Fleet is an ever-changing environment. Evolving legislation and duty-of-care requirements mean it is important to stay on top of the reams of available information to ensure a fleet is both compliant and running efficiently.
Many companies use fleet software to manage data, but this may not be a ‘fit and forget’ solution. If software packages are not kept up-to-date, then changing business practices, new technologies or systems could cause integration problems with current tools, creating extra administration for fleet managers.
“If it is costing headcount to run the system, when it could be more intelligent and run itself, that could also be a reason to upgrade,” says Paul Foster, head of solutions engineering for Telogis.
The ease of this task depends on whether you are emerging from acres of spreadsheets, switching supplier or taking on the latest development from your current supplier.
However, updating fleet management software also has its drawbacks. It costs both time and money, and must bring a return on investment.
But the advantages are manifold, says Ashley Sowerby, managing director of Chevin Fleet Solutions.
This applies to whether a fleet is introducing software for the first time, or updating or replacing an existing system (see case studies).
“Modern systems will normally be web- or cloud-hosted, so will be easy to deploy, scalable and simple to fit into the IT infrastructure of almost any company,” says Sowerby.
“Secondly, they will integrate much more easily with other internal systems, such as accounting and HR packages, giving efficiencies across the organisation.
“And, finally, they will be able to draw data from external sources such as fuel cards and telematics systems, creating an information and management hub for the entire fleet.”
In addition, new technology may make improvements to the business, whether through direct cost savings or the ability to take on more work without taking on more staff.
Selecting a supplier
When looking at which suppliers to use, companies need to examine the long-term care they will get, says Matt Goodstadt, sales director of Civica.
“Customers are generally signing a contract for up to 15 years and the pace of change is quick these days,” he says. “So the services they are offering may alter dramatically and that might lead to a need for new systems.
“They need quality people at the supplier and flexible software that allows them to achieve that change without spending lots of money on development.”
Martin Evans, managing director of Jaama, makes a similar point.
“A good system will monitor, control and reject erroneous expenditure and provide automated checks and balances to make sure that processes are operating as intended and within predefined tolerances, without the requirement for someone to run manual checks,” he says.
What to look for
Fleet software contains a hub of management information that is manually inputted or electronically imported from other departments and software.
It often distributes information as well, so new tools should be easy to integrate into the current system and should ‘talk to’ HR, finance, payroll and fuel technology, plus external systems of suppliers such as DVLA, fuel card and maintenance providers.
It is important to know what you want from a system and some idea of what you will need in the future before you start looking.
You should also ensure your supplier provides continual product development and functionality improvements, check that access to data and good report writing are as effective as inputting it, and talk to existing users of your preferred system about the benefits.
If possible, visit their offices to see the system operating: that way you will know whether it is as easy to use as the marketing copy suggests.
Sowerby emphasises the importance of the package’s ability to connect with existing systems.
“A new software package should be flexible enough to fit into your existing processes,” he says. “Be wary of any product that forces you to change how you work because it cannot be adapted to you.”
It’s important to investigate the reputation and experience of your chosen fleet management software supplier, adds Evans.
“Analyse its customer portfolio and talk to system users, read case studies and press comment, and check whether the company has won industry awards and independent recognition,” he says.
“You should also investigate its long-term viability to ensure tomorrow’s needs can be met.”
Foster adds: “It is not just about considering the core functionality of the software but the quality of the people and overall operation of the supplier.”
Communicate your requirements clearly to your supplier so that introduction of the package goes smoothly, and involve all stakeholders in your company and the provider’s in the exercise. This includes training.
Updating the technology of an existing supplier is more likely to go smoothly because there will be little movement of data.
But bringing data from one system to another may require some data cleansing and reformatting, depending on the age or sophistication of the previous system.
Those emerging from a morass of spreadsheets will need to brace themselves before cleansing and formatting data.
“We offer a data migration service that is designed to take clients’ existing information and transfer it into the new system without compromise,” says Sowerby. “Data is reformatted into compatible tables.”
Installing in-vehicle technology should go smoothly, says Foster.
“Gone are the days when you were looking at a two- or three-hour operation,” he adds. “In-vehicle installation should be a 30-minute exercise, maximum.”
Given the speed with which technology moves on, updating your fleet management system is going to be worth the investment: it is likely to bring your operation greater efficiencies in time and money, benefiting both those running the fleet and those using it.
Case study: L&Q
When Maurice Elford joined housing association L&Q as its fleet manager, the company had around 50 vehicles.
