Businesses face a constant battle to keep overheads under control and maintain a healthy bottom line. One of the very biggest challenges firms face is running a fleet of vehicles while keeping the associated costs reined in. There are plenty of expenses associated with operating a fleet – in particular repair, maintenance, fuel and insurance costs – so businesses must do what they can to ensure that their vehicles run as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible.
Fleet maintenance and workshop management system provider Assetminder believes that nearly two-thirds of fleet operators still use paperwork to manage maintenance, and sees significant scope for enhancing efficiency – and cutting costs – in this area.
We spoke to Paul O'Leary and Graham McCarthy from Assetminder to get their insights into the key issues affecting fleet maintenance costs and what can be done to restrict them.
Q: Recently, we've seen a number of stories about non-compliant maintenance processes. What do you think is behind this?
Graham McCarthy: It starts with increased enforcement. Fleets are being checked more regularly as part of roadside checks and on-site visits, so it all ties in with that. Fleets are really getting swamped with paperwork due to the increase in the frequency of checks at the moment.
Paul O'Leary: Increased compliance has increased pressure. Typically, what we find is that the vast majority of enquiries we get are from companies who are managing their maintenance operations via paper and spreadsheets, which is quite remarkable when you think about it. Most of these companies have invested in fleet tracking and telematics software, but maintenance seems to have been the poor cousin.
It's the activities of the DVSA, which are increasing all the time, which are imposing this kind of pressure on companies to record everything. They're being buried in a sea of paperwork and that's why some are now starting to think about getting some assistance with this from companies like Assetminder. We believe as much as 60 per cent of fleets still use paper and spreadsheets.
The fascinating thing we find is that it's not just small companies but also big companies that continue to use paper and spreadsheets. With some of the companies who have adopted Assetminder, how they've survived so far is beyond me!
Q: What daily issues are your customers facing with fleet maintenance?
GM: It all starts with paper. In order to remain compliant, companies are increasingly being smothered by driver inspection sheets & defect reports, all of which have to be stored for 15 months. The bigger the fleet the harder it is to manage. This is in addition to storage costs, admin costs, and the general maintenance of the fleet.
The other daily issue is keeping vehicles on the road. Every day that a vehicle is off the road, is a cost to the company and a loss of earning potential, so predictive maintenance rather than reactive maintenance is the key.
PO'L: More and more companies either have outsourced or are outsourcing their maintenance to third-party workshops - I know that's very prominent in the UK - and this introduces another layer of complexity. That means lots more paperwork and phone calls to & from suppliers to try and achieve the end result, ie. get the vehicle back on the road.
This is one of the areas we identified with our system. You can automate the whole process in order to remove all of the duplication and effort.
Q: What advice would you give businesses looking to cut fleet maintenance costs?
GM: As much automation as possible.
PO'L: Get rid of paper! With the internet and cloud-based computing, things are so much easier. You don't have to invest in a server and in expensive IT people. You can just log on to a browser and access all of your information in one place. You can also give your suppliers password controlled access to the information that they need in order to get your vehicles back on the road. There are various estimates, but a figure I've seen recently is that it costs up to £800 a day when a vehicle's off-road – which is a huge sum. Multiply that by the number of vehicles you've got in your fleet, and you've got a big problem there.
Q: What new technologies are businesses using to meet their fleet maintenance needs while cutting costs?
GM: With the increased connectivity we're seeing, mobile is a big opportunity. Smartphones – whether Android or iOS – are getting more feature rich & functional. As a by-product, you're getting big data and enhanced security. It's not just one system as a standalone anymore. Different systems can communicate to give a fuller picture of the maintenance process. You can see what everything is costing rather than looking at different areas of the business separately.
PO'L: Mobile is huge. Take the most IT-illiterate employee – the mechanic, the fitter – and give them a tablet, it's so easy to use. You can even speak into it rather than type. It dramatically transforms the role of a fitter in a workshop and his ability to input vital information about the whole process at source. Mobile has definitely revolutionised this area.
Q: Are companies using paper more out of habit or because they aren't aware of the technology?
PO'L: I guess the biggest fear in this area is the fear of change. This is all about business process change. These companies have all been using paper and spreadsheets, and have grown comfortable with that. Most fleets are busy enough carrying on their normal business without introducing a business process change like this on top of that. In practice, we find people know they need to change – that they need to move to new technology – it's just finding time and getting around to doing it that seems to be an issue.