If you want to know the mindset of fleet professionals 15 to 20 years from now, look at today’s teenagers who then will be in their mid- to late-30s. I am positive that almost none of today’s teenagers are dreaming of a future career in fleet management. Nor is there a teenager alive today who has even a vague understanding of what’s involved in vehicle asset management, except maybe a handful whose parents are employed in the profession. Yet, many of today’s teenagers will stumble into fleet, as did all of us, and some of them will evolve to become our next industry leaders, while others will occupy management positions with a direct influence on how their company operates its vehicle fleet.
Today’s generation of managers – namely all of us – have had it drilled into our heads to shun the principle “that’s the way it’s always been done.” Just as we questioned the business models of our predecessors, so too will the fleet professionals of tomorrow question the fleet business model of today. The hard reality is that our successors will view us as “old school” and today’s best practices will elicit bemused head scratching as they wonder aloud how anyone could be successful using today’s primitive tools. Just as today’s web-enabled data warehouses are light-years beyond the capabilities of yesteryear’s system of managing a fleet using vehicle-specific index cards, so too will the fleet tools of tomorrow be light-years ahead of what we call state-of-the-art today.
Tomorrow’s managers (today’s teenagers) will have a completely different perspective as to how business should be conducted, which will have a direct bearing on fleet. The next generation of managers will all be digital natives, who grew up with the web and forged personal relationships using social media and electronic communications. This collective mindset of an entire generation will change the way they conduct business, communicate among themselves, and interact in seller-buyer relationships.
Who Moved the Cheese?
In a recent survey by Common Sense Media, as reported in the Wall Street Journal, more than two-thirds of surveyed teenagers say they prefer communicating online than in person. This 2018 survey is a follow-up to a 2012 survey also conducted by Common Sense Media. This year’s survey revealed that the trends identified six years ago are actually accelerating. For instance, the percentage of teenagers who prefer to talk to friends face-to-face declined to 32% from 49% six years ago.
More importantly, this trend is a global phenomenon substantiated in another independent survey conducted in September 2017 by LivePerson, a business solutions provider. The company polled more than 4,000 young adults between the ages of 18 and 34 in six countries – the U.S., the UK, Australia, France, Germany, and Japan. It discovered that globally 7 in 10 millennials and Gen Z respondents prefer to communicate digitally than in person and 65% communicate with peers more frequently digitally than in person.
Today’s fleet industry was founded on the company sales car almost 80 years ago. The sales car became a corporate tool to transport sales personnel from customer to customer within assigned sales territories and carried product samples, literature, and point-of-sale merchandise. The expenditure of corporate funds to provide company sales vehicles was justified by the universally accepted value of face-to-face meetings. This sales truism advocates getting away from your desk and into the field to meet face-to-face with existing customers and prospective customers.
Today, for many businesses, technology creates a risk of disintermediation, which, in the case of fleet, is a process that provides direct access to a product, service, or information without requiring a vehicle to connect a seller with a buyer. One possible disintermediation of fleet vehicles is the next generation of remote visualization technologies, which I foresee becoming more prevalent, easier to use, and increase in popularity as a key communication medium for next generation of employees and customers.
Current data shows the value of face-to-face meetings is beginning to be questioned by younger generation employees who have only known a world interconnected by the internet, social media, and FaceTime. They question the cost-effectiveness of traveling by car from point A to point B, its negative impact on corporate sustainability goals, the inefficient use of time lost behind the wheel of a vehicle, and contributing to distracted driving as employees multitask during unproductive “windshield time.”
More Alternatives to Face-to-Face Meetings
As corporate generational demographics change, I foresee a growing personal preference to communicate remotely versus driving in a vehicle to a specific location for a face-to-face meeting, in which the drive itself takes longer than the meeting. Increasingly, a connected workplace will be viewed as a more productive workplace and provide an alternative to out-of-office travel. Remote visualization will be viewed as a cost-effective and a “smart” way to conduct business. A two-hour roundtrip drive to have a one-hour meeting will increasingly be viewed as an “old school” business practice that is neither cost-effective nor time-efficient and needlessly adds to urban and freeway congestion.
The next-gen worker will be more receptive to using alternative communication channels, which promises to proliferate as communication technology increases in sophistication and capabilities. In addition, the generational transition occurring in the workforce will result in a more tech-savvy senior management, dominated by digital natives. Does this mean that fleet will disappear? I don’t think so, as there will always be a need for vocational vehicles, which are the lifeblood of many businesses. But I do foresee tomorrow’s workforce demanding adoption of alternative communication tools in sales operations, which, by default, may diminish the perceived value of company-provided sales vehicles.