Roadside assistance provider the RAC revolutionizes customer service with IoT

Imagine a world in which you’re alerted before you even leave the house that your vehicle might break down. You obtain driver recommendations to improve safety and save fuel based on your actual driving patterns. And if you are involved in a car accident, you receive a precise summary of the cause of the crash right from your smartphone.

Thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT), the RAC is doing all of that and more. A 120-year-old motorist organization, the RAC provides roadside assistance, insurance, accident management and route planning to 8.6 million business and individual motorists across the UK—much the same way that AAA does in the U.S. And by implementing Microsoft Azure IoT Hub to connect and monitor telematics devices placed in member vehicles, the company is revolutionizing how it serves its members.

The RAC initially built its IoT solution on Amazon Web Services, but moved to Azure IoT Hub early in 2017 because it needed a more secure, robust, and scalable cloud service. The RAC currently has telematics devices installed in 100,000 vehicles, and eventually plans to connect millions more. The company is adding 400 gigabytes of data to its database per month, which it stores and analyzes in the Microsoft Azure cloud and then sends to its call center, where it is used to proactively assist members. “The offerings from Microsoft are much richer than we’ve seen from any cloud provider,” says Nick Walker, managing director of the RAC’s telematics and connected solutions team. “The level of scalability is unprecedented, and the investment that Microsoft is putting into cloud security is immense.”

The data that the RAC collects via these devices results in a number of benefits. Collecting data about vehicle health is improving the way the RAC delivers roadside assistance, and, in some cases, helping the RAC members identify a fault before they actually break down. Monitoring driver behavior is enhancing motorist safety and saving members fuel. Gathering detailed data when a crash occurs is helping members more accurately settle insurance claims. And analyzing GPS vehicle location data is enabling the RAC members to do everything from reaching their destination more quickly to recovering stolen vehicles.

“We are radically changing our relationship with our membership base,” says Walker. “For 120 years, we only had a relationship with customers at the point of policy renewal or if they broke down. With IoT, we can become a proactive organization offering far more value to our membership.”

Take the RAC’s roadside assistance service, for example. In the past, members called the RAC when their vehicle broke down, and then waited for a the RAC patrol van to arrive at the scene and diagnose the problem on the side of the road. However, patrols at times would not always know the full extent of the fault before turning up at the roadside, potentially resulting in hours of downtime for the business or individual. Yet with IoT and vehicle health data streamed to the RAC in real time, patrols will be able to diagnose the problem remotely, and then arrive at the scene with the replacement part in hand. This saves waiting time for individual members and enables business fleet managers to maximize vehicle up-time and run their businesses more effectively.

As the RAC accumulates data, it can also begin to analyze breakdown patterns as well, enabling the organization to issue alerts or call members so they can repair problems before their cars break down. The organization is also relaying trend data to vehicle manufacturers, enabling them to pinpoint issues more quickly and reduce the number of recalls. “We can identify several causes of breakdown already, and in the next 12 to 18 months we’ll become more proficient,” says Walker. “By analyzing data patterns, we’ll be able to anticipate and almost predict what’s going to happen with each vehicle.”

IoT also allows the RAC to collect and aggregate information to help its members drive safer, save fuel and reduce emissions. “If we can track people’s driving patterns, we can give them some very proactive advice—say if they didn’t accelerate quite as hard or brake so late, they’d be able to save many hundreds of pounds in fuel per year,” Walker says. “That’s a serious benefit.”

Tracking the driving trends of its own 1,500-vehicle Patrol fleet, for instance, the RAC has reduced its accident rate by 25 percent. Moreover, the company has lowered both its insurance premiums and its fuel usage by 20 percent, saving it £1.5 million ($1.8 million) annually. “When people drive better, the maintenance level of vehicles goes down, so the benefits have a ripple effect,” Walker says. “Through the services we offer, we can save fleets a lot of money and downtime.”

Walker believes vast amounts of data collected from telematics devices will create a future in which transportation operates far more efficiently than it does today. And as autonomous vehicles go mainstream, the desire for more advanced services will only continue to grow. “By analyzing increasing amounts of data, we are recognizing that we have the opportunity to offer several new high-value services to our customers,” he says. “We’re at the beginning of a whole new journey, and the benefits will be massive.”

Tags: , , , , , ,