Integrating artificial intelligence (AI) and telematics in field service has created a new realm of efficiency. AI can analyze large amounts of data, predict equipment failures, optimize schedules, and automate routine tasks, allowing field service professionals to focus on more complex problems.

In our most recent webinar, Advancing Operational Excellence through AI and Telematics in Field Service, we explore how fleet and workforce management technologies work together to transform the industry.

Chris Rand, head of research at WBR Insights, sat down with Nick Oney, director of fleet at Xylem Tree Experts, and Jim Higby, safety and compliance strategy lead at Motive, to discuss why it’s important for field service operators to invest in an integrated platform that delivers real-time visibility and control. Watch the video above to see how AI-powered tools are changing the game for field service operators, and continue reading for conversation highlights. The following text has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Chris Rand: “Hi, everyone, joining me today, we have Nick Oney, director of fleet at Xylem Kendall. Thanks for being here. Did you want to go ahead and share a little bit about yourself?”

Nick Oney: “Yeah, absolutely. Appreciate the opportunity to speak on this webinar. So Nick Oney, director of fleet for Xylem and Kendall. We are line-clearing contractors. This means we trim trees for power companies, trim trees away from power lines. We are in about 25 different states, work for over 100 different utilities, and continue to grow portfolio sizes around them over thousands of assets, each of them having Motive devices.”

Chris Rand: “Also with us is Jim Higby, lead safety and compliance strategy at Motive. Jim, thanks for being here. Did you want to share a little bit about yourself?”

Jim Higby: “I’m with Motive. We’re a leading technology provider for fleet safety and telematics along with fuel spend and things like that. I’ve got about 30 years of experience in the fleet safety industry working for larger companies, such as Ryder and Fedex Express. I’ve managed entire fleet safety programs from a compliance aspect, but also telematics and videomatics.”

Chris Rand: “Thank you. I wanted to start, by sharing a little bit about two surveys WBR Insights conducted in partnership with Motive. The respondents of the surveys were senior leaders in field service, operations, safety, service, fleet management, and other leadership roles for organizations across verticals. Most of them have 101 to 10,000 or more vehicles or assets and more than one billion to ten billion dollars or more in annual revenue.

“One of the things we found was that technology advancements in fleet and workforce management have transformed the industry, providing greater visibility into assets and operations. But even with those significant gains, service teams are still struggling to achieve really effective cost management.

“The surveys also highlighted the primary challenges faced by fleet and field service leaders. Those included managing rising fuel costs, handling operational costs related to accidents and unsafe driving, and addressing issues of equipment theft, fraud, or unauthorized use.

“I think it’s time we heard from our panelists, and Jim, I’d like to start with you. From your perspective, do these challenges align with the biggest challenges you’re seeing today, especially in any areas where new technologies might help improve operations?”

Jim Higby: “Yes, absolutely. It does align and there are a few things that have happened in the past that contribute to this. The first is new technology has become available at different segments through time and is affecting different portions of the operation. So, with this, it’s promoted somewhat of a siloed approach to the data and how they manage businesses or and their fleets.

“This leads to a second point and the technology that’s procured through the years. There’s really no option, or a very difficult option, for integration, which becomes even more difficult for them to manage through the visibility of data and technology. They’ve realized how cumbersome this is and how costly. It’s a challenge for fleet operators and leaders within the organization to really manage this data and be efficient.

“Lastly, technology is advancing very quickly. Capabilities that weren’t available in the past are now available. The ability to integrate all this technology into a single platform is very valuable for the consumer. In addition to that, the ability to update hardware and software as technology improves and advances so quickly is extremely desirable. All of these elements are contributing to this need to reevaluate technology.

“Nick, do you have anything to add?”

Nick Oney: “I think this list of pain points aligns with what we’ve experienced as an organization. We’ve grown, we’ve had different technologies that are used by different departments. So having a way to integrate all of that leads to big organizational KPIs, and changes can be difficult. We’re all speaking different languages, pulling information from different sources. So it can be challenging to align all of that information together.”

Chris Rand: “So I wanted to get into the driving forces behind some of these trends. Jim, I know you had some things that you wanted to share specifically on the matter.”

Jim Higby: “It’s not surprising that fuel costs are at the top of the list of challenges for leaders. It’s a leading expense for fleets, the largest expense for fleets in some cases.

It’s one of the most volatile costs they have to control and they just feel like they’re out of control, quite honestly, as it relates to fuel.

“One of the most surprising findings we learned from the study that we previously mentioned is that operators are estimating that 19% of the losses are actually due to fraud. This is skimming at the pump for what we call friendly fraud. On top of this, the cost of fuel and maintenance has risen 46% rise in the last four years.

“Some of the forces that are driving this fraud and fuel efficiency is driver behavior, and you never even realize how much driver behavior affects it until you have the technology to monitor it. So, this comes as a challenge for businesses.”

Chris Rand: “Yeah, I just wanted to say that 19% figure is pretty shocking. And I think the insight that you really just don’t know what you’re missing if you don’t have the technology to see it is a good one.

“So back to our research, we found that current technologies are failing operators in three key areas when it comes to mitigating fleet expenses. Those areas include reducing losses due to fraud, obtaining maintenance discounts, and obtaining fuel discounts.

“Most say their tools are not very effective or not effective at all at helping in these areas. So these issues with mitigating fleet expenses – to bring up my next question here – Nick, I’d like to start with you on this one. Where do you see the greatest opportunity for improving spend management capabilities today?”

Nick Oney: “I think it’s really in having spend visibility and being able to identify where spend is coming from. Most platforms now can offer drill-down features where you can set high-level KPIs. And if there’s something that you need to study in a more granular way, you’re able to click into it, drill down, and figure it out. 

“Some questions we ask is how do you collect data? How can you present it? How do you make it actionable? So a couple of things we’ve done, we dove into our equipment expenses related to repairs, and really looked at preventative maintenance versus active maintenance. That led us to perform DOTs every time we do oil changes, and that makes us overly compliant. It also helps us find issues and get a handle on them before they turn into bigger issues. Another thing we did was monitor idle time.” 

Chris Rand: “Jim, did you have anything you wanted to add to that?” 

Jim Higby: “Just a couple of things. AI is proven to really give companies an advantage when it comes to managing all these different things. Nick touched on a few but it really comes down to driver behavior, sustainability, and spend management solutions.

“So we just touched on driver behavior for one and Nick had mentioned idle time, but there’s also a lack of visibility when you don’t have the proper systems and technology. As it relates to route optimization, you can help route your drivers relative to traffic or rush hours or the most efficient route from point A to Z. 

“What you sometimes don’t realize is what’s happening from point A to Z. They could be going off-route or out of their service area for a number of personal reasons. It could also be just a lack of understanding as it relates to what the expectations are.

“So this new technology gives the ability to understand where your people are, and what the driver behaviors are that are contributing to some of the inefficiencies, and additional costs related to operating a business in fleet services.”