Advancements in technology have revolutionized how fleets operate, and the fleet manager profession has evolved in turn. These days, fleet managers are expected to be well-rounded in business, data analysis, operations and personnel management.
Fleet Maintenance magazine recently hosted a web chat on “The Essential Skill Set for Modern Fleet Managers” between Bob Polka (Vice President of Fleet Operations at Treeways, Inc.) and Dan Simpson (Product Marketing Manager at Fleetio). The conversation focused around how advancements in technology have changed what’s expected from fleet managers.
Here are our five top takeaways from the web chat:
1. Information overload is real (but can be overcome)
[Conversation starts at 1:05]
At the start of the web chat, Bob observed how today’s fleets receive a constant deluge of information from a wide array of sources. Telematics devices, fuel cards and fleet management systems capture and relay a staggering amount of data in real-time. For busy fleet managers, distinguishing between meaningful information and mostly irrelevant noise can often be tricky.
"It's much different than it was years ago. You know, when I think back – 3x5" cards to track your maintenance. [...] Things have changed quite a bit and it's a challenge to manage it and understand what you need to do with it all." – Bob Polka, Treeways
Fortunately, Bob outlined some helpful tactics fleet managers can use to overcome information overload. First, he emphasized the importance of working with reliable data that accurately reflects what’s happening on the road and in the service bay. As the old saying goes, garbage in, garbage out. So to ensure their intelligence can be counted on, Bob advised fleets to verify that the data entering their fleet management system is up to their organization’s standards. Periodic data quality auditing ultimately saves far more time than it takes.
After that, Bob encouraged fleet managers to concentrate their attention on identifying and investigating anomalies in their data. Where there’s smoke, there’s often fire, and in the world of fleet data, statistical outliers are typically indicative of issues. By diving deep into these anomalies, fleet managers can uncover instances of everything from excessive vehicle idling to probable fuel theft. With this approach, fleet managers can analyze massive amounts of data in a time-efficient manner.
2. Highlighting process improvements can win user buy-in
[Conversation starts at 9:09]
Fleet management systems and related technologies streamline fleet operations in countless ways, but that doesn’t mean the process of adopting them always goes perfectly. In fact, it’s not entirely uncommon for fleet personnel to meet new, technology-enabled workflows with skepticism. Such resistance can result in inconsistent use of said technologies and, subsequently, diminish potential efficiency gains.
"Have those conversations with people, estimate what the cost is and that's gonna give you a really good idea of 'okay, this is where we have an opportunity to invest in technology or software to fix these problems.'" – Dan Simpson, Fleetio
This challenge was broached during the web chat. When asked to provide his perspective on how fleets can get buy-in for new technologies from their employees, Bob emphasized the importance of directly attributing process improvements to the technology being implemented. As an example, Bob brought up electronic driver vehicle inspection reports (eDVIRs). Not too long ago, drivers were hesitant to abandon paper forms and learn how to submit DVIRs via a mobile app. But once drivers discovered that vehicle issues tend to be addressed and resolved faster if they’re submitted digitally, they came around.
To replicate that success, Bob encouraged fleet managers to really drive home how overcoming an initial learning curve will be well worth it to their personnel. Doing so can change the perception of a new technology from being a disruptive change mandated by higher-ups to a tool capable of reducing pain points and making responsibilities more manageable.
3. Analytics should be tailored for specific audiences
[Conversation starts at 7:23]
Experienced fleet managers know that, when it comes to fleet data, C-suite executives aren’t particularly interested in nitty-gritty, day-to-day details. Most of the time, they concentrate on the big picture success of their fleet and their organization as a whole. And if there’s any on the ground, fleet-related matters they should be made aware of, they trust their fleet managers to keep them informed.
"The most success that I've had is to understand my audience and to understand what they're looking for from a data standpoint." – Bob Polka, Treeways
Bob explained this dynamic during the web chat without mincing any words. To be as direct as possible, he advised fleet managers to focus on metrics related to cost and uptime when addressing leadership. By narrowing in on the KPIs they care about most, fleet managers and executives make the most out of their valuable time.
He also recommended a similar tactic for sharing data with operations personnel. By focusing on metrics they have the direct ability to influence, ops teams are given a clear method of gauging their performance. Ultimately, this approach of tailoring data to specific audiences helps mitigate information overload from impacting all levels of an organization.
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4. Some insights can only be gained by talking with personnel
[Conversation starts at 8:09]
Much of the web chat focused on reporting tools and how fleet management systems can help organizations transform insights into action. But, at the same time, Bob noted the importance of getting out of the office to talk with fleet personnel face to face.
"It's all about honing in on specific questions and working out, 'okay, what are the pain points? What are the costs or areas in our business that we really need to improve?' And then, 'what questions can we ask?' And that narrows that picture for you." – Dan Simpson, Fleetio
Issues like software being frustrating to use or communication difficulties between operations teams simply don’t show up on fleet reports. By regularly collecting feedback from their employees, fleets can determine operational bottlenecks and work to eliminate inefficiencies. This process is especially worth the effort when it comes to fleet management software. Oftentimes, FMS providers guide their development based on what their end-users are saying. Taking the time to collect feedback on how a certain function is cumbersome or a new feature would be beneficial can directly result in updates that completely resolve top pain points.
Additionally, Bob noted that he frequently attends fleet trade shows and conferences, not only to network, but to hear how other fleets are tackling their challenges. Fleets can learn a great deal from their peers, even if they exist in entirely separate industries or operate at completely different scales.
5. Training can make or break new technology rollouts
[Conversation starts at 10:25]
Finally, the topic of training was touched upon several times throughout the course of Bob and Dan’s conversation. Speaking from his own experience with ensuring Fleetio had a successful rollout at Treeways, Bob explained how different individuals respond best to different training session formats.
"We offer the initial group section and then we always, always offer the one-on-one sessions [...] Ultimately, when we help them, it helps us because then we get some good data, some accurate data, timely data." – Bob Polka, Treeways
Some fleet personnel can pick up everything they need to know about a new tool from one or two group training sessions. Conversely, other personnel require more individualized training to really grasp the ins and outs of a new process. When alongside all of their peers, some people don’t feel comfortable asking questions they would raise in a one-on-one setting.
Ultimately, Bob explained how effective training boils down to effective communication. Fleet managers should regularly check in with their personnel to gauge their comfort level with new tools and intervene as necessary to correct any sticking points. There’s an inherent learning curve to any new tool and change can often be difficult. But by taking the time to ensure training goes right, fleets can set themselves up for success over the long run.