Getting the right software package means resisting the temptation to add unnecessary modules and focusing on what is really needed. Catherine Chetwynd finds out how to tell a must-have from a pricey add-on
Fleet operators looking at introducing new fleet management software could be forgiven for feeling like a ravenous glutton at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
The growing capability and reach of software means the number of modules available is expanding rapidly, meaning fleets are often spoilt for choice.
For example, Chevin Fleet Solutions offers 29 different modules, Civica Tranman around 40, Drive Software Solution’s modules include mobile, workflow, complaints, rentals, drive financials and CRM, while Jaama’s Key2 handles management of users, tyres, defects, hire, insurance, P11D, P46, benefit-in-kind, suppliers and more.
But like the diner who eats too much and ends up with indigestion, fleet managers dazzled and tempted by the latest developments can end up with equally unpleasant results: expensive features that never get used.
“It is easy to be seduced by the many surprise-and-delight features in modern fleet software,” warns Ashley Sowerby, managing director of Chevin Fleet Solutions.
So, how do fleet managers assess what software they need and then convey their requirements effectively to potential suppliers in requests for proposals (RFPs)?
“At the end of the day, you need to keep sight of why you thought technology could help you in the first place,” says Sowerby.
“It is important not to suffer from distraction and let your focus drift.”
Fleets should first define business processes from start to finish, so they are clear on what they need and can see the scale of administration that has to be coded into a new system.
This includes allocation of equipment to drivers, deployment, operating expenses, incidents, work orders, maintenance, workshops, legal requirements and vehicle disposal.
“They all have to be taken into account as many processes are linked and information generated in one place may be used in another,” says Sowerby.
An RFP is an ideal opportunity to examine practices that have grown over the years to ensure they are still best practice for today.
Sowerby advises identifying a small number of key areas for immediate improvement, with step goals for possible future attention, weighted according to importance.
Where a fleet wants to make changes in a system, they should beware of looking for much the same thing in newer packaging, says Matt Goodstadt, sales director at Civica Tranman. “Fleet managers should ask themselves what is going to give them the most benefit in cost or efficiency savings,” he adds.
They should also discuss their requirements with their peers.
Martin Evans, managing director of Jaama, says: “Do not buy a software system in the hope it might do the job.
“Contact existing users of your preferred system, talk to them about the benefits and go to their offices to see the system operating in a real-world environment.
“Select a standard software system that can accommodate upgrades and new functionality from your chosen provider,” he adds.
If special fleet requirements must be met, the technology partner should be able to develop suitable modules to be added to the system, but be warned that bespoking a system could restrict future developments.
It is also essential to consult staff who will be using the software package to ensure that it is employed to full capacity and produces all the management information (MI) required.
This could include accounts and HR – particularly given the growing crossover between fleet and mobility in large companies.
Some crystal ball gazing is also a must, according to Simon West-Oliver, sales and marketing director for Drive Software Solutions. “Fleet managers need to be thinking about the shape of their requirement over the next five years,” he says.
“For example, at the moment, a lot of organisations are using telemetry but manufacturers are going to start putting it into their vehicles as standard and all the devices we use will become more intelligent: they should be telling us where we have got issues.
“It is not just about keeping tabs on drivers, it is making sure you have the best asset for your business and managing the wholelife cost of assets more effectively.
“Organisations often buy a piece of software as if they were buying another car, rather than looking at their business and consulting with suppliers on finding the best way of implementing a solution that will give a good return on investment, save money and improve processes.”
It is also important to assess what third-party software the fleet management tools will need to integrate with, such as finance, HR, payroll, external supplier systems, the DVLA, fuel and maintenance card providers, electronic purchase transactions from suppliers, telematics and HMRC. Failure in any of these areas can leave fleets vulnerable to cost, compliance and administration failings. This is less of an issue that a few years ago, as many current systems are ‘software as a service’ (SaaS), which means they can integrate simply with other systems in companies.
Other factors to consider when selecting software include how data is stored, whether data conversion is required, the quality of data to be transferred, size and complexity of the fleet, the number of locations and people that require access to the information, who – if anyone – is allocated to drive the implementation and the approach to be taken to training system users.
“Fleets should have an open and frank conversation with their supplier about what level of support will be required along with how much resource can be supplied,” says Evans.
“Additionally, it is important to ascertain whether support is available only during the software implementation phase or whether there is ongoing support during the lifetime of the business partnership.”
Entering data into a system is all very well but it is equally important that fleet managers are able to extract the information they require easily and in the format required, so that it can be analysed and action taken as appropriate.
Goodstadt also stresses the importance of consultation when selecting a new software package.
“Engage with suppliers before a tender, so that you understand what they have got and they can bring to bear the experience of their other customers,” he says.
