In the past decade, fleet software has become as mobile as the drivers it is designed to manage.
Systems that used to be hosted on a single computer or network in an office can now be provided through an online connection, allowing multi-user access to constantly updated information backed up by a common server platform operating state-of-the-art software.
The fleet manager’s email updates can be received anywhere – on a Blackberry for instance – where they can see reminders such as dates for licence checks and servicing dates or even fuel cost summaries – fleet management Utopia.
While some switched-on fleet managers may have achieved this transport dream, for others the reality is still very different.
Up to 40,000 fleets could still be relying on basic spreadsheets. Indeed, there are small fleets – and some not so small – still operating a paper-based system.
Excel may be all some need, but for others, it could be restricting them.
While spreadsheets are a valuable business tool, fleet managers who use them will have to cope with coding, pivot tables and macros if they want anything more than a basic fleet list.
This hampers a fleet’s ability to analyse data and makes succession planning difficult as new users need to understand the individual quirks of the previous user.
Fleet operators generally put up two barriers to new systems – hassle and costs. Yet most small fleets can actually obtain a package for practically nothing.
Fleet software can either be a stepping stone to automating many traditional aspects of fleet management, making costs transparent and enabling initiatives to tighten up procedures and make the business leaner and safer.
Alternatively, the array of suppliers and the possibilities their services offer may be seen as irrelevant.
The differing viewpoints illustrate the diversity of the fleet industry and the challenges suppliers face in providing services to appeal to all.
But there is something to help even the most reluctant fleet manager consider the benefits of software to their operation.
When it comes to fleet software, everyone seems to be doing it.
Firstly there are the traditional suppliers that might spring to mind, such as Jaama, CFC Solutions, Tranman,
Bynx, Chevin Fleet Solutions and Drive Software Solutions.
Their systems have developed over decades to integrate their data seamlessly with a customer’s IT systems, so that creating P11D reports is automated, fuel data is easy to upload and web-enabled services allow a number of employees access to data and reports across the country.
It is a logical step that leasing and fleet management companies that often manage customers’ vehicle fleets for them are now offering online access to their own fleet management systems to allow customers to monitor their vehicles and access data.
The added benefit of these systems is that drivers can be given restricted online access to the software to choose their next company car, from vehicle lists set by the fleet manager.
In addition, they can link into additional services.
Many rental companies also offer online management of their hire vehicles.
In addition, vehicle tracking and monitoring companies are increasingly referring to their products as fleet management systems, as they provide much of the information a fleet manager needs about vehicles through live online reports.
Then there is the growing market of fleet safety, with risk management companies offering fleet and
driver management systems that are designed to offer a transparent view of where fleets’ risks lie.
Then there are ancillary services, such as fuel cards, which also have their own online management systems.
A list of all the major suppliers in each area is available from the buyer’s guide section of the Fleet News website at www.fleetnews.co.uk
This wide variety of potential suppliers and services raises one of the key issues of any software system – compatibility.
Fleets need to ensure all their systems share a common language to avoid constantly inputting data.
Automation is also essential, so that once any system has been set up, the most common fleet tasks it is designed to carry out can all be done without intervention from a fleet manager.
Finally, good reporting tools are essential.
A fleet software system is only as good as the data you put into it, but your understanding of the fleet is only as good as the reporting tools that interpret that data.
You don’t want enough reports to make a doorstop, just concise management information that captures the information you need to know about.
These simple rules – compatibility, automation and reporting (CAR) – can create a foundation stone for choosing any fleet software system to ensure that it makes managing the fleet easier, rather than causing new headaches.
‘Your understanding of the fleet is only as good as the reporting tools that interpret the data’