15 Questions to Ask When Purchasing a Fuel Management System
January 2012, Government Fleet - Feature
When purchasing a fuel management system, ask the right questions up front. Photo by Erik Gustafson.
|At a Glance
Some points to consider when purchasing a fuel management system include:
- Features and technologies.
- System security.
- Customer service response time.
- Warranty and extended warranty availability.
- Parts availability.
- Upgrade ability.
- Integration with current software.
Everyone knows that purchasing a big-ticket item like a fuel management system is nothing short of a big deal. It's costly. It's critical to the functionality of an agency. And it can create countless problems, including financial headaches, if the system chosen doesn't run smoothly and report information accurately.
When given the green light to buy, it's smart to start the purchasing process by asking the right questions up front. Whether talking to a salesperson about the system itself or consulting with other agencies for feedback and tips, doing your homework can net big rewards. Sure, it takes time to truly understand the key differentiators behind the fuel management systems on the market today, but that knowledge can help prevent expensive mistakes.
Below is a guide to 15 questions to ask when purchasing a system, as well as important considerations from a number of savvy fleet professionals who've learned a lot in their purchasing experiences over the years.
1) What features are unique to this system? At first glance, all fuel management systems seem alike, with no immediately distinguishable features. But no two systems are identical, considering each comes with its own bells and whistles. While exploring the options, identify those relevant features, noting any innovative benefits that might be solution-oriented, particularly if the system being replaced is antiquated.
For instance, thanks to new technology, it's now easy to track and generate state-required reports if applying for rebates related to off-road taxes. In the past, this feature simply didn't exist.
2) What kind of customer support do you offer? When you're in the market for a fuel management system, this is the No. 1 factor to consider, according to Rick Longobart, facilities, fleet, and central stores manager for the City of Santa Ana, Calif. "The quality of a system is as good as the people who support it. If a company cannot support you throughout the installation and repairs process and be there when you need it, it's not going to work out," he said.
What's more, it's helpful to have a service agreement policy and any relevant procedures in writing from the company (and not just in the request for proposal). Most fuel management system companies should provide that without issue. If a company doesn't or won't, that's a big red flag.
Note that there are great discrepancies among companies in terms of the response time offered by their certified technicians. Managers often report having to wait for hours, and even days, before a problem is resolved, which is unacceptable in the industry.
Yet sometimes the customer may have to wait, particularly if the parts are "made on demand" or manufactured overseas. This could tack on days or weeks to a delay. Determine the average wait time for replacements and whether this is acceptable when reviewing a bid.
3) How does the system improve security? That's a major concern for Doug Bond, transportation services manager for the County of Alameda/General Services Agency in California.
"We manage the fuel for the entire county, and there's a lot of cost involved," Bond said. "We don't have any sites that have 24-hour security, and two of our sites are actually remote and don't have any constant supervision. So it's very important for us to have a secure site that only allows those who are permitted to fuel to fuel."
When Bond researched his options, he looked for a solution that prevents people from tricking the system and reduces or eliminates the potential for human error. He also expected user-friendly tools that collect and deliver accurate data, so he could quickly determine compromised security vs. malfunctioning equipment and/or vehicles.
Understanding the importance of a secure, accurate system, companies are developing advanced technologies and electronic gadgets designed to allow for less input from the user and reduce human interaction with the system.