Britain’s businesses are facing an improvement in prospects in the wake of the recession and the most dramatic general election in living memory.
But companies should continue to keep the brake on the myriad of costs associated with the operation and administration of their vehicles.
“As the economy improves, it is all too easy to allow ‘fat’ to sneak back into every level of transport operation. Keeping fleets lean is essential as optimism rises,” says Jason Francis, managing director of fleet software provider Jaama.
The warning comes as the West Midlands firm reports its greatest levels of activity in seven years of trading as it copes with business held in check as a result of the economic downturn.
“Latent demand built up across fleets of all sizes in both public and private sectors in the second half of 2008 and through last year as investment was put on hold.
“Then, cost management was the byword for all businesses and now that spending has been cut, an investment in fleet management software is an excellent way to guarantee vehicle operations remain lean by quickly highlighting unnecessary or exceptional costs,” he says.
According to Francis, maximising existing functionality in a fleet system should help focus on reducing operating costs without impacting on operating efficiencies.
Driver management with a key focus on employees who drive their cars on business – the so-called grey fleet – should also be a significant part of the software management.
“Using a spreadsheet could well be the right route for a company with only a handful of vehicles, providing routine duty of care and risk management tasks are carried out manually to cover things such as driver licence checking, recording annual mileage, accidents and driver training.
“But a fleet with more than a handful of vehicles will find this difficult to achieve and fleet software would be a much more cost effective solution.
Operating cost reductions, cutting transport carbon dioxide emissions and at-work driving safety are the main areas fleets need to focus on as the recovery continues,” he says.
According to CFC Solutions managing director Neville Briggs, action to cut costs in the recession is now being replaced by a more considered approach to longer term costs.
“A fairly fundamental change is how fleet software is being bought. More suppliers are adopting a software-as-a-service or simple pay as you go approach and it is successful because it allows fleets to reduce upfront cost and creates a partnership approach to day-to-day use.
“Another development is how software is being used. Post recession, both new and existing customers are being very successful in using software tools to cut their costs. We’re also noticing that software is now starting to be used to control grey fleets in efforts to both contain costs and ensure that risk management is being properly handled,” he says.
Fleet software providers are being made to jump through hoops to secure contracts from businesses coming out of the deepest recession in decades. They have a tight reign on budgets, scrutinise where every last penny gets spent and drive very hard bargains, claims Chevin Fleet Solutions managing director Ashley Sowerby.
“Firms often argue that existing spreadsheet-based systems are adequate to manage fleets but in times like these, ‘adequate’ just doesn’t cut it and a software solution is the only way to get the full potential from any fleet.
“In order to maximise an existing system, fleet managers need to ensure that software is in sync with business operations and performance indicators so input is accurate and current to facilitate trouble shooting and identify anomalies.
“Purchasing a software package should be part of a wider strategy to streamline operations and increase efficiency and businesses should look for flexible products that can support limitless interfaces that are user-definable,” he says.
“Quality fleet management solution will also provide global visibility, putting powerful information at the fingertips of managers to assist decision-making that will improve operations.
“Business wishing to make every penny of their budgets count need to be smart and invest in solutions that will save them time and money in the long term,” he adds.
Ken Trinder, head of business development at e-commerce firm epyx, reports a continuing rise in service and maintenance transactions following a 20 per cent lift in 2009.
“However, the key post-recession factor is simply that fleets and the maintenance suppliers who work with them are still searching for new avenues to reduce cost. E-commerce provides a proven route toward faster, easier, cheaper, more effective processing and we expect to see greater use of it in areas such as disposal, hire and acquisition,” he says.
Suppliers should not be judged on what they charge but on what they deliver, insists BCA fleet manager Marie Jarrold.
“With increasing demands on fleet departments, fleet management software and systems should be making life easier. If they don’t, they are not good value.
“Compatibility with existing systems within the fleet department is also important and should be considered carefully – you really want to integrate all the various facets you have outsourced as well as possible with the in-house functionality.
“Within the BCA fleet, this meant the fleet management system we chose needed to be able to ‘talk’ to our fuel card supplier, the payroll department for employee P11d information and the company insurance department for accident management information,” she says.
By Maurice Glover