Fleet News

Award winner profile - fleet technology

WHEN Terry Bartlett, managing director of Inchcape Fleet Solutions, collected the award for Best Online Solution at this year's Fleet News Awards he described the accolade as an acknowledgement that his company was delivering a product gaining a reputation as a 'must have' in the industry.

Inchcape Fleet Solutions develops websites for clients which are branded to either fit seamlessly alongside a company's own site or give the client its first web presence. The work, carried out by Inchcape Fleet Solutions' new media team, can be completed in a matter of weeks.

The leasing firm says each website is designed so that even the most technophobic company car driver or fleet manager will be comfortable with it. It can provide as much or as little information as the client wishes, while being web-based it is also endlessly adaptable.

David Harris, head of Inchcape Fleet Solutions' new media team, believes the key to the success of this web-based solution is the ease with which information can be accessed.

He said: 'If the company car driver can get to data easily he or she will be happy, which means less hassle for the fleet manager. Also, the simplicity with which a fleet manager can run reports online and the ability to keep costs under control are a prime selling point.'

The offering, known as a client extranet, is being rolled out to the Inchcape Fleet Solutions client base of predominantly blue chip companies. Uptake is now 100% but this has not always been the case.

Harris said: 'We have had the ability to offer extranets for three years. Interest was slow to take off because web-based solutions were in their infancy. Today, new technology and e-solutions are priorities. The benefit to customers is to save both time and money on managing their fleets, allowing them to concentrate on their core business.'

The first to utilise this service from Inchcape Fleet Solutions was one of their major blue chip clients. Harris said: 'The company wanted the ability to book vehicles and arrange servicing online. The staff are IT literate and the company came to us because we are one of the few that could provide the service they wanted.'

Since the pilot scheme was launched, other corporate giants like Bristol and West and Co-operative Insurance have followed in adopting Inchcape Fleet Solutions' extranets. A total of 23,000 vehicles are now managed by companies using the Inchcape Fleet Solutions' extranet.

'We see the extranet as a value-added service and a further way for the client to communicate to its employees on its fleet policy, as well as providing a link between car drivers, their fleet department and Inchcape Fleet Solutions,' said Harris.

He is also confident that the majority of fleet managers now have internet access available on their desktop computers. But what does the fleet manager and company car driver get?

'There are few limits to Inchcape Fleet Solutions' offering. Clients can get everything they would normally have access to over the phone,' says Harris.

Inchcape Fleet Solutions has not even given the offering a brand name because to do so would detract from the fact that it is endlessly variable in order to meet a client's needs. There are two key parts to the internet offering. One available to 'all' and the second designed specifically for fleet managers.

Key elements of the extranet offering include:

  • car policy information
  • car tax guide
  • vehicle management information, from tyre replacement and service schedules and what to do in the event of an accident
  • vehicle choice search function that can be done by grades or price. Users will be given a choice of vehicles that match the search criteria, with CO2 information
  • road tests
  • pool fleet availability and booking
  • industry news and information
  • service booking
  • vehicle selection and ordering, including order tracking
  • change of personal details
  • mileage input facility
  • company car/cash for car comparator. .

    Harris sees no issue in allowing staff to access such data on a website: 'To a company car driver, the extranet is a source of information. Drivers are not able to input data, merely access it.'

    However, the client's fleet department will be given the additional function of running reports on the fleet's performance.

    Information on an extranet is updated every day. Inchcape Fleet Solutions believes it can improve this and soon expects to be able to update the extranet sites every hour and, in six months time, have updates every half-hour.

    The extranet site is hosted by Inchcape Fleet Solutions which also provides round-the-clock telephone helplines and site maintenance facilities at its Portsmouth head office. The only requirement Inchcape Fleet Solutions makes in introducing an extranet service is that employees have internet access.

    Historically, clients have had fleets of 200 or more vehicles, for which the extranet is ideally suited and merits the required development. However, Inchcape Fleet Solutions is working on a non-bespoke extranet package for sub-200 fleets. Harris described the process through which an extranet is introduced.

    'We meet with a company to demonstrate what we have done already and try to get the client to give us their ultimate wish list. We will then go away and put together a site map of the client's requirements, then speak to their IT people to ensure what we are offering is compatible with the client's system.

    'We also agree a design style to ensure a seamless match between the design of the client's internet site and/or corporate branding.'

    This process typically takes three weeks. The next stage is testing the extranet, which takes a further three weeks.

    'We will test it on a variety of machines and operating systems - Mac, Windows, NT - and get different people in the organisation to try it out on desktop machines, via ISDN and laptop dial-up,' Harris said.

    The client is then given the chance to run the extranet with a limited number of people having access before it's rolled out live across the company. Site development takes about three weeks, depending on the complexity and another three weeks can be spent on testing.

    Additional time can be spent should the client want to update the extranet site subsequently.

    'If there are any issues at any time with an extranet we will deal with them, from fault fixing, additional development to employee training. While the extranet development team is expert in HTML, DHTML, JavaScript and ASP, the end-users just need a basic knowledge of the internet.

    'If you know how to surf the web, you can use an extranet,' Harris said. 'All the information a user needs should be no more than two mouse clicks away.'

    Harris described winning the Fleet News Award as 'absolutely fantastic'. But he said the next development of the extranet would put Inchcape Fleet Solutions in pole position to win the Best Online Solution accolade in 2003.

    The new media team is currently trialing an improved version of the extranet, which will provide greater reporting possibilities and a faster update time - from a day to half a day.

    'Fleet managers will be able to run reports on a much wider range of topics than previously and export them to Excel together with graphs.

    'Fleet managers will be able to set the parameters of the report with much more flexibility than they can now.

    'For example, if a vehicle goes over the limit of a maintenance budget the system will automatically issue an alert email. If a driver gets a speeding fine the system will inform the fleet manager,' said Harris.

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