When the pandemic hit, fleet operators had to keep their businesses afloat amidst the economic recession caused by supply chain disruption. And building custom fuel management software has proven to be excellent in optimizing the cost-efficiency of their operations. After all, fuel costs form up to 24% of expenses for trucking operators along with other factors, and optimizing them is important to ensure the long-term sustainability of your business.
Are you planning to create a fuel management system for your fleet? Continue reading to discover the market trends for the upcoming years, the value such tools can deliver for efficient fleet management, key features they must support, and the steps of building your own fuel management system.
We know what we’re talking about since Acropolium has been creating custom software for 18 years now. This includes building solutions for transportation and logistics in general and freight fleet management in particular.
According to Oleksii Glib, Founder at Acropolium, transportation businesses fail to consider several important factors when calculating the fuel economy or MPG (miles per gallon). For example, to truly manage fuel consumption efficiently, you shouldn’t just take into account the mileage and tonnage of the freight delivered. Other factors include:
- Roadbed quality
- Weather conditions along the route
- Tires mounted
- Overall vehicle condition
- Temperature control in the cabin
- Crew headcount
- Quantity of night stops
- Urgency of delivery
“No two vehicles have identical fuel consumption,” says Mr.Glib, “and the dependency between their characteristics and MPG isn’t linear.” Let’s take two trucks: one that traveled 150,000 miles last year carrying full loads and one that stayed in the garage for six months and then carried half loads for 75,000 miles only.
Though it’s not obvious, the first truck might show better fuel economy than the second. That’s because fuel consumption is influenced by numerous factors, from the technical peculiarities of the vehicle to the driving habits of the crew and road/route conditions:
- The freight might have to be transported at a certain temperature
- Heavy rainfall or snowstorm may reduce the speed
- Cruising at the speed limit takes less fuel than constantly speeding up and slowing down, etc.
Accounting for all these factors manually is literally impossible, but this is where Big Data analytics comes to the rescue. Aggregating data gathered by the fuel management system and analyzing it allows determining the patterns of how the mileage traveled, tonnage transported, vehicle technical condition, and other factors affect the fuel consumption rates.
Reasons for fuel management system development and implementation
Cost-efficiency is the cornerstone of sustainable operations and long-term business success. Thus, creating a fuel management system for your needs (or integrating purpose-built software with your tool kit) provides multiple benefits. The most prominent of them are:
- Fuel cost monitoring and control. When operating across states or borders, especially in the cold season, selecting the right fuel brand is essential for ensuring cost-efficiency. Such software can either monitor the fuel bought by the driver or recommend the best brand for the road and weather conditions ahead. Besides, monitoring the overall fuel purchasing and consumption allows finding the most cost-effective fuel brands to avoid overspending.
- Coaching for efficient driving. Rapid speeding, hard braking, and idling with a working engine are three major ways how drivers waste fuel. By monitoring for such occurrences in real-time, fleet operators can determine the drivers with the best driving habits (and the worst ones). This helps provide incentives to top performers and take action regarding the slackers.
- Prevention of fuel theft and leakage. Dishonest drivers siphoning fuel or honest ones losing it due to leakage mean extra expenses. If you implement fuel card control, telematics, and fuel level logging with sensors, the software will help identify fuel theft attempts and block them instantly.
- Fuel and CO2 emission taxation. Every fleet operator has to provide reports of CO2 emissions and comply with the IFTA regulation. What used to take days of stringent reporting can be automatically done by fuel management software, so you save time and effort in addition to ensuring stable tax returns.
These are not the only benefits of using a fuel management system for your fleet, but we will talk about them in more detail later. For now, let’s look at the trends of the truck fleet market. Chances are, they will contain some features you’ll want to include in your custom fuel management system.
Five fleet industry trends 2021 - 2025
COVID-19 brought about several trends that continue growing and will remain hot even after the pandemic is over.
Remote fleet management
A fuel management system should be only a part of a remote fleet management system. Ran as a SaaS platform in the cloud, it ensures seamless connectivity between the driver’s mobile app, Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs), and various sensors aboard the truck, fueling equipment at gas stations, and the management dashboards running the whole operation.
