What do rental car companies, public transit service (buses, light rail etc) providers, shuttle operators, trucking/freight service companies, car dealers, and ride-sharing service providers have in common? If you answered “Fleets”, you are right! All of these organizations operate a fleet of vehicles which provide a wide range of transportation services, and face a common subset of problems which include: fleet maintenance, optimizing fleet utilization, optimizing the matching of supply to demand, tracking assets, optimizing routes etc. Depending on the transportation solutions offered by these organizations, they have further untapped potential in the type of services they can offer to their customers by harnessing the data generated from their respective fleets.
The figure below delves a bit deeper into the type of data that could be harnessed from these fleets and the relevant services that could be provided when utilizing this data.
Expanding on some examples from the figure above:
Route Optimization: By combining the data from the car’s location with respect to a map and data from traffic updates, vehicle routes can be optimized.
Location Based Retail Services: When a car’s location data is combined with data from a Mapping service (such as Google Maps), a slew of location based retail services can be offered.
Emergency & Roadside Assistance: When data from safety sensors (airbags, accident impact etc) is combined with Telematics, Safety & Roadside assistance services can be offered.
So far, we’ve seen data from several sources in different formats that needs to be ingested, processed, and analyzed in order to derive insights. Services can be built for monetization from these insights, and compelling value propositions in the form of services can be created. However, a technology infrastructure that supports all of these requirements is needed to accomplish this task, and this provides a perfect segway into a discussion on Platforms.
What is a Platform?
It is important to understand what a Platform means and how it fits into the context of this article. Sangeet Paul Chaudary, a leading thinker on Platforms, defines a platform as: “A plug-and-play business model that allows participants (producers and consumers) to connect to it, interact with each other, and create and exchange value. It achieves this by:
- Architecting incentives that repeatedly pull these participants to the platform
- Providing a central infrastructure on which participants create and exchange value
- Matching participants with each other and with content/goods/services created on the platform
Across all platforms, we repeatedly see three layers, as follows:”
Drivers behind the need for TaaS Platforms:
Unlike technology companies such as Uber or Lyft, many companies (such as rental car companies or city transportation services) which own these fleets do not have the in-house expertise to build the supporting technology infrastructure needed for a platform. And this drives the need for a plug-and-play TaaS (aka MaaS — Mobility as a Service) platform solution, to empower companies to deploy these platforms and build services on top of them.
The leading car manufacturers are realizing that they need to adapt a new strategy to stay relevant in the evolving marketplace, and move up the value chain by providing services as the trend for vehicle ownership over time becomes increasingly cost prohibitive. Many recent announcements from leading car manufacturers and other companies whose business models are susceptible to disruption are adopting TaaS platforms (through in-house development efforts, partnerships, or acquisitions) to provide services:
- Toyota launches a new Mobility Ecosystem and Concept Vehicle powered by its Mobility Services Platform
- BMW introduces their ReachNow ride hailing service powered by RideCell’s platform
- Ford acquires Autonomic as it evolves its mobility business
- AAA announces Gig Car Share service
- Telecom Giants fear missing the money as cars go online
As cars become more advanced with semi-autonomous and fully-autonomous features, the need to update software frequently Over The Air (OTA) becomes increasingly important and these features add value when integrated into the Platform. Driven by the need to increase safety, another trend is to build a V2X (Vehicle to Anything) connected transportation ecosystem where the transportation infrastructure in cities can communicate with vehicles, and the ability for a TaaS platform to address these use cases further adds value to the platform participants.
Some of the key requirements in a TaaS platform are highlighted here:
In addition to building the above requirements into the TaaS platforms, Companies developing them need to execute on the following initiatives to succeed:
- Build a robust developer ecosystem
- Build support for a wide range of APIs that developers can utilize and build services on top of the platform
- Build Network Effects: The more number of use cases and features the platform can support, the more useful it will become for developers to build services on top of the platform, which makes it further attractive to the participants in the platform in creating and exchanging value.
In summary, companies whose business models are susceptible to disruption in the evolving transportation landscape could deploy plug-and-play TaaS platforms that provides value driven services to their customers. If the projections in these articles here and here are any indication, the services market is set to explode and China is in the driver’s seat.