Fleet News

AT&T integrates international fleet

May 2000: FLEET responsibilities in the fast-moving worlds of IT and telecommunications are among the most challenging faced by any fleet manager.

These hi-tech industries are genuinely global in their reach, and face the most intense recruitment pressures to attract and retain highly-skilled staff.

For businesses involved in this area of the economy, a company car provides win-win benefits, serving as a highly valued element of a remuneration package while delivering employee mobility.

The challenge facing Gareth Wilsher, AT&T's European fleet manager, is to maintain these advantages while controlling costs and introducing a global feel to the company's fleet of 900 vehicles spread across 24 countries in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

'We need to find the balance between cost efficiency and keeping the human resource element in place,' he said.

In a further complication, however, Wilsher is responsible for integrating AT&T's fleet policy with the policy of IBM's global network business which AT&T acquired last year.

'We need to make a steady transition, looking country by country to compare the historic fleet policies to identify where we can make savings, and sell the package to both teams of drivers,' he said.

This involves integrating one user-chooser company car policy with another based on benchmark cars and lease rentals.

At a procurement level, it also requires merging a full service leasing strategy with an outright purchase policy (albeit with outsource fleet management), right across Europe and beyond.

The integration has been easier because both AT&T and IBM used the same fleet supplier in four key markets, PHH Vehicle Management, and PHH's sister company Arval Service Lease in others.

'Over the next 12 months we will review how we manage the fleet,' said Wilsher. 'We want direct and interactive links with our suppliers for management information, real time access to our data, exception reporting, and instant acknowledgement of pro-activity in dealing with exceptions.'

He would like to establish a fleet policy where company car drivers have direct contact with a leasing company, so that AT&T's fleet administrators are freed from the routine, day-to-day duties of running a fleet.

The administrators will still retain an important role internally, however, as Wilsher seeks to standardise controls and processes across different countries.

This will see, for example, line managers, human resource managers and fleet managers verify all new additions to the fleet - the line manager will be responsible for acknowledging the cost of a new car, the human resource manager responsible for checking it is an appropriate car for the driver's grade, and the fleet manager responsible for making sure the right accessories are fitted to the vehicle.

In the longer term, Wilsher will also have to decide whether AT&T appoints local fleet management companies in each country, overseen by perhaps just one umbrella organisation, or seeks a single supplier.

'It's a question of balancing whether you trust that a supplier can consolidate your fleet data accurately and efficiently, against putting all your eggs in one basket,' he said.

'We need a centralised information flow, with indirect links for auditing information. If the data shows exceptions we need to verify it. Cost is not the only thing for consideration. I need to demonstrate that we are being as cost-effective as possible.' He also needs to retain driver support and provide assistance to drivers entering new countries such as Bulgaria, where he has just sourced AT&T's first car. 'I am hoping to see fleet management companies share their expertise and resources in developing new markets,' concluded Wilsher.

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