At A Glance

Methods you can use to ensure a smooth collaboration with procurement include:

  • Being clear with procurement on exactly what you need.
  • Keeping the lines of communication open.
  • Working with the procurement department as a partner.

A recent Government Fleet procurement survey revealed that when it comes to procurement, the majority of respondents said fleet drives purchasing and spec’ing. In fact, 82% of respondents said fleet drives purchasing/spec’ing for cars and light trucks, 78% for heavy trucks, 71% for off-road equipment, and 59% for police vehicles. (See full survey results in the last page of this article.)

Based on these survey results, it’s clear fleet plays a major role when it comes to procuring new fleet units. But one other entity also plays an important role: procurement.

In order to get the right vehicles and equipment at the right time, fleets must work closely with their procurement partners. Fleet objectives must coincide with those of the procurement department, and the departments must understand each other’s needs. When objectives don’t align, this can result in unusable specifications in RFPs, not enough vendors bidding, slow processing of orders, late deliveries, and the “low-bid” attitude.

So what can fleets do to work better with procurement? While providing clear and complete information on purchasing needs is an important step, so is the human side of the equation — forming a genuine relationship, respecting each other’s expertise, and communicating as partners. When both are achieved, the results can be powerful.  

Map Out Your Needs

The first and most straightforward step to work well with your procurement department is providing clear, detailed, and specific information about the fleet units you wish to acquire. This includes vehicle types, number of vehicles by type, and the full specs you require, as well as when you’d like them to place the order.

When handing over specs, clarity is key, said John DeLoache, CAFM, director, Fleet & Travel Management for the State of South Dakota. “Don’t take for granted that what you want will be standard — spell it out in the spec,” he suggested. “Once you order, it may be too late to change what can happen.”

In order to ensure clarity, it’s important to remember you’re sharing your expertise on the types of vehicles you need — and that level of expertise may not be the same on the procurement side of the table. Matt Burgans, fleet supervisor, Placer County Sheriff’s Office, Auburn, Calif., provides his procurement partners information on the exact specifications for vehicles and equipment, as well as time requirements, previous vendor experiences, and the financial restraints for the items. “We have the firsthand knowledge of what will work for us and what won’t work, so it is imperative that we pass those requirements along,” he said. “You can’t assume your common knowledge is everyone’s. Be clear and concise with what you need, and don’t expect that everyone in your procurement department will be an experienced fleet professional.”

Carol Wilson, CPM, director of procurement for the State of Connecticut, also suggests providing information on how the vehicles will be used, both now and in the future. “It is very important that we receive clear requirements documents including desired specifications, scope of services and some background from the fleet on its purchase intentions, including the short- and long-term direction of vehicle purchases and any special needs,” she said. Allowing procurement to see the big picture of the need and use of the vehicles, as well as a close-up view of the detailed specs, can help them find the right unit for the job.

Beyond vehicle and equipment needs, Joseph Clark, fleet management director for the City of Durham, N.C. suggests working closely with procurement on service and items related to maintenance and repair. “We work with procurement to establish contracts for repairs, parts and supplies, fuel, tires, lubricants, etc.,” he said. “Our procurement department wants to help us be successful, so by providing them with some guidance and direction about our needs, they are better able to serve us.”[PAGEBREAK]

Drive Better Communication

Beyond providing the details of your procurement needs, overall good communication is essential. That means communicating before your need arises, following up after purchases have been made, and keeping the lines of communication open in between. “Communications is the key and it is a two-way street,” Clark said. “The more your procurement department knows about you and your operations, the better they will be able to assist your department...and the better they can serve you.”

Before

Before making a procurement request, DeLoache suggests seeking input on how to improve your own communication. Ask your procurement department what you can improve to help them with your orders — then apply the feedback to your requests.

Then, before bids go out, check back in with your procurement department. “One thing that has greatly improved the purchasing aspect of the fleet’s relationship with procurement is that we have an open line of communication,” Burgans said. “We can address our needs and concerns to our purchasing agent before the goods and services are even sent over for purchase. This ensures that our procurement department knows that the purchase is on its way and can have the resources available to do an effective job finding us the best value and the highest quality vendors.”

After

After your units arrive, let procurement know if problems arise — it could save you grief down the road. “Always keep them informed of any problems you may have with any of the supplying vendors you work with,” DeLoache said. “They can stop problems from getting out of hand if they know about them quickly.”

DeLoache also suggested stepping up immediately if you realize you’ve made an error — waiting to alert procurement (or worse, never making them aware of it), is sure to turn out badly. Making it known right away at least offers the chance of correcting it.

In Between

Even when you’re not in the midst of a request or following up on one, stay in touch with procurement.

For starters, try sitting down and talking with procurement more than once a year. DeLoache says as the year goes on, he picks up valuable information he can pass on to his procurement partners — so he meets and talks with them at regular intervals throughout the year. “We try to keep them informed of what we are doing and plans for any changes that we have coming due to information that we receive from OEMs, from meeting with them at NAFA or GFX expos that we attend,” he said.

