Fleets get wise to wonder of the web
FLEETS must have a clear vision of what they want to achieve before adopting online systems if they are to avoid wasting time and effort on new initiatives.
Decision-makers must ask themselves who is going to manage any online systems and what the systems themselves are going to be used for.
Bob Blackman, of Emmerson-Hill Associates, said fleets should ask themselves four key questions before looking for suppliers of online systems.
Fleets should ponder what online actually means, what can be managed on such a system, who is best placed to manage it and how this will be achieved.
He told delegates at the Fleet News Manage Your Fleet Online conference: 'Ask prospective suppliers exactly what online means. You will probably get different answers from different suppliers. It's important to ask awkward questions about what they can, and cannot, deliver.
'Ask what can be managed online, such as car fleet information and records, reports, processes such as car selection and ordering, costs and suppliers and contracts.'
When considering who could manage the online systems, fleets could choose from a car committee, IT specialist, the fleet manager or select a managing agent.
It is also worth looking at how it will be managed on the internet and fleets need to ensure web-based systems have easy-to-use processes, he said.
Companies could make use of the company intranet, email or a restricted access website, so they could deliver online information to car users, automate processes and electronically update large documents, such as car policies or driver instructions.
However, Blackman added: 'It is important to remember that the human touch can never be replaced, no matter what electronic systems are introduced.'
Before starting, fleets need to decide who is going to carry out the transfer of data onto a new system.
For example, the fleet decision-maker could adopt a do-it-yourself approach, use an agent to provide limited fleet management support, or simply outsource the whole process to an external fleet management company.
Employers then need to establish who needs access to the chosen system, how data will be supplied and updated and then this needs to be followed by a thorough consultation process.
Blackman said: 'Prepare a list of key issues to be included in your service level agreement.
'Ensure you have a clear specification about who is responsible for what and what the penalties are if they don't achieve it – for example, if the service is offline for a certain length of time.
'Also, seek references and then follow them up in person. See for yourself how it works in practice.'
Event chairman Tony Leigh also had a warning for delegates.
He said: 'Be aware if you host a website that your central IT department may guard editorial access rights, so that any changes you make to the system may take weeks to get through their processes.
'Insist that you have editor's rights to access that.'
A diverse consultancy group, with a fleet of 2,000 vehicles, with a number of operating units had several different policies and suppliers.
They found it difficult to manage or contain costs. The firm wanted to rationalise, so it decided to use a fleet management company, with online web-based services to standardise car choice, costs and policies – and to manage its existing suppliers.
Its first step was to centralise the car choice, using a standard list – even where retention periods and policies differed.
The second step was to agree and put in place a management structure and service, applied to all operating units and suppliers, through a chosen fleet management company.
The third step was to apply and use the online services set up by the fleet management company, after assessing whether they were the right fit for what the company wanted.
Arval PHH sings the praise of online fuel card systems
ARVAL PHH is urging fleets that have not yet done so to introduce an online fuel card management system.
Speaking at the conference, Tracey Young, head of InterActive at Arval PHH, said fleets need to start with an effective fuel policy, move online and prepare for future developments.
Adopting a fuel policy means fleet managers need to monitor fuel card activity, keep accounting records for the company and driver up to date and complete thorough card administration.
Young believes that by using an online fuel card system, this can be done faster, with greater flexibility and control.
She said: 'By using an online system, fleet managers are not reliant on the phone, as such a system is available 24 hours a day. Lost or stolen cards can be reported instantly, slashing the risk of fraud.
'It also means there is an audit trail for events and, as real-time data is used, fleet managers are able to view any suspicious events.'
Additional benefits, according to Young, include greater flexibility for the fleet manager as records can be created and run from any PC. This includes expenditure and fuel prices.
As for the future of online fuel card management, several areas will dominate, Young told delegates.
She said: 'E-billing is growing due to competition. The benefits of this are that documents can be archived, delivered securely and it is much faster than the traditional post.
'Online authorisation means cards can be operated more securely and mileage capture systems provide accurate reporting with fleets able to view business mileage and previous data entries.'
Cards with computer chips and pin numbers are also expected to grow in the future alongside fleet telematics systems. Young said: 'Most providers are waiting for a broader bank initiative before introducing 'chip and pin' but they will deliver increased security, the number one issue for many.'
Future cars to book their own servicing
COMPUTER software expert Jason Francis gave conference delegates a taste of future fleet management technology.
