Mark Heine of EROAD discusses how a data-driven approach can contribute to the resilience and success of fleet management

It would be great to get to know you a bit better. Could you tell me about your career history, and how you got involved in the world of fleet performance management and EROAD?

I started out as a lawyer working for New Zealand and international law firms across a range of matters. I moved back to New Zealand and shortly thereafter came across EROAD. Its purpose was focused on safety and sustainability which resonated with me. That was eight years ago now. I worked across the EROAD organization as a lawyer then a year ago I was invited to apply for the CEO role.

Can you give some details around your current role at EROAD? What might a typical day look like and what sorts of projects are you working on? Which part of your role do you enjoy most and why?

As CEO, I am typically across the entire organization. I like to focus mainly on customer facing matters and our engineering team to see what new solutions we can offer to our customers. I love getting out to spend time with the team across all three countries and seeing how I can support them.

Can you sum up EROAD and its operations?

EROAD provides end-to-end technology solutions which connect vehicles, assets, and operations to help businesses make real-time decisions from real-time data.

At EROAD, we believe that you can’t plan where you are going tomorrow if you don’t know where you are today. The businesses we serve are at the heart of their local economies. They don’t just need data, they need intelligence. Reliable, accurate and real-time insight enables them to make decisions which move us all forward toward a safer and more sustainable future.

EROAD operates in New Zealand, Australia, and North America, and is the largest provider of road user charges (RUC) compliance in New Zealand.

The company is listed on the New Zealand Stock Exchange (NZX) and Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) under the stock symbol of ERD.

Can you give me some more details about your fleet performance management platform?

Through our platform, our clients can obtain data, analyze it, and act to digitally transform their operations. We offer more than just telematics; we deliver unparalleled insights to enhance fleet and operational performance. We empower transformation by increasing efficiency, enhancing productivity, managing safety, compliance, and measuring sustainability.

Our goal is to become a system of record for our clients, serving as a catalyst for change. We know that our clients aren’t data scientists, they are operators focused on running their businesses. With our platform, clients can make better decisions based on actionable insights from alerts, reports and dashboards that contextualize and simplify complex data.

Can you elaborate on the use of AI and monitoring technologies in the transformation of the cold chain industry?

The role of artificial intelligence in cold chain monitoring is growing larger and it’s really exciting to watch it happen. EROAD uses the power of artificial intelligence to revolutionize cold chain temperature monitoring and compliance with our CoreTemp, which uses AI and advanced algorithms to predict the core temperature of products in refrigerated trailers with incredible accuracy.

CoreTemp removes the need for manual probing. This reduces costs and eliminates the potential for human error or intentional falsification. It also provides real-time temperature data and other operational insights. It all adds up to better regulatory compliance, reduced costs, and makes for happier customers, which of course makes EROAD happy as well.

Solutions that use AI, such as CoreTemp, continuously monitor the temperature inside refrigerated, also known as “reefer,” trailers in real time. With integrated temperature sensors and Internet of Things (IoT) devices, AI algorithms collect and analyze temperature data throughout transit. This enables motor carriers to have real-time visibility into the condition of the perishable goods being transported.

AI algorithms can detect temperature anomalies or deviations. By comparing real-time temperature readings with predefined thresholds or expected temperature patterns, AI systems can identify potential issues such as temperature excursions, equipment malfunctions, or door openings. Automated alerts can then be generated to notify personnel. This allows them to act quickly to mitigate risks and ensure product quality.

AI can also analyze large volumes of temperature data collected from multiple reefers and provide actionable insights. It can identify trends, assess regulatory compliance, and generate comprehensive reports for quality control, compliance audits and strategic decision making.

Implementing AI can assist in ensuring compliance with regulatory standards and guidelines for cold chain transportation. By analyzing temperature data and comparing it with mandated temperature ranges or industry standards, AI systems can assess compliance levels and generate comprehensive reports for auditing purposes.

What would you say are the challenges facing the industry, and what strategies do organizations need to ensure are in place to tackle them?

Rising fuel costs and looming regulatory changes related to carbon emissions are topics that come to mind for me immediately. Combatting rising fuel costs in the transportation and trucking industries isn’t that much different from what you’re advised to do when you’re driving a personal vehicle. Tips like keeping the trucks well-maintained, looking out for tire pressure, maintaining a steady speed, and reducing engine idling seem like they are obvious, but when you look at extending this across an entire fleet of vehicles and drivers it becomes difficult to manage on a day-to-day basis. This is where technology is critical and becomes an essential part of the solution. Ultimately, you can’t manage what you can’t measure.

And as for regulatory changes, we know that they are coming. In some instances, they are already here. The industry has always been evolving, but the expectations are now coming from multiple angles: government, investor, and customer. Organizations need to be in tune with all three of these groups to ensure that they are managing their businesses into the future.

Looking ahead, what do you think is next for the sector?

