Fleet special: remote control

There is a strong argument that the true acronym for IT is not information
technology, but ‘incredibly tedious’. After the opening sales gambit of ‘saves
you money’ and ‘saves you time’, many finance directors switch off when talk
turns to the processors, gigabytes and software workflow charts that can help a
fleet operate more efficiently.

This is a great shame, because it’s exactly the point at which FDs should
start listening, so they can ensure the whole project is a success by providing
exact specifications and explaining the full requirements of any system.

Software and technology can do great things and make life much easier if it
works properly. But getting to that point means a mind-numbing amount of
research, checking of processes and then re-checking what has already been done.
It is worth the effort, however, because the expense and disruption of a failed
IT project can bring a company to its knees until the problem is sorted out.

Simon West-Oliver, sales and marketing director of Drive Software Solutions,
says: ‘Good practice is to clearly define your requirements, which some people
are not very good at. People have different problems, but, in coming up with a
solution, there must be no ambiguity. It is a time-consuming process and very
expensive. A lot of projects have failed simply because the software has not
worked the way it should for the client.’

The need for technology to manage fleet operations has become essential, as
the amount of data they have to deal with has rocketed in the past few years. In
fact, the information handled by UK fleets has multiplied 30 times over the past
10 years and is set to increase at an even faster rate over the next decade.

One of Britain’s biggest fleet software companies, Cfc solutions, says that
with the potential arrival of national road-user charging and growing duty of
care responsibilities, the amount of data fleet departments need to handle could
rise a hundred-fold.

Today, data feeds both into and out of fleet management software. It works
with a multitude of sources including maintenance providers, insurance
companies, tyre networks, human resources systems, accident management
specialists, vehicle procurement sources and more. The days of intensive paper
invoicing and hefty ledger files have gone.

Online management systems are springing up in fleet offices all over the
country and there are a range of areas where technology can help a fleet

There is a surprisingly large number of companies that provide these systems,
including Cfc solutions, Jaama, Drive Software Solutions, Chevin Fleet
Solutions, Freeway, RAC Software and Bynx, to name but a few. The first step is
to know what to look for in a software system and what it can do for you.

In its most basic form, fleet software acts as a database to hold information
on the entire vehicle fleet – drivers, service costs, accidents, fuel use and so
on. Most software also includes automated services, such as reminders for
driving licence checks, when services are due and other common tasks.


But modern software can go much further. It can produce automated letters and
emails, text drivers’ mobile phones to tell them to get a service, monitor when
servicing work is being carried out and allow drivers to register their mileage
details over the internet.

It can also work with a range of other systems to automate most aspects of
the vehicle management process. For example, fleet systems can link into a
network of approved service providers and automatically schedule cars for work
at a particular garage depending on the driver’s needs.

There has been a ten-fold rise in the number of service bookings made by
company car drivers online in the past 12 months, slashing the time fleet
departments have to spend on the phone to drivers and cutting paperwork.

A network known as epyx 1link, a family of e-commerce platforms that link
together for online service management, is also behind a dramatic change in the
way service work is approved. Now, instead of a manager having to give verbal
approval for work to be carried out on a car, garages can be given the go-ahead
by the 1link system, using set parameters programmed in by the fleet

But technology isn’t just being used to save money, it is being used to save
lives. Thousands of drivers have been put through online driver assessments,
which are designed to identify staff who are at risk of accidents, before they
even get behind the wheel.

A large number of driver training and risk management companies now offer
online assessments, which can cost just a couple of pounds per driver. Using
detailed questions and real-life scenarios, managers are able to identify
whether drivers are more likely to take risks on the road, or whether they need
training in specific areas.

Simple questions can also identify whether drivers have the correct licence
for their role and, using additional electronic checks direct with the DVLA,
tell whether employees are telling the truth about the number of points they
have on their licence.


If you need to know in even more detail what drivers are doing on the road,
then technology has the answer, thanks to the latest tracking systems, which can
be fitted to cars and vans.

Not only do they show employers where their drivers are at any particular
time, it also reports on vehicle speed and even harsh braking or acceleration.
Tracking technology is also used on a daily basis to recover stolen vehicles, in
many cases containing expensive equipment or stock.

Cybit, one of a growing number of telematics service providers, recently
announced the first order for its Fleetstar-Online package combined with a new
driver ID module. Site Electrical, a mechanical and electrical services
provider, will install the technology into its fleet of around 40 engineering
vans. This will enable Site Electrical to verify driver locations and driving
times, as well as help enhance the company’s duty of care provision to its fleet
of mobile and lone workers.

Site Electrical will use the driver ID module to manage individual driving
times for engineers – especially where more than one travel in the same van –
and ensure compliance with working time directive regulations. It will also use
real-time tracking to monitor the safety of its drivers, who sometimes work
alone and are on-call to provide 24-hour emergency response. Historical analysis
of driving practices will allow the company to adjust its business practices to
optimise driver safety.

Steve Crump, operations director, says: ‘There are many benefits that you
don’t realise from the outset, addressing many underlying issues in addition to
standard tracking and location functionality. We anticipate significant
enhancements to our fleet operations as a result.’

The potential of telematics is almost endless, with the government
investigating the feasibility of introducing mileage-based taxation for drivers
using the latest vehicle tracking technology. Insurers are also showing the
potential benefits of this technology, with Norwich Union launching trials of
pay-per-mile insurance.

With all the services combined, these major advances in technology have
brought the potential for the hands-free running of vehicle fleet within reach
of many businesses.


A Welsh haulage company,which uses vans on its fleet,has cut its wasted fuel
and over-claimed hours bill by £45,000 a year.

West One Express has installed theVMI (VehicleManagement
Information)systemfromMinorplanet Systems in its 58 vehicles.Generalmanager Neil
Horgan says:’We have always focused on being a customer-facing company, having
all vehicles distinctively signwritten and all drivers wearing a uniform with a
logo and colours tomatch.

‘We needed a system that would give us another unique aspect to offer
customers,namely vehicle location.We couldn’t say exactly where our vehicles
were without calling a driver and asking. This meant the driver would have to
pull over,take the call then continue the journey.This is costly and causes

The company states that other benefits of the systeminclude being able to
deter drivers from using the company vehicles for personal use.

‘We were able to deter drivers from visiting barred locations and,as a
result, we have savedmore than £15,000 a year in fuel,’Horgan says.

This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in Financial
Director magazine

Related reading