Robert Barry talks to fleet management specialists about using SMS and other communication technology for better day-to-day running of a vehicle fleet.
The advent of smart phone applications (apps) and SMS messaging has been a huge gain for the ongoing management of any fleet, regardless of how small or large it may be.
The ability to use cost-effective telecommunications technology to outsource daily fleet management function away from internal resources will enable businesses in the future to simply be able to focus upon their business and for their fleet drivers to become accountable for ensuring that their company vehicle is correctly serviced, registered and warranted.
Fleets can also use this technology to broadcast an urgent message to their drivers should a state of emergency be declared in a region, and the company wants to ascertain the whereabouts and safety of the drivers and vehicles.
According to SG Fleet NZ managing director Geoff Tipene, more and more fleet customers are looking for a solution to outsource their day-to-day fleet management as their internal resources simply don’t have the time to make telephone calls to fleet drivers to remind them about service appointments, warrant of fitness testing and license renewals.
Geoff says the ability of a fleet management provider such as SG Fleet to communicate directly to the driver of a vehicle through a smart phone app will save the client a great deal of time, money and unnecessary hassle.
“A lot of businesses just don’t have time or internal resource to do the fleet stuff,” he says.
Fleet reviews can then be collated quarterly or half yearly from the data compiled through the SG Fleet management app.
SG Fleet is currently trialing its latest fleet management app with a fleet of more than 200 vehicles. All the drivers have company-supplied cellular phones provided as part of their employment package and SG Fleet has the client’s permission to contact each individual in regard to their vehicle.
The technology behind the SG Fleet fleet management app is incredibly clever and will continue to be developed and refined as it is used by more and more clients.
Notifications and the locations of scheduled servicing for the vehicle are sent directly to the driver’s smart phone and this is calculated by the amount of mileage travelled which is recorded by the company’s fuel card data.
Using the smart phone's GPS system, the SG Fleet app can direct the driver to the exact location of a dealership or service centre and also provide the contact phone number and email address if required.
If a notification is sent and the driver doesn’t respond or acknowledge, then a member of the SG Fleet customer service team will call the person directly. More often than not this situation arises if the client’s staff member is on annual leave and hasn’t checked their phone for messages!
“We also keep a message audit trail in the event of a message dispute. It would be hard to say you didn’t receive the message because we have the proof of when it was sent online,” says Geoff.
Orix fleet management tools
Orix fleet sales manager Nigel Bell-Booth says that two electronic fleet management products offered by Orix called Text Alert and the Orix Online customer centre are proving hugely popular with fleets of all shapes and sizes.
Nigel says that Text Alert is an SMS messaging system that allows Orix to source monthly, up-to-date odometer data on client vehicles, providing a greater degree of accuracy in its maintenance, servicing, and contract management systems.
He says that Text Alert can also be used to remind company drivers of upcoming or overdue vehicle service and WOF requirements, greatly enhancing the qualitative management of the client’s fleet, and reinforcing proactive vehicle management responsibilities on the part of the driver.
The Orix Customer Centre is a web-based fleet management tool that provides clients with a broad array of vehicle data, fleet analysis, accounts information, and client reports, which improves management communication flows and decision making within the fleet.
Nigel says the customer centre was designed with input from many long-standing Orix clients and features an intuitive and easy to understand menu based system, clear and relevant exceptions reporting, and the ability for the user to easily tailor aspects of the system to their specific requirements.
One size does not fit all
FleetPartners national sales manager Vern McLaren says that SMS reminders is not a product which the company would offer to all customers as it would not be suitable to their needs.
He says that only around 1,000 FleetPartners clients currently use this system to send WOF and service reminders directly to their drivers.
“The real value of the SMS reminder system is enjoyed by the larger fleets, but some customers with smaller fleets would prefer that their internal fleet manager is keep in the loop because there is not a large number of people or vehicles to manage, and the customer also wishes to maintain their own internal database,” he says.
“It is also difficult to offer this service where the fleet is shared with another leasing and management supplier who may not be able to offer the same type of SMS product as yours.”
While they have proven to be popular in the heavy transport sector, particularly in tracking off-highway mileage for RUC rebates, Vern McLaren says that both SMS and GPS fleet management systems are still relatively expensive technologies which are in their infancy.
“In our experience technology such as this is still not a great driver in the passenger vehicle market,” he says.
Managing in the Cloud
We’ve heard a lot about “Cloud” computing, where all your data is stored carefully in a cyberspace environment known as the Cloud.
Why the Cloud? Well it’s a nice way that all those international global companies use to reassure you, the customer, that your data is safe, somewhere on the planet. And don’t we love to see those gadgets update here, here and here? All at the touch of a button?
As fleet management becomes more and more computerised, operating in the Cloud is something that many fleets, small, medium and large, may like to consider as part of their arsenal of management tools. After all, wouldn’t it be nice to be in the car park ready to book that pool car sitting there straight off your smart phone? Or be able to issue that all-important repair authorisation while away from your office?
FleetWorks Ltd provides not only fleet management and pool car booking tools, but others that help you manage your fleet, and your staff who use those all-important organisation cars.
Software tools that operate in a secure, New Zealand-based Cloud environment are available to all sizes of business from FleetWorks, and are designed to make your life as fleet manager easy and, more importantly, manage your costs and see what your fleet is doing. Reporting is also vital to any business and through FleetWorks’ unique customised reporting module you can create all kinds of reports on everything to do with your fleet.
However, one little bit of information you may not know is that the New Zealand Government mandates that all its related electronic data is kept within New Zealand territorial waters, and recommends to businesses owned and operated in New Zealand do the same.
Company Vehicle recommends that you check exactly where in the Cloud your data is being stored, and you might also want to check just how often it is backed up and where the backups themselves are stored.
When considering software suppliers it’s always worthwhile asking for their development plans or upgrade programmes, this will give a clear indication of the commitment of the supplier to their product and customers.
Company Vehicle is aware of one new application being launched later this year which will bring significant, positive benefits to pool car operators, introducing significant flexibility and vehicle use options to the Customers’ organisation. We look forward to reviewing this application in the next issue.