Managing the Financial Side of Commercial Fleets

The Dangers of Over-Reliance on Technology

There are few areas of fleet management that technology hasn’t touched; communication, data mining, and reporting have benefitted from the sometimes dizzying pace of technological advances. But, how much is too much?

September 2012, by Staff

Veteran fleet managers often reminisce upon how things were “back in the day” — before computers, the early days of room-sized mainframes, and the advent of PCs. Dealing with the avalanche of data and daily communications that fleet management requires has changed dramatically over the years.

Today, technology enables fleet managers to communicate instantly with drivers, informing them of where they are and how to get where they’re going, making reporting and data mining simple and effective, and providing more information for better decision making. In short, we are awash in technology, and the biggest problem often seems to be choosing what to use. But, can a fleet manager become too dependent on technology? Is there a down side to introducing as much technology as possible into the operation of a fleet?

How Technology is Used

In the early days of the profession, the tools of the trade were the telephone, paper (snail) mail, pads of paper, an adding machine, and a box of sharp pencils. Little by little, technology was introduced to the job, with items including:
■ Simple calculators.
■ Mainframe computers.
■ Fax machines.
■ Word processors.
■ PCs.
■ Word processing and spreadsheet
software applications.
■ The Internet/e-mail.
■ Smartphones.
■ GPS/telematics.
■ Social networking.

Two characteristics of fleet management that lend the industry to the use of technology are communication and data.

Communication. Fleet management requires communication about a broad list of subjects with hundreds or thousands of drivers practically 24/7. Where in the past a fleet manager would have to do a mass mailing to inform drivers of a change in policy, it can now be e-mailed, posted on the company intranet site — even texted directly to drivers’ smartphones.
Fleet newsletters are no longer paper; they’re posted online or distributed via e-mail. Vehicle orders aren’t completed manually on three layers of NCR paper; they’re placed online directly by a lessor or dealer. The point is that today, technology advances offer fleet managers communication tools that were unheard of as little as a decade ago. 

Data. Operating a fleet of vehicles creates a staggering amount of data; from odometer readings to operating expenses to license/title/tax, fleet management is a data-heavy activity.

Company-provided vehicles create mounds of data. From fixed costs such as depreciation to variable costs of fuel to maintenance/repair to accidents and safety, the data pours in daily, even hourly. Since fleet managers often manage vehicles that are geographically dispersed, using and managing that data is the only way fleet managers can do the job.

Not unlike the communications technology revolution, the capture and management of fleet information has undergone a technological transformation. While fleet managers once communicated via telephone, paper, and snail mail, so, too, did they depend on manual processes to handle fleet data. Processing paper expense reports (containing key purchases and critical mileage data) was the foundation of those processes. Loaded, again manually, on green spreadsheets, fleet managers and their staff calculated cost/use ratios and created reports on typewriters.

Once computer automation appeared on the fleet scene, capturing and manipulating data began to become faster and more accurate. Initially loading that expense report data into mainframe computers, reporting became automated, followed by the capture of such data electronically and the automatic creation of scheduled reports. Today, there is very little (if any) fleet information and data that is touched by human hands.
Thus, advances in technology have made both communication as well as data capture and use automatic, accurate, and “real time,” which enables fleet managers to better use their time on more strategic matters.

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