Fatima Howes is Vice President of Product Management and CX, Fleet Telematics at Azuga, a subsidiary of Bridgestone. Before joining Bridgestone, Fatima served in product leadership roles at Assignar and Procore Technologies, both construction management software companies. She didn’t always work in software, however; Fatima started as an analyst in public affairs and transitioned to software and product through a sales development representative role.
In our conversation, Fatima shares her team’s approach of “managing by exception” — surfacing what is different instead of what’s normal. She talks about her current work to build products that reward positive behavior and gamify creating cultures of safety. Fatima also discusses the massive opportunity inherent in working at a tire company — after all, virtually every vehicle known to man has tires.
Azuga is a Bridgestone company, specifically within the Bridgestone Mobility Solutions space. We’re focused on fleet management as a category but go beyond that to think about how customers manage their fleets from a vehicle and driver behavior perspective. Think traditional GPS and video-based, real-time telematics, but with the goal of revolutionizing fleet safety and operational efficiency.
That encompasses fleet operations and looks at fleet health, vehicle health, driver behavior and safety, and how those all come together. That comes from intimately understanding adjacent workflows, so, for example, we think about how tire solutions work in step with fleet management to enable a better understanding of safety protocols and predictive maintenance.
We bring a lot of data from these sensors — whether it’s video-based data, IOT, or even OEM connections — to tell a story. We look at data tools and data visualization and bring a different perspective to how somebody might run their fleets. This helps us manage and digitize the program around their operations and safety culture. That’s a huge part of our mission and vision for the future.
We also have solutions around insurance — fleets that are trying to be safer, more sustainable, more efficient. Insurance companies also want that for the fleets, so it’s been a joy to bring these two different customers and markets together under this shared vision of a safer, more sustainable future.
To enable better behavior, you have to enable the driver on the road. It’s not just about managing the driver from a distance, which happens on the admin side. Our drivers can actually get in-cab feedback on their driving behavior and take corrective action while they’re driving. Part of our data solutions process is figuring out how to gamify the best behavior. We’re not focusing on negative impact behavior, although that’s important, but on rewarding positive behavior and gamifying a safety culture around it.
Drivers can see the leaderboard for that week in terms of the safety impact on the road, on the company, and on their team. That’s a way to really help visualize immediate impact while continuing to provide that feedback. For example, if you have an Azuga device and there’s an event that’s deemed dangerous or not efficient, you’ll get non-disruptive but audible feedback from the device. And drivers can respond to it directly, right away. They’re self-managing, they’re driving, and they’re getting better as drivers as well. It’s a win-win for the company that uses it and the driver getting analytics on how they’re driving.
We actually have hardware as well as software. We work on getting best-in-class hardware to ensure that the vehicle is connected. We also have video cameras that we install inside the vehicle and read sensors on the tires. We can pull the tire pressure right from the vehicle and combine the data to make it more digestible to the driver through the app’s experience. And since many of these companies manage hundreds or thousands of fleets, we bring software solutions to that.
When an unfortunate event happens, we can reconstruct everything from the G-force of the vehicle to things like the acceleration and latitude and longitude, all the way to the video. In the in-cab context, we consolidate that into one easy-to-understand experience.
Hardware is only a component of what we do since we work with things like OEMs, where we connect the data directly with the vehicle manufacturers. There’s a lot of data coming at customers from these different IOT connections, and our job is to make it something that really can help put the benefit to the front of their business.
Some of our customers have too much data. And having too much data is almost as bad as having no data because you can’t make sense of it quickly and affordably. We do things like provide dashboards and reports, which are important but aren’t as unique as making data more contextual. This is where it’s important to help customers manage by exception. It’s almost more important for them to know what is different versus what is the norm. That allows a business to operate day-to-day by having the technology work alongside it rather than managing its overhead.
That way, it takes away the guessing or the amount of processing required to do that on your own. That’s how we manage it — we look at how to empower our customers to manage by exception and make information contextual and not overly complicated for them. The goal is not to give them more data but to give the right insight and options into what they need to make decisions about.
At Azuga, we are committed to making a meaningful impact on society by leveraging best-in-class tire technology. There are many different ways that we all can dream up our visions and missions of our products. But when it comes down to it, everybody gets into a vehicle every day that has tires. There’s a huge impact on what this means. Within the context of fleet management, tires are central to many aspects of things like efficiency, operations, and, most importantly, getting people home safely.
Proper tire maintenance is essential to ensuring the safety of the vehicle itself. That’s where things like tire health monitoring become critical — if you have an overinflated or underinflated tire, too much pressure, etc, that can cause an accident and be a major factor of efficiency. And efficiency drives not only operations but also the sustainability side with respect to fuel efficiency around proper inflation. When a tire is properly inflated, you can get more out of your energy. There’s rolling resistance, which improves fuel efficiency by reducing the energy required for the vehicle to move. That’s really important for us to measure.
