Operations

Analysts in Demand at Public Fleets

October 2016, Government Fleet - Cover Story

by Thi Dao - Also by this author

Photo: istockphoto.com
Photo: istockphoto.com

When Keith Leech started his new job as chief of the Sacramento County (Calif.) Fleet Division & Parking Enterprise in January 2015, he brought with him a binder from his previous job as fleet manager at the City of Sacramento. It included monthly metrics from the city fleet — data he used to make business decisions.

“This is what we need to have to manage this operation. It’s a huge operation, and we have to make sure we can make the right decisions for cost effectiveness, reliability, and sustainability,” Leech said of the data. “Just being able to look at fuel consumption and emissions, it all helps when you have good reliable information and get your customers on board.”

The county had a similar-sized fleet to the city — 2,300 owned assets — and both used AssetWorks’ M5 fleet management information system (FMIS). But the difference at the county was that the FMIS wasn’t optimized for pulling all this data, and it didn’t have a fleet analyst to review the data.

At a glance

Larger fleets are hiring data analysts to:

  • Become the fleet management information system expert
  • Pull standard and ad-hoc reports
  • Compile trends across a large operation
  • Determine lifecycle cost of vehicles
  • Determine whether replacement schedules can be extended.

Today, we are inundated with data from numerous sources, and the big data trend is starting to affect fleets, said Paul Lauria, president and co-founder, Mercury Associates Inc., a fleet consulting firm.

“The whole big data phenomenon is trickling down into all different levels within organizations, including fleet management. Not a lot of thought has been given to whether a fleet management organization has the technical expertise to respond to those expectations,” he said.

The majority of data fleets handle comes from its FMIS. A robust fleet system has many capabilities, but fleets may not be able to access these capabilities if they don’t have a dedicated person specializing in the FMIS and fleet data from other sources, such as a telematics system or fuel management system.

In smaller operations, the fleet manager serves as the de-facto analyst, Lauria said. But because the fleet manager is also responsible for overseeing operations, acquisition, remarketing, etc., the additional responsibility of creating standard reports as well as ad-hoc ones can be overwhelming. What’s more, the fleet manager may not have the skills or specific FMIS knowledge to gather this data, at least easily.

But at a time when many managers are asked to make data-­driven decisions, the lack of information can be frustrating, and even harmful to an organization. That’s why an increasing number of fleets are hiring analysts to make sense of the data, determine trends, and provide the necessary information for the fleet manager to make business decisions.

Michael Burks, senior fleet operations analyst, Collier County, Fla.
Michael Burks, senior fleet operations analyst, Collier County, Fla.
 
Derek Carroll, IT analyst, Sacramento County Fleet Services Division, Calif.
Derek Carroll, IT analyst, Sacramento County Fleet Services Division, Calif.
 
Helen Kong, assistant admin analyst, fleet analysis and reporting, City of Long Beach, Calif.
Helen Kong, assistant admin analyst, fleet analysis and reporting, City of Long Beach, Calif.
 
Megan McCall, senior fiscal analyst, City of Wichita, Kan.
Megan McCall, senior fiscal analyst, City of Wichita, Kan.
 
Jacqueline Zhou, assistant admin analyst, fleet sustainability, City of Long Beach, Calif.
Jacqueline Zhou, assistant admin analyst, fleet sustainability, City of Long Beach, Calif.
 

Hiring an Analyst

Mario Guzman, CAFM, general services manager, City of West Palm Beach, Fla., joined the city in August 2014, following a fleet consolidation. He oversees 1,900 units and doesn’t have an analyst — but he’s actively looking for one.

Guzman is taking a vacant administrative assistant position and turning it into an analyst position. He predicts 30% of the workload will be in data analysis, and the rest of the time will be spent writing specs and procuring vehicles.

The recruitment coincides with the implementation of a new FMIS launched in August. This person would specialize in the FMIS and respond to department requests for data, he said.

“There wasn’t an analyst here before because fleet wasn’t centralized. Now departments have more requests [for fleet]. And I like to be proactive. I want to send them automated reports,” Guzman explained.

