By Ian Hesselden, a partner at Jardine Lloyd Thompson
It is likely that many commentators will say the findings of the criminal case into a fatal bus collision is a wake-up call for fleet operators. But what can fleet operators do differently, to reduce seemingly preventable incidents occurring and safeguard themselves and senior management from being culpable?
Our experience suggests many fleet operators are endeavouring to do the right thing. They have invested in their fleets and benefit from up to date vehicle safety and technologies, with many, opting to include additional risk management tools such as telematics, cameras and in-cab coaching devices. All of which produce invaluable data.
It is here that opportunities to safeguard both the company and drivers exist, however if not properly managed then these opportunities can become threats. Data - whether in the form of irrefutable driver performance reports (collisions/speeding/harsh braking), anecdotal situations or health warnings - needs to be analysed, understood, acted upon and recorded.
Knowledge and expertise is required to identify patterns, frequencies, ‘hot spots’ and ‘call outs’. Where such expertise exists, its effectiveness can be limited by pressures on time and resource, but key issues and forecasts can often be ‘hiding in plain sight’.
If the information is difficult to understand, consider changing the system or what it produces, so that it works for the company and not against it. Simple and intelligible data needn’t be a ‘nice to have’; it should be a basic necessity. If it becomes too hard a task, it will be marginalised and not shared in a coherent manner across the respective management functions.
Very straightforward in theory, but in practice this requires the commitment of time and resource to interpret and implement. Disjointed fleet management plans with little coordination or means of measurement will often fail and in doing so leave the company, drivers and the public exposed.
The safe and successful operators are those with a board that have set the desired tone and culture, which in turn empower operational management to work in a cohesive manner across the key disciplines, Finance, Health and Safety, HR and Finance; to achieve a common goal of an efficient, effective and safe fleet.
Fleet operators may well have the tools to produce data. But to understand how a fleet operator can be more effective in its usage we have to ask; what was the rationale for installing a one system over another?
The motivation to install the system ultimately sets the tone as to how the organisations will respond to the data. If the focus was simply to reduce fuels and running costs, the management process will be based around doing this and achieving efficiency KPI.
If on the other hand it was installed to meet the companies needs and culture to optimise running costs, efficiency, safety, driver welfare and insurance costs, it is very likely the company will have thought about how to use the data across all facets of the fleet in a smart and intelligent way, deriving multiple benefits from a single or multiple source of data.
By asking a few pragmatic questions during the system feasibility phase, and even after, many fundamental mistakes, wasted opportunities and a lot of cost, both direct and indirect can be avoided. Such questions should include: what do we need to do; what technology or data source meets our needs, why do we need to, how will we manage the system and what it tells us; and who will or can use the data?