The first commercial fleets were simple with a few Model-Ts delivering goods and services among neighbors. Since then, fleets have dramatically evolved, and so too have the nuances of fleet management. The tools managers use to keep fleet vehicles in top shape have moved from paper files, to electronic spreadsheets, to advanced, cloud-based platforms that produce data insights.
Fleet management is still evolving today. In fact, many of the earliest, underlying principles of fleet management are still shaping the trends for 2021.
Fleet management key principles
Fleet management is a multidisciplinary process that involves overseeing all aspects of a company’s assets from acquisition and compliance to maintenance and resale. Despite the changing landscape, underlying every successful program are three key principles.
One of a fleet manager’s primary objectives is keeping vehicles in good working order to ensure safety. There are many ways to go about this. For example, establishing vehicle-specific safety policies helps keep each asset road-safe, as does creating a comprehensive schedule for preventive maintenance, which protects against unplanned breakdowns that endanger not only your driver but other drivers, too.
Managers are accountable for minimizing potential risk to the fleet and the vehicle operators, and that accountability stems from regulations as well internal, cultural values of the organization. Documenting compliance with safety regulations can help avoid fines or shutdowns after an incident, and providing guidelines on what to do after a roadside breakdown or collision will help drivers handle these kinds of stressful situations without putting themselves in danger.
Often, organizations will rely on an enterprise asset management (EAM) platform to routinely document compliance and to identify any safety concerns that must be addressed.
Every minute of downtime costs money, so it's important to implement a fleet management strategy that emphasizes dependability. There are two high-level ways to improve a fleet’s reliability.
One tactic for boosting uptime is to create a life cycle strategy to ensure your assets are categorically healthy — that means knowing when to add new vehicles and when to retire the old ones. The benefit of a fleet life cycle strategy is that it identifies the right time to replace a vehicle before maintenance costs and downtime outstrip the benefits of keeping it.
The second way to improve reliability is to optimize your preventive maintenance (PM). Strategically planning your maintenance priorities and scheduling them appropriately allows you to fix small problems before they become big ones, which keeps your fleet vehicles reliably on the road.
3. Cost management
Fleet maintenance managers need to track the comprehensive asset budget to quantify cost management goals and tactics. The first step to controlling costs is to understand exactly where the money goes.
Acquisition costs, ongoing financing, and detailed leasing agreements are all part of a fleet’s budget. Specialized vehicles in particular don’t come cheap. In addition to capital costs, this includes factoring in day-to-day operating expenses such as fuel, insurance, and repairs.
When it comes to financial responsibilities, a fleet maintenance software pays off by closely tracking comprehensive cost information throughout each vehicle’s life cycle, allowing you to access the data you need to make smarter budget-driven decisions.
Fleet management trends for 2021
Over the last decade, fleet managers have shouldered increasing levels of enterprise responsibility. Their tasks now extend well beyond maintenance schedules. And technology is the capability they need most to take on the fleet management trends of 2021.
Transportation tech has become a standard tool. Advanced power train technology and onboard telematics, for example, contribute to fleet effectiveness, but these advances also generate truckloads of information fleet managers must cultivate and leverage to meet business goals.
EAM platforms support fleet managers in their roles as business decision-makers and revenue growth-drivers.
1. Demand for data analytics
The term “big data” sums up the tremendous amount of digital information inundating organizations around the world. Nearly every company benefits from harnessing the power of its data — this is especially true for companies reliant on fleet vehicles. Managers have shifted their focus from a purely mechanical perspective to a much larger, business-oriented view.
Collecting asset data and organizing it around a value proposition enhances growth, drives competitive advantages, attracts investors, and leads to profitability.
As a result, there’s a surging demand for fleet maintenance platforms that draw business insight from real-time asset data. With the right analytic tools, managers can generate customized reports to monitor progress, gauge performance, and make intelligent business decisions.
For example, analytics within an EAM platform can shed light on long-term strategies concerning vehicle total cost of ownership. Analytics also help with dynamically adjusting maintenance schedules to prioritize critical assets, while also balancing inventory levels to reflect appropriate spending targets.
Instead of manual calculations, gut instinct, or guesswork, managers can count on EAM platforms to deliver quantified data and paint a clear picture of the fleet’s critical contribution to the enterprise.
2. Fleet tracking systems
A trend on the rise throughout the fleet industry is the use of tracking systems and telematics, which are poised to become a $75 billion industry by 2025. Besides pinpointing an asset’s location, these systems also collect vast amounts of vehicle and routing data.
For instance, GPS systems can map driving routes and monitor idle time. This functionality makes it possible for a fleet manager to see what’s happening in the field, and then use that information to create more efficient routes. Month-over-month, improvements in driving time and fuel consumption across an entire fleet will lead to savings.
In addition to improving efficiency, tracking systems also protect assets. Remote authorization settings allow a manager to watch over and protect a vehicle and its cargo. And, if an asset is stolen, the company can share location information with law enforcement to assist with recovery.
Meanwhile, U.S. safety regulations mandate fleet tracking using electronic logging devices (ELDs). ELDs are becoming compulsory for demonstrating compliance with rules that govern operators’ on-hours and required rest periods.
Onboard telematics systems now come standard on many vehicles, and fleet tracking will continue to advance in 2021.
3. Doing more with less
The American Transportation Research Institute found the average marginal cost per mile incurred by motor carriers recently increased 7.7%. Costs rose in just about every category (except tires), with fuel costs showing the highest year-over-year growth of 17.7%.
Budgets will be stretched further in 2021. Therefore, when it comes to improvements and upgrades, company executives might be more inclined to “save money now” than to make asset investments that pay off later.
And it’s the fleet manager’s job to make the business case for every asset investment, while always keeping the big picture in mind. In this age of tight budgets, managers are turning to data collection and analysis to get more from the total fleet budget.
Life cycle costs are one fleet maintenance metric to monitor. Calculating the life cycle cost of a car or truck is more than just subtracting the resale value from the vehicle’s purchase price. It encompasses the operating, maintenance, insurance, and registration costs over the entire duration of a vehicle’s ownership. Ideally, a manager should replace an asset before the maintenance and downtime costs overtake the value the asset provides — and that data is often found in your fleet maintenance system.
But as fleet vehicles become ever more specialized, 2021 might be the year that demonstrates the extension of the typical life cycle.
Vehicle selection also has impact on the bottom line. While it might be tempting to purchase less-expensive vehicles during a market slump, a poor choice of investment ultimately will drive costs up when it comes to maintenance and fuel efficiency.
Pay attention to secondary operational costs. Repairs and maintenance incur the highest costs, but smaller costs add up, too, such as idle time or inefficient routes. Take a deep dive into the data with your EAM platform, and you’ll likely come up with small operational changes that can lead to significant savings.
Also when looking at costs, consider ways to improve productivity. Assigning tasks to the right technicians with the right skills, streamlining work orders, and using mobile applications to speed up data collection are important areas to examine.
Reassess your PM balance often. While there’s no perfect ratio of preventive vs. reactive maintenance, you’ll always want to aim for the most uptime. Using software with advanced analytic capabilities makes it easier to monitor and assess the ideal PM ratio, especially as your fleet changes over time.
Set your own trend
Modern fleet management involves everything from acquisition to compliance reporting to preventive maintenance. Today’s industry is clearly trending toward technology and harnessing the power of data, while always striving to get the most out of every penny in your budget.