The 2017 Fleets Informed roundtable looked at how the fleet-supplier relationship is changing and how suppliers are looking to better support their customers. Delegates also assessed fleet efficiency and whether this is down to a rise in fleet professionalism or because many operations have now been outsourced to a leasing or fleet management company.
The views were varied but the ultimate conclusion is that there remains a need for a dedicated fleet manager. If nothing else, it helps the supplier to get their message across when it comes to the implementation of new cost and risk-saving initiatives.
Fleet News: How are fleet demands on suppliers changing?
Chris Thornton, DriveTech, part of The AA: Fleets are always looking for service from suppliers but we are seeing an increasing demand for innovation – what we are doing next. There is a long tail to the industry; big fleets with multiple people in the fleet team are few and far between. Others are very stretched and they are looking to us all the time for advice.
Gaynor McNicholas, Zenith: Linked to innovation is a more consultative approach to policy, legislation and compliance due to the changes within fleet and the reduction in traditional fleet managers.
Simon Hunt, DriveTech, part of The AA: Fleets want to see innovation throughout the life of the contract. We have to be more consistent in how we communicate with our customers and with procurement involvement, there is more focus on price, so that frees up others to ask for more service.
Matt Dale, ALD Automotive: There are challenges from the procurement side taking over.
Martin Evans, Jaama: If we present a new concept to a fleet manager, do they understand what we are offering or how to put pen to paper to get it approved at board level? Often fleet managers do not understand the procurement process and the requirements, especially related to software. Compliance, data protection, IT and systems – they have to be able to sell these internally.
Richard Evans, Jaama: The problem is compounded when you do not have a fleet expert to sell a new initiative within the business.
Paul Lomas, ALD Automotive: Do fleet managers even want to stick their head above the parapet?
Chris Thornton: It is changing thanks to the availability of data. Customers demand more from suppliers because there is more to gauge their performance. But data tends to be compart-mentalised into different formats from different suppliers. It’s still hard for fleets to put everything into one place and analyse it.
Richard Evans: There is reams of data available but it won’t tell fleets a thing if they don’t ask the right questions – i.e. what changes can the business make? The goal has to be to understand the strategic challenges and implement change based on data.
FN: Are companies relying more heavily on you for fleet support?
Stephen Giggins, Zenith: Often we have to be their fleet department and draw time out of their busy schedule so they can understand their goals for the fleet.
Chris Thornton: Our challenge is that we are selling something that has traditionally been done internally, but how well do they measure and understand it?
Paul Lomas: There’s lots that can be done around risk management, but it’s more intangible to a procurement leader; they don’t see the whole value. I always worry when we see a commodity manager or category leader because we already know what they are thinking – unbundle everything to save pennies. Then they realise it’s complex so they re-bundle and offload to a leasing company. It can be dispiriting.
FN: How do you improve fleet or board buy-in to new ideas?
Simon Hunt: We are focused on showing return on investment within specific industries to show the pounds and pence savings and putting it into a language they understand by showing the competitive advantage they would have over their rivals. There are many tangibles that can be pulled out to change the mind-set.
FN: With the rise in the connected car, how are fleets tackling the data challenge?
Stephen Giggins: With data protection you almost have to ask if you can use their data for safety and compliance. Legislation puts a wall up.
Richard Evans: We have some staggering conversations with some organisations, for example information security teams. People are holding personal information on spreadsheets or internal systems that anyone can delete.
Martin Evans: All vehicles are getting more connected. You can put your phone in the glovebox, but your emails come up on the screen. That’s a distraction. The manufacturers are going against risk and putting more information on the screen.
FN: With tighter sentencing for non-compliance, how are fleets introducing risk management improvements?
Stephen Giggins: Giving drivers bonuses for performing well will drive cultural change because fleets might have lower insurance premiums.
Chris Thornton: Telematics has been justified on knowing where drivers are; behaviour has not been part of the investment case. But gamification has now started to become available and that will make a difference.
FN: Are companies running their fleets more effectively today?
Martin Evans: There are fewer traditional fleet managers so there is a lack of people who understand fleet and risk and they are more reliant on suppliers.
Gaynor McNicholas: Outsourcing is great, but you still have to have someone that manages it.
Paul Lomas: Maybe they are run better; the industry is more professional and the range of services bolted on is vast – companies and drivers are benefiting. The onus is on us in how we set up the relationship at the outset - how we discuss KPIs, new initiatives, etc.
Matt Dale: There are fewer fleet managers so their job is being done to an extent by the leasing industry.
FN: Is this a good thing?
Stephen Giggins: When there is a fleet manager, I talk to them. When I talk to HR or/and the FD, I have a different conversation. You have a link into the board but with a fleet manager you might not get that. But you still need a fleet manager; they understand what you are talking about. We need an interface into their business although that role has changed from a doer to a facilitator.
Chris Thornton: Traditionally, the role was about driving down cost; now it’s more about compliance as well. There is an opportunity for more people to understand safety and risk and engage their driver communities. And that comes full circle, because it saves them money as well as ticking the CSR box. But it has to be demonstrable to the board, so information from us will help them.
Martin Evans: The ideal relationship is with someone that is engaged – and most fleet managers are now. They are business professionals; they understand the need to embrace change or they will get left behind.