Technology providers should work to help organizations with the change management component of deploying technology. - Photo: Rubicon

Technology providers should work to help organizations with the change management component of deploying technology. 

Photo: Rubicon

For the majority of public sector fleets, long gone are the days of paper. A new era of management has begun to transition governments into a more digitized operating system. However, these changes go beyond simply telematics and encompass the day-to-day operations of what a fleet team does. 

Challenges for Public Sector Fleets When it Comes to Digital Technologies

As with many of the best practices in the public sector, if a fleet has not yet digitized or is planning for this change, there can be the expectation that there will be a cost and time requirement that may block that step, according to Ben Roueche, CPFP,  associate division director, Salt Lake County Fleet Services. 

“Even with contract pricing, adding telematics will create a new cost to the end user that is above the normal budget,” Roueche explained. “Add to that monetary cost a time component to coordinate with the new partner or add to your normal workload of maintenance and repairs for installation.”

Roueche added that the increase in cost and the amount of time needed can detract from the results, especially when those results take some time to manifest their benefits. 

“Smaller fleets will not see the savings add up as quickly as larger fleets,” he said. 

Conor Riffle, senior vice president for Smart Cities at Rubicon pointed out three major challenges involved. The first is related to digitization which requires a fleet to operate in a way that has not been done before. This digitization means giving up using pen and paper, which was previously standard for fleets, and instead relying on an online system. 

"Digitization is much like a nail gun — the value only comes in using the tool, not just having the tool. The transition to a digital operation within departments, both public and private, encounters several common hurdles." Gary Lykins 

Riffle uses the example of a fleet employee starting their day printing out 1,000 pages of route sheets, stapling them, and then handing them out to the drivers one by one. Instead, that person would now use a digital asset management system that may take training to understand but could save the fleet time and save money down the road. 

“That person doesn't have to come in as early and doesn't have to read anything out and those routes are already pre-scheduled and ready to go; all the drivers have to do is come in and log in to their tablet,” Riffle said. “It’s been one way for a while, but that changes with digitization and that can be a big barrier for some fleets, and rightly so.”

Challenge number two that Riffle sees is the data fleets receive. Riffle explained that this can be due to figuring out how to format that data and being able to present it in a way that works for each member of the fleet. 

“Most municipal governments don't necessarily know the list of customers that they're supposed to be servicing every day,” Riffle said. “They have that information in various databases or on paper somewhere in the city, but they may not know if that is 100% of the customers.”

The third challenge is related to training. As Riffle pointed out, drivers and team members on the frontlines will need to learn how to operate in a different way, which requires the right training. And it’s training that keeps the fleets in mind and meets drivers where they’re at. 

“You can’t just watch a YouTube video and know how to do it,” he said. “It may require training where folks ride along with the drivers to help them understand how this new technology can help them and how it can help make their day-to-day job safer and more efficient so that they can spend less time on the road.”

Former Jonesborough, Tennessee fleet manager Gary Lykins, who also worked as a vehicle and equipment repair technician with the North Carolina Forest Service, has been digitizing several fleets through his business First Town Motor. 

In implementing advanced systems within a private fleet, Lykins has seen how the landscape differs significantly from the challenges faced in the public sector. 

“Financial flexibility becomes a pivotal factor as private fleets, driven by profit motives, can swiftly invest in and integrate state-of-the-art technologies,” Lykins said. “Unlike their public counterparts, I’ve seen legacy systems pose a lesser hindrance, allowing for seamless adoption of modern solutions.”

According to Lykins, the focus of private fleet owners is on adaptability to market trends, prioritizing operational efficiency, and leveraging technology for a competitive edge. 

“Some public fleets I have worked with have substantial issues with factors such as multiple departmental budget integration, vendor supply connectivity and reporting to the authorities that govern public fleet accounting,” said Lykins. “This makes digitizing a much different process for them.”

Making the Digital Transition to a More Digital Operation 

Looking at the realities of a full digital transformation, Riffle sees public sector fleets being deliberate about the transition to a new system or process. However, it’s a transition that he noted has to be done within the U.S.

“It's imperative for our competitiveness, it's imperative for our resiliency in the face of climate change; it's imperative for us to do more with less,” Riffle said. “I think that some governments are just more deliberate about that change and how to handle that change.”

However, Riffle noted that this deliberateness isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Instead, he noted that it’s the job of technology providers to help organizations with the change management component of deploying technology. 

That educational component is what Lykins has been working on with one of his fleets. 

“I tell them that digitization is much like a nail gun — the value only comes in using the tool, not just having the tool. The transition to a digital operation within departments, both public and private, encounters several common hurdles,” he said. 

Lykins acknowledges that financial constraints often impede swift adoption, particularly for public entities working within budgetary limitations. And integrating new digital systems with existing legacy infrastructure presents a significant challenge, though private sectors may have more leeway in addressing this due to financial flexibility. 

