April Theme: Management Tools
By Marek Krasuski
Today’s hyper-competitive trucking industry with just-in-time deliveries requires precise monitoring tools to maximize uptime services, minimize redundancies and maximize operational performance. There have been a plethora of new developments in fleet management tools and new regulations are being brought in to stay abreast of these advancements.
This became clear in a recent announcement by the US Secretary of Transportation (DOT) – the launch of a new council to promote emerging transportation technology in trucking. Secretary Elaine Chao introduced the new Non-Traditional and Emerging Transportation Technology (NETT) Council to industry stakeholders. The Council’s mandate is to assess jurisdictional impediments to the free flowing exchange of new innovations in an effort to eliminate the siloing of information. The DOT consists of 11 separate departments each with autonomous jurisdiction over their own approvals. Emerging technologies which may not fit squarely into any one of these departments could, Chao said, curtail the pace of transportation innovation. Secretary Chaos added that the NETT Council will be an effective organizational tool in removing bureaucratic barriers.
Digital management tools have become more affordable in recent years thanks to lower costs and a variety of plans that minimize heavy capital outlays. And their financial benefits are compelling. As an example, the absence of electronic tracking of parts can result in failing to submit claims for defective parts. It is estimated that approximately. 5% of all new part purchases under $100 have a warranty that is never claimed. Most parts have at least a 30, 60, or 90-day warranty, depending on the parts supplier; even electronics may be warrantied for 30 days by the supplier. But tracking part purchases using manual fleet maintenance systems is hardly practical. Further, missed service schedules, the manual reporting of maintenance procedures, and the oversupply of unnecessary parts all consume more time and resources for fleets.
With fleet management software readily available and often in user-friendly form, the question rises as to whether a fleet management company (FMC), an independent service provider, is still necessary. That decision depends on several factors such size of fleet, available manpower, and digital knowhow. The technology can be complex and may far exceed the capability of fleet staff when something goes wrong. A fleet management company by contrast will be there to address the problem of malfunctioning software. But in an age of digitization many workers are fully competent operators of software and may be capable of repairing faulty systems themselves. The benefit of harnessing in-house staff to operate fleet management software is twofold, relating to financial benefit and privacy. Management tools can be purchased at a much lower price compared to those tendered from a service contractor. Fleet management companies have access to a Carrier’s vital financial and corporate information. Should the management company and the fleet operator part ways, confidential data could be compromised or held hostage by the provider.
Yet proponents of fleet management companies say their services pay dividends in the long run. Some claim they can purchase trucks at reduced rates by offering favourable pricing arrangements previously negotiated with manufacturers. They will also assist in the acquisition of new builds with the highest resale value at the end of the life cycle, thereby reducing total cost of ownership. FMCs can also assist with the up-fitting of vehicles and the modification of the Carrier’s inventories as their needs change amid corporate growth and diversification.
Fleet management tools, whether tendered from third party companies or directly from software providers, comprise vital functions to maximize operability. They include the ability to monitor a complete range of driving patterns, from the number of times the brakes have been engaged, the speed at which the vehicle travels, the rate of sharp turns during a shift, hard braking frequency, idle times, ignition on/off rotation, and the entry and re-entry into a particular zone. Drivers may squawk at such close scrutiny of their daily practices, but proponents of these vital recording tools argue that close monitoring provides insight into driver behaviour that can lead to enhanced performance. Many consider such tools especially useful today in a world where texting and driving is commonplace.
Insight into idling, as another benefit of these management aids, can lead to more efficient running of engines. Detecting speeding or rapid acceleration can lead to modified behaviour that saves fuel, reduces risk of CVOR penalties, and decreases risk of unsafe driving and accidents. Monitoring provides fleets with information on where drivers spend time, their arrivals and departures and length of stops, critical data for streamlining operations.
Common to fleet management systems are cross-docking modules that observe freight shipments. These modules consolidate shipments through several terminal locations. Cargo status can be assessed and all information relayed directly to the company. Cross Dock functions provide a high degree of process control and keep customers abreast of their shipment’s status along with driving process efficiencies.
Today’s integrated monitoring packages provide multiple modules linking all logistical operations. Dispatch modules, for example, efficiently direct incoming and outgoing traffic that improves control and visibility of operations. The dispatch function allows trucks to be monitored, in real time, for their location, load status, availability. Dispatchers can efficiently expedite deliveries by matching the nearest available truck to a pick-up location and send the information to the driver’s onboard computing system. Key delivery details transmitted electronically eliminate the time wasted on potentially dangerous cell conversations. Management systems, particularly idling and driving reporting tools, have been confirmed to save thousands of dollars per truck annually.
Whether fleet management services are farmed out or managed in house, the software provider should be able to offer key features in their service package. All data should be fully integrated so that information is not siloed and all aspects of company operations are easily accessible. The software should be easy to use and provide visual images to allow for easy analysis of information vis-à-vis effective visual cues. The software should also be reliable and provide optimal uptime functionality, meaning few downtime glitches. Important to most companies is a system that is scalable to current needs and future ones as fortunes change, hopefully for the better. For example, load tracking may not be a current requirement, but may be so in years ahead. Similarly, parts inventory may not be an issue today but will be when fleet size doubles. A modular approach of many systems, therefore, enables clients to build their solutions packages in tandem with company growth.
Also key to an effective fleet management software package are mobility features. Being able to access and update information from anywhere, particularly in an industry which by its very nature is mobile, should be a deal maker. This is especially important for drivers who need to make their non-driving duties as convenient and efficient as possible – namely vehicle inspections. Using smart phones for inspection reports can save time for drivers by entering information into preset categories rather than manually writing reports every time. Drivers can also add photos of potential problem areas along with explanations.
Fleet managements solutions offer effective tools to measure route optimization, driver analysis, safety, and expense control, just some of the benefits available from the right fleet management providers.☚