Fleet software all very well but personal touch is vital

The development of fleet software is all very well, but employers should not use this at the expense of human interaction, particularly for driver training and accident reporting, says Nick Golding

The plethora of technology-based fleet management tools available today are enough to persuade even the most diligent of managers to off-load some of their work to a system that can do it in half the time.

But whether they decide to do so for the purposes of accident reporting, vehicle selection or mileage capture, it is important that employers don’t delegate too many tasks to technology, in case they run the risk of demotivating their drivers and recording inaccurate data around company cars.

Many organisations are beginning to see the value in capturing information about employees’ mileage and using that data to better understand which staff, or areas of the business, use the most fuel and produce the largest amount of CO2 emissions. Handsets can be placed in cars to record each journey and the data from which can be captured back at head office. However, where drivers use their company vehicle for personal miles too, they may interpret this as ‘big brother-style’ management.

Diarmuid Fahy, fleet manager at ING Car Lease, explains: “It’s all very well to say that it’s a company vehicle and mileage must be monitored, but if it’s for personal miles too, the driver may be reluctant to co-operate outside of hours.”

Accident reporting
This reluctance could potentially spill across to other areas of fleet management where co-operation between the employer and drivers is vital, adds Fahy. “Staff may not co-operate with accident reporting or licence validating. You have to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water,” he says.

Cadbury Schweppes is well aware of the dangers of using too much technology to manage its fleet. Although it uses fuel cards to help monitor when and where certain drivers are filling up with petrol, it recognises the need to maintain the employer and driver relationship. Suzanne Laverick, UK employee benefits manager, says: “We wouldn’t go as far as to track our drivers everywhere they go. We have to place some responsibility on them, [but] there has to be an element of trust.”

Advanced technology can also be used to pull off management reports around which cars employees are driving, especially in an employee car ownership (Eco) scheme, and calculate the total CO2 output of a fleet at the click of a button. However, fleet managers must ensure they don’t rely too heavily on online tools in order to avoid missing any underlying problems. Spencer King, marketing manager at LeasePlan, says: “The important thing is the fleet manager is still in place [as] while online systems can produce data, this still needs to be interpreted.”

Without the intervention of a manager who knows an organisation’s fleet and understands how it should be operating, the information is almost useless, says King. “The data may show that 1% of the vehicles in the fleet are over their term, which is a small amount, but in a company of 1,000 cars this could mean some high charges.”

Accident reporting has also become dominated by technology. Although this can be advantageous for organisations that want to be notified quickly and efficiently when an accident occurs, there is still the need for a fleet manager to establish the full picture. “We have an accident-reporting system here but we also have people on the phones speaking to drivers, because they get so much more meaningful information this way,” says Fahy.

Face-to-face training
Keeping drivers up to date with the latest road-related legislation, and ensuring they are fit to drive company cars is another key area of fleet management. More often than not this is achieved through driver training. There are currently plenty of online car driver training programmes on the market, however, while fleets may make good use of the more cost-effective online options, managers need to ensure that they don’t discount face-to-face training altogether. King believes employers would be wise to make use of online driver training to filter out poorer drivers, and then offer them a comprehensive programme which involves on-road driving.

“Online driver training has commoditised an expensive function. It has become cost effective, but it mustn’t overtake proper driver training, especially for high-risk drivers,” he explains.†

If you read nothing else read this…

  • Employers can choose from technology-based management tolld that deal with issues such as mileage capture, driver training, accident reporting and vehicle selection.
  • Over-using fleet management tools, however, can lead to a ‘big brother-style’ of management which can be demotivating for staff.
  • Online driver training can be useful to sort good drivers from those who are considered high risk, but face-to-face training should still be used for the latter group and can never be completely replaced.