The transition to a digital operation within departments can mean encountering several common hurdles. - Photo: Gustavo Fring

The transition to a digital operation within departments can mean encountering several common hurdles. 

Photo: Gustavo Fring

Concerns over data security and privacy are pertinent in both sectors, Lykins pointed out. One example is liability concerns when regarding data that may be subpoenaed in the event of an accident.

“Employee resistance to change, a shared obstacle, necessitates comprehensive training programs. Regulatory compliance complexities further impede the rapid shift toward digitization, impacting both public and private entities,” Lykins said. “Overcoming these hurdles demands strategic planning and a commitment to adaptability.”

How Digital Technology is Changing the Game When it Comes to Fleets

The operation at West Jordan, Utah, where Roueche was previously the fleet manager, benefitted from having a robust FMIS, a fuel management system that integrated with that FMIS, and telematics installed that started several years back to track snowplow operations. 

Roueche noted that recently there has been a push to go paperless and to scan in documents so that everything can be accessible from the cloud. 

“A few months before leaving, we began to experiment with predictive maintenance using the telematics and beginning to work with the FMIS to allow A.I. to help point out areas we could relax and assets that needed immediate attention,” he said. 

Salt Lake County already has solid FMIS and fuel management software in place, plus telematics in many of the assets. Now, because predictive maintenance relies heavily on telematics, Rouehce will be focusing on the challenge of being able to track the entire fleet. 

Because each fleet will most likely operate differently in one way or another, Riffle said the biggest challenge for tech companies is being able to make that technology scalable. 

This is where configuration at scale comes in. This is the process of building a flexible platform that allows tech providers to configure certain features in a way that is customized to each fleet. 

For example, in solid waste management, some fleets may prefer to do service confirmations automatically, while others prefer to use manual confirmation, manually selecting that they were at a particular location. 

Now, fleets can operate with digital technology that supports both, simply through a toggle within the platform. 

“Our approach to this is to accept all these differences in the way that different governments provide services and design our technology to be flexible to allow for those differences,” Riffle said. 

Understanding the Regulatory Landscape to Create a Digital Format

Lykins noted that regulatory compliance complexity can impede or improve the rapid shift toward digitization. To overcome these hurdles, he advises strategic planning and a commitment to adaptability. 

“Public fleets face concerns such as large-scale infrastructure, elected official pressures, and the ‘we've always done it this way mentality’ to a greater degree than private fleets,” he said. When helping a fleet digitize, Lykins looks for a platform based on what is most user-friendly for the operator. Everything, from logging in, finding the asset based on a picture or a bar code, to creating a concern, was factored into his choice of software. 

Technology providers should work to help organizations with the change management component of deploying technology. - Photo: Rubicon

Technology providers should work to help organizations with the change management component of deploying technology. 

Photo: Rubicon

“The cold hard fact is, digitization is simply useless if the operators won't use it,” Lykins stated. 

In the beginning, Lykins and his team focused on a few fleets that had the ability for some experimentation. Lykins sent out digital surveys to both fleet administrators and equipment operators to find what was working and what was not. To reiterate what Riffle pointed out, Lykins has seen that “Every fleet is different, and different personality types focus on different things.”

“It has been very important to hear that voice in a realistic way and tailor fleet digitization to the feedback,” Lykins said. “I have found that to be especially true with private fleet owners. They want what they want.”

The Future of Digitization and Overcoming Challenges 

As digital technology advances, fleets will also have access to more options in what that technology can do. An example of this is how Rubicon has the capability for fleets to use computer vision and artificial intelligence to detect potholes through vehicle cameras. 

Refuse trucks have been a focus when it comes to this tech as they are frequently traveling up and down streets. Equipping these vehicles with the right technology means they can become assets that provide data for the city. In addition to looking for hazards like potholes, it could include taking note of graffiti, downed trees, or missing stop signs. 

“All of those things help the city run better and run more efficiently and those are going to be the most important things for cities going forward,” Riffle noted.

Other computer vision models are being tested, including one allowing for the detection of contamination of recycling in the hopper of garbage drops. 

“Recycling contamination is probably the number one issue facing our recycling markets today,” Riffle said. “The single stream recycling that we collect curbside generally is very contaminated. Being able to detect recycling contamination at the point of collection is incredibly important for driving contamination out of the recycling stream.” 

As Riffle puts it, the future is now. So while advancements like A.I. are not uncommon in places such as Silicon Valley and Wall Street, Riffle wants to make sure that they also happen in the public sector.  

