Fleet News

Face to face: Diane Miller, NextiraOne

PAN-European fleet operations are normally thought of as only being suitable for huge multi-national firms running tens of thousands of vehicles.

But communications specialist NextiraOne, with a fleet of just 3,000 vehicles across 16 countries, is bucking the trend, thanks to a Herculean effort by its European fleet manager Diane Miller.

With headquarters in Paris and Houston, Texas, NextiraOne describes itself as a 'global provider of integrated enterprise network solutions and services'.

The company was formed by integrating several other brands last year by US owner Platinum Equity, in a bid to create what its owners intended to be 'the largest vendor-independent specialist communication solutions integrator in the world'.

The move gave Platinum Equity a significant platform from which to increase the efficiency of its operations – particularly in Europe. Among the most important of those was its fleet. Until the recent overhaul, each national subsidiary managed and implemented its own fleet policy independently.

Now NextiraOne has an integrated fleet of 3,000 vehicles based in 16 countries across Europe, but managed from Paris. Miller said: 'The challenge has been huge and has taken around nine months. We wanted to reduce the number of manufacturers with which we worked and cut our cost base. We also wanted to develop a centralised fleet function at NextiraOne's headquarters in Paris.

'Our aim was to reduce costs. One of the key ways we were going to achieve this was by working with chosen manufacturers General Motors, Renault and the Volkswagen Audi Group. Obviously we had to consider each country's personal preferences in terms of car brand and service. It was not an easy process, as some countries had preferred brands but we eventually worked through this.

'In the end a pan-European policy was implemented with just four grades of vehicle covering every position. We announced this decision and each country then had to adapt to the new rules.'

Miller said each of the chosen manufacturer partners was well prepared for the demands of supplying a pan-European fleet.

She added: 'All the manufacturers welcomed our approach. Some had experienced similar cases with other customers and could bring the benefit of that experience to the table.'

NextiraOne chose two lead leasing providers – Fleet Synergy International based in Brussels and ASL Auto Service Leasing in Germany.

These two providers will service the majority of the firm's requirements, although in particular cases, where there are good reasons for doing so, some local operations will continue with their existing lease suppliers.

ASL's ability to offer cross-border leasing through its pan-European service centre in Munich was important to NextiraOne.

'Each country's operation can order cars through such a service centre using the electronic tools available,' said Miller. 'This is proving invaluable. Our new cross-border capabilities give us a real advantage,' she said.

Fleet Synergy International is providing administration and maintenance for NextiraOne offices using the cross-border service. Other offices will use Fleet Synergy International for both administration and maintenance and finance.

'There needs to be clear internal administration, which takes time to develop. We will be monitoring our own operation very closely during the early stages to ensure it works well,' Miller added.

'When completely redesigning the fleet department over 16 countries, time is at a premium. However, you need to remember that you are asking some of your offices to change from a comfortable and familiar way of working to something completely new. This takes time. It is important for a fleet manager to remember that each country has individual needs and that drivers are people.

'An effective communication of the roll-out to drivers is important so that they feel involved and informed. Communication and driver understanding are key to the success of any such initiative.'

It took time, too, to collect and analyse all the information from each European subsidiary before any final pan-European policy was finalised.

Miller continued: 'Preparation is vital. You have to gather huge amounts of information on your fleet before implementing a new system, and this can be very time-consuming without centralised software. Going forward, we are using a new software system to house all our data. This will be a useful tool, simplifying reporting and many other activities. The system is due to be up and running by the end of the year and we're all looking forward to the benefits it will bring.'

Many European fleet managers will sympathise with Miller's experience of trying to convince national offices that the changes are for the best.

She said: 'I found that visiting the larger countries and understanding their issues and culture was fundamental to the success of the scheme. We had to overcome the fear factor in some countries about the changes. When we finally announced the car policy, a number of colleagues doubted that we could succeed with so few grades of vehicle. But we have managed it working closely with the manufacturers, and making small adjustments when necessary.

'You sometimes think that the UK is the only country where image problems exist regarding choice of company car. But you soon find out this is not the case. Each country has very similar issues to those in the UK – for example with brand image, downsizing, and status of company car.'

Although the pan-European fleet sector has evolved far more slowly than anyone imagined 10 years ago, more and more fleets are benefiting from a continental strategy. And they are not just the superfleets.

With just 3,000 vehicles, NextiraOne is proving that pan-continental vision and determination can also pay dividends for Europe's more modest fleet operations.

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