03/04/09

By Neville Briggs, managing director, CFC Solutions

There have been a whole host of new demands made on small-medium businesses running company cars and vans in recent years — new duty of care guidelines, the need to minimise environmental impact, regular changes in taxation. These have been tough to manage but the arrival of the recession has made them even more difficult. The smaller fleet is under a degree of pressure that has not been seen in perhaps decades.

How are going to meet this challenge? Well, technology is one answer that we believe can be extremely effective. Our experience as the market leader in dedicated fleet software is that while some SME fleets are very technologically advanced, others are stuck in the past. Especially, and this is prevalent among small-medium fleets, there is a tendency to use an all-purpose spreadsheet to manage fleet costs.

Why is this an issue? Well, dedicated fleet software — now available on a pay as you go basis – provides a huge advantage over a spreadsheet because it allows managers to put a workable infrastructure in place, underpinning a fleet policy designed to ensure that your fleet meets targets for cost, service, the environment and safety.

Of course, fleet software relies on good quality information. The other element of the equation is to gather accurate data from as many sources as possible without user intervention. Our systems integrate data seamlessly from dozens of different points — from suppliers such as vehicle and maintenance providers right through to in-house human resources systems.

The software then analyses this data and identifies where exceptions to your fleet policy are occurring, giving you the opportunity to take management action, identify and educate drivers whose vehicles have higher associated running and maintenance costs.

Here are some examples of how this approach can work in some important fleet areas:

Fuel

Fuel has been one of the biggest fleet topics of the last year thanks to prices that have fluctuated wildly. Through fleet software, you can spot individual drivers and vehicles that are using more than an average amount of fuel through exception reporting — you set a target MPG for each type of vehicle and then the software notifies you if this isn’t being met. The fuel overuse could be due to a mechanical problem or the driver could simply have a heavy right foot but in both cases you can take direct action to reduce fuel consumption easily and quickly.

The environment

Another good example where exception reporting works well is the environment. Fleet software including our key products often allows a range of CO2 reports, automatically calculating the carbon footprint at everything from a whole fleet level down to individual drivers and vehicles. Again, exception reporting allows management action to be taken at macro and micro levels.

Grey fleets

Grey fleets are a further area where dedicated fleet software can prove invaluable, especially for the large proportion of smaller fleets where employees use their own car for work purposes. The problem here is how to ensure that vehicles used for work purposes are maintained to manufacturer standards, as required by Health and Safety guidelines.

This is an issue made more acute by the probability that the recession is seeing more drivers delay routine maintenance or even carrying out their own servicing — but failure to undertake your responsibilities properly could see you face the full force of the Corporate Manslaughter Act in the event of an accident.

Fleet software will allow you to contact employees that drive their own vehicle, reminding them via email or text that their vehicle is due for scheduled maintenance and routine checking. In other words, the fleet software treats a grey fleet vehicle exactly the same as if it was part of the existing fleet. In this way, you can provide — as the Health and Safety Executive requires – an audit trail demonstrating that you take risk management seriously.

Driver licence checking

Driving licence checking is often a difficult area for public sector fleets – where management of drivers for different classes of vehicles is an issue. We recently introduced a new product called Licence Link that allows online checking of driver licences to ensure that employees’ licences are still valid and that they do not have penalties and restrictions to their licence that they have chosen not to disclose.

Once basic driving licence information is entered onto the system, fleet managers can choose how often automatic checks are made with the DVLA database — for example, annually for low mileage drivers or more often for high mileage, high risk employees that have existing points on their licence.
Risk summary reports will automatically group drivers into different levels of risk group — for example, those with 1-3, 4-7, 8-12 and 12 plus points, and Licence Link can be set up so that those with higher numbers of points are checked more often.

Automatic alerts are then sent to the fleet manager if the DVLA checks show changes to endorsements, the categories of vehicle that an employee is allowed to drive or if there are critical licence events such as disqualification or a photo card expiring.

These examples show just a few of the capabilities of fleet software and there are many more.

However, what they illustrate is how technology can help managers of smaller fleets to take control in areas where it is otherwise almost impossible to enforce strategic decisions.

The next 12 months are likely to be among the most difficult that most businesses will ever face but the right tools are available to get the job done. A spreadsheet is no longer adequate in the face of the demands facing smaller fleet managers – a flexible, integrated fleet software system is the answer.

• CFC Solutions is the market leader in the supply of fleet, contract hire and workshop management solutions, and has been delivering ground breaking vehicle management software to UK and European blue chip customers for more than three decades.

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