Monday 21 January 2019

Fleetmatics on road to being tech juggernaut after rebrand

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Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

How do you feel when the startup you co-founded is subsumed and rebranded by the giant that acquired it? Peter Mitchell, co-founder of Dublin-based Fleetmatics, which is to be renamed 'Verizon Connect' after the telecoms giant that paid €2.15bn for it in 2016, says it doesn't matter.

"It's been like watching a child grow up," said Mitchell. "From sitting across a table in Tallaght with a handful of people, to going public on the New York Stock Exchange, I'm really proud. For me, the name will always live on."

The vehicle-tracking company is arguably one of Ireland's most unheralded tech stories, growing to become the biggest car and truck monitoring outfit in the world.

It uses a combination of sensors and software to produce digital dashboards that allow companies to see what their fleet vehicles and drivers are doing.

But now it is one of three Verizon-owned divisions that have come together to create Verizon Connect, a $5bn industry juggernaut combining the company's connected vehicle segment with recently acquired fleet and mobile workforce management software companies.

As chief technical officer of the company, Mitchell now oversees a workforce of over 1,000 people, across several countries. The company recently expanded its Irish operation, investing €50m into new Sandyford offices.

"I'm really proud at all this investment that has gone in to a real Dublin startup," he said.

"We hired 150 people here last year. So being part of that and seeing Fleetmatics stand tall among its peers counteracts any sadness about losing the name."

Outside the US, Verizon doesn't have the kind of top-tier brand recognition that locally-based operators such as Vodafone or O2 would enjoy.

Mitchell says this doesn't especially impact the company's business.

"Verizon is still one of the top 15 brands globally," he said.

"I think that it's important to keep that connection. I also think that the word 'Connect' opens us up beyond vehicles."

He says that the new division's next task is to open services up to field workers and apply some of the same analysis as currently apply to vehicle telematics.

"We have a bigger vision than just telling you where your vehicle is," he said.

"We can optimise your routes or be with you before you get into the vehicle. We can basically insure that once you're in the vehicle, you're going to the right place.

"That could be a technician going on a business call or whatever. The goal is to minimise time on the road and maximise revenue-generating scenarios.

Mitchell says that emerging technologies, such as 5G mobile services and autonomous vehicles, will occupy some of the company's planning in the coming years.

"5G is something we're watching very carefully," he said.

"Verizon will be the first to roll out a 5G network in the US. In terms of Verizon Connect specifically, we'll provide a range of benefits as vehicles become more autonomous.

"The main one will be the power to ensure that a vehicle is being driven correctly and is in the right place, responding to the right call."

European data-privacy rules, in the form of the upcoming GDPR, are not expected to have too much of an impact on the business, says Mitchell.

"GDPR has had an effect in that everybody is ensuring that they're GDPR-compliant, but within the rules themselves, I don't think it precludes anything we're doing," he said.

"We don't hold a lot of personally identifiable information, for example. Obviously it's important that companies, where they're using data, are getting permission from their drivers.

"But there are a lot of benefits to the technician and driver too. Used correctly, for example, they'll get more work."

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