In 2009, Apple trademarked the slogan ‘There’s an app for that’ and, with 100,000 available in its App Store at that time, that statement probably seemed in little doubt.
However, roll forward to the current day and this number has soared: more than 2.2 million are now for sale for Apple devices alone, with a further 2.8m on Android.
This rise has mirrored the increasing adoption of smartphones, with Deloitte’s Mobile Consumer 2016 research reporting that 81% of adults in the UK have one – equivalent to 37 million people.
While the majority of apps are for entertainment and social media, many are available with fleet management functions, such as business mileage capture, driver behaviour, rental bookings and vehicle checks.
“Hardly a week goes by without somebody bringing an app out for something,” says Ian Hill, managing director of leasing company Activa Contracts, which itself has apps for damage charges on vehicles, mileage capture and a company vehicle tax guide.
“A lot of them do roughly the same thing and some of them – from leasing companies anyway – are a kind of conglomeration of services that have got everything in them, such as tax guides and mileage recording.
“I think people are increasingly using them and they can be very good, but do the drivers use them to their full benefit? I’m not sure, to be honest.
“I think they will grow in popularity when people get used to them. We’ve got customers who use them avidly and others who hardly use them at all. And that’s not because we treat them any differently, it’s the way they work.”
On the face of it, getting drivers to use apps to perform various tasks should make a lot of sense for fleet decision-makers.
Many companies already use employee’s mobile phones or personal digital assistants (PDAs) for other work-related functions, so enhancing their usability by adding a fleet management-related app could be considered a natural extension of the technology.
Private hire company Green Tomato Cars, for example, issues its drivers with a PDA device which gives them details of their jobs.
It has also installed the Greenroad app on to them (see case study below) to monitor and improve driver behaviour.
“Everyone these days knows about apps and mobile devices, so for me it’s a good way to go forward and is also effective and interactive for drivers,” says Tyrone Hunte, head of service delivery at Green Tomato Cars.
“As many employees with a company car or van are already issued with a smartphone or PDA device, using an app could help an employee avoid the cost of installing hardware into a vehicle,” says Nick Corrie, CEO of Trak Global Group whose company is behind driver behaviour app Appy Fleet.
“By using mobile app telematics technology, we’re able to remove the cost barrier presented by funding, fitting and supporting a traditional, hardware-based fleet telematics system.”
This fact may have particular relevance to public sector organisations – such as the Environment Agency – which are facing budget cuts under the Government’s austerity policies.
“We have a smaller budget for revenue so we have to save money; it’s a challenge we have given our suppliers,” says Dale Eynon, head of fleet at the Environment Agency.
“Part of it is new technology, for example, we are trialling Appy Fleet, defect reporting apps and a new portal so company car drivers can self-report.”
Businesses can also use apps to streamline administration procedures and increase accessibility.
Here we look at how fleets are using the technology.
Case study: Driver behaviour, Green Tomato Cars
Private hire company Green Tomato Cars has seen significant improvements in driver behaviour since adopting Greenroad’s app.
When the company started using the telematics system, it fitted ‘black boxes’ into its cars but, given each driver is equipped with a mobile PDA device which provides them with details of their jobs, Green Tomato Cars decided to install the app on these instead.
“There’s always a cost element to decisions and using the app definitely makes sense for us as it also means the drivers can have everything in one place,” says Tyrone Hunte, head of service delivery at Green Tomato Cars.
“At first, we had boxes fitted into the cars but part of the issue with them was that although they came with a display in the car with three lights – one red, one yellow, and one green – which would change dependent on the driving style, it wasn’t as interactive as the app.
“Also, if the driver wanted to check their score they would have to wait until they got home, log on to the internet and find the information that way, so there were extra steps the drivers had to take to engage with the system.
"The app is more accessible as drivers can check their scores when they are parked up. They can see where they made errors, where they were, and it also gives tips on how to improve their driving.”
Hunte says the drivers are automatically logged into the Greenroad app when the PDA device is switched on.
It uses the PDA’s motion sensors to record data such as harsh acceleration and braking, as well as speeding.
“The app is very interactive for the driver and it encourages them to aid their own learning rather than us saying ‘you must do this, you must do that’,” adds Hunte.
“It gives the drivers the chance to make their own decisions about how they want to improve.”
The data is automatically transferred to a central system at Green Tomato Cars, where driver performance is also monitored.
Any training needs are then identified and are addressed either by team leaders or at quarterly workshops.
The Greenroad scores are also used to incentivise drivers, with weekly bonuses available if they combine a good telematics score with a high customer rating.
Hunte adds: “We’ve received fewer customer complaints in terms of driver behaviour which shows they are driving better than they were previously.”
Case study: Vehicle checks, Travis Perkins
Travis Perkins’s van drivers are required to use an app on their hand-held Android devices to complete daily, easily-auditable vehicle checks.
“We’ve used paper-based systems in the past, but today it’s all about technology. Our drivers have Android devices for their electronic proof of delivery, sat-nav and mobile communications, so we added an app for the checks on it,” says Graham Bellman, group fleet director at Travis Perkins.
