Even veteran fleet managers can quickly become bogged down by a variety of everyday tasks, but perhaps the most challenging is effectively managing your data. - Photo: GETTYIMAGES.COM/SOUTH_AGENCY

Even veteran fleet managers can quickly become bogged down by a variety of everyday tasks, but perhaps the most challenging is effectively managing your data.

Photo: GETTYIMAGES.COM/SOUTH_AGENCY

It’s safe to say the lives of today’s fleet managers are busier than they have ever been before. From the general day-to-day responsibilities of fleet management to having to respond to the daily changes of the coronavirus pandemic, if you are anything like me, the hours are flying by. Still, the to-do list doesn’t seem to get any shorter. 

Part 1 of our three-part series shared tips on improving driver productivity. In part two, Work Truck tackles the top 12 problems impacting lost fleet manager productivity and solutions to help solve them

PROBLEM 1: Inefficient Processes or Workflows

One of the top causes of lost fleet manager productivity is inefficient processes or workflows. 

“There are steps in the truck ordering process that can be standardized or put in place ahead of time to help save time and effort. A company can take some initial time upfront to establish standard specs for the fleet, as well as which makes and models are appropriate for different uses, so when it’s time to order, they have set options to choose from instead of gathering specs for each driver or location. Not having efficient or automated processes for tracking requirements for the ELD mandate and other compliance is another key area where productivity can be negatively impacted,” said Lawrence Liu, senior fleet consultant for Merchants Fleet.

The Solution?

Have the right programs and partners in place to help streamline management around fuel, maintenance, registration, compliance, and more. 

“In some cases, fleet managers may be able to outsource the management of these aspects of their fleet so that they can focus more time on other areas. In others, an outside partner can help provide the structures and best practices needed to create an efficient process rather than having the fleet manager build processes from scratch. When creating better workflows and processes, it’s important to define steps and actions clearly, especially around vehicle ordering, approvals, and remarketing. Finally, integrating reporting so you can track all data and expenses in one location can be a significant step to streamlining operations,” said Liu of Merchants Fleet.

PROBLEM 2: Lack of a Proven Data Management System

Data has become an integral part of the fleet manager role. Fleet managers without a proven system to gather and process data are making decisions from old, unreliable, and partial data. 

“This productivity loss is compounded by having to rely on a gut feeling instead of an industry-accepted algorithm. As new information comes in (recalls, interest rate changes, manufacturer updates), the fleet manager is forced to process them ad hoc,” said Jeremy Green, sales & marketing manager for Union Leasing. 

In addition to their incomplete and unreliable data, fleet managers are unable to compare their fleets metrics against industry-accepted benchmarks. 

“Finally, by not having a complete view into their fleet, managers open themselves up to fuel card theft, liability for incomplete repairs or preventive maintenance, and more,” Green added.

The Solution? 

Establish metrics and policies to ensure all pertinent data is captured. 

“Work with a fleet management company (FMC) partner who understands what the goals of the business are and how to get there. A capable FMC will help you automate as many processes as possible to allow the fleet manager to focus on pressing and timely issues,” said Green of Union Leasing. 

PROBLEM 3: Ineffective Data Management

Even veteran fleet managers can quickly become bogged down by a variety of everyday tasks, but perhaps the most challenging is effectively managing your data. 

“In today’s environment, a typical fleet generates millions of data points — fuel transactions, maintenance records, telematics information, etc. This data offers significant potential for fleet operators. Still, the reality is that unless you can effectively manage it, that potential doesn’t amount to much,” said Ed Powell, manager, Business Intelligence and Analytics for ARI. 

Many fleet managers are almost paralyzed by their data, spending countless hours aggregating the data, analyzing the information, and assessing key performance indicators (KPIs). 

“Far too often, this cycle repeats itself before the fleet manager can leverage the data to drive meaningful improvements for their business. Your data can be a tremendous tool that delivers significant insight into your fleet operations. Still, if you allow it to overwhelm you, you’ll spend too much time managing the data itself rather than using it to develop strategic improvements,” said Powell of ARI.

The Solution? 

To harness the potential of your data, begin by determining what business challenge you’re attempting to solve. 

“Think of fleet almost like running a political campaign; what are the handful of key issues that will define success or make a significant impact on your organization? Once you identify those pillars of success, determine the data metrics that will empower you to make strategic decisions that will help you progress towards those goals. This will allow you to spend more time analyzing the truly important data and stay on the path to executing your strategy,” said Powell of ARI. “I also recommend structuring your schedule or devoting a portion of your year to flesh out an overarching fleet strategy. By committing time to developing your overall fleet strategy, you’ll help to ensure you establish specific goals and key initiatives rather than constantly shifting priorities.” 

PROBLEM 4: Not Tracking Metrics, Lagging Behind Tech 

Some fleets lag behind when it comes to the use of technology. 

“It’s important to research and embrace new technologies as it pertains to business systems and transportation management systems. Plus, some technologies can help improve overall fleet performance,” said Dan Klebba, general manager of PacLease Grand Prairie and Fort Worth, Texas. “On the operational side, fleet managers that don’t track metrics end up losing when it comes to productivity. 

