Software

Software Switch: Key Takeaways in Transitioning to a New FMIS

March 2017, Government Fleet - Feature

by Thi Dao - Also by this author

Upgrading to a new fleet management system involves training technicians on how to input data into the software. Photo: istockphoto.com
Upgrading to a new fleet management system involves training technicians on how to input data into the software. Photo: istockphoto.com

Ask a fleet manager what his or her fleet size is, and you’ll get a confident answer. Ask how many pickup trucks the fleet has, or the maintenance cost of vehicles, and the response may not be so confident. The fleet manager may go into the fleet management information system (FMIS) to find that data, but to get accurate numbers, that data has to be correct, and to get those numbers quickly, the data has to be easy to pull.

Just a year ago, the City of West Palm Beach, Fla., fleet staff was having this problem — its data was too hard to access. Using an old DOS-based system to manage its fleet, staff would print out reports on green bar paper, which then had to be manually entered into Excel, said Mario Guzman, CAFM, general services manager for the city.

This was a frustration for customer departments as well as for fleet staff.

“It made it extremely hard to make decisions based on data,” Guzman explained.

To fix the problem, the fleet purchased the AssetWorks M5 fleet management system, launching it in August 2016.

Any software changes, even simple ones, can lead to headaches for those who use it every day. A fleet software transition or upgrade can involve migrating years of data, figuring out the best way to set it up, training all users, and testing. This process can take up to a year for some.

Guzman and other fleets that have upgraded and switched to new fleet software discuss their process and what they wish they had known during the transition.

Getting Clean Data

The City of Boston changed to a new fleet software provider in 2016. The job of transitioning to the Chevin software fell to Matt Bradley, logistics specialist for the city’s Central Fleet Management.

Bradley had already worked on another FMIS transition for the city a few years prior, so he already had experience. Like with the previous switch, he worked to clean the data in the current system before migrating it over.

“It’s a lot of work but in the end, you’re basically starting with fresh data. You’ve gone through it all, you know it’s good data, so it’s been a blessing in disguise,” he said.

Cleaning data allowed the Boston fleet to be more precise about how it categorized its assets.

In the old system, fleet staff had only collected basic vehicle information, such as year, make, model, and vehicle identification number (VIN). Fleet management decided to collect more information to make it easier to pull up reports, including engine model, fuel type, and operator information. In the past, staff would have to use a VIN decoder to figure out some of this data.

“This was kind of a great time to do it because you’re loading all this fresh data,” Bradley said. “It’s been a great opportunity to pull everything together. It’s the things you don’t think you need but then once somebody asks for them, you know they’re going to ask again, so it’s good to keep it.”

Guzman, who found his old data difficult to access, said, “I think the hidden gem is that it allows you to see the data you have.”

Cleaning up data allowed him to review the nomenclature the fleet used. The same vehicle could be classed as F-150, or half-ton pickup, or just pickup truck — he set out to clean that up and add asset codes.

Guzman had to take the extra step of hiring an outside company to put the DOS-based information into Excel before he could send it off. This wasn’t just one step — he’d clean the data, sometimes making sure assets were still in the fleet, then send it to the contractor, and scrub it again once he got it back before he sent it off to the FMIS provider.

The City of Anaheim, Calif., rolled out its upgraded FMIS, FASTER Web, in 2015, transitioning from the company’s desktop system. Because the system was now web-based, fleet management also provided tablets to all 21 technicians. The fleet took the opportunity to utilize the system more fully — such as using the symptom area in work orders, writing notes, and whittling down vehicle class codes, said Ron Lindsey, CAFS, fleet manager.

“We’re trying to use it for more strategic planning and replacement planning,” he said.

(Click here to view full size) The City of Anaheim, Calif., created process maps for each of the major tasks within the fleet operation, a time-consuming but valuable step to ensure a smooth FMIS upgrade. Image courtesy of City of Anaheim
(Click here to view full size) The City of Anaheim, Calif., created process maps for each of the major tasks within the fleet operation, a time-consuming but valuable step to ensure a smooth FMIS upgrade. Image courtesy of City of Anaheim

Dedicating the Time

Boston’s software switch took six months to complete, and Bradley said the project took up a good chunk of his time. He had calls with the provider weekly, and they put together a project management plan.

“They agreed to have modules built by a certain date as long as we provided them data by a certain date,” he explained. “It was a give and take and it worked very well.”

Guzman said the process took longer than he anticipated, more than six months. He was trying to hire a fleet analyst to take on the project, but hiring took longer than expected and he was left managing the project while trying to run the fleet at the same time.

The City of Anaheim dedicated a project manager to the transition, which took a year. Joel Jordan worked on process mapping for major tasks such as writing work orders, adding vehicles to the system, and disposing of vehicles, to see how they should be adjusted. This was a time-consuming, but valuable, process, Lindsey said.

“We could have done it faster. We did it real slow, real thorough, with the process mapping and all the work on the back end to make sure that the final transition was seamless,” he said. “If you don’t do the background work and take all the time to get employee buy-in and let them know it’s coming, you’re probably going to have a tougher time once it’s implemented.”

Working with Staff

Every fleet professional stressed the importance of working closely with staff members when transitioning to a new FMIS.

“Make sure you get employees involved early on, and keep them in the loop and involve them in the process mapping because as much as you think you’re an expert, the technicians on the floor know more about writing work orders than you probably do,” Lindsey said.

At the City of Boston, fleet management staff heard that technicians felt too tied down with the way the old system was set up. They wanted more freedom with repair orders, to be able to see older work orders, check the labor, and edit it afterward.

“They were having trouble with all the restrictions we had on them. It was an opportunity for us to look at that and make sure they had more opportunities to go into the system,” Bradley said.

Guzman worked on the new system first, focusing on the components he would look at — reports, asset management, lifecycle costing, etc. Then he sought input from everyone else who would be using the software, including fleet operations supervisors, technicians, and those in charge of billing and fueling. Some changes requested by staff include attaching a preventive maintenance (PM) sheet to each class of vehicle and being able to write notes in each work order.

Providing Training

In addition to training from the software company, Bradley at Boston made a reference guide with screenshots and pictures to get technicians used to the new process. The fleet conducts refresher courses in its training room if technicians seem to have questions. Fleet management also conducts training if new modules or features are added to the software.

For Guzman, a new FMIS system meant a change in processes, from a very manual method with paper work orders to a completely paperless shop with rugged laptops for everyone. Technicians all received training on how to use the system, with particular attention paid to those who weren’t comfortable using computers.

For the City of Anaheim, the vendor came out for two weeks to provide training, focusing on different aspects of the software each day. This was followed by additional training a month after the fleet launched the system as well as annual visits.

Lessons from the Other Side

The process went smoothly for Boston, mostly because staff already had the experience. Bradley wishes the fleet had focused more on the testing period, however. The software provider allowed access to the system in a test environment so fleet staff members could see what they liked and didn’t like and to make any changes. He thinks they could have done better testing on the management side as well as with technicians.

Guzman said he could have used help during the transition, with one or two people dedicated to the project. For those overseeing an FMIS transition, he suggested devoting at least an hour a day working on it. Guzman worked in spurts, for a few hours once every week or so when he had the time, making it difficult to remember where he’d left off.

Bradley also advised fleets making the switch to devote enough time for educating others about the new software.

“Any time you introduce something new to people, they’re adverse to it at first,” Bradley said. “Be patient. Spend time with the guys and make sure they know it’s going on and make sure they have the resources they need to be able to do what they need to do every day.”

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