Role of Data Insight & Automation in Shared Mobility Fleets

February 26, 2023

Episode Summary

In this episode of Point B, Mark Thomas, EVP of Marketing & Alliances at Ridecell, provides insights on how automation and data are driving the transformation of fleet vehicles and enabling exciting new opportunities in the realm of shared mobility. How are data insights assisting automated workflows? What are the benefits of a digitally transformed fleet? What technologies are driving this transformation?

Meet Our Guests

Mark Thomas
Mark Thomas

Mark Thomas is the EVP of Marketing & Alliances at Ridecell, the leading automation and mobility platform provider for digital transformation. Prior to joining Ridecell, Thomas headed the connected car marketing team at Cisco Jasper, where he developed the product and go-to-market strategies for automotive OEMs. Prior to Cisco, Mark led product marketing at HERE, a leading automotive maps company. In addition, Mark served in marketing, strategy, and business development roles at Apple and Nokia. Mark holds a B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley, and an M.B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business.


- [Announcer] Welcome back to another episode of Point B, a Sibros podcast where we interview industry experts about the latest innovations and trends in automotive technology and the connected vehicle industry. Tune in to learn about topics ranging from the next generation of electric vehicles to advances in connectivity and micro-mobility.

- Welcome to our Point B podcast, where we discuss the future of mobility and the underlying market forces and technology that will drive our industry forward. Today's podcast will cover the digital transformation of the fleet-based industries. Today, I'm lucky enough to have my friend, Mark Thomas, the Executive Vice President of Marketing and Alliances at Ridecell, which is the leading automation and mobility provider for the digital transformation. Prior to joining Ridecell, Mark headed the connected car marketing team at Cisco Jasper, where he developed the product and go-to market strategies for automotive OEMs, and before Jasper, Mark led the product marketing at Here. Mark also served in marketing and strategy and business development roles at Apple and Nokia. Welcome, Mark.

- Thanks, Steven. It's great to be here.

- Let's just start by talking a little bit about Ridecell.

- Yeah, absolutely. Ridecell's a company that got its start in the shared mobility. Fact, our name, Ridecell, means get a ride with your cell phone. So we've been focusing on really allowing people to share their transportation. We have a shared mobility platform that does essentially every flavor of car sharing, station based, free floating, scheduled, on demand, corporate, government. Really, the goal is to try to get as many people as possible using those vehicles because a typical vehicle, as we all know, sits about 96% of the time and really is only in use about 4%. So that's been our roots and our legacy.

- I'm picking up on that 96% of the time a vehicle just sits idle. So you're really increasing the usage, and it probably starts with, you know, more urban locations where parking becomes a problem and where you're trying to really drive better sustainability by helping reduce congestion in those markets. Is that correct?

- Absolutely. The urban centers, people think of vehicles as freedom, but when you live in a city, it's anything but. There is no freedom in arriving to the restaurant 10 minutes early and then circling, looking for parking. There's really no prestige in owning a car in the city because nobody ever sees it. The prestige is being able to show up on time, you know, have a few cocktails, and then take some sort of mobility back home. So, you know, car sharing, having to worry about where do you park it, insurance is typically higher, and so for those times when you want to get away for the weekend, having the ability to take a vehicle and use it to run errands to the grocery store, use it for a few hours or use it for the weekend all by just getting an app.

- But you also have, I will call it fleet customers that are using your product to really get deeper insights into how those vehicles are being used. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

- Absolutely. One of the things that we learned from spending so many years getting the maximum efficiency out of car sharing fleets was that car share fleets are probably the most digitally transformed fleets of any kind of fleet, and what that means is, today, most fleets have spent all of their technology and effort taking raw data and turning it into insights, and then those insights end up at some fleet manager's desk to figure out what it is that needs to be done, and then it ends up that that fleet manager has to do the work themselves. For car sharing fleets, what we've done is we've built an automation engine that can detect typical error conditions with a car share vehicle like, hey, there's not enough gas in the car, so somebody's not gonna wanna rent it, or it's parked in a street cleaning zone and if it doesn't get moved, then you'll end up, you know, incurring a fine. So there's, you know, the check engine light's on, it needs to be resolved, and then the automation engine dispatches either people to go, you know, get the work done, and if it's simple like, hey, there's not enough washer fluid, you can send somebody there to add it. If it's like this car will get a ticket if it's parked here after 2:00 PM when street cleaning is, this system automatically would do things like discount the price to incentivize somebody to take that particular vehicle rather than a different one, and what it turns out is that the automation engine that we've built is something that's also incredibly applicable to every vehicle fleet, and in fact, the bigger the fleet, the more one needs to automate the kinds of work that's done, and if you look in the enterprise business, where, you know, they have RPA, remote process automation, for white-collar jobs, automation is very good at two different things. One is the routine and the boring. If it's just rote, automation's great for that, and in fact, when you talk to people about automation and you just say, you ask 'em, it's like, "Hey, wouldn't it be nice if you had a digital employee that could do all your grunt work?" And, you know, really makes a big difference, like, "Huzzah. Yes, I wanna manage people to do all these grinds." The other part is automation's incredible when something needs to be resolved immediately. So in the fleet business, if the airbag goes off, you can't wait for somebody to notice that they got an alert on their phone. Automation can immediately do things like call a tow truck or call an ambulance or set up a call to verify that that person is indeed in need of help. So, you know, the first phase of this is taking and going from raw data to insights, which is what fleet management systems do, and then the automation system takes the insights and uses them as triggers for automated workflows.

