Fleet News

Choosing software to meet your needs

IN the world of software, some decisions are almost made for you. Need an operating system? Microsoft XP. Need to do presentations? Microsoft PowerPoint. Need a basic package for business? Microsoft Office.

But what about running a fleet? Suddenly, the decision isn't so simple. For most companies, there will already be some form of system in place, even if it's a paper-based one or a simple spreadsheet.

Unlike everyday computing, fleet decision-makers have a number of software choices they can make and for those who are wondering, one of them isn't Microsoft Fleet Manager. But where do you start?

Most importantly, fleets should have in mind exactly what they want the software to do and document.

It is much easier to do this at the start than at the end of the process.

This is vital if there are several departments involved in operating the fleet, such as finance, human resources, health and safety directors and the fleet manager.

Experts warn that quite often management have in mind the perfect system, but for the guys on the ground it can be the opposite.

According to Scott Jenkins, sales and marketing director for Chevin Fleet Solutions, providing a day-to-day list of what the fleet department does helps make everyone's priorities clear.

He said: 'This allows you to approach potential suppliers with a clear idea of what you want and then compare them effectively.

'Ask them to show the system working in relation to that.'

But, before a representative from the supplier has even had the chance to warm a seat in your office, you can assess whether the service is right for you. Experts recommend trying to judge the supplier's level of experience, attitude and approach.

Jason Francis, managing director of cfc solutions, said: 'What is their core business? Do they have the necessary skills to take advantage of emerging technology and develop tomorrow's systems?'

You should also consider how the supplier will react if things go wrong. Once all the preparation work is done, you can open the door to potential suppliers to look at the products they have on offer, based on the requirements you have provided.

Although fleet software can be complex, a good fleet system should be easy to operate.

Francis said: 'The complexity is dealt with during implementation, so routine tasks are automated. Systems should be able to grow with your requirements and be tailored to users' needs.'

Key questions to ask include what the implementation service is like, what training is provided and what the maintenance, support and software updating procedures are like. Jenkins added: 'Never buy a system that has just been demonstrated on a slide show. Always ask for a live demonstration. Ask for a 'workshop' session again involving the users.'

Then comes the hard part – negotiating on price. But bear in mind that a good software system can pay for itself many times over.

Top 10 tips for choosing a fleet software provider

  • Have in mind exactly what you want the software to do and document it. Involve the general users in this process. Provide the software vendor with a day-to-day list of what the fleet department does

  • Look closely at suppliers' credentials. Judge their level of experience, attitude and approach. How will the supplier react if things go wrong? The difference between suppliers becomes obvious when hiccups occur

  • Does the software functionality match your requirements? A good fleet system should be easy to operate. The complexity is dealt with during implementation, so it should automate routine tasks. Choose a system that is flexible enough to accommodate all your needs. You shouldn't have to change your processes just because you are getting a new system

  • A data conversion from an existing system could be essential. Depending upon the size and scale of the implementation, project management and consultancy services may be necessary to ensure a timely and successful implementation

  • Make sure the vendor can still supply you with regular updates and can fully support your system. How good is the supplier's software maintenance and support service? Do they offer unlimited usage advice and technical support?

  • How good is their training? Ask to see training documentation as this will provide a good insight to the depth and quality of the training

  • Check that the software product comes with manuals and online help

  • Never buy a system that has just been demonstrated by PowerPoint. Always insist on a live demo. Ask for a 'workshop' session again involving the users. If you can have a 'play' then even better

  • Commitment to keeping systems up-to-date. It is important that the supplier has a commitment to keep the software up-to-date with legislative changes and frequent services packs providing the latest functionality without additional costs

  • Don't just choose the cheapest. Always look for value for money

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