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FLEET SOFTWARE: Take a hard look at fleet software to alleviate the rising price of fuel

Date: 10 August 2011

With experts predicting fuel will be at £2 a litre in only a few years, Tristan Young takes a look at what the fleet software industry can do to minimise the pain of rising fuel bills

Perhaps it's not surprising that the fleet software industry is in unison over the claim that a fleet's average mpg can be improved using their systems. It admits there are many sceptical fleet managers, but with fuel costs moving ever upward it could pay to listen to what software firms have to say.

Fleets need to go beyond the basics of just using fuel cards to control spend, according to Jaama managing director Jason Francis: "While fleet operators are furnished with information, they frequently need help in analysing the data, particularly in respect of highlighting potential errors.

"The data from fuel management companies is reliant on fuel station cashiers inputting the correct information, for example, vehicle mileage. Accidentally keying in a wrong number can be a potential nightmare for fleets.

"That is why it is vital that fuel management reports sent online by suppliers are interrogated in detail by fleet software, and any possible errors highlighted for further analysis by fleet managers and the accounts department."

Neville Briggs, managing director at CFC Solutions, adds that the perception of fuel costs by senior managers was that there was nothing that could be done to control them: "In fact, our experience is that the opposite is true. Fuel is a major expense for most fleets and responds very well to managerial control. Savings in expenditure of 5-10% are reasonably common.

"We see instances where poor drivers use 20% more fuel than their peers in identical cars over similar journeys. Fleet software gives you the ability to identify these drivers - or their vehicles if there is a fault on the car or van - and take action."

Looking further into the future of how software could cut a fleet's fuel bill, Chevin managing director Ashley Sowerby believes it could be possible to link a web-based fleet management system with manufacturers' data. This would enable information on the vehicle's fuel economy characteristics to be automatically cross-referenced with individuals' driving styles.

"The outcome would be a system that could work out which specific vehicle would suit each individual driver and subsequently make procurement recommendations to save the fleet money," he says.

"This would also save fleet managers time normally spent researching, encourage the production of more eco-friendly cars, and result in a fleet-wide reduction in fuel use. Buying decisions would be based on facts, not personal preference or misplaced brand loyalty."

As well as using software to analyse data about fuel consumption after the event so that you can improve your future performance, the other way to cut fuel bills is to plan journeys more efficiently before they happen.

Worryingly, some fleets have started to relax the active management of company car journeys that was widely introduced with the help of fleet software at the start of the recession, according to Briggs.

"It is surprising to us to see companies stopping active journey management. There are fleets within our customer base that reduced their overall mileage by more than a quarter with ease, dramatically cutting fuel and maintenance costs according to analysis from the software, but some are letting this policy slip away," he says.

Briggs adds that as the economy gradually shows signs of strengthening, it is important that businesses does not let the lessons of the recession go to waste.

He explains: "Simply by making drivers more responsible for their journeys and questioning their diary planning, fleets have made very worthwhile savings, and it seems to us very early in the potential economic recovery to be letting these policies go."

Quartix believes using telematics systems can give an edge with journey planning.

"Online tracking reduces fuel costs in many ways, including cutting fleet inefficiencies such as journey duplications, overlaps and unscheduled journeys," says Andy Kirk, sales and marketing director. "It enables shorter routes to be identified and planned, and encourages mobile staff to adopt a more economical and safer driving style, discouraging speeding and harsh braking."

Once again looking ahead, Chevin's Ashley Sowerby says: "To optimise journey planning, consortiums of fleets could utilise real-time benchmarking technology by instantly pooling travel information to provide updates to drivers on the most efficient route that day. This would require a link between telematics systems and fleet management software to put an update 'as it happens' at drivers' fingertips."