On the first day the City of Fort Wayne, Ind., launched its in-house maintenance program, a colleague approached Director of Fleet Operations Larry Campbell, CPFP, with some telling words: “Well, you just launched a business. How does it feel?” In just one sentence, Campbell’s coworker summarized the massive effort leading up to the city’s new in-house maintenance program for its more than 2,340 vehicles. “He was correct,” Campbell said. “It was a major undertaking.”
This is the first time in 22 years the city has handled maintenance in house, following the end of an 18-year contract with its previous maintenance provider, First Vehicle Services. The shift to in-house maintenance is projected to yield a significant cost savings to the city. “We’re projected to save $300,000 right off the bat,” Campbell said.
How did they do it? Campbell said it was an effort involving extensive planning and countless decisions, large and small. But, boiling it down, he cited these seven steps.
1. Know Your Current Fleet
Even before bringing maintenance in house, the City of Fort Wayne fleet team knew a lot about its fleet. For instance, staff members knew they needed very specific turnaround times to improve fleet availability. They even set specific turnaround times for each division and equipment type. So, for instance, an SUV, sedan, and hybrid might all have their own time frames for service.
Because turnaround times are of such importance, during the last bid for outsourced maintenance, the city built times into the contract and established penalties for instances when they weren’t met. The maintenance provider struggled to meet the agreed-upon time frames — and fleet staff spent far too much time checking turnaround times, fleet availability, and percentages to assess penalties.
Campbell and team started to dig in to the data further. In reviewing vehicle equivalent units on both the light and heavy sides, they learned the ratio of vehicles to technicians was too low. “Looking at man hours per unit, we were able to figure out how many technicians we needed and that current staffing levels weren’t meeting our needs,” Campbell said. Fleet team members knew they needed more technicians to achieve the desired turnaround times, but they couldn’t add staff without adding dollars to the existing contract.
Likewise, using fleet management information system data, management knew what upcoming maintenance services were on the docket and shared that information with the parts room staff. Although these reports indicated upcoming parts needs, parts availability was an issue — and parts quality was causing problems, too.
While Campbell and team knew all of this data, the one thing they didn’t actually know was the technical staff. Because the city’s fleet team was only allowed to talk to management for the outsourced company and not directly to the workers on the shop floor, they missed out on interactions that could have resulted in improved performance, greater efficiency, and reduced costs.
What did all this knowledge amount to? A compelling case to bring maintenance in house.
Key takeaway: “We’re very data driven,” Campbell said. “Knowing your current fleet — the size, age, breakdown — like the back of your hand is key to understanding what the maintenance needs will be.”
2. Write a Business Plan
Once the fleet team members started to see the potential benefits to bringing maintenance in house, they began to ask, “How would we do it differently?” Those conversations (and there were many) spawned the important next step: writing a business plan.
The management team met weekly to map out its “new business” of in-house parts and maintenance. Included on the team were division heads, the city controller, and the deputy controller, who Campbell said were key to gaining buy in. “If you have several top officials in your city helping to write the business plan, it helps you to be able to sell the case to bring it back in house,” he explained.
Putting together the business plan required an even deeper dive into fleet data to support the need for in-house maintenance.
A key factor of the business plan was costs — both the cash outlay and the potential savings. “We didn’t have a huge capital outlay for a new startup,” Campbell said. “The city made sure we owned diagnostic software, so we didn’t have to go out and spend a bunch of money on top of that to bring it back in house.”
Key takeaway: Laying out the strategy for how in-house maintenance will go down will set the course for success. Campbell said knowing every single one of your shop costs — from personnel down to toilet paper — is the most important part of writing a quality business plan.
3. Create a Transition Plan
Once the business plan was approved, the team began to plan for the transition. This included establishing new standard operating procedures (SOPs), work rules, budget plans, and pricing. It also included inventorying parts, tools, and shop supplies.
Once again, this was not a simple task. For instance, when pricing products to maintain the fleet, the purchasing team was required to run down three quotes for comparison. “That could mean you’re getting pricing on 4,000 line items,” Campbell explained. “It’s a very time-consuming process — and the purchasing side is just one segment of it.”
At the end of the day, local and state contract pricing and negotiations with vendors yielded competitive pricing.
Key takeaway: Once the business plan is approved, draft your plan to execute the change. Campbell suggested creating a checklist for what needs to be done and how.
4. Make a Plan for Parts
Prior to bringing maintenance in house, the contractor owned all of the parts inventory and shop supplies. The city got a leg up on parts by purchasing all inventory currently on the shelf.
Moving forward, however, the fleet management staff is readjusting inventory to ensure high usage parts are in stock and low usage parts are minimized or phased out as needed. This will help the city meet desired turnaround times.
The team has also conducted studies to acquire higher quality parts, which Campbell anticipates will reduce costs and increase vehicle uptime. “For instance, now that we’re using higher quality batteries, it decreases towing charges and keeps vehicles on the road longer,” he explained.
Key takeaway: Determine how you’ll purchase parts. Campbell said both pricing and brand selection will take time and research, so plan accordingly.
5. Build Forms and Write SOPs
When it came to SOPs and shop forms, the team had to start from scratch to customize them for the fleet’s specific equipment.
During the first few weeks following the launch, the team will be using the forms and noting their feedback; they will then regroup to discuss desired changes and revise as needed.
Key takeaway: Your former provider’s forms, like service sheets, may have extraneous information that’s not pertinent to your fleet, so build streamlined documents that offer the right fit for your equipment. The same goes for SOPs and standard operating guides (SOGs).
6. Build the Team
With all the plans in place, the fleet team needed the final piece to the puzzle: the team to execute those plans.
“We gave the contractor’s technicians first right to employment by the city,” Campbell explained. “Some had been with the contractor for 16 years and they had been loyal employees to the city fleet, so the city wanted to return the favor.”
All hourly employees were offered jobs. Only four passed on the offer, leaving a team of 14: two parts room employees and 12 technicians who were already well-versed in shop operations. Fleet management then hired four more technicians.
Although the majority of the team has already worked in the shop, Campbell said it’s a brand new dynamic. For one, communication is vastly improved without a layer of management between the fleet team and shop employees.
“It really is nice to be able to address the technicians directly,” Campbell said. “We want to make it easier for everybody and let them know they can provide input and make an impact.”
Campbell is also putting an increased focus on technician training. “I’d rather train someone and have them leave rather than not train them and have them stay,” he often says. Campbell expects that training will assist with turnaround times and keep more of the work in house, reducing subletting costs.
“We’re building an all-new, No. 1 team,” Campbell said.
Key takeaway: Building a team that will meet maintenance demands and can be trained to bring more services in house can improve turnaround times and reduce subletting costs.
7. Set the Vision
Now that Campbell can communicate directly with technicians and parts room staff, he is also able to set a vision for the shop’s success — and can involve the entire team in sharing that vision.
“Every fleet can do better, and we’re in a rebuilding phase,” Campbell said. “When we had our first shift meeting, I said, ‘We’re starting out as a new entity now. This is a team effort and we’re going to succeed.’”
Key takeaway: Campbell said it’s important to envision the future of your shop. How do you want to run it? What do you expect of your technicians? How do you want them to perform?
Fort Wayne’s Maintenance Program by the Numbers:
- Number of vehicles: 2,340+
- Years relying on outsourced maintenance: 22
- Previous contract length: 18 years
- In-house launch date: October 1, 2018
- Number of parts staff and technicians: 18
- Projected Year 1 savings: $300,000