The Solution?  

One way to correct the lack of metrics tracking is by incentivizing the importance of safety, on-time deliveries, and fuel economy. 

“If drivers are rewarded by helping the company improve productivity, both parties win,” said Klebba of PacLease.

Some ways fleet managers can overcome these challenges are by partnering with strong vendors to help guide them in a consultative approach to discover new efficiencies. 

“If the fleet manager is having driver-related challenges as it pertains to safety, they can partner with a firm to deliver driver training programs. If the challenge revolves around new technologies, the fleet manager can reach out to trade organizations within the same industry to see what systems work well for their business. If the challenges are equipment related, the fleet manager can reach out to a truck leasing company to learn more about the wide range of solutions that can be tailored to maximize fleet uptime while streamlining costs to make budgeting easier,” Klebba added.

The Tactical Fleet 
Manager

It has been reported within the fleet industry for several years that the role of a fleet manager is changing from one of tactical management to one of strategic style, according to John Wuich, CAFM, VP, strategic consulting services for Donlen. 

Wuich noted that a solely tactical manager might lose productivity by falling into these traps:

  • Maintaining short term vision, rather than looking ahead and anticipating.
  • Administering to a fleet policy that someone else has created.
  • Repeating manual tasks and succumbing to errors that go with manual effort.
  • Draws on personal fleet and auto experience to make decisions, while overlooking data.
  • Carrying out change defined by others.

“The role of the effective and productive fleet manager has evolved. While it once was a role based on a tactical management style, it is now one that demands a strategic management style,” Wuich said, sharing the following examples:

  • A tactical manager may overly burden his or herself in the current year and tasks at hand without understanding the vision; the strategic manager defines the vision he or she will follow for the next three to five years. 
  • A tactical manager administers to a fleet policy; the strategic manager ensures the policy is updated, in line with corporate objectives and culture, supported by leadership, and acknowledged by drivers. 
  • A tactical manager repeats manual tasks; the strategic manager utilizes technology to raise productivity by empowering users and automating repeatable tasks.
  • A tactical manager uses precious time and resources to put out fires; a strategic manager uses metrics to anticipate fires and avoid the drills.  
  • A tactical manager will use his or her technical fleet experience to make decisions; a strategic manager makes data-driven decisions that at times may go against personal experience.  
  • A tactical manager carries out change and programs defined for the fleet… a strategic manager is defining new and innovative programs and technology.

PROBLEM 5: Needing to Do Too Much

Fleet managers often wear multiple hats and are required to juggle several projects at once. 

“Plus, instead of outsourcing fleet administrative tasks — such as registration, fuel cards, invoicing, driver expenses, quoting, and ordering — we found that too often fleet managers are left to tackle them on their own. All these responsibilities leave fleet managers with little or no time to focus on strategies for enhancing their overall fleet operations and customer service,” said Nate Niese, director, national client partnerships for Mike Albert. 

The Solution? 

The most efficient way for fleet managers to increase their productivity is by outsourcing their time-consuming administrative tasks. 

“It’s been our experience that when we take on a company’s fleet administrative tasks and other day-to-day responsibilities, we’re told how our services save the company time and money by streamlining processes, cutting fuel costs and driver expenses, lowering acquisition prices, shortening vehicle ordering and delivery times and avoiding late fees, expired registrations and violations.

Fleet managers tell us that our services give them peace of mind and free up their time to concentrate on big picture plans for maximizing safety, driver satisfaction and retention, and customer service and satisfaction,” said Niese of Mike Albert.

PROBLEM 6: Not Enough Access to Quality Data

A top cause of lost fleet manager productivity is lack of access to data and insight about vehicles and drivers, which can help ensure the overall health of a fleet. 

“Ideally, a fleet manager can access exception reporting that allows them to take action to impact the fleet operation, either in productivity or cost,” said Frank Thurman, VP of operations for Enterprise Fleet Management. “Any area where the fleet manager has to be overly involved in managing transactions, maintenance, or unscheduled repairs as an example can reduce productivity.” 

The Solution? 

One essential element is having the right vehicles at the right time and ensure the optimal replacement pattern for a fleet. 

“The productivity of the vehicles and drivers is greatly impacted by these decisions, and consequently, the productivity of the fleet manager is impacted,” said Thurman of Enterprise Fleet Management. “Fleet managers should adopt an innovative technology solution that can assist with routing drivers and allow for visibility into driving patterns and miles being driven. With the right technology solution, fleet managers can also analyze information about their vehicles and drivers in a way that is action-driven versus simply consuming all of the data.”

Thurman also recommended fleet managers consider implementing a driver facing solution, such as a mobile app that allows drivers to handle maintenance and repairs on their own quickly and does not require fleet managers to be involved with each transaction. 

“Some mobile apps today can help drivers find the nearest maintenance location and book appointment when needed without relying on fleet managers to do so,” Thurman added.

