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ZENITH: Finger on the Pulse

Date: 12 October 2011

Zenith has had a busy couple of years, and things won't slow down any time soon for the recently rebranded fleet firm, especially since it plans to launch its new Pulse 'reporting platform', as MD Tim?Buchan tells Paul Barker

For many leasing and fleet management firms, an 18 months that has seen a partnership with banking giant Santander, financial institution Morgan Stanley take a 60% stake, a senior management reshuffle, strong growth in areas such as salary sacrifice and fleet management, and a rebranding, would lead to a period of consolidation, or at least a pause to draw breath.

Not so at Zenith. Recently rebranded from its previous Zenith Provecta moniker, the company is looking ahead to a big few months as it launches a new fleet management and analysis system devised to give customers previously unobtainable levels of cost-saving detail.

"Where we will be in six to nine months is very different to where we are today," explains Tim Buchan, who took over as chief executive from now-chairman Andrew Cope last November. The key development is what Zenith calls a new "reporting platform" that will analyse and share data across a whole host of areas to help Zenith's fleet manager customers gain an instant understanding of the operation of their fleet. Elements including orders, delivery status, emissions, terminations, accident statistics, car hire spend and fines are all included in what Zenith has branded its Pulse system.

"It's important we're giving the fleet manager all the relevant data so they look strong and powerful in their organisation, before the finance director asks what's happening with an element of their business such as car rental spend," says Zenith commercial director Ian Hughes.

"It allows the stakeholder to analyse trends, not manage data," continues Buchan. "They can see at a stroke if the costs are rising in one area, and act to reduce costs and increase efficiencies rather than mining data."

Zenith says it has been using this level of data for several years as part of its quarterly reviews of customer fleets, but Pulse gives companies the ability to use it themselves in their own timeframes, on any web-connected computer or iPad. "In the whole sector, customers are poorly served by systems - a large proportion of companies still operate on spreadsheets - and we're attempting to move our customers away from that," says Buchan. "We've been providing this level of trend analysis quarterly in face-to-face meetings with customers - we've been doing that for the last five years - and this is taking it to the next level, allowing customers to mine that on a real-time level."

At present, five Zenith customers are testing the system's connectivity, which is mainly checking its operation in the real world with different internet browsers. "By the end of the year most clients will be using this - if they want to," says Buchan.

Whole-life costs

But that is only phase one of Pulse. The most impressive development is actually another few months further away, around next summer, when Zenith launches its whole-life cost addition to the Pulse system. The detail Zenith is drilling into is impressive, with a cost per mile figure available including elements such as early termination cost, vehicle repairs, fines and end-of-life costs, as well as the more regular insurance, fuel and financial implications of running vehicles.

"When we have finished this we will be able to sit in front of a customer and tell them explicitly how much their fleet costs including costs like early termination and end of lease charges," declares Buchan. "This is leakage ppm [pence per mile] and this is where they need a cpm [cost per mile] target - customers can take out cost through understanding where there is cost."

Zenith will be able to provide levels of detail that can compare the cost of running one vehicle versus another, allowing firms to compare the real-world whole-life cost of different models and manufacturers across their fleet. That move will help companies analyse the impact of changes made to choice lists and where savings can be made by switching from one brand to another. "We're into long-term relationships with customers - we've got nothing to hide and openness and transparency is what helps customers," says Buchan. "When you look at policy decisions, a fleet wants to recommend a strategy and the fleet manager wants to go towards one brand or another. We're able to show a client financial aspects of the decision. The staff retention issues are important, but we can give facts."

The long-term goal is for Zenith to be able to give a cost per mile figure for every vehicle on sale, and for the firm's relationship managers to use the data to help fleets drive down costs by making changes to policies. The system should also allow benchmarking of a company's fleets against anonymised peers, highlighting comparative strengths and weaknesses. "It's about informed quality decisions for customers to drive costs in a difficult economic climate," says Hughes.

"We see it as our duty in the sector to bring innovative solutions to our customers and that's been our DNA as Zenith, it's where our core strength is - using everything from grey fleet to goods vehicles," concludes Buchan. "We don't see ourselves as a fleet management company, we're more about business-service solution provision to customers."

Target: Twice the size by 2016

Zenith chief executive Tim Buchan is focusing on doubling the company's size by 2016, although continuing to cater for 100+ vehicle fleets rather than diversifying into SMEs or the broker market.

"Our focus is to grow the company organically over the next four or five years," he says. "The significant growth is in larger fleets."

Buchan also refuses to rule out acquisitions if the chance occurs. "We continue to be open-minded about acquisitions and if the right opportunity presents itself we will take the time to research and investigate it, but all of our growth over the next four or five years is organic," he says.

Zenith is in the process of sourcing a heavy goods vehicle "solution" that would complete it's comprehensive vehicle management offering, covering everything from salary sacrifice and grey fleet up to large trucks. "We're focused on delivering an end-to-end solution to the medium-large corporate sector," says Buchan.