Chess players and software specialists have something in common, it seems; success depends on planning several moves ahead.
This approach has helped Sofico survive and thrive for three decades, and as the fleet management software company approaches its 30th anniversary celebrations at the end of October, the future is very much on its mind.
Having grown from four employees and one client in Belgium in 1988 to a business with 250 people, offices in eight countries and customers in 22 nations that manage 1.5 million vehicle contracts worldwide today, Sofico finds itself at the vanguard of the mobility movement. If the original purpose of fleet management software was to manage assets as efficiently as possible in order to deliver the lowest possible operating cost, its current mission is to use new technology as a catalyst to help its clients create the best travel experience for their own customers.
These days, the standard business model of ‘one driver, one vehicle’ faces a serious challenge from a plethora of alternatives that include car sharing, peer-to-peer car hire, ride hailing and bike hire, all integrated with existing public transport. Within the next 30 years even the concept of a ‘driver’ is likely to be overtaken by technological advances that will see driverless vehicles on the road.
“The leasing industry has long been relatively conservative, but over the last five years its discussions have moved to be all about mobility and usage, and that is accelerating,” said Gémar Hompes, managing director of Sofico.
“It’s why we have this focus on innovation and growth; we want to be the right partner for those companies that will be there to manage those connected and autonomous vehicles.”
Innovation and growth have been part of Sofico’s DNA from the outset. In its very early years the company rapidly expanded from Belgium to the Netherlands then Australia, moves which ensured that flexibility was written into its Miles solutions’ code in order to accommodate local market differences.
That same flexibility also ensures it can react swiftly to new trends, such as the blurring of lines between fleet and retail solutions, and between owned and shared vehicles, as well as the integration of multiple modes of transport into a single mobility solution. Hompes said forward-thinking suppliers are already testing the market with new mobility services.
“We are seeing a lot of experiments,” he said. “For example, we are setting up a mobility portal for one of our customers that is based on mobility budget management for different modes of travel, like bikes and buses and trains. And with another customer we are creating a product for peer-to-peer car sharing.”
Piet Maes, CTO, Sofico, added that it’s too early to forecast whether a single business model for vehicle usage will emerge. Private vehicle ownership will not immediately disappear tomorrow, he said, and nor is the brave new world of mobility all about personal travel in shared transport.
“We will still have custom and utility vehicles for specific and specialist usages,” said Maes.
And as for the transition to this brave new world, “Being able to adapt and possessing hybrid capabilities will be key. Focusing on just one line of business will become a thing of the past.”
The one constant is that fleet-owners, whether manufacturers, leasing companies or individual businesses will still have to manage vehicles throughout their working life. Moreover, the development of increasingly connected vehicles will provide even more granular data for analysis and efficient fleet management.
“But to be successful in this transformed marketplace will require hybrid, adaptable and scalable systems that are capable of managing the high volume of very diverse lower-value transactions proficiently,” said Maes.
“Technology is a great enabler but it never stays still. For 30 years Sofico has primed itself for a future in which core fleet management plays a central role, supporting a host of innovations, new products, mobility services and technology. The next 30 years will be a rollercoaster ride of unimaginable change that will be as challenging as it is thrilling.”
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