Using Technology to Take Fleet to the Next Level
We live in the information age. Technology has provided access to incredible tools to do our jobs. Putting technology to its best use can take a fleet operation to the next level.
It wasn’t too long ago when business technology meant a fax machine, a calculator, and a mainframe computer. We’ve certainly come a long way since then, as the dizzying advance of technology continues unabated.
Most fleet managers take advantage of technology they believe will help manage the fleet. They use online systems provided by suppliers to order vehicles, track status, capture and manipulate cost data, and keep inventory. They provide drivers with cell phones, laptops, and (sometimes) GPS and telematics. But, just using technology doesn’t mean using it to its greatest effect. A fleet can be taken to the next level if technology is used wisely.
Evolution or Revolution?
Business technology has undergone dramatic change over the past 40 years. We now have smartphones that can do far more than a room-sized mainframe did decades ago. The Internet has become a primary communication tool, as well as the source for data capture and reporting.
Some of the change has been evolutionary: Telephones evolved to include answering machines, which turned into voicemail, and the basic land line now contains such features as conference calling and call forwarding, which were all developed over several decades.
Other technology has undergone more revolutionary change. In less than 20 years, cell phones became smartphones, allowing business to be conducted on any number of levels. The desktop PC became a laptop, then a notebook, and now we have tablet computers that fit between the pages of a book (if you still read books, rather than carry an Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, or an Apple iPad).
Many of these changes have helped drivers do their jobs more efficiently. Rather than looking for phone booths to call in and check messages, a cell phone enables drivers to simply pull over at the first opportunity and dial or use Bluetooth to make the call.
Fleet managers, too, now have access to reporting capabilities based on real-time data, flexible report scheduling, and exception alerts. All of this — both evolutionary and revolutionary — has enabled fleet managers to know more, faster and more accurately, and communicate what they know more effectively.
What technologies do fleet managers sometimes overlook? We can begin with social media. There are a number of such communication venues that fleet managers can use:
■ Facebook: Most, if not all, drivers, staff, and other stakeholders likely use Facebook, primarily to keep in touch with friends and family on a strictly social level. But, there is no reason why the fleet department can’t use it for communicating with drivers, encouraging engagement with spouses and family, and even for networking with peers. Most industry publications and associations also have Facebook pages. Messages on safety; tips on maintenance or defensive driving; and even social exchanges about family, vacations, and more can help create a more “family” culture within the company.
■ LinkedIn: LinkedIn is more or less the Facebook of the business world. It is an excellent channel fleet managers can use to interact with peers to exchange ideas and trade advice. There are also a large number of fleet-oriented groups (both general and specific), where members can ask questions and trade process and policy ideas. Suppliers sometimes use LinkedIn to spread their message within the industry, too.
■ Twitter: Twitter is a relatively new, but very popular, Internet communication channel. Messages are kept to a maximum of 140 characters and are sent to “followers” with subjects grouped together by “hashtags” (# symbol). Followers are referenced by an “at symbol” (@). Twitter is limited, but it can be useful in expanding the fleet communication network.
Drivers can access Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter via smartphones, and fleet managers can send specific messages, such as exception notes, announcements, and other short communications quickly and easily.
Keep in mind that, much like e-mail, the typed word can be a misleading and incomplete means of communication. It is best to limit social media use to the simple passing along of information, rather than a more “conversational” tone (except for the Facebook and LinkedIn “forum-type” applications discussed previously). Anything, however, that improves communication in a fleet environment can only make the fleet operate at a higher level.