The City of Long Beach, Calif., with a fleet of 2,000 units, recently hired not one, but two analysts, said Dan Berlenbach, CPFP, fleet services bureau manager.

“We needed to focus more on fleet and technician efficiency. What we might have done by a gut check in the past is not management by facts,” Berlenbach said.

One analyst, hired in March, focuses on the FMIS, which was recently upgraded from AssetWorks’ M4 to M5. She pulls data, puts it into a presentable format, and provides the analysis to management. With this position, the fleet can develop and manage key performance indicators (KPIs), view trends across multiple shops, and pull data for shop supervisors as needed.

The second analyst, hired in July, focuses on sustainability. She’s a car enthusiast who majored in business, and she’s responsible for running pilot tests for alternative-fuel and advanced technology vehicles, analyzing results, attending workshops with the Air Quality Management District (AQMD), and becoming the green fleet guru, Berlenbach said. She’s also responsible for telematics data; the fleet uses both an active telematics system through Zonar and passive telematics through AssetWorks’ FuelFocus fuel management system.

Leech, at Sacramento County, immediately saw that the county’s FMIS wasn’t implemented to its fullest capability. Data not only helps with fleet business intelligence, but also provides transparency, as sharing information with customer departments allows them to understand why fleet managers make the decisions they do, he said. Once this happens, fleet then becomes less of an authoritative figure and more of a partner.
To get that data and optimize the fleet system, he wanted to hire a full-time analyst.

“You need someone who can sit down and work with the software vendors to optimize the systems to get what you need out of it,” he explained.

He hired an analyst in February, a person with years of experience in asset management, business intelligence, and reporting. The county is also in the middle of a “tune-up” of the M5 system to ensure fleet can get the data it needs.

Some of these fleet analysts are taking away responsibilities the fleet manager or supervisors had to perform. More importantly, however, they are expanding on what the fleet manager or shop supervisors can do, providing the data that can help fleets improve their operations.

The City of Wichita, Kan., used predictive analytics to justify extending fleet replacement cycles, resulting in a cost avoidance of $74 million across 30 years. Image courtesy of City of Wichita
The City of Wichita, Kan., used predictive analytics to justify extending fleet replacement cycles, resulting in a cost avoidance of $74 million across 30 years. Image courtesy of City of Wichita

Determining Goals & Responsibilities

What can a fleet analyst do? Each organization has its own goals.

At Long Beach, Berlenbach said an analyst would be able to pull data about direct labor percentages across the city’s five major work centers and seven smaller facilities. Supervisors already run daily reports of their own shops, but an analyst can consolidate that information and analyze trends across the entire operation. Berlenbach also sees her compiling and analyzing benchmarking statistics to make sure the fleet stays competitive.

The green fleet analyst will oversee the expansion of battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) in the fleet. The city now has liquefied natural gas (LNG) and compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles, but it doesn’t have a lot of BEVs. Pulling data about utilization, she will identify which vehicles and applications are best suited for BEVs and work with departments to make the transition.

Guzman at West Palm Beach said the analyst, when hired, will work on the new fleet management software, as well as telematics data and upgrading the city’s fuel management system. He expects to get information such as idling time, maintenance costs, fuel consumption, and lifecycle costs. A lifecycle cost analysis may help him buy a vehicle that has a lower total cost of ownership rather than a vehicle with the lowest bid.

Leech said an analyst will help the fleet project its asset replacement plan out five, 10, or even 15 years.

“You can look at when you have spikes, and you can smooth those out. And you can let your finance folks know in advance what your resource needs are and what the impacts of not meeting those resource replacement budgets are going to be,” Leech said. “Unless you have that, you’re operating in the dark.”

At Collier County in Florida, two fleet analysts help manage a fleet of 3,000 units. Michael Burks, senior fleet operations analyst for the county, said part of his job is to look for potential improvements.

“I test all aspects of the operation — fuel, parts, labor — for any kind of weakness. I’m lucky because I not only get to come up with the game plan, I get to put it in action too,” he said.