Francis, managing director of cfc solutions, told the conference it was nearly impossible to predict what systems would be in use 10 years from now and that the technology that will power them is not yet invented.
He said today's fleet software systems are designed to collate and store information to a central filing system, manage processes, tasks and events and provide management information.
A decade ago these systems offered only basic functionalities such as simple record keeping, basic reports, batch rather than real-time updating, with most of the information having to be keyed in manually.
Today, systems have a number of automated collection methods such as electronic data feeds to and from suppliers, integration with other internal business software solutions and they have reduced paperwork by directly linking customers and drivers to the database.
Offering an expert's glimpse into the future, Francis said that PC's in ten years will be 1,000 times more powerful than they are today.
He suggested that in the future, using a fleet management software system, technology within company cars will be able to book the vehicle in for a service or repair work when the need arrives.
Fuel usage will be recorded the moment the driver has finished filling their car up and vehicle mileage requested from the driver will ensure information is constantly up to date, he added.
Francis told delegates he was excited about the future but that new software systems will still collate and store information to a central filing system, manage processes, tasks and events and provide management information.
Europe's biggest fleet reaps reward of internet auctions
EUROPE'S biggest fleet has revealed how using the internet to dispose of some of its end-of-contract cars has boosted residual values.
Motability remarkets hundreds of low-mileage vehicles every week – either selling them directly to dealers through its mfl direct scheme or at auction through its partnership with British Car Auctions.
The auction-bound cars are sold in a way that allows BCA's buyers to compete online in an open sale with buyers in the auction hall.
Addressing delegates at the Manage Your Fleet Online conference, Motability Operations' dealer development manager for vehicle remarketing, Brigitte Clark-Watson, said the two companies have worked together for more than 20 years.
On the benefits of this 'additional buying power' in the auction hall, Clark-Watson said: 'Online bidders compete with auction bidders and the atmosphere is electric.
'It also improves residual values as online bidders will often be the highest bidder or the strongest under-bidder. The more bidders you have means the better residual value you achieve.'
Clark-Watson said fleets will benefit from selling vehicles online alongside physical auctions by planning the process properly.
'Select the best product mix for the online audience, as they expect ready-to-retail condition cars,' she said. 'It is important to keep vehicle paperwork up-to-date, such as the service history and V5 details.'
She added: 'We have extraordinary volumes, between 1,200 to 3,000 vehicles a week, and this means our disposals programme has to be well planned. We know what stock is coming to market and when.
'We also have a unique product. Our cars average 25,000 miles and are three years old or less. They have a full service history and one previous owner. There is little to compete with Motability cars, which also come in a desirable product range with a high percentage being small hatchbacks and mini-MPVs.'
Annually, about 125,000 ex-Motability vehicles go through the mfl direct scheme and 40,000 through auction with BCA.
Also at the conference BCA Europe's director, remarketing, Keith Rogers, spoke about the benefits of online remarketing as a disposal option.
He said: 'Electronic sales have not, and will not, displace physical auction – but physical and electronic sales complement one another perfectly.'
On selecting the right supplier, Rogers said: 'Firstly, you need to ask if you have an affinity for these people. Ask if they understand your objectives and whether they realise that your needs might be different to other customers.
'Are these people immersed in this business, do they really have their finger on the pulse – do they know what is the right vehicle, the right place, the right time? The answers have to be a resounding yes.'
Online vehicle disposal is unlikely to succeed if fleets offer older, high mileage or hard-worked stock or if cars are in need of repair or refurbishment, delegates heard.
epyx offers service revolution
THE creators of an online vehicle service and maintenance authorisation system have outlined how it aims to help fleets save both time and money.
Speaking at the Manage Your Fleet Online conference, epyx managing director Greg Connell told how the 1link platform had revolutionised the industry.
Fleet funding organisations and large fleets are reducing costs by using the electronic link that connects them with companies providing servicing and maintenance, Connell said.
It means that instead of having to contact fleets to ask for permission to carry out work on a car, service centres can receive automatic approval, reducing time spent seeking permission to make repairs and also reducing paperwork.
He said the service was not rocket science and just automated current practices.
'The biggest process is growing the network but real savings can be achieved,' he said.
A whole host of companies are now connected to the network that aims to overcome a number of obstacles that can prevent the repair and service process from running smoothly.
These include between three and five telephone calls having to be made per transaction, delayed payment and differing invoice formats.
Connell added: 'There has to be a low cost for joining such a platform, so it is pay on use.'