“The benefit is that we can tailor it to the type of vehicle, so it’s really customisable.
For example, if it is a vehicle with a tail-lift we can add that to the checks. If we want drivers to check the left clip on the bumper because we know we’ve had a problem with it, we can put a picture on and we can say ‘can you check this?’.”
Once a check has been completed, the app sends a confirmation to Travis Perkins’s fleet management system which also highlights any defects.
“If there is a fault like a split in a tyre, then that defect can go straight to our maintenance centre and we can get somebody out straightaway. It’s not like a paper-based system, it’s much more immediate,” says Bellman.
The app is also set up so if a driver leaves their branch without first carrying out a vehicle check, a text or email alert is automatically sent to their branch manager informing them.
Travis Perkins uses the app for vehicle checks on its heavy goods vehicles and 1,600 vans, and Bellman says the company is considering introducing it for company car drivers as well.
Case study: Mileage capture, Zip Water
Zip Water captures private and business mileage via a phone app and TomTom telematics, where a button allows the driver to select business or private mileage before they begin their journey.
Before this system was introduced around 18 months ago, drivers recorded daily work trips on a spreadsheet.
“It was arduous and time-consuming,” says Graham Short, fleet manager at Zip Water, while the current system is “robust, GPS-tracked and provides real-time data, so there is no risk of inaccurate reporting or rounding up, so, if we are audited, we have accurate records.”
At the end of each month, the driver can look at their mileage through the app, confirm the details are correct and submit the claim to the finance department.
“It gives the private and business mileage split and they can submit their monthly mileage in seconds, so that’s been a bit of peace of mind for me as well,” says Short.
Case study: Pool cars, Vertas Group
Employees at Ipswich-based facilities company Vertas Group can book their pool vehicles through an app following an initiative introduced by its head of fleet, Nigel Grainger.
Before the current system was launched earlier this year, the company’s pool car system was a “complete mishmash of vehicles, from multiple suppliers, all on contract extension, with little or no control over cleaning or maintenance”, he says.
Keys to the cars had to be collected from security, the employee then had to find the vehicle, carry out checks and then fill it with fuel.
Grainger put a proposal to the Vertas board to reduce the number of pool vehicles from 114 to 83, with the stipulation they would be supplied by one leasing company and be fitted with Zipcar’s Local Motion technology.
This allows employees to book the cars out either through an app or online, unlock and operate them by using their staff ID badges, and gives Grainger visibility on who is using the vehicle, when, and where they are.
“The cheapest option would have been to choose six different makes of car, so I had to present to the board and say ‘this is the cheapest option, but the problem is that the drivers are not car people, so they will jump in one make of car on a Monday, and on the Tuesday they may be in another and the controls will be the other way around’,” he says.
“I wanted to go with one manufacturer because the controls are generally the same.”
Following the tender process, the pool car scheme was launched in March with a mix of Toyota Yaris, Auris and Rav4 models, and so far “in the main, everybody loves it”, says Grainger.
This is the first part of a three-phase plan for the pool car fleet. The second will allow employees to rent the cars for personal use outside office hours, and the third will be for members of the public to use them.
Three useful new apps for fleets
Zap-Map Platforms: iOS, Android
Zap-Map’s app includes real-time data for around 75% of London’s electric vehicle chargepoints, 45% of chargepoints in England and Wales, and 80% of Northern Ireland chargepoints.
It has integrated live data from Source London, ESB ecars and ecarNI (both operated by ESB Group) networks to add to the live updates already available from Polar and GeniePoint networks.
Other features focus on a community area with Zap-Map users able to report a charging bay as ‘ICEd’ (blocked by an internal combustion-engined vehicle), add and view enhanced status updates and EV drivers’ general questions.
Tax Guide for Fleets Platforms: iOS, Android
Activa Contracts’ Tax Guide for Fleets app has been updated to include a tax calculator, which enables users to calculate if a cash alternative offered by their employer will increase their tax bill.
It calculates the monthly tax on a specific company car and the latest tax announcements, including reforms to car salary sacrifice
and car or cash allowance tax rules.
The app, generated in partnership with BCF Wessex, can update any tax changes within hours of them being announced.
It also includes all tax-relevant tables including income tax rates/personal allowances, benefit-in-kind rates, approved mileage allowance rates and information on plug-in car and van grants.
Mercury Incident Reporter Platform: iOS
Lightstone’s new app aims to help drivers involved in an incident by automatically sending details to the fleet manager in real-time.
Users are prompted to input accurate information about damage to vehicles, third parties, passengers, witnesses and police attendance coupled with notes, photographs and video recordings direct to the fleet manager, potentially within minutes of the incident occurring.
It includes an automatic vehicle registration number look-up tool, address look-up, incident location pinpointing, uploading of dash-cam video and roadside recovery telephone number. The app can also be adjusted to include specific questions to suit individual fleet policies.