Ten common mistakes fleet managers should avoid

FLEET managers not only have to manage machines, but people, inventory, costs amongst other elements which all affect the overall success of fleet operations. Fleet managers have to do so over a far-flung expanse. The bigger the fleet, the more complicated managing all the logistics becomes, and often the opportunities for doing wrong things are vast, which can be very costly to the business. It is essential to avoid common mistakes which can cost you time, money, and frustration.

As a good place to start, Dr David Molapo, Head of Fleet Management at Standard Bank who has extensive experience in fleet management, notes the ten common mistakes that fleet managers often make:

1) Failing to set and follow maintenance schedules: All fleet managers know that postponing routine maintenance costs a lot in the long run, but in the hustle and bustle of business operations with often urgent demands for transport, it becomes all too easy to rationalise that a vehicle could wait just a little longer for its service. These postponements can easily become routine, and remain one of the most common fleet management mistakes.

2) Neglecting driver training: As in the case of routine maintenance, driver training makes perfect common sense – the expense is paid back many times over in fewer accidents, lower fuel consumption, lower maintenance costs, and lower staff turnover and increased productivity. So what keeps this issue so stubbornly at the top of the list of common mistakes? It is partly because fleet managers fall prey to short-term thinking in which the most important consideration is immediate cost pressure – and training is expensive. Also, many local fleet managers fear that formal training qualifications will encourage job hopping among drivers. To the contrary, research shows that training is an excellent staff-retention strategy.

3) Vehicle miss fitting: An overloaded half-tonner will often break down prematurely at a great cost to fleet managers. Choosing the right vehicle for the job requires careful thought, long-term thinking and cold calculations that keep emotions and personal tastes well out of the picture.

4) Neglected fleet policy: The best fleets have comprehensive fleet policies that set clear rules for everyone from depot managers to drivers. It is a live document that is constantly adapted and resides as much in the thoughts of staff members as it does on paper because it is continuously reinforced and policed. In the fleet world, few things are more expensive, than a forgotten fleet policy document gathering dust in a drawer.

5) Poor communication: The basis of getting a fleet policy off paper and adopted by the team is good communication. Communications technology has removed virtually all obstacles to direct communication between management and fleet, no matter how big or widespread the operation. Many fleet managers neglect to use it fully to set up a constant two-way communication system with staff.

6) Failing to incentivise good behaviour: One sign of poor communication is when discipline and punishment dominate the interaction between fleet management and staff. Discipline and the demand for strict adherence to the rules are so much more effective when they are complemented by positive feedback, praise and incentives for good behaviour.

7) Failing to adapt to change and to innovate: The fleet industry, one of the most dynamic sectors of the economy, is in constant flux because of the telematics revolution, changing laws and regulations, labour market conditions and new engine and fuel technology, among many other factors. Fleet managers who do not embrace change, innovate and constantly seek out the latest best practice soon find that their fleets lose competitive edge.

8) Not adequately leveraging telematics and reports: Telematics can put vast oceans of information at the fingertips of fleet managers about their entire fleet: geographical position, speed, driving patterns, excessive idling, loading and off-loading activities and even certain engine conditions. Used correctly, these streams of information can turn a fleet into a super-streamlined operation. Yet many fleet managers remain content to use telematics only as an anti-theft tracking service, and only because the insurance company insists on it. They are being left behind.

9) Using inaccurate reports: The only thing worse than not using regular reports to measure the performance of a fleet and to take strategic decisions is using inaccurate reports. Do regular checks and cross checks on report samples to make sure that the information coming in from the field is accurate, from driver logbooks to telematics measurements.

10) Not using systems like predictive modelling to control or lower costs: Telematics and information technology collects much more information than the average fleet manager can possibly use. The trick is to focus on exceptions flagged in the data. But what can you do with all the other information? The answer is predictive modelling, the specialised computer analysis of a fleet’s data to predict future scenarios. Predictive modelling has been found to be remarkably accurate when it comes to predicting anything from accidents to staff turnover, and is allowing top fleets to supercharge their strategic decision making. Predictive modelling works best with big, deep sets of data, so even if your fleet is not ready to use it yet, keep as much of your fleet’s data as you can.