As a completely new feature, "connect business" offers connectivity services for fleet and business customers. We spoke to Kevin Barbian and Sten Rauch.
The "connect business" product is the first service of Mercedes-Benz Connectivity Services GmbH – what exactly is the new company all about?
Kevin Barbian: The demand for networked services isn't just growing in the private sector, but also among our business customers. Mercedes-Benz Connectivity Services GmbH is a subsidiary of Daimler Group, established specifically to consolidate our know-how in the field of fleet connectivity.
Sten Rauch: The development time for new online services is much shorter than for a complete vehicle – plus, a service can change several times during its life cycle. We're responding to this development with the new company, which has a new kind of work culture and new development processes. Our business processes are developed based on the products. The company operates like a startup within the Daimler Group. It is agile and flexible, which is transmitted through its communication.
How did this project come about?
Barbian: In 2014, I got a call from my future boss, the Head of Customer Management at Mercedes-Benz Cars. The decisive question during the call was: "Listen, we want to offer connectivity services to business customers – are you in?" In Europe, business customers are extremely important to Daimler; they make up more than half of the company's sales. It was clear to me that it was going to be something big, and I definitely wanted to be a part of it.
Rauch: In the beginning, there were just two of us. Today we're a motivated, young team that can rapidly react to customer demands. Currently, the team has 18 colleagues and four interns. The average age of the staff is approximately 29 years.
What differentiates "connect business" from other connectivity services like "Mercedes me connect" or the solutions offered by "FleetBoard"?
Rauch: The functions offered by FleetBoard are geared towards trucks, large haulage firms and big logistics companies. "connect business" is intended for fleets of passenger cars, but could conceivably serve any business sector. Through “connect business,” we are able to target both passenger car fleet and business customer groups, as well as their users and providers for the first time ever.
Barbian: Our primary focus is creating a benefit for business customers – increased efficiency, generally. Convenience functions, which tend to be important to private customers, play a lesser role with fleet businesses.
How much additional technical work is required to use the new services?
Rauch: In the car, we only use series-production technology. Currently, "connect business" works with all Mercedes-Benz vehicles equipped with the communication modules available since September 2014. The devices feature a SIM card and can be connected to the internet non-stop, if necessary. That's a basic requirement for our connectivity services.
But the majority of business customers do not exclusively have Mercedes-Benz models but also have vehicles of other brands…
Barbian: That's right. And that's exactly what we are currently working on; soon we will be able to offer a retrofit solution for 99 percent of all new vehicle types – including those of other vehicle manufacturers.
Rauch: With our multi-brand approach, we're entering completely new territory. The idea of offering a Mercedes-Benz passenger car solution for vehicles of other manufacturers, in order to offer digital services for passenger cars, is completely new at Daimler (with the exception of Daimler Fleet Management).
With our multi-brand approach, we're entering completely new territory.
Which individual "connect business" services are currently available?
Barbian: When we launched the business in April 2017 we had three services. Vehicle Monitoring & Maintenance allows fleet managers to manage and monitor all vehicles of their fleet using the web-based "connect business" portal. The Vehicle Logistics service offers GPS and map-based functions to streamline deployment and order management.
Rauch: And a true highlight in my opinion is our "Digital Driver's Log" service which offers an intelligent, digital driver's logbook. Nonetheless, our service meets the official requirements of the German Federal Finance Ministry, so that the private sphere of the drivers is protected for non-work related journeys.
A true highlight in my opinion is our "Digital Driver's Log" service which offers an intelligent, digital driver's logbook.
Let's take a look into the future: which new services are planned in the medium term – and what is conceivable in the long term?
Rauch: We still have big plans. Currently, we're dedicating much of our efforts to making multi-brand functionality work. What's more, we're developing a "Driver Messaging" function, which allows text messages to be sent to individual drivers – initially, these will appear on the app, but later, we seek to integrate these directly into the instrument cluster.
Barbian: Today, our services act as a 'fleet optimiser', which can be booked on a per-service or per-vehicle basis. In the future, we see the services becoming more of a 'fleet management optimiser'. One of the first steps in this direction will be the car sharing service, which we are working on with great intensity at the moment. We are using the term SHARING2 to describe the idea.
What does that entail?
Rauch: We see our new service as an evolution of sharing as we know it today – occurring between private persons and within a single company. In the future, we believe that there will also be sharing between private persons and companies or between several companies.
Company cars stand around on company car lots several hours a day, but they could be used by other people as well.
Barbian: Let me give you an example: company cars stand around on company car lots several hours a day, but they could be used by other people as well. This would enable the best possible use of resources – in this case, vehicles – and would also lead to a reduction in the amount of time that the vehicle stands around unused. At a more general level: we're on our way to a bigger, globally networked fleet.
Rauch: And finally, we don't want to only connect vehicles, we also want to draw on other sources of data, such as infrastructure and weather data, or information on businesses and workshops. Only when all of these various pieces of data are connected can we provide the customer with an added value.
How do you plan on convincing private persons to make their vehicle available for use as part of a global fleet?
Barbian: We must bring the various advantages and functions together through intelligent connectivity and ensure ease of use for customers. An additional incentive for customers could be financial gains, of course. Initial experiences we’ve made in the USA have shown that private customers are interested in renting their car to others for certain time segments. The carsharing platform Croove, initiated by Mercedes-Benz, already provides a pretty good case for this.
Rauch: In order for such a model to work, mass is important – that's why it makes sense to expand such an offer to include all brands. This way, the model also becomes interesting to business customers. We firmly believe that, in the field of mobility, intelligent algorithms and data analytics will play a central role – both for business as well as private customers. This is precisely how "connect business" started.