Fleet management software boosts efficiency, saves time and money for the busy fleet manager, but some still prefer their old paper-based system. John Mahoney reports
For many fleets. Microsoft Excel remains the most widely used fleet management tool. It's familiar, meets most finance departments' needs and is loaded on most PCs already. But is it a good fleet management tool?" A resounding 'no', says Gavin Clark from software provider Chevin. "One firm we're trying to sell to relies on Excel to manage 900 cranes. Currently, the fleet manager uses 27 Excel spreadsheets and is quite happy to continue- doing so if it avoids an outlay of perhaps £1500, making it -a tough sell, despite the long list of benefits. "Excel is fantastic at storing information, but unless you're an expert, it's difficult to extract and represent data in a form of any value to the fleet manager."
Excel also lacks an archiving ability. It's too easy to overwrite data, destroying valuable records that could be vital for a tax audit or in a worse case scenario, police investigation. Chevin, RAC. CFC and Jaama all say their software packages will boost efficiency almost overnight and considerably reduce operating costs. Less financially tangible benefits include enabling good practice to be carried out within a firm. helping fleet managers fulfil their legal obligation of a duty of care. Management software also saves time and demands less manual inputting of information.
"Software should help the uneducated or uninitiated. Over the years there has been a huge increase in data that needs to be proactively managed."
Modern packages lessen the workload by reducing the need to key-in much of the data, either capturing the raw data at source, or having an email sent directly to the manager to download. This reduces the risk of human error. "Even modest sized fleets will have to keep track of around 50-200 fuel fill-ups a week", says Francis, "a fuel card that feeds information directly, or even a driver interface, saves time and reduces errors". With a greater degree of flexibility than before, drivers and third parties can be given limited access to input relevant data, or check details, boosting communication within a company. This has proved especially important with an accident claim, where the insurance company has been provided a link to ensure claims are processed faster.
Flexibility has been boosted on all fronts; even off-the-shelf products can be tailored and trimmed to fit the needs of a fleet. Simple customising can make a big impact.
A Chevin client introduced a post code system for calculating business mileage from point A to point B. instead of the usual input of rough "start" and 'end' addresses. Drivers thus had become more accurate when tilling in expense claim forms resulting in less rounding up of business mile calculations. Over a year. average fuel expense claims dropped by £30 per person per month. Multiplying by the 2000 vehicles on that particular fleet meant a savings of £720,000 per year.
Jaama prides itself on its ability to create software designed specifically for the business its dealing with. When asked to design software for Newtown Vehicle Rental, it created a package not only to manage the 6500-strong LCV fleet, but produced something capable of managing the business as well, incorporating the leasing and daily rental side Newtown.
CFC boasts that one in five of all company cars are managed by the firm and also that it has an R&D department bigger than all the other firms combined -suggesting its new products will always be ahead of the pack.
RACs Tranman system has the benefit of longevity. The Fleet Excellence Award-winning software has been developed more than 21 years and counts among its customers blue chip clients still using software bought 20 years ago - not that RAC doesn't offer the latest software too.
Whichever firm you choose, don't forget to refer to the 10-point action plan (see p10) to help you through the process. Still think that Excel can cut it for your fleet needs?