Here’s a scenario: Your city adopts new financial software and tells you there’s a fleet add-on. How do you convince management that you need fleet-specific software?  -  Image: Getty Images

Here’s a scenario: Your city adopts new financial software and tells you there’s a fleet add-on. How do you convince management that you need fleet-specific software?

Image: Getty Images

Fleet is an often-misunderstood department. Because it is not taxpayer-facing, it is not in the spotlight as often as police or fire departments and is at risk of being overlooked when it’s time for a larger change within a city or county government.

Unfortunately, this lack of familiarity means that fleet organizations must make their needs clear. This includes management software, which keeps important fleet data front and center. 

We spoke to a few fleet managers who have had to make the case for a fleet management information system (FMIS).

More Accurate Data 

When the City of Nampa, Idaho, announced plans to acquire enterprise resource planning (ERP) financial software, Fleet Services Superintendent Doug Adams attended training to learn about the new system. Pretty quickly, Adams realized it did not work for his fleet operation. 

For Adams, one of the most significant losses was the ability to track labor in real time, an important factor in the fleet’s chargeback system. User departments are charged based on labor hours. If an experienced technician can finish an estimated 3.5-hour job in 20 minutes, the ability to track true labor time ensures the customer isn’t overcharged.

“I end every year at zero budget. It’s poor business management for me to inadvertently charge somebody improperly for labor,” Adams said. 

Another deal-breaker for Adams: his city’s ERP system only allowed one technician to be assigned to any work order. This didn’t work well with his operation, where multiple technicians may work on one asset at a time. This would lead to accountability issues, and it also had legal ramifications.

“If you have, say, a vehicle fatality investigation and fleet gets involved, we have to testify that, yes, this vehicle was in working order, and it truly was the action of the driver. Well, if the record is assigned to a technician but he isn’t actually the one who did the inspections, who testifies to that?” Adams explained.

Easier Access to Data

Ron McCoy, service manager for Allen County, Ind., is in the process of upgrading his fleet software. His fleet has used the same fleet software for 15 years, and compiling data is a challenge. Billing is managed manually, by viewing each vehicle listing individually, looking at its history, and typing that into a report.

With a modern FMIS, data will be easier to find and collect. McCoy is hoping that this data can be easily presented to other departments that might need it, such as Risk Management and Insurance, instead of manually preparing reports for them.

Rusty Swint, equipment repair & transportation manager for the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District in New Mexico, also expects to save time in his switch from an ERP system to FMIS. With the ERP, one of Swint’s biggest challenges has been pulling out relevant data. With an FMIS, the most important data points can appear automatically on his dashboard.

“Yeah, we could pull from here, we could pull from there, but it’s so lengthy. With that, we get behind on proper servicing,” Swint said. But with a fleet-dedicated solution, “we could create and customize our dashboards, how we want to get all the information that [currently] takes us days to acquire.”

Like McCoy, Swint pointed out that with the new FMIS, data is easier to find and manage. 

“We have four divisions in different counties that house several assets. It’s kind of hard [for the Finance team] to pull data from each division,” Swint explained. “But after these presentations of these fleet software packages, they’ve seen firsthand how easy it is for them to effectively run their side. It sold itself.”

Staying Competitive

Adams noted that software is important for staying competitive, as fleets must compete with the private sector to attract the best technicians.

“In the private sector, the technicians spend very little time on the computer and 99% working on the car. So the software has to be very intuitive,” Adams explained. “If a technician has to sort through several pages and do a lot of mouse clicks and type lots of things, you’re going to have some pushback.” 

Earlier this year McCoy hired two new technicians from the private sector — both previously worked at dealerships and were surprised at the technology (or lack thereof).

“[The newly hired tech] really couldn’t believe that we were still running off paper,” he explained.

“Making It Work” Doesn’t Work

Years ago, fleet manager Bill Malcolm worked for a city that adopted an ERP system, forcing fleet operations to give up its software. Malcolm and his team quickly learned that the software would not work for them — it seemed much more applicable to managing stationary assets, such as equipment mounted to the shop floor or the side of a building. 

“It was not robust enough to do the things that we as fleet management typically need to do,” Malcolm explained. 

The city hired a software developer to create an add-on that met the fleet’s bare-minimum needs. 

“Fleet guys are typically looking at their major metrics: availability, turnaround time, productivity, preventive maintenance, fleet utilization — we had to build those from the ground up,” Malcolm explained.

Even then, the data available was limited. Malcolm ran into problems when trying to track costs filtered by year or by expense, such as preventive maintenance vs. corrective maintenance, accidents, and warranty costs.

This customization added up. In total, his city spent about $2 million in software development fees to create a system that did a fraction of what his fleet software could accomplish in the past. It did not include classification codes and was not compatible with the city’s telematics, fuel, and parts management systems. 

“It’s painful, it’s extremely painful. And it takes a couple of years to even think about getting close to being right. And just when you think you’ve got it whipped, they upgrade the enterprise system and a lot of your customization doesn’t work,” Malcolm explained.

Malcolm is now the One Water fleet services director for the Louisville Metropolitan Sewer District and Louisville Water Company in Kentucky, and has an FMIS in his shop. Last he heard, his former municipal employer has also adopted an FMIS.

Fighting Misconceptions

For Swint, a challenge in making the case for FMIS was his management’s preconceived notions. Cost is a major factor and, in their minds, the cost was not worth it. But he spent about a year researching FMIS solutions before finding one that best fit the operation’s needs and budget.

The fleet software his Finance Department was familiar with was completely out of their budget. But while attending the Government Fleet Expo & Conference, Swint was able to find software options that were in his agency’s price range, which helped make the case for adoption. 

“It’s a huge determining factor, the budget standpoint. Having something as powerful as this, for them to use or for us to give reports to them on, is live true data,” he said. “It’s just amazing.”

Malcolm noted that, when making the case for fleet software, it’s important to emphasize that this software helps fleet management accomplish its mission. 

If you need to develop a fleet replacement program, for example, it’s vital to have vehicle data available. This helps emphasize that the additional investment in fleet is not a matter of favoring one department’s needs over another’s — it’s about ensuring each department has the capability to maintain its operation in a way that an ERP system cannot.

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