Kevin Devery, interim fleet manager, City of Tempe, Ariz., is in frequent contact with his procurement specialist — and says the time investment pays off. “During the ordering season I am on the phone with my procurement specialist several times a week. We discuss everything from equipment requests and departmental vehicle needs to service contracts and vendor issues,” he said. “I have found that anything we need to accomplish is easier done when we make a plan together on how to achieve the end goal.”

Wilson also suggested forming an advisory committee. “If all of the fleet areas within the State that have vehicle needs met as a group routinely with procurement so that common needs could be identified, this would allow the procurement division to execute the right contracts, avoid duplicative contracts, and better meet their business needs,” she said. “Teaming would also assist our ability to leverage the needs and achieve savings.”[PAGEBREAK]

At the end of the day, good communication yields a better product — fleets get orders processed faster, and the low-bid mentality may fall to the wayside. “We have found that great communication is the best tool in our toolbox,” Devery said. “Most people really want to do a good job. Sometimes we find that we have different ideas of what is the best way to do that job. So, discussions that involve feedback and back-and-forth communication help us achieve a better understanding of how we can both perform our core job functions."

Think of Procurement as Your Co-Pilot

The procurement department can be your greatest ally — but only if you treat it like a true partner. “Many fleets look at the procurement office as an adversarial department rather than a partnership. Procurement has rules and processes in place to protect the City from liability and also to keep costs low. But as an end user, it is possible to feel like procurement is not responsive to your needs,” Devery said. “Turning the relationship into a partnership results in a better overall experience for both departments. Procurement is happy because the City is protected, and the using department is happy because they receive the right type and brand of equipment for their needs. It’s a win-win situation.”

Clark puts it this way: You don’t want procurement fixing your car, and procurement doesn’t want you negotiating contracts. So, trusting each other’s expertise is essential. “Good cooperation and mutual respect between departments is always beneficial. Rely on the expertise of one another and don’t treat procurement as if they are just paper pushers. Understand that you are one of many customers, and treat them with respect,” he said. “It will always be more difficult to fulfill your mission if you do not have your procurement team on your side. Timeliness will become an issue on everything you do, so make it a point to get to know your purchasing manager, both personally and professionally.”

Sometimes, trusting the expertise of your procurement partners will mean making changes in the way you’re used to working. But being flexible in your approach will demonstrate your commitment to the partnership — and can lead to better results. “Don’t be close-minded — be open to new and more efficient ways to do business,” Burgans recommended. “Our fleet handles procurement from the viewpoint that there is always a way to improve the quality and reduce the price of the parts and services required for the Sheriff’s fleet o operate efficiently. That may mean that our staff needs to learn a new skill, or we need to move away from what we are accustomed to.”

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Realize the Benefits of Having a Co-Pilot

When fleet works closely with procurement, any number of benefits can result. These include Fleet’s expectations being better met, improved customer service, contracts that properly meet business needs, and savings or better discounts.

“There are too many benefits to count and no drawbacks,” Clark said. “By working with our procurement department, we have been able to set up ‘just-in-time’ (JIT) contracts for parts and supplies, which in turn, helps us better serve our internal customers. By working with procurement on specifications, we have been able to better standardize our fleet of vehicles and equipment, which leads to cost savings through having to stock less parts, and more efficient mechanical repair times.”

On the long and winding road of fleet purchasing, having a co-pilot makes the journey easier, so making the effort to improve specs and establish a relationship is worth the effort. “The biggest advantage to having a good relationship with your procurement department is that they are the professionals in getting you what you need,” Clark said. “When you have good communication and a cooperative spirit, you should have an easier time getting your purchases through.”

The Procurement Department’s Wish List for Fleet

As director of procurement for the State of Connecticut, Carol Wilson knows what it takes to make the procurement process a successful one. Her advice for fleets: “The procurement process should not be an after-thought, but the very first place to go when needs are identified. Take advantage of your staff’s procurement skills and expertise, and communicate your business plans to them early on and regularly so they can effectively meet your needs through the contracts they establish.”

Here are a few other items on a procurement department’s wish list:

Information

● Clear requirements

● Desired specifications

● Scope of services

● Background from fleet on their short- and long-term purchase intentions

● Any special needs

● The time frame of the request.

Relationships

● Allow enough time for the contracting

● Understand the public procurement process, the laws that govern the process, and how they affect the results

● Communicate early and often

● Show an interest in forming a true partnership.

Procurement Dos and Don’ts

Do:

✔  Make your needs clear

✔  Ask how you can provide better information

✔  Communicate regularly

✔  Share information about vendors

✔  Meet more than once per year

✔  Share knowledge gained throughout the year

✔  Understand the goals and objectives of your procurement department

✔  Establish a genuine relationship with procurement partners.

Don't:

✔  Make assumptions about what your procurement department knows about your needs

✔  Rush procurement through the job

✔  Hide your mistakes

✔  Communicate directly with vendors

✔  Think of procurement as your adversary.

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Sources:

  • Matt Burgans, fleet supervisor, Placer County Sheriff’s Office, Auburn, Calif.
  • Joseph Clark, fleet management director, City of Durham, N.C.
  • Kevin Devery, interim fleet manager, City of Tempe, Ariz.
  • John DeLoache, CAFM, director, Fleet & Travel Management, State of South Dakota
  • Carol Wilson, CPM, director of procurement, State of Connecticut
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