FLEET SOFTWARE: 10 key questions to help you upgrade your system (continued)
10 November 2009
Reaching a decision on the right fleet management software for your business is a difficult process, so Paul Barker asked some of the leading industry experts to answer 10 key questions that will help you with that buying decision
6. How do online and offline systems differ and how should you choose between them?
This is one of the key decisions with a system. It can be either online, which means web-based and therefore accessible from any machine with an internet connection, or, as Mycompanyfleet's Leech calls it, local install, where the system is set-up within a business's server system and based there.
"I think I can't really see an organisation investing in non-web-based," is Jaama boss Francis's opinion. "If it's web-based, any software changes and new releases happen automatically - you don't need an IT department, server, security, firewall and IT expertise, all of which is expensive.
On the other hand, Mycompanyfleet offers a choice of both. "It depends on the organisation. If it is fragmented it may want to give a lot of the system management to local depots; then online is best," he says. "There is still a place for local install as we call it, particularly where a company has the sort of set-up where they want the system on a main network."
Jardine says fleets with remote workers find the online approach particularly helpful. "If a customer had 400 remote workers from Land's End to John O'Groats putting in monthly expenses, they can go in and update vehicle and expenses and send to HR, so they shouldn't ever need to send in a piece of paper," he says. "We're online every day buying from eBay. Why shouldn't we be managing our fleet of cars online? The web is there all day every day."
7. How compatible are the different systems in bringing data together?
Another key point is making sure a fleet management system can talk to the tracking, fuel management and other day-to-day systems a business already has in place.
"Most modern systems can import telematics data. The systems talk to telematics providers' websites and automatically import," says Leech.
E-Training World's Graham Hurdle says the same. "We've managed to link in pretty well everything," he tells BusinessCar. "We get the data in a certain format and upload it to the system when required. For example, ASDA upload all their accident and licence data weekly - the rest of the stuff is live when they do risk assessments. But linking data is absolutely no problem at all."
8. How easy is it to ensure a firm is financially viable?
As in all service sectors, the recession has had an impact with some firms struggling to stay afloat. And as a fleet, the last thing you want is to see the company you've just signed up with for the next year suddenly go belly-up.
"It's an important consideration," says Leech. "It's very easy to do a Dun & Bradstreet credit check. It's not a lot of money to invest. The credit check can give a guide. I think it is about £8 and if you're dealing with three companies it costs £24 to potentially save the thousands you're spending.
"You should always ask for the latest set of accounts, and also, because of the difficulties this year, ask for the forecast accounts for the coming year," advises Jason Francis. "It's important to find out how successful a company is. Ask for a list of customers signed up this year that can also act as references."
Francis has another note of caution. "We've already seen one of our competitors go under recently and you need to make sure not just that your supplier is financially viable, but that it won't be sold," he warns. "I worked for a large software provider, not in this industry, that used to acquire competitors and force their users to upgrade to their system."
9. How fast is the industry moving and how does a fleet future-proof against developments?
There is one easy answer to this question, says Graham Hurdle. "If you're looking for a supplier, look for one with in-house developers to keep up with what's required," is his advice.
"The software industry is moving very quickly," adds Jason Francis. "We continue to gain pace in terms of functionality to simplify the management process."
But all the industry experts BusinessCar spoke with have the same broad-scale advice: if a firm is running a web-based system, all modern versions will be upgraded with the latest developments remotely, with no upgrading needed by the fleet manager.
10. What does the future hold?
Graham Hurdle of E-Training World talks of an even closer working relationship between fleet management and risk management. "Those two should be joined at the hip," he says, while also claiming that the difficult economic climate has in some ways been good for the software industry. "The recession has helped us, it has given us time to focus on products to stay ahead of the game, and I'm sure we're not the only ones doing that."
Jaama's Jason Francis says there will be more moves toward joined-up systems with Government, such as the one recently launched by his firm that enables users to send P11D information straight to HMRC, as well as more linking with other company systems such as the HR function. "A fleet system is not an island, it works with an HR system and recruitment process, for example," he points out. "If a new employee is entitled to a car, if there are no available vehicles the system flags up to hire one until the employee can come in and choose their own."
Andrew Leech sees a future where software systems are able to better track and compare costs. "We've seen a lot of pressure on things like out-of-contract charges, and in the future there will be more demand for systems that offer greater transparency on charges, and are able to get true whole-life costs and benchmark leasing companies on a whole raft of costs including admin fees, over-mileage charges, repair costs, how long it takes to book cars into a dealer and whether the work is completed first time," says Leech.
And Chevin's Stuart Jardine believes that greater internal access from other departments that have a vested interest in the safe and efficient running of company cars and vans will become more evident, in terms of the finance and HR departments in particular.
But whatever happens, this is a competitive and evolving industry that can, if utilised properly, have a heavy impact on the efficient operation of a fleet.