Many in-house fleet departments have experienced internal reviews where they are compared to outsourced suppliers, but for the fleet department at BT, the review created an all-new business.
The in-house fleet department of the telecommunications giant turned from a potential customer into a supplier after it was decided its expertise couldn’t be matched anywhere else in the industry.
The fleet, recently named Fleet of the Year at the Fleet News Awards, has a massive network of garages and experienced technicians who keep tens of thousands of vehicles on the road every day and senior executives recognised the resources could also be used to keep other fleets on the road.
And so, BT Fleet was launched in 2002 and has become one of the biggest fleet management and maintenance companies in the UK, with 40% of its 70,000 fleet now non-BT customers.
And for managing director Janet Entwistle, there is still much more development to come as the company builds a growing customer base and even considers the potential for expansion through acquisition of other fleet suppliers.
She said: “Our strategy is focused on operational fleets being used by companies where they are mission critical.
"These companies attribute a lot of value to vehicle on-road time and downtime.
“There has been significant growth in the past five years, with 25,000 units added and that is in an environment where customer expectations are increasing.
“We are looking at future organic growth in products and markets and developing products for related sectors, but that growth could include acquisition where there was a good fit between the businesses and it provided a benefit in terms of our proposition and the service we could provide customers.
“We are not targeting a certain size. We are a specialist provider and we have scale, but importantly we are also able to specialise and that makes us different.
"Our focus is on building long-term partnerships with customers.”
This partnership has meant a change in working practices for the business to introduce a customer-service focus and a commitment from BT to equal treatment for all customers based on greatest need, so the garage network can be properly leveraged.
This also meant working with its in-house network of more than 80 garages to ensure opening times suited customer requirements, while an independent network was developed based on careful assessment of each supplier’s services and standards.
Ms Entwistle said: “Customers are attracted to us because of our people and they often have fleet data that is not complete with their current supplier.
"They are delighted to get the expertise and service that we can offer.
“Having an owned network is essential because you retain the expertise through the garages that makes the business so strong.
“In addition, you have an on-the-ground management presence.
"A lot of our customers need a consistent service and that is achieved through this in-house support.
"This allows a long-term focus to be managed centrally, with day-to-day management of local needs dealt with at each site.
“People want management information that is real time, because as they saying goes, you can’t manage a fleet by looking in the rear view mirror.”
The firm now has a team of 940 people who are proving vital in ensuring the business runs smoothly, including setting the right residual values and selling vehicles at the best possible price.
Ms Entwistle said: “People are holding fire at the moment, but I don’t think the market will suffer the bloodbath that some people have been predicting.
"There has been a drop, but it will recover next year, depending on which sector you are looking at.”
They also ensure the firm can give its expert view on key issues, such as the importance of using wholelife costs to monitor the commercial vehicle fleet.
Ms Entwistle said: “There is no set funding formula and every business is different, but fleets need to consider everything on a wholelife cost basis.”
By taking a step back, a company can also assess whether it needs to follow particular trends, such as telematics, or if they aren’t suited to the business.
She said: “Before investing in telematics, companies need to ask themselves whether their current processes give them the information they already need and they aren’t using it.”
The same is true of alternative fuels and electric vehicles, with Ms Entwistle agreeing that fleets should try what is available to give them a clear understanding of the market.
But she added: “If you really want to save fuel and emissions, then look at areas such as driver training and education, where you can improve fuel consumption by 10% through programmes such as SAFED.
"That will deliver savings today while you look at future vehicle alternatives.”
But for most businesses, getting the basics right is the most important part of fleet management, an issue that BT Fleet recognises.
She said: “If you have vehicles off-road at a vehicle-dependent business, then that costs money and there is a service gap.
“Getting back on the road quickly is the priority for business and companies need to buy services based on reduced downtime and the reduced costs that brings.”
And being a fleet that can run other fleets, BT Fleet argues it offers the services that can do just that.
Janet Entwistle is a barrister and first joined BT as a commercial lawyer, focusing on BT’s business development activity in the UK and Europe, before taking over the in-house transport function in 1999.
Since then, she has transformed the business from an in-house support services provider to BT Group into a fleet management company with a fleet of more than 70,000 vehicles.
Favourite book: A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving
Favourite film: Kill Bill Vol. 1
Favourite holiday destination: Easter Island
Three records to take to a Desert Island: Nina Simone – Feeling Good
The Members – The Sound of the Suburbs
The Pogues – Dirty Old Town
BT Fleet’s recipe for a successful organisation
* A fleet manager who cares and is passionate about what they do
* A clear knowledge of how the fleet is used in the business
* An understanding of total costs of transport, including vehicle off-road time
* Joined-up procurement, operations, finance and drivers
* A focus on safety and compliance – from accurate records to vehicle design, loading and use
* Good availability of management information – accurate, meaningful and in real-time
* Supported by a quality garage network – a fleet must be well-maintained to be well-managed
* Access to future innovation and developments in key areas
* An insistence on meaningful service levels matching business requirements