Because this software doesn’t have to be run from a central office, it enables remote fleet management, ensuring productive work from the safety of personal apartments. As every third professional in the USA promises to quit if forced to work from the office again, this is a powerful trend to consider.
Safety and sanitation measures
Every fleet manager has to respond to the pandemic challenges, providing antiseptic dispensers, protective screens in the cabins, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) like masks, gloves, and coggles for drivers, etc.
One way to avoid fines for not upholding quarantine measures is to implement facial recognition algorithms into your reporting tools. This way, when drivers use the app to report anything, the camera will automatically check if the PPEs are in place. This kind of automation can prove your company cares about public health and avoids potential exposure to the virus.
Making big cash on Big Data and AI
Fleet management tools provide the ability to centralize, aggregate, and analyze the wealth of data generated by your fleet and external sources. So, you will be able to detect negative patterns and make informed decisions that will help reduce expenses. This way, your company can turn a useless pile of reports into a powerful driver for business development and innovation, which can positively impact your bottom line. Read also about AI use cases in transportation.
5G adoption looms on the horizon
With Elon Musk launching more and more Starlink 5G satellites, the worldwide 5G Internet coverage is closer every day. Low latency means fewer communication inconsistencies, more stable data transfer, real-time notifications, and more.
This is crucial for truck fleet operators, who need to stay in control of the situation 24/7. Modern freight forwarding systems are built to support both 4G and 5G communication standards, so early adoption will help you stay ahead of the competition.
GPS and telematics pave the way
From vehicle location tracking and in-cab video surveillance to real-time engine performance monitoring, GPS and telematics deliver immense value to fleet operators. This includes staying connected with drivers anywhere, informing them of the changing weather conditions on time and offering alternate routes, controlling preventive maintenance of every vehicle, etc.
Implementing these features in new platforms and optimizing software kits in use ensures that your business runs cost-efficiently and is prepared for the future. Speaking of the future, have you considered the features your custom fuel management software will have? Here are our top picks.
Key features of fuel management software
We have briefly mentioned them before, but now it’s time to describe the main fuel management system features and what value they bring to your business.
Less speeding, less wasted fuel
Truck engines are optimized to run at max efficiency near the speed limit, 50 MPH. But when trucks go above it, the fuel economy drops at alarmingly high rates: $0.20 per gallon for every five miles above the speed limit. By noticing speeding and braking occurrences through various sensors, fleet managers are able to identify good (and suboptimal) fuel consumption cases based on driving habits.
Yet another instance of fuel going to waste is the drivers not shutting down the vehicle engine when idling. As long-haul truck drivers are sometimes forced to idle for up to eight hours a day, the expenses can quickly accumulate into quite a hefty sum. By encouraging responsible driving and idling habits, fleet operators can significantly reduce their fueling expenses.
One of the most important fuel management system features is around-the-clock monitoring of all the trucks in your fleet, in addition to detailed reports and logs. This way, you can receive alerts in real-time when the driver is speeding or idling and can set up notifications for them. This helps promote more responsible driving and better fuel cost management.
Proactive maintenance instead of reacting to breaks
A truck stuck 60 miles away from the nearest city with a broken engine is the fleet manager’s worst nightmare. Relying on drivers to perform full diagnostics and maintenance of their trucks on the road is not the best decision. Some fixes cannot be made outside of the car shop, and some issues are difficult to detect before they become problems.
This is yet another scenario where one of the fuel management system features allows saving a fortune with proactive maintenance and break prevention. By examining the data from multiple sensors in the engine and other truck systems, fleet operators can be alerted about the upcoming malfunctions and fix them proactively. This helps reduce the costs of maintenance and prevent expensive breakdowns.
Stopping fuel theft
Mishandling fuel cards, skimming fuel cards (stealing their data) at fueling depots, or outright stealing fuel from truck tanks all result in huge losses, especially when managing multiple vehicles. By using GPS tracking and features like telematics, fuel management systems allow determining vehicle location and tracking its fueling spots to prevent fuel theft and leakage.
The system can calculate the amount of fuel needed to go from point A to point B and allocate this amount to the fuel card at the fueling depot. It can also tell when a fuel purchase record comes from a station where none of your fleet vehicles has ever been, prompting that the fuel card data was probably skimmed.