Green and sustainable fleet management

In response to environmental concerns, the roading/fleet management sector is undergoing a transformative green movement. Embracing eco-friendly practices like electric and hybrid vehicles, alternative fuels, and energy-efficient technologies, fleets aim to reduce carbon emissions. Thorough emissions reporting fosters transparency and accountability, while investments in carbon offset initiatives balance their environmental impact. Guided by circular economy principles, fleets prioritize recyclability, resource efficiency, and responsible waste management. This concerted effort towards sustainability propels the industry to create a greener and more eco-conscious future, where the roading/fleet management sector leads in fostering an environmentally responsible and sustainable approach to transportation.

Operational efficiencies

In the face of macroeconomic challenges, fleet is placing a paramount emphasis on operational efficiencies. With every dollar of capital invested in vehicles, drivers, and infrastructure needing to be maximized, the industry is navigating through a high inflationary environment, rising wages, and a cost-of-living crisis. Amidst these challenges, a promising opportunity arises to harness the power of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) technologies. By analyzing vast amounts of data generated by fleet operations, AI/ML solutions enable companies to predict maintenance needs accurately, optimize schedules for maximum efficiency, and enhance overall decision-making processes. Digital twin technology can provide insights into the performance of assets, driver behavior, and the flow of goods and services. This information can be used to make better decisions, improve efficiency, and reduce costs. As a result, digital twin technology can help fleet operators lower the risk of implementing new changes and improve overall efficiency and profit. This data-driven approach not only streamlines fleet operations but also helps identify cost-saving opportunities, contributing to the resilience and success of fleet management in the midst of economic uncertainties.

Supply chain resilience and risk management

In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and its profound impact on supply chains, fleets are now prioritizing supply chain resilience and risk management. The pandemic exposed vulnerabilities in the once-favored just-in-time practices, prompting a shift towards preserving capacity and resources for the unexpected. Fleet managers have recognized the critical importance of having visibility into the movement of goods and provision of services to ensure smooth operations. As a result, there is a greater emphasis on risk management strategies and contingency planning to mitigate potential disruptions in the future. By proactively identifying and addressing potential risks, such as supply chain disruptions, natural disasters, or geopolitical uncertainties, fleet management companies can safeguard their operations, enhance resilience, and maintain business continuity even in the face of unforeseen challenges. A robust risk management approach allows fleets to adapt quickly to changing circumstances and solidify their position as reliable partners in the global supply chain landscape.

Driving more intelligent insights from more sources

The potential for fleets to harness intelligent insights from diverse data sources is revolutionizing fleet management. By aggregating data from telematics, Transportation Management Systems (TMS), IoT sensors, vehicle original equipment manufacturers (OEM), data, sales, and invoicing systems, fleets can access real-time and impactful insights. This data-driven approach benefits drivers, fleet managers, and business owners alike. Drivers receive actionable insights for optimized route planning, fuel efficiency, and safety. Fleet managers gain increased visibility into operations, facilitating data-backed decisions on resource allocation and workflow optimization. Business owners benefit from valuable strategic insights, identifying growth opportunities and responding swiftly to market dynamics. The integration of these data sources also enhances collaboration and communication between vendors and customers, leading to more accurate arrival times and increased customer satisfaction. Embracing intelligent insights, fleets are poised to elevate operational efficiency, streamline transactions, and excel in a rapidly evolving and data-centric world.

On a more general level, what do you consider to be the best advice you have had in business?

New Zealand’s Māori indigenous population has a proverb – “He aha te mea nui o te ao. He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.” Which translates to: “What is the most important thing in the world? It is the people, it is the people, it is the people.” I was given advice very early on in my career about the importance of developing teams and individuals and creating a culture where people can be at their best. Get this wrong then it doesn’t matter if you have the best strategy in the world, you will fail. Invest in your people first and support them – that is when your business will achieve its goals.

Are there any other areas that you consider important for the sector and that you’d like to include?

Establishing agreed data sharing standards is of utmost importance for the supply chain industry to foster collaboration among industry players and ensure seamless data flow across different geographies. This collaborative approach encompasses OEM vehicle manufacturers, telematics, and device manufacturers. By implementing robust mechanisms to ensure data accessibility and avoiding lockdowns, the industry can facilitate efficient information exchange, drive innovation, and enhance operational efficiency for the entire supply chain ecosystem. A unified approach to data sharing paves the way for a more interconnected and agile supply chain network.

As the transportation landscape evolves with the inevitable decrease in fuel taxes due to the rise of electric and fuel-efficient vehicles, governments must explore innovative ways to fund road infrastructure. Government officials must proactively seek new approaches to collect revenue from both light and heavy vehicles, while leveraging technology to make the collection of charges equitable, easy and low cost. Embracing this opportunity allows governments to adapt to changing trends, maintain sustainable road networks, and ensure a seamless and reliable transportation system for the future.