Fleet News

Guest opinion: finishing the online jigsaw

THERE is a missing piece in the e-procurement jigsaw, argues Ebbon-Dacs business development director Mike O'Sullivan.

'In today's fleet market, suppliers of all types are seeking commercial advantage by attempting to provide their own technological solutions to common problems. However, I believe that this disjointed and partisan approach is severely hampering progress towards a seamless supply chain that will help eliminate cost and drive through improved customer service for the benefit of all.

At Ebbon-Dacs one of our areas of specialisation is the e-procurement of company vehicles, automating the process of sourcing, ordering and delivering a vehicle between fleet operator – usually a contract hire company – and dealer.

The development of e-procurement has largely come about as service providers have sought to offer greater flexibility through increasingly modern, sophisticated and paperless systems.

This has extended, in many cases, to providing customers with the ability to go online to search for vehicles, compare specifications and prices and, when ready, order the vehicle.

Before the advent of such systems, the next stage of the supply chain process moved to a cumbersome concoction of fax, e-mail, printed confirmations and telephone calls between contract hire company and dealer.

Now, happily for those contract hire companies that have chosen the e-procurement route, the online solution can delete costly paperwork, remove time- consuming telephone calls and, most importantly, eradicate mistakes between order and delivery. Some of the more far-sighted have taken online functionality still further with the development of 'driver portals', the electronic windows through which the driver and fleet manager can access the e-procurement system, check on progress of an individual vehicle or extract a report on the progress of all vehicles.

The development of this 'quote to order to delivery' technology brings savings to all concerned. The driver can source the vehicle of his choice in his own time without need to ask the fleet manager for 10 quotes, while the contract hire company can save time and money by being able to respond using technology, rather than people. So what is the missing ingredient to make this part of the supply chain still more seamless? The answer is simple.

Vehicle manufacturers must begin to be more co-operative and more open with their systems and start making vehicle orders, vehicle stock and status updates available directly to the suppliers of quotation and e-procurement systems.

Too often in the past, vehicle manufacturers have come to market with workable operating platforms to allow suppliers to order vehicles directly from them or their dealer networks, but the problem is the lack of uniformity and consistency within these platforms.

Most do not integrate into front-end quotation systems, online procurement systems or back-end management systems that control the vehicle during its operating cycle. To make matters worse, some manufacturers with multiple brands have developed unique platforms for each brand, adding still further to the problem.

If contract hire companies were forced to adopt each manufacturer's branded platform, they would quickly have 10 to 15 different operating systems to order a vehicle and the same number to track it. In this scenario, the only likely outcome would be to revert to a more costly paper and telephone solution.

There is, of course, a better answer to all of this. By allowing access at the order stage to their complete vehicle stocks, vehicle orders and factory order timescales, vehicle manufacturers would reduce the workload, and the mystery for both contract hire company and dealer.

The electronic online 'quote to order to delivery' supply chain is almost a reality. Most key steps are in place and many companies are already reaping the benefits. The final leap of faith could be made if we could only fit the last piece in the jigsaw – namely, co-operation from the motor manufacturers to provide the key data that independent systems require, rather than investing in expensive own-branded solutions that no-one wants to use.'

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