Fleet professionals are often required to wear many hats, which means they need to be privy to multiple areas that impact their overall operations. Because of this, fleets may be overwhelmed by the amount of tasks they are required to address.
However, there exists a plethora of best practices and fleet-specific tools that can be implemented in order to stay on top of everything. Through this, not only will fleet professionals become that much more well-versed in their industry, they will also become more productive individuals.
Several fleet experts offered insight to some key elements of what makes for a productive fleet operation.
Far and away one of the most useful tools fleets have available to enhance their productivity is telematics. Though its roots are founded in the ability to track vehicles like “dots on a map,” telematics has evolved into a technology that can offer nuanced details about a fleet’s overall operations, which can then be parlayed into other departments in fleet.
Tracking drivers is a fundamental component of telematics technology, but being able to break down and assess the bountiful data that it also compiles and turning it into actionable concepts is key for a fleet looking to improve productivity.
For example, a detailed analysis of telematics data can help fleets route their drivers to perform tasks as efficiently as possible, ultimately leading to a reduction in miles driven. Clay Gaudet, fleet manager for AutoZone, noted this and observed a reduction in miles driven for his fleet via the benefits of telematics through efficient routing.
Further still, analyzing the Big Data compiled through telematics can help fleets better understand internal and external customer needs based on the functionalities of the fleet.
“If you know where your techs are, you can easily dispatch and route them to customer sites,” said Blair Schober, U.S. Fleet, EH&S, and telecom manager, Red Hawk Fire and Security. He elaborated on the benefits his fleet directly experienced as a result of telematics helping effectively assign driver duties. “Send the closest tech with the right skills and get to the job in the most efficient manner possible with the right tech and parts. Get to the client site, fix the problem quickly and correctly the first time, and everyone is happy.”
Adding to this, Schober said a fleet that focuses on elasticity with regards to the capability of it drivers and vehicles can help bolster productivity.
“First, cross train employees to do more tasks/functions/jobs,” he said. “Educate them, teach them, give them tools, and empower them. With a more capable technician/employee, they can do more jobs and different tasks. If there is a demand spike for a certain function, labor may be shifted around to address the needs of the clients.”
The increasing ubiquity of telematics in fleet has allowed other areas pertinent to the industry to flourish as well.
“Telematics creates enormous amounts of visibility, and that data coincides with fuel data, and being able to spec your vehicles correctly,” said a fleet manager who requested anonymity. “Because when you can look at idle time, engine hours, all the data points of telematics where you can see either a full picture of what that vehicle is doing and how it’s costing money, it gives fleet managers a leg up on making a decision further down the road; what I need to start addressing.”
Fuel spend is the highest cost center for fleets, and having a better perspective into monitoring this category can also lead to benefits leading to a more productive fleet.
Establishing a fuel program and tracking fuel expenses by assigning a company card for vehicles will help cut down on discrepancies from cash purchases, which can give fleet managers insight into how much is being spent from fueling. Having a clear picture of this can identify where overspending can exist, to which fleets can plan accordingly and adjust.
While the fundamentals are different from telematics, considering the two together can further help fleets in terms of fleet productivity, especially with regard to issues of excessive idling.
Idling can impact fleet productivity in several negative ways including excessive fueling, which means spend that could have been allocated to other areas of fleet. Indeed, Gaudet of AutoZone, observed that his telematics provider has helped reduce his organization’s fuel costs and improved productivity via the decrease in excessive idling.
Excessive idling can have a negative impact on a fleet’s bottom line gradually over time, and larger fleets with a varied vehicle portfolio may experience this issue more if they have larger trucks that are prone to idling. According to the Argonne National Laboratory, idling a truck uses more fuel than restarting it and can waste up to around 1 gallon of fuel per hour.
In another aspect related to fuel: vehicle fuel economy has also impacted acquisition, with more fleets looking to rightsize to improve productivity. By converting to a fleet of vehicles with better MPG, or implementing vehicles more appropriately suited for the fleet’s needs, fuel benefits can be realized.