One of the changes he helped the fleet implement is an auto-order system for parts to reduce inventory.

“We’ve managed to bring our inventory down by $300,000, which has made a real significance in our overhead,” Burks said.

The City of Wichita, Kan., recently used data analysis to extend replacement schedules, said Ben Nelson, interim fleet superintendent & strategic services manager. Nelson worked with a newly hired fleet analyst, the Public Works staff, and a consulting arm of Wichita State University to determine that replacement schedules could be extended without increasing downtime. The extended replacement strategy would reduce costs by $74 million over 30 years, mostly in not having to purchase as many vehicles.

The team pulled six different metrics and applied them across seven asset classes. It determined six asset classes could be extended, while one asset class was already optimized. Of the six, three could be extended by one year, and three could be extended by two years.

“I was expecting to see a higher increase in maintenance and repair costs after the time where we currently replace our vehicles, but we have enough vehicles that go past their current replacement criteria to have pretty good data on how those respond. Six of those seven asset classes, we weren’t seeing big spikes in maintenance costs or downtime immediately following our current replacement practice,” he said. “That’s helping us understand we can defer replacement while still keeping downtime the same, without maintenance cost increases.”

The Wichita fleet consists of 2,300 units, and Nelson said the fleet hired a senior fiscal analyst about a year and a half ago, a new position that replaced an accounting job. She worked on the predictive analytics project with Nelson and now that it’s completed, she will “continue to take our predictive analytics model and use that framework going forward to continually analyze how to best optimize our fleet,” Nelson said.

Her other goal is to find new revenue streams, whether that’s through insourcing work — the city is a Pierce fire apparatus warranty provider and could provide this work for other agencies — or finding grant funding for vehicles.

Dashboards containing key information help fleet management quickly see fleet status, said Keith Leech from Sacramento County, Calif. Image courtesy of Keith Leech
Dashboards containing key information help fleet management quickly see fleet status, said Keith Leech from Sacramento County, Calif. Image courtesy of Keith Leech

At What Point Do You Need an Analyst?

The fleet managers cited above all have fairly large fleets. At what point do you need a fleet analyst, or when can you justify one?

Lauria said it depends on the fleet system you’re working with and your fleet size and makeup. A 200-vehicle fleet most likely won’t have a dedicated analyst, but he does expect a fleet with 1,000 units to have one, even if this person is working on fleet analysis part time.

In addition, having a more modern and robust fleet management system may strengthen the need for an analyst. The better the system, the more complex, and the more data can be extracted.

Justifying a New Position

Making the case to hire an analyst may be difficult. Many fleets have swapped it out for another position in order to retain the same headcount.

Nelson did the same, but he said the goal of the analyst — to bring in more revenue — helped push the approval along. The potential savings from utilizing data to optimize fleet management was another plus.
For Leech, he said he needed the same data he had at the city to make smart business decisions. Mercury Associates, which Leech had contracted, backed up his request for an analyst.

“When you’re looking at making good asset lifecycle replacement decisions, in the Public Works environment, you’re talking about roads, buildings, things that have a useful life of much longer than a fleet asset that’s replaced every five to 10 years. When you look at how often you need to make these decisions and how important they are, you really have to have the best information possible,” he said. “[Let’s say] it’s something like $100 million to replace an entire fleet. If you’re making that decision every five, seven, 10 years, you really have to be on top of it to make the best decision possible.”

Lauria believes fleet managers need to get better at advocating for themselves.

“I think fleet managers need to become adept at articulating how the fleet management profession is evolving as a result of advances in information technology, as well as advances in automotive technology,” he said.
He also had a warning for smaller fleets not able to keep up with quickly changing technology.

“What I’m already beginning to see is smaller organizations struggling to keep up with these advances in technology, and increasingly I think they’re going to be looking to outsource some of the more complicated asset management work to third-party service providers,” Lauria said.

It’s essential, then, that fleet organizations continue to train their employees on new technologies and keep up with current trends. For now, this includes having the data needed to run an efficient fleet operation.

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