PROBLEM 7: Lack of Information 

Fleets are often not aware of all the available fleet resources and fleet management support systems that can save them time and hassles. 

“As a result, they lack the right technology and fleet expert partnerships that can keep them on top of fleet best practices and innovations and provide them with actionable fleet data, reporting, and insights in a streamlined, quickly-digestible format,” said Niese of Mike Albert.

The Solution?  

In the area of expense management, Niese of Mike Albert noted that productivity could be increased by automating the flow of fleet expenses and tracking them through a single-source invoicing platform that delivers concise monthly reports.

“Implementing services such as telematics can identify high-idling vehicles that increase fuel and maintenance costs,” Niese said.

PROBLEM 8: Poor Routing

Some of the top causes of lost fleet manager productivity include the routing of drivers and sourcing additional vehicles for project-based or seasonal needs. 

“We also see that productivity decreases as a result of managing breakdowns, vehicles being stopped at DOT stations, and maintaining service intervals while finding the appropriate vendors,” said Todd Elmore, corporate rental manager for Enterprise Truck Rental. 

The Solution? 

A telematics solution can provide real-time data for monitoring vehicles and driver performance.

“A telematics solution can help fleet managers easily manage vehicle activity while also improving vehicle safety and reducing costs,” said Todd Elmore, corporate rental manager for Enterprise Truck Rental. “Partnering with a reputable transportation provider that can fulfill a variety of transportation needs, whether they are project-based or seasonal, and provide a robust vendor network can also help combat productivity issues.” 

PROBLEM 9: In-House Fleet Management or Outsourced

With respect to in-sourcing fleet activities, certainly a manager of in-house fleet services is in position to better know the business, the drivers, and assets.  

“One question to consider though is if the company is best positioned to provide the fleet information management system, the technology advancements, the data analysis and reporting, the various programs required to support a fleet (think vehicle selection and acquisition, fueling, maintenance, accident, regulatory compliance, etc.) fully in-house,” said John Wuich, CAFM, VP, strategic consulting services for Donlen. “Then, there is the precious cash investments needed to support these areas, as well as the support staff.” 

Another question to consider is that of the fleet manager skillset, and if he or she is positioned to succeed in overseeing or supporting these areas.  

“Where the answer is no, both the manager and company may be taking away from core competencies while also falling short in fleet productivity,” Wuich added.

The Solution? 

Outsourcing certain fleet management services can significantly increase a fleet manager’s productivity.  

“Not only may a company benefit by continuing to focus on those activities and resources core to its business, but a fleet manager as well can focus on the bigger fleet picture. The manager can use his or her skills to become strategically focused while focusing on policy, driver and asset initiatives, and vision. He or she will benefit from productivity gains of having a third party manage fleet systems, vendors, technology, and day-to-day administration that is core to its business. A manager may, as an example, make data-driven decisions rather than lose productivity while trying to understand data – or worse, recovering from a poor decision not driven by data analysis,” said Wuich of Donlen.

PROBLEM 10: No Clear Fleet Policy

Concerning fleet policy, Donlen has found that as many as one-in-five fleets that my team works with lack either a policy altogether or one that has not been updated and acknowledged in several years.  

“Without that fleet policy, a manager cannot be truly productive or effective at managing spend, compliance, safety, and more,” said Wuich of Donlen.

The Solution? 

Concerning fleet policy, the message is simple: “To maximize productivity, ensure you have a policy in place that is updated and acknowledged by drivers annually.  This sets expectations for all parties while positioning the fleet manager to more effectively manage the vehicles — and drivers — that fall outside of expectation,” Wuich said.

PROBLEM 11: Too Much Time Spent on Admin Tasks

Excessive time spent on fleet management admin tasks such as quoting, invoicing, dispatching, and general record keeping can be a huge drain on productivity. 

“Many of these activities are daily requirements and make up some of the fundamentals of fleet management, but there are quicker, easier, automated ways of completing these tasks now. Communicating with fleet drivers can also take up a tremendous amount of a fleet manager’s time. Most of these communications should be inherent in the processes that the communication is pertaining to, but sometimes there are issues that seem out of control that can affect this; connectivity, the driver not checking their device, miscommunication leading to misunderstanding,” said James Brand, product manager for LeasePlan USA. 

The Solution? 

New digital solutions can help alleviate some of these issues and release more time for fleet managers to focus on the cutting-edge instead of the monotonous. 

“Online portals and applications for mobile devices can improve communication times and effectiveness, while automation can handle the arduous day-to-day driver communications,” said Brand of LeasePlan USA.

PROBLEM 12: Too Many Distractions

Fleet managers have other job duties in addition to fleet management responsibilities.

“If a fleet manager is in a dedicated position, they likely spend a significant portion of their time responding to drivers’ questions, situations, and problems, which can take time away from overall fleet maintenance activities,” said Saad Ahmad, consultant, strategic consulting services for Element Fleet Management. 

The Solution? 

Define your data needs by the end-goal. “ Avoid sifting through everything available to you. Focus on what you are solving for; then gather the data to solve for that requirement,” said Ahmad of Element Fleet Management. 

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