As manager of the small fleet of 420 units for Dakota County, Minnesota, Kevin Schlangen, CAFM, CEM, CPFP, doesn’t have the easiest time finding funding for new technology projects.
“It’s the research projects where we’ve had our best luck,” Schlangen said. He has researched technology projects through entities such as the local road research board, and as a result of that work, his department is working on a snowplow lane guidance system. He described how snowplow operators experience vision issues in snowy conditions, and they need a way to see what’s behind them, what’s on the side, and how close they are to other objects.
“Because no matter what you use for the telematics, it’s not [providing] you that degree of accuracy that you’re looking for,” he said. With the guidance system, a gauge on the dash of the vehicle shows operators whether they are in the middle of the road or not, and it provides warning signs that something is behind or ahead of the vehicle.
Attendees of the Government Fleet & Expo (GFX) conference this past May heard that and other stories during a session titled, “Implementing New Tech: From Discovery to Implementation.”
Facundo Tassara, a former government fleet manager, led the panel discussion. He is now head of customer success for Revvo Technologies, a tire sensor company. But after his time as a fleet manager, Tassara worked with Fermata Energy in developing technology to use the energy stored in an electric vehicle and push it back into a building during peak demand charge times.
He said deploying game-changing technology is not a one-size-fits-all process.
“It’s not always the same getting-to-know-a-fleet process,” he said. “But we know that when you have the right technology that comes in … it could be game changing.”
The process starts with learning about new technology. Abrar Abukhdeir, deputy chief for Baltimore City’s fleet management division, said public sector fleets should first determine what their weaknesses are.
“So new tech is great. It’s cool. Everyone wants to be the first to roll something out or implement something or work with a specific type of vendor,” Abukhdeir said. “But from my perspective … within our organization, where are some of our weaknesses, and then you just try to find tech that will help you address some of those weaknesses.”
Lack of adequate resources to find and implement new technology might be one of those weaknesses. Schlangen addressed the importance of planning in the area of technology for a smaller government fleet. Schlangen oversees a 420-unit fleet with 14 staff members.
“So it’s proving that technology affects everywhere you go, and just know that whatever we talk about in here, it doesn’t matter the size of your fleet,” he said. “It’s all going to come to you. You’re going to have to implement it. Some are going to have a lot of resources, and others are not. We are the ‘are not.’ And so because of that, we plan ahead.”
Al Curtis manages a larger fleet of about 2,700 pieces of equipment for Cobb County, Georgia. He explained that he starts much of his research through LinkedIn.
“If you guys are not on LinkedIn, there’s a vast amount of people you can connect with and vendors that have some really robust solutions,” Curtis said.
Through LinkedIn, Curtis discovered a company called Ingevity that produces a storage tank with absorbed carbons that are in the tanks, “just like the carbon filters that you have on your vehicle catalyst,” he said. “They actually embedded these carbon fibers into the tank, which reduces the actual pressure that’s sealed, that the compressed natural gas can be stored at,” Curtis explained.
His fleet adopted the program, which features a bi-fuel vehicle with 80 miles of range.
“You had to do the upfit, of course, but that was an opportunity for me to get into the CNG market and also the renewable natural gas as well,” he said. The appliance that pumps the CNG costs about $2,500, and Clean Cities provided half of that. The upfit of the vehicle cost about $9,000, he said.
“That’s one piece of technology that we’re working on right now, which was really a good look for us to actually reduce our carbon footprint and also lower our total operational cost in that vehicle,” Curtis said.
Curtis also discussed the implementation of another technology his fleet worked on with 16 sheriff’s department vehicles. The program, called the officer protection package, involves technology on a Dodge Charger deputy’s vehicle that activates when someone approaches the parked vehicle while the officer is inside. When someone approaches, the cameras activate, causing the windows to roll up and the doors to lock.
Wrapping up the session by discussing implementation of technology and working with vendors, Schlangen said fleets should make sure that the training process is written in the contract and request for proposal.
“Don’t let them sell you some new technology and then … ‘We’re going to charge you every time [we] come out here to do training.’ No, you’re not, I’m not going to pay for you to fly in and do this,” Schlangen said.
Moreover, Abukhdeir said fleets should respect vendors’ time. If the fleet is not available to spend time with the vendor, the fleet should let that vendor know in a respectful manner. Additionally, when a vendor is pitching the technology to a fleet, the fleet manager should ask the vendor what other entities did not like about the product.
“Start with what didn’t they like, so you can just … address that with the user agency, get that out of the way, and then start to work toward something that works,” Abukhdeir said. “Vendors have to be open and
vulnerable about the limitations of their product.”