“Often, people dust off an old tender and update it a bit, but there is a danger in that: the market moves on.”
Putting together a tender document can also be a key step for ensuring a fleet gets the software package it needs.
“Probably 90% of the tenders we receive are at least good through to excellent,” says Sowerby.
“The fleet is able to express its needs and has an understanding of how they can be met.
“The remaining 10% can be very frustrating though, because we sometimes see fleets tendering for solutions that clearly don’t meet their needs.
“For example, we have been involved in tendering where the fleet is asking for fleet software when it really needs a telematics system and vice versa.”
A well-written tender document ensures that all parties end up satisfied with the outcome: fleet managers have the software and back-up services they need to run their vehicles efficiently, with a good return on investment, the highest compliance and the best practice.
Equally, the supplier has the opportunity to provide technology in the most appropriate format to give clients greatest efficiencies of time, operation and cost. In addition, only specific questions elicit specific answers and, to ensure buyers fully understand what various modules do, questions should be clearly defined.
However, there has to be a balance between requirements that are too narrowly defined and those not narrow enough.
“The most common mistake we see is having a specific checklist of must-haves or software features organisations think will solve an issue, without properly identifying and stating the problems they are trying to resolve,” says Sowerby.
Standard tenders are definitely not the answer because so little in them is relevant.
“I would like to see organisations using internal fleet and software expertise or an external consultant to compile a requirements list which forms the bulk of the tender document,” says Evans.
Although fleet managers can enjoy considerable time savings thanks to technology developments, they do not always take account of that when writing a tender document.
“That is predominantly because they are very much on the coalface and are probably not aware of changes that could automate processes for them,” says West-Oliver.
Although procurement departments might say it is all about price, there is a risk of false economies if a company does not have a system that provides appropriate data to give good management information.
“While an organisation’s procurement department may lead the tender exercise, it is critical that the fleet department researches the marketplace first, so the final tender document better reflects requirements and so that fleet operators believe that they can work with the supplier,” says Evans.
Case study: Foxtons
A desire to stay up-to-date with changing legislation was a key reason for estate agent Foxtons to update its fleet management software.
The company – which has 1,400 vehicles based in central London, mostly cars with 10 light commercial delivery vans for the organisation’s 10 offices – had been using home-grown technology, which was designed largely as a control system rather than a fleet reporting system. It did not allow for creating efficiencies.
“Fleet legislation is continually changing and we need to be on top of that, including corporate manslaughter,” says Ken Needham, director – fleet and logistics.
“We know the who, what, where, why and when, but when we have to do a P11D, for example, it doesn’t fall into the current regime.”
The system also required time-consuming manual manipulation when it came to compliance with legislation and produced inadequate back-office reports.
“They did not fulfil our obligations to a level I would be content with as a director of the company,” Needham says.
“We wanted a system that does everything we need, including something that encompasses e-consent licence-checking and Jaama was one of the early adopters.”
“We looked at Key2 and liked the fact it was modular, how it evolves and how it integrates into Epyx 1link and into our personnel system, so that we can import all we need to.”
The system is not live yet but Needham says the native data is easy to export so he does not anticipate problems with integration.
To ensure all vehicles used by employees are 100% compliant, if an employee’s car is being serviced, they take a replacement only from the Foxtons fleet, not from external car hire companies, and it was a stringent requirement that needed to be tracked by Key2.
Needham garnered all the information he about potential suppliers through long telephone conversations and meetings, and involved his team in discussions.
“People who don’t engage their staff in the discussions are foolish,” he says. “If it’s not user-friendly and doesn’t get used, then we will not get the controls we require as a plc.
“Staff need to be involved in the test products; they come at it from a different angle from a director or senior manager.”
Needham did not, however, go to tender. “It is a tedious process,” he says. “It can have its place, but it is not always about price. It’s no good getting the cheapest system if it doesn’t work.
“You have to build in as many efficiencies as possible – doing driving licence checks electronically, you can save a couple of heads.”
Future-proofing for unforeseen changes
It is important to make a new software package as future-proof as possible: ultimate flexibility of both provider and product cater for this and mitigate unforeseeable developments in legislation.
The modular design of most systems ensures that any element could be developed in response to changes, ensuring suppliers can help fleet managers keep up with the status quo.
Drive Software Solutions has seen that grey fleet is an area which is receiving particular attention at the moment. “This is something that many end-user fleets, particularly big corporates with concerns about corporate social responsibility and reputation management, want to manage,” says Simon West-Oliver.
And with the onset of e-consent for licence checking, Jaama is seeing demand for its Key2 product. The software handles all angles from endorsement points and driver age to accidents that attract points above a certain value, and more, and fleet managers can weight these according to corporate or insurance company requirements.