to best manage them — no matter where and how they are deployed.