They were managed on spreadsheets, so he looked at commercially-available software before choosing Fleetcheck.
“There was a huge variation in price and we could not make some of the systems bespoke to requirements,” he says. “But Fleetcheck is developing all the time and we have an input into what it does.”
He wanted the software to build records on who drove what, to manage pool vehicles, be a repository for maintenance histories – because L&Q contract hires vehicles – and record spend from fuel cards.
Fleetcheck uses Experian data from the DVLA to get the make, model and derivative into the system, and L&Q adds the registration number, finance and service rentals and current driver.
“Now, we know who is driving what at any one time, and we get data such as maintenance histories and driving licence information,” says Elford.
“I get everything I need in one place. And since we took it on, Fleetcheck has developed a phone application for doing vehicle safety checks: if there is a defect, it is flagged up on the home page so we have to do something about it.”
However, Elford advises: “If you have got only 10 to 12 vehicles, you can probably manage with a spreadsheet. But from 50 or more, you need some sort of software to get all the information in one place, especially when you start building up historic data.”
Case study: Dorset Highways
Following a review of its vehicle maintenance service in 2011/12, Dorset Highways Fleet Services recognised its in-house system did not have the functionality it required. “We needed a fleet management system that would help us manage all areas of expenditure across the fleet,” says senior fleet technical officer Emily Smith.
The council used a Crown Commercial Services (CCS) pan-Government framework competitive tender and Chevin won the contract because its system removed or automated processes, reduced paperwork and offered best value.
Importing data from the in-house system was “not without problems”, says Smith, and resulted in drifting deadlines.
“This did cause frustrations but Chevin resolved complaints in a timely manner,” she says.
The system has improved management information, allowing the council to lower operational costs.
“It offers more transparency and cost monitoring, and has enabled us to automate processes, reducing officer time,” says Smith. “Touchscreens in our workshops have removed job cards and provide workshop performance and productivity monitoring.
“Customers can access the system from anywhere, allowing them to see their vehicles, costs and jobs booked. It is also much easier to plan work and schedule assets for inspection and maintenance.”
However, there are some drawbacks, largely around misunderstandings of the council’s requirements.
Smith advises: “No one system will fit all operational needs. Be prepared to put in a lot of work.”
Case study: Speedy Services
Speedy Services is one of the UK’s largest tool and equipment hire companies and uses 1,200 vehicles to deliver plant to customers. Before the company moved to Jaama, it used an outdated software system.
“We were having to search in three places for driver licence checks, driver information and fleet information,” says head of logistics Mark Woodworth. “We looked at four systems and chose Jaama because we could link driver licence, vehicle hire and vehicle allocation, plus the ability to report, which is bespoke. Cost also featured.”
Extracting the information from the old system and getting it into a format compatible with the new one was “unbelievably time consuming”, requiring the joint efforts of Woodworth, a consultant and one of Jaama’s project managers.
The advantages are ongoing. “Jaama asks customers what they want the system to do and builds that into the functionality next time around,” says Woodworth. “It is building a system for the future.”
For example, the tool linked vehicles to cost centres, but Woodworth wanted to know exactly where each vehicle was located.
“Two years on, the system shows cost centre location and physical location, which allows me to update our logs and keep improving information we hold,” he says. “You can save time, effort and money by moving from an outdated system. It also allows the team to look more professional because it has detailed information to hand about all vehicles.”
Case study: London Borough of Redbridge
The London Borough of Redbridge recently updated Civica’s Tranman to take advantage of new features, including greater automation.
The transport department is also a Ford authorised repairer and does MOT, IVA and VOSA testing.
“It is a way of filling the funding gap,” says head of transport engineering services Eddie Cross.
As the department has taken on additional work, Cross has extended the package to administer that, rather than employ additional manpower.
The Ford repair service and its customers also benefited from the upgrade. “Systems technicians are linked real-time into Tranman, so we have got live data on what they are doing,” says Cross. “This is then turned into an invoice. The system follows our workflow and cuts down on admin.”
In addition, a feature was developed to track the workflow for managing bookings for heavy vehicle testing, which is detailed – type of vehicle, how many axles, weight, etc.
“The screen matches the script the receptionist uses, so that by the time they have got to the bottom and can book in the vehicle, it will give the price,” he says.
Contract customers can follow their vehicle’s progress on a web portal.
Cross advises: “Research the market, take site reference visits before committing, be flexible in the specification detail and make sure the offered solution fits your business.
“You don’t want to change your business process to fit the quirks of a software package.”