- That's really interesting in terms of how all that automation is taking place, and as you see the industry also shifting more towards EVs, how is that impacting your business?

- Couple different ways. Companies, corporations have ESG goals so that they're trying to meet certain thresholds, and there has been a bottleneck in terms of infrastructure and in terms of availability of EVs. One of the ways that if you make these vehicles as shared resources, then you can prioritize. When people say, "Hey, I need a car from a corporate motor pool from two to four today," you can ensure that they're taking the EVs before they're taking the ICE vehicles. So even though you may only have 25% of your total vehicle fleet as EVs, you can push the limits and get potentially 50% of all vehicle miles traveled done in EVs, and if you're also a company that then has a mixture of EVs and ICE, the rules around when and how to maintain them, when and how to charge them, matching individuals to those EVs becomes more critical because you have an existing set of processes that you're used to using for gasoline and now you have a new set of processes that are optimized around EVs. That's when, again, the benefit of automation to make sure that the right rules are applied to the right vehicles becomes really important. One of the things with EVs is that you can't just always plug them into the highest rated chargers. As much as it is convenient to have them filled up in a hurry, you're damaging the overall battery life. So having the management to have a slower charge or to take a vehicle that has a certain amount of range and match that to the route that the driver's going today so that really EVs are making the need for vehicles to become more interchangeable. It's not, "Hey, I'm the driver. I'm always taking this particular van because that's the vehicle where I have the keys in my pocket," and instead it becomes, "I'm gonna get the van that's best suited for the cargo I'm carrying and the distance and the route that I'm taking."

- That's part of that whole workflow automation that you talked about, is understanding the job to be done and then matching it to the appropriate vehicle to optimize, really, the efficiency of your fleet and then also extend the life, you know, especially for EVs, of the vehicle themselves, because you don't always have to rapid charge. I never really thought of it that way. Let's talk a little bit about the digital transformation that actually might not be going as fast as we want it to in the mobility area. Let's start with talking about what are some of the things that we should be doing in this industry to help accelerate the digital transformation.

- To understand more about digital transformation, I think one of the key things is to level set on what is digital transformation. To me, it's one of those MBA buzzword things that don't quite really understand, and when I started researching it, it's actually pretty straightforward. It's using new technologies to improve the customer experience and to gain additional efficiencies in running your business. The, you know, three phases of a digital transformation is something that, by and large, the fleet industry has only gone through phase one. Phase one is connectivity, getting the connectivity, getting the data, and having the data be interpreted by fleet management systems. Everybody has been focusing on turning raw data into insights. Phase two of this is then making those insights and putting them to work through automation so that you can trigger the automated workflows. Phase three becomes making the state of the vehicle change the state of the vehicle by having things like keyless technology and digital immobilizers. When you look at the kinds of automations that you can do, once you have the ability to digitally or remotely lock and unlock a vehicle, that is the full basis that allows these incredible digital transformations to take place, and I think the easiest way to think about it is comparing it to another industry. We all travel. When's the last time a hotel actually handed you a physical hotel key? Unless you're in a really small boutique hotel in London, they don't do that anymore. They give you card keys, and when you check in, they say, "How many keys would you like? One or two?" "Oh, I'll take two." If you happen to lose one, leave it locked in your room, now you go back, show your ID, you get another key. Keys are no longer things that are expensive, because the old process is you lose that key, it's a $125 fine. They give you the backup key. When you leave the hotel, you're supposed to turn the key in. When you come back to the hotel, you have to wait in line to get your key. It's inconvenient, and yet when you think about the automotive industry, we're all dependent upon these $400 key fobs, and in fact, that same concept of being able to use a NFC key, or how about your employee badge and use that as the key? And so instead of having a key that's dedicated to the vehicle, you end up having a key that's assigned and associated with an individual, and then in the cloud, the access rights to what that key can open becomes part of the digital transformation, and so the implications of associating a key with an individual, be it an NFC card like the hotel key or, you know, your phone, having your phone with the NFC or Bluetooth connect to the phone and it sees you're there and it knows it's you, once you have made that changeover, we can really start to look at all sorts of digital transformation things. Let's take a couple examples. Roadworthiness is a big concern. You know, does the vehicle have the check engine light? And typically the model is somebody gets in the car, driver for, sees the light on. They kinda shrug. Does it start? Does it drive? They take it. The concept that they're gonna get out and go, "Hey, the check engine light's on. I'm gonna need a different van," go turn their keys in. When you have a digital transformation in place, you can use that automation to check the state of the vehicle before the driver gets there. If it's something like a cracked windshield, then you just issue a different digital key to the driver so that they have, they're in the backup van, and then when you automatically dispatch Safelite to come change the windshield, they'll get the VIN, year, make and model, and they'll reply with what time they can be there and they'll get a digital key to access that vehicle, but the windshield repair people don't get access to actually start the vehicle. They only get access to get in. So the, you know, having actually access rights means that those digital keys are even more flexible than the ones that are physical, except maybe when you think about the valet key, where if you have a V8, it only gives you four cylinders for the valet to, and maybe not open the trunk. It's having sort of the infinite sort of valet key style. So we can talk more about just what are the kinds of digital transformations you can do depending upon what industry you're in.

- All right. Well, Mark, this has been fascinating. Very glad that you were able to join us today and talk about the digital transformation that's taking place in our industry. So thank you for joining us today.

- Yeah, absolutely, Steve. Thanks for having me.

- [Announcer] Thank you for tuning in to Point B. Join us next time for more auto tech innovations and trends. Point B is brought to you by Sibros.