The system can alert company drivers, through an email or mobile phone text message, that a service has been booked for their car and can also send a reminder nearer the time.
He said: 'This helps combat the lost hours in the industry when drivers forget to turn up for a service. That can also reflect badly on your business.'
Tuskerdirect dispels online leasing myths
FEARS that moving a contract hire fleet online is a complicated process were dismissed at the Manage Your Fleet Online conference.
David Hosking, sales and marketing director at Tuskerdirect, outlined the benefits of an online switch and showed how fleets of all sizes can easily move to e-management.
He said: 'Anyone who runs a fleet can do this whether it is a fleet of 10 or 1,000 vehicles. We had a customer with a fleet of 650 vehicles. It managed to reduce the number of staff in charge of the fleet from three to one after introducing an online system.
'Using an online leasing system, fleets are able to benefit from cost and administration savings. It also empowers drivers as they are able to choose their own vehicle under fleet policy.'
Hosking used office supply firm Avery Dennison as an example of how fleets can benefit from moving online.
The company runs a UK fleet of 60 vehicles and after going online has seen a marked decline in the number of vehicles being incorrectly ordered, a problem it encountered when working manually.
Hosking said: 'Prior to moving online, Avery Dennison used fax and email for driver communication, plus spreadsheets and paperwork. But it wanted to cut fleet costs, reduce administration and increase driver empowerment by setting up an online system.
'The group is now able to set rental bands online, add new drivers, complete the renewal process, look at fleet policies, check benefit-in-kind liability and enable drivers to book services and choose cars.'
However, it is not all plain sailing and Hosking believes fleets need to maintain high customer service levels when introducing an online system.
He said: 'Online leasing is not a panacea. Sometimes things can go wrong but customer service is the key and it is important to maintain phone contact.'
Inform fleet drivers on tracking systems
DELEGATES at the Manage Your Fleet Online conference were warned never to introduce a vehicle tracking system without first informing their drivers.
Talking about the benefits of tracking systems, Simon Drummond, web services and product manager at Siemens VDO Automotive, said it is vital to make drivers aware of new systems.
He said: 'Never implement a tracking system behind the backs of employees because you should be tracking the asset, not the individual.'
Before introducing a system, Drummond said fleets need to be aware of three basic steps.
He said: 'Clarify the requirements you are looking for. Remember, vehicle tracking is a service not a product and ensure that you work with a reputable company.'
Drummond also outlined some of the benefits of running a vehicle tracking system. He said: 'One of the most powerful benefits is that fleets are able to control labour costs which helps validate timesheets and control overtime claims.
'Fleets can also control fuel costs, protect lone workers and reduce response times.'
Offline fleets wasting time, cash, resources
FAILING to switch from paper-based fleet management to an online solution could result in wasted resources and over-worked fleet departments, according to one industry group.
Ashley Sowerby, Chevin Fleet Solutions' managing director, highlighted the issues at the Manage Your Fleet Online conference and believes fleets need to adopt an online policy.
Outlining the potential pitfalls of following a paper-based system, Sowerby said: 'There are drawbacks to offline solutions. It means a centrally controlled fleet department and fleets have to input data which results in a waste of resources.
'Labour-intensive reports are then produced for the fleet department, again a waste of resources resulting in an unclear visibility of critical events such as maintenance and licence checks.
'Ultimately an offline approach means the fleet department is busier and bigger than it needs to be.'
Introducing an online system should take no longer than two months to set up and become fully activated, Sowerby estimated.
'There is a training requirement but this is easy as it is similar to using a website. Ownership costs are low and integration is simple as it enables fleets to link to other resources,' he said.
However, once up and running, fleets can slash administration time, cut costs and provide concise information, Sowerby claimed.
He recommends a driver portal which enables fleet drivers to input information directly onto a fleet management system, in turn reducing the fleet manager's workload.
Sowerby said: 'Drivers are able to input driver mileage and report any problems encountered with their vehicle. This saves time in the fleet department and enables data to be analysed.
'Data can be published on a regular basis. Fleet managers just have to pull out required reports. The internet offers simple presentation in a concise and clear format for fleet managers.'
Sowerby highlighted PaperCo, one group which has slashed costs and improve fleet management by going online.
Prior to introducing an online system, the group's logistics manager spent 75% of his time working with spreadsheets.
After adopting an online system, PaperCo has improved vehicle utilisation and efficiency across the fleet, Sowerby claimed.