“In the past, fleets mass ordered the same vehicles with the same trims and drives,” said Michael Singer, strategic consultant for Merchants Fleet Management. “Currently, I am seeing the opposite in that those same companies are accounting for AWD/FWD needs, optimizing fuel economy decisions by putting drivers in the vehicles that suit their specific utilization, and tailoring fuel economy decisions to geographic locations (vehicles with higher fuel economy in states where fuel prices are higher).”
The general rule of thumb is that for every 100 pounds removed from a vehicle, fuel economy increases by 1-2%. A vehicle carrying unnecessary extra weight may contribute to draining a fleet’s budget.
But being able to know what is best suited for your fleet without hindering productivity is key, and available technology can help.
“There is an abundance of tools and information to help ensure fleets are using the right vehicle, so the next step becomes making sure your drivers aren’t negating what you’ve worked for in your vehicle selection,” said Jake Carter of EMKAY. He added that a telematics program can help facilitate this behavioral changed.
Maintenance and Replacement
Having an effective maintenance program will also help lay the foundations of a productive fleet.
For example, the previously mentioned issue of excessive idling not only contributes to excessive fuel spend, but maintenance can also be impacted as well. An hour of idling by a heavy-duty vehicle equals approximately 80 miles of wear-and-tear on the engine, as unnecessary idling can cause a buildup in a truck’s engine.
Being aware of fleet maintenance needs and when to cycle out older vehicles should help fleets have a more properly maintained portfolio, and will thusly make them more productive.
“If I’m doing my job, my drivers shouldn’t have any problems,” said the anonymous fleet manager. “They’re not worried about downtime, because I’m switching their fleet out faster because I know what to switch out faster. If you look at different types of fleets, from a pharmaceutical fleet to a work truck type of fleet, work truck service fleets are more prone to downtime than the pharmaceutical fleets, which can be due to the complexity of using a truck and upfitting.”
Schober of Red Hawk also observed if a fleet is holding vehicles past its optimum life cycle, high costs associate with mechanical failures, potential downtime, and other issues can arise. If a vehicle is not maintained to the best of the fleet’s ability, it opens itself to liability exposure due to the increasing risk of utilizing a poorly maintained vehicle
“(Consider the) potential for lawsuits for improperly maintained vehicles that resulted in an at fault accident causing a major injury or fatality. How productive would that look to the executive team and company?” he said. “If a report comes through the maintenance approval that tires were worn down to the cords or brake pads went metal to metal, how about some level of automated report going out to the employees manager that requires the employee to be written up for negligent vehicle maintenance?” he suggested.
Layers of Safety
Being better prepared to focus on safety will also help in terms of productivity. If a fleet experiences problems with driver crashes, this can open a window to myriad issues that will significantly hinder fleets productivity.
Schober said pushing for more proactive strategies versus being reactive will help eliminate any obstacles that unexpectedly present themselves. Accidents can instantly create a laundry list of new problems for fleets to deal with.
“Safety metrics is a huge aspect of productivity,” he said. “If an accident takes place, how much wasted time and money are we dealing with? Damage to the company vehicle; damage to third party vehicle(s); injuries, possible lawsuits; drug tests; rescheduling of jobs to adjust for the accident; impacted customer service levels; paperwork for the accidents; downtime of the vehicle(s); rental cars; swapping out parts between the damaged car and the loaner; possible employee terminations and the need to hire and train a new employee.”
Handling the Data
But with all these categories that fleets need to consider, having a fleet management company, or other third-party vendor, help the fleet assess the abundant data will further contribute to improved productivity as that will be one less thing on their plate that needs to be addressed.
“Having it all being managed by my FMC helps, because they all manage the dashboard and analytics that I can drill and evaluate for utilization and more,” said an anonymous fleet manager. “It’s helped with the analytical aspects, because the FMCs are getting smarter with the data analytics to report on what needs to be replaced.”
Also essential is establishing a clear fleet policy and letting the team know what is expected of it.
“Behavior and accountability also play critical roles for productivity,” said Schober. “In order to achieve the desired outcome, the rules need to be explained clearly and reviewed periodically. Best practices need to be touched on and employees reminded about who, what, where, when, why, and how. If a sound fleet policy is not issued from the beginning, how are expectations being communicated and to what equitable standards are the employees being held accountable to? Without a streamlined process to issue the policy, review the policy, and remind employees of the critical expectations, the message will be lost and productivity levels will also follow.”