Lykins sees a fleet future where AI is prevalent and where an asset could essentially speak for itself, whether in regards to maintenance, lifecycling, or impending breakdowns. He believes that integrated large fleets will be able to know that they have a higher than average fuel cost across 30% of their fleet and be able to know the root cause. The AI will do this without the need for “subjective mathematics or excuse-making,” and then the fleet administrator will make the final call. 

While this digital transformation technology could feel overwhelming for fleets, Lykins explained it is simply part of the learning and adaption process. 

“I've heard it said that the biggest asset a person can have today is the ability to unlearn what you have always known to be true and then relearn the subject through the lens of current technology.”

Roueche noted that fleets need to be aware of the innovations and new methods to collect that data and plan to add them to their tool chest. Public fleets will need to creatively find ways to stretch budgets to allow that growth.  

“The data available today has grown to levels that can’t be easily used to our benefit without the help of A.I. in my opinion,” he said. “I believe the future is that at some point we’ll be so in-tune with our assets through data  management to be able to only bring them in for maintenance or repairs as they need it. That will help control our costs, both in money and time.”

Making the Transition for a More Data-Driven Fleet 

“It's about the future and it's about being future-ready,” Riffle said, adding that it is as important as ever to ensure that fleets are running as smoothly as possible. Due to the number of unforeseen issues that can, and will, arise, whether that is from inflation, high interest rates, climate change, or supply chain disruption, fleets will need to operate differently than they did 10 years ago. 

Riffle explained that from a digital perspective, this means organizations will need to focus that digital technology on efficiency, safety, and sustainability. However, on the flip side, the public sector is also being challenged to do more with less. As Riffle pointed out, higher prices affect local governments not only because most tend to be very price-sensitive in general, but many fleets are involved in expensive day-to-day activities, from running refuse trucks to resurfacing roads. 

💡Telematics Brings Benefits to Fleets That Don’t ‘Plug it in and Walk Away’ Two government fleets are using telematics in areas such as predictive maintenance, but fleets should make sure to use the data so they get the most return on investment.

In emergencies or shutdowns, public sector fleets continue to operate, sometimes even more so due to what is happening. Because of this demand on fleets, Riffle stated that it is important for digital technology providers to provide tools and services to enable local governments to meet these increased challenges.

Riffle uses the example of how Rubicon has been working to reduce the cost of solid waste collection. The technology is designed to make it cheaper for fleets running a day-to-day solid waste collection operation. While frontline workers had to come in every day and drive the garbage trucks not all of the dispatchers needed to be there. This was because the cloud-based system allowed drivers to access route sheets on their own. 

“An important aspect for resiliency in the future is helping governments operate in a flexible way,” Riffle said.  

Transitioning to a more digital operation offers fleets various and compelling benefits, according to Lykins. Even fleets that may feel what they’ve been doing for years has worked can have room for improvement. He explained that while an ‘If it's not broke, don't fix it’ mindset is understandable, embracing digitization brings several enhancements. 

One enhancement is the ability for digital operations to catapult overall efficiency, reduce operating costs, and provide real-time insights through data analytics. But, the catch is that fleets have to “implement them with mindful intention, administer them with diligent scrutiny, and use them with a deliberate outcome in mind.”

As Lykins sees it, the process of digitizing a fleet is, at its base, a simple attempt to improve decision-making. Additionally, a digital approach future-proofs operations, ensuring relevance in a rapidly evolving technological landscape. 

To uncomplicate the transition, Lykins recommends that fleets adopt a phased implementation, starting with user-friendly technologies that integrate smoothly with existing systems. 

“Comprehensive training programs can address employee concerns and facilitate a seamless shift, ensuring that the benefits of digitization outweigh the initial challenges..the reality is we all have to simply embrace change as the new reality,” he said. 

Roueche adds to this by pointing out that there is always something better being produced. Fleets used to use large oscilloscopes to find misfires or power losses in vehicle engines; now there is an arsenal of scan tools and computers. 

Managing the data that is available to fleets and using it to make the job easier is the next step within the environment.

Roueche sees the incorporation of tools such as predictive maintenance and telematics as another way to keep assets in use and out of the shop. When Roueche first began using telematics it was only as a tool to help with customer service and to know where the snowplows had been and where they were going. 

No one knew that one day, it would be possible to get an alert that the DEF tank level sensor was getting erratic and would fail soon. Now these types of alerts allow Roueche to schedule for a replacement before something does break to prevent a driver from being stranded or overloading the shop workload

“I think the public sector can take a tortoise-like approach — while the private sector may be more like the hare — but keep moving forward to benefit from the next innovation in fleet,” Roueche said, adding that while “It may not be broken, there is a better way to fix it.”

About the author
Nichole Osinski

Nichole Osinski

Executive Editor

Nichole Osinski is the executive editor of Government Fleet magazine. She oversees editorial content for the magazine and the website, selects educational programming for GFX, and manages the brand's awards programs.

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