Guest Post by Corporate Real Estate at Microsoft

There’s more to corporate real estate than real estate. Not only do we manage commercial properties and facilities, but we also provide the services and infrastructure that keep them humming. And the life blood of our built environments are the fleets of vehicles that course through them daily delivering supplies and mail, shuttling people, and providing security.

Microsoft’s Main Campus in Redmond is a city within a city—520 acres of office buildings, event spaces, and recreation facilities. To serve a campus this size, we deploy a fleet of nearly 700 vehicles across five service lines.

In the past, monitoring these vehicles was a pen-and-paper, multi-person job—a driver would note the mileage, someone else would review the notes, and a third would enter the data into a spreadsheet. It was a cumbersome process that made data gathering and analysis challenging if not impossible.

But now we have the Internet of Things (IoT) that allows us to connect and track physical objects and gather a treasure trove of information about them, giving us unprecedented insights that drive smarter, more precise decisions.

Mining the data

In Puget Sound, we connected our fleet using a solution developed in partnership with the Microsoft Connected Vehicle Platform (MCVP), an Azure-based IoT platform, and a systems integrator service through a third-party vendor that provides the dashboard.

The system can capture a variety of vehicle telemetry, such as mileage, location, how many are active, and how many are idling. It can report everything from diagnostic troubleshooting codes to even a loose gas cap. Though the total fleet is diverse and complex—it encompasses 60 different vehicle types—the dashboard can display all five fleets as one.

“The gold here is the data,” says Rob Aghamalian, Senior Program Manager of Azure Mobility on the MCVP team. “I can now put data into reports that fleet managers can analyze to see what their vehicles are doing and where they are.” 

Measuring twice

The metrics that can be gathered are virtually limitless, so the key to getting the most useful data is to decide upfront what questions you want answered.

“Don’t underestimate the amount of time spent laying the foundation,” says Esther Christoffersen, Sr. Services Manager of Microsoft’s Global Workplace Services in charge of its employee transportation program. “Begin with the end in mind, with the why. Why are we doing this? We want to see what’s going on with our fleet so that we can make data-driven decisions.”

With a company goal of carbon negative by 2030, vehicle efficiency will play an important role. The current fleet is mostly gas-powered vehicles and will transition to 100 percent electric over time. So the connected-fleet solution will be crucial in identifying efficiencies to help meet that goal.

Starting small

Initially, Esther and her team used the tool to answer basic questions, like how many miles were driven each day, and where. How the service teams use their fleets and were there potential safety issues. They also looked for more efficient routes to reduce their carbon footprint.

“We started small and prioritized some vehicles to analyze,” she says. “For example, we looked at the commute fleet to understand what was unique about it and then moved on to the others. We found consistency between fleets, but also things that were unique. This was information that was difficult to get before.”

Moving forward

When Covid hit, many of the vehicles sat unused. But as people returned to the office, buses and vans rolled, and the solution reported their health, usage, and whereabouts. Suddenly new insights were revealed.

“We took a process that was clunky and then used technology to help get data flowing, and now we’re able to make smarter decisions for today and the future,” Esther says.