Previously, such records were lost in monthly reports. Now, they can be highlighted at once, so you can nip illicit activities in the bud, block the skimmed card till investigation, and charge back the fraudulent purchases. This also helps with the fuel card reconciliation process as it’s easy to detect which driver lost the data (or sold it). As a result, the monthly fuel reconciliation process becomes much more straightforward and organized.
Reducing the tax expenses
CO2 emission taxation and IFTA reporting form quite considerable expenses for large fleets. By basing your reports on in-depth data from a fuel management system, you will be able to compile these reports quickly, in an error-proof and reliable manner. Forget about spending days preparing reports and resolving inconsistencies within them. The software will compile data from different dashboards to provide a unified overview of your operations and save you a ton of time, effort, and money.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, as every fleet operator can develop fuel management software that meets their specific demands and business goals. However, these tools must be designed and built following the best practices to future-proof your business. How to make a fuel management system that works correctly then?
A step-by-step guide to building a fuel management system
There are several important stages of building a custom fuel management system. We will not delve deeply into the technical details but will briefly explain the stages of the process and what each step brings to the table.
Product discovery and design
If you decide to build fuel management software from scratch, you will need to account for all the tools that will have to interact with it, both physical (hardware and sensors) and digital (software).
After learning the technology behind the tools you already have, the sensors and hardware you will have to install, and the user stories of the future product, the development team will design and prepare a clickable prototype. This will allow the developers to showcase the potential use scenarios and adjust workflows if needed. At the end of this phase, you will have a development roadmap, a prototype, and an approximate estimate.
At this stage, the team finalizes the selection of the technology stack needed to build custom fuel management software, the roadmap ahead, and the expected estimates. Then the development begins, often simultaneously with installing the required equipment on your fleet and configuring it.
You will generally need a mobile app for drivers and a cloud-based web app for managers/data analysts. Don’t worry, your development team will know what to do. And if you don’t currently have access to such expertise, Acropolium will gladly lend a helping hand.
System pilot deployment and testing
Once your custom fuel management system is built, it should be tested with a pilot project before rolling it to the entirety of your fleet. The pilot will help ensure the possible mistakes are fixed, and your employees get acquainted with the platform before it’s being actively used.
Release and ongoing maintenance
After the bugs are ironed out, the software can be released for all the fleet to be used in daily operations. Then, maintenance and ongoing development begin while you enjoy the benefits of having a custom fuel management system.
Under the hood: Components of a fuel management system
We promised not to delve deep into technical details, but it’s critical for you to understand the essential components that form robust, secure, reliable, and scalable software.
- Cloud. Such software must naturally run in the cloud to ensure the required accessibility and scalability of operations. Your development team will choose between AWS, GCP, and Microsoft Azure, depending on many individual factors.
- DevOps. The software development team should consider implementing CI/CD to minimize the manual effort needed to deliver updates and new features.
- Microservices. Going with the microservices architecture will allow you to be more scalable and resource-efficient than with a monolith app. Plus, it ensures better operational resilience as various software parts can be launched, rebooted, or updated independently.
- Big Data analytics. Gathering data from thousands of sensors is pointless if you don’t plan on analyzing it.
- AI/ML. Algorithms allow detecting the patterns that are hard to identify manually and uncovering hidden expenses, as well as room for growth.
The particular technology behind the back-end and front-end of the platform depends on the software stack you already use and can vary from PHP and Node.js to Python, R, and Go. The sensors required to run this software fall under one of several categories: fuel level sensors, GPS location sensors, fuel flow meters, etc.
The bottom line
Let us just sum up everything we’ve shared in this article with these five key things to consider when planning to create a fuel management system:
- It must deliver value by solving particular business challenges
- It must follow the latest market trends to be future-proof
- It must provide convenient and useful functionality for all parties involved
- It must be built according to industry best practices to be stable and scalable
- It must be built by professionals to work well with the rest of your hardware and software ecosystem
Acropolium has all these points covered thanks to our in-depth expertise in transportation and fleet management solutions. Book a consultation or simply contact us, and we will gladly help you build fuel management software that’s uniquely tailored to your needs.