Last but not least is the efficiency of maintenance costs. To the business, there’s a real impact of how a tire moves that could help us understand driver behavior and the wear and tear of that tire for maintenance purposes. It can help us use those sensors to predict the likelihood of failure and be proactive in how we do that, which minimizes downtime.
We build solutions around things like tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS). So we do tire pressure management where if something is critically overinflated or underinflated, a safety manager within fleet management can leverage the exceptions to prioritize vehicles that get inspections during safety standups.
But we decided, well, what if we can take all this information and also tell you when a leak is about to happen, or when we suspect a leak is happening so that you can reduce downtime? We were able to do that successfully, and that brought a big win for us with our customers who had to manage a lot of tire inspections and data about them.
It all builds on each other, so absolutely. User autonomy is really important in B2B when it comes to ML and AI, so we’ve created this machine learning algorithm that allows the driver and manager to decide. All we provide is where to look, why, and the available options.
It’s been phenomenal — we were able to go to market with it really quickly because of the amount of data we’re producing and already managing. And when we did that, we were able to bring the ability to manage by exception to the market, except this time, it’s not just on your tire pressure, this time it’s on the possibility of a leak. That has a direct cost impact that the customer can recognize, understand, and see.
When it comes to expansion, you have to lean on your core customers. But those core customers can be in a distribution across a varied value chain for that customer’s market. When we think about fleet management, for example, it isn’t just about how I, as a customer, operate and keep uptime for this vehicle. It’s also to keep uptime for delivering services, which I have to maintain quality and excellence.
And to maintain it, I have to be able to manage all of these invoices and service entries. It’s an adjacent workflow to managing a vehicle. So it’s always important to find your core customers and understand the inflection points of conversation and pain points in their day-to-day and week-to-week workflows.
This is where you really will find those expansion opportunities. It starts there, and then you go to product-market validation to make sure there’s an opportunity. But for every single one, every time you identify an expansion or an adjacent market, you have to find your champions within those core customers. You must find your champions for every market, for every category, for every use case. If you don’t have your champions, you’re not going to be able to validate your solution sustainably.
So you really have to find those customers’ champions to create and drive more practical early adoption. You have to be able to leverage these champions to see their willingness to engage, understand what that looks like, and understand the cultural expectations and norms in which they engage. And then, of course, willingness to pay and the kind of sensitivity that culture and environment would drive for that within that champion group.
When you do find your adjacent market/inflection point of value, you need to validate that it’s big enough for you to invest in. A lot of the time, we see product initiatives that are over-indexed by prioritizing multiple channels right out of the gate. So really finding the one channel that your product will be a fit for is critically important. That’s what ensures lowering your entry to an adjacent market that’s new to the business.
Expansion into geo-locations is a little bit harder. Not only do you need the same things I just talked about, but there’s a regulatory compliance aspect to it that I think product managers aren’t as used to. This is how you work within the constraints of privacy, security, and local laws, and of local relationships that might be required for that market’s most productive channels. And then there’s localization to make sure that you are culturally relevant within those channel environments.
For example, if you take a fleet management solution here and you try to bring it to Italy, that’s going to be really hard given how they buy and how small and critical their local markets are. The majority of their country’s businesses are family-owned. That’s going to be a different strategy and a different set of features that will be relevant. You need a much deeper relationship with your legal team, technology team, local GTM teams, etc., to ensure that you can respond to the market and get there faster. Otherwise, you lose in a way that’s hard to recover from, and that’s what we worry a lot about when we do expansions and new geo-locations.
We come up with what I call a product council, and I think this is a shared concept across other product organizations, whose role is to essentially act as cross-functional representatives for their specialization for a particular initiative. Our initiative around TPMS, specifically predictive pressure loss, was really about how we can bring this into use cases that we understand about our users, for a channel that we understand. We surveyed all of our customers to see which customers would be interested in this. Our CSMs helped us. We actually use LogRocket to see a lot of the different things that our customers are doing.
We can then identify what behavior we know would be associated with tire management. So we know anyone who is engaging with safety experiences with us is going to care about TPMS. We started recruiting those folks, and once we got engagement from them, we reverse-engineered where it came from. We ask things like, “Was this a direct or indirect sale? Do they have a dedicated safety manager? Does their organization size play a role in their conversion timeline?”
That way, we could better understand their preferred channels. We formed our product council and started to apply the learning to our product requirements.
We formulate product councils as mission-driven teams that rally around one initiative. And these folks are not managers necessarily, they don’t have to be directors — most of them are individual contributors that really help expand the footprint of the product. They’re in it from the beginning of the initial ideation. They do monthly and quarterly updates to the leadership team so we’re staying on top of the product council activities. It’s a collaborative way of working. It’s a relatively new process and an important part of agile transformation and driving cultural change.
I introduced it about two years ago, and it’s been really helpful in bringing all of the right voices to the room where people understand their influence and contribution. It’s already had a real-life impact on our customers’ ability to be part of the journey.
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