Online rental can be a 'win-win' service
WEB-based rental systems offer the industry and its fleet customers a 'win-win' situation – saving time and achieving cost efficiencies for all involved.
The benefits of e-business systems were explained to delegates at the Manage Your Fleet Online conference by National Car Rental vice-president, sales and marketing, Neil McCrossan.
In the past year the company has enjoyed an 83% increase in electronic transactions for its services and has achieved cost-savings in excess of £4 million as a result. Its investment has also boosted customers' profitability, McCrossan claimed, removing costs from the rental process and improving service levels.
McCrossan said: 'Online fleet procurement and management systems have come of age. They are more affordable and more reliable. Their use has accelerated dramatically and this will continue.
'Once fleets have chosen a supplier there are two or three different versions of what they should expect as an online offering and there are different definitions of what suppliers claim as an online offering.'
McCrossan warned delegates to be aware of 'imitations'.
'There are companies who say they are offering the facility for online booking but actually all they are offering is an email facility. More sophisticated are the companies who actually manage the whole reservation process online. This enables customers to book vehicles, arrange collections and deliveries on the net.
'The full-service online rental provider genuinely facilitates the entire rental process online. From setting up driver profiles through to reservations and providing the back-up of comprehensive management information so that the company, and the rental provider, can track all the rental activity, monitoring trends or issues.'
McCrossan stressed that although online systems save the industry and its customers time and make them more efficient they will never fully replace human interaction, vital when dealing with customers and suppliers.
A QUARTER of National Car Rental's biggest fleet business has been secured via an online bidding process.
This involves fleets inviting a number of pre-selected bidders to enter an online competitive bidding process for a fixed period of time on one day.
Each supplier can see how their bid compares against their competitors, in a ranking order, although they cannot see what amounts are involved.
Neil McCrossan, National Car Rental vice-president, sales and marketing, said an increasing number of fleets were using such systems to secure suppliers.
He added that potential pitfalls can be avoided if fleets follow a series of measures.
These include carefully pre-selecting suppliers, providing comprehensive data about their requirements, setting a realistic bid ceiling that is not to be exceeded and ensuring bidders are within their own peer group.
Most NHS drivers choose on the web
MORE than 90% of National Health Service fleet drivers use a ground-breaking website to compare quotes from 10 leasing operations before choosing their company car.
The NHS has a fleet of more than 36,000 vehicles spread across 400 trusts around the UK. It has created a central website in conjunction with its fleet suppliers to offer drivers access to rate books, contract information, supplier websites and information on other related issues.
Although not mandatory for individual trusts to use, take-up has been impressive, NHS Purchasing and Supply Agency senior transport buyer, Mike Taylor, told delegates.
From 1997 to the year 2000, 21,338 cars were taken on through contracts set up by the national purchasing department. But between 2000 and last year, incorporating the time when the password-protected website was created, it had increased by 46% to 31,209 cars.
Taylor said: 'It is not a mandatory contract, but we believe it does offer the best value and 90% of drivers use it. It means trusts don't have to tender for individual requirements and fleet managers save time. Our target is to achieve 100% coverage.'
For the future, Taylor and his team will add prices for optional extras to the site, which will mean the addition of one million extra figures.
And on offering advice to fleets looking to create similar central systems, Taylor said: 'From an early stage consult with both suppliers and users. Take their views and considerations into account and ensure it is always possible to make any changes.
'We have saved money and so have our suppliers, who no longer have to send out rate books to individual suppliers.
'The trust is keen to reduce the use of paperwork where possible so not receiving mailshots from suppliers is a benefit to us, too.'
Currently, drivers are not actually able to order their cars through the website as some manufacturers linked to the site are unable to offer such an online buying system. But Taylor does not believe this will be the case for long and expects change in the future.
Firewall vital against hacker threat
FLEETS introducing an online management system must ensure security is tight in a bid to ward off hackers, according to one technology provider.
Paul Catton, sales director at information technology group FD Tek, said it was vital fleets have the latest products and safety measures in place.
Catton told delegates at the event: 'Staying safe is fairly simple – keep software up to date and install a firewall.'
Catton said fleets need to ask what information they should make available online and who can access it.
'Hackers are people who gain access to your system and get information for personal gain. Hackers can delete corporate data, download files, inject viruses and steal identities, such as credit cards which would be used in fraud,' Catton added.
To protect company information, Catton believes fleets can adopt three simple safety measures: