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The fleet manager of the future

Date: 30 January 2018   |   Author: Rachel Boagey

Will the changing outsourcing landscape mean the fleet manager role, as we know it, will no longer exist? Rachel Boagey finds out

Whether we like it or not, the role of the fleet manager is rapidly changing. 

Nowadays, it seems that the traditional fleet manager who has experience of the sector, and is used to handling and organising a fleet, is not always present. 

Far from the job title of fleet manager diminishing however, the role is developing and expanding more rapidly than ever before. Now, the fleet manager position can often be found sitting within HR, procurement, finance, facilities and travel departments. 

"Holding responsibility for transportation is no longer just about running a fleet of vehicles," says Matthew Walters, head of consultancy and data services at LeasePlan. "Progressive organisations know that it's about finding the best way for employees to make their journeys. Key metrics are shifting from fleet size to journey success rates, timings, attendance rates and total annual costs." 

A fluid fleet manager 

What this means is that a more 'fluid' fleet manager role is necessary. No longer is a fleet manager just responsible for a fleet of cars. It is now ever more important to focus on the journey, rather than simply the mode of transport, says Walters. A vital element of the job is therefore to help people get where they need to go, as quickly, efficiently, safely, productively and cost-effectively as possible. "The good news is businesses are already embracing this - we are already engaging with more customers who operate outside of and beyond the traditional fleet manager's role," he says.

David Fisher, fleet manager at Rexel UK, explains that in some cases, outsourcing a fleet manager or appointing someone else in the company to do the job can be beneficial. "This can be a good way for a business to manage their fleet, but this is dependent on the size of the fleet operated, and the types of vehicles and goods carried by the business." he says.  

Fisher says that if a business has a small, simple fleet, the best option can be an outsourced fleet management company, with an HR or operation representative managing the relationship. "However, with larger fleets that operate HGVs or have to carry specialised equipment - for example, flammable or compressed gas cylinders - I believe it is essential to have a specialist within the organisation who can manage the many challenges that will occur, and ensure that policy, and most importantly legislation, is met," he says.

Mitigating challenges 

Shaun Sadlier, head of consulting at leasing company Arval, says that many of the company's customers, as a norm, outsource a growing number of non-core activities to specialist companies - including fleet operation. "At Arval, we are increasingly being requested to provide fleet outsourcing for our customers; some with the fleet manager role remaining, but becoming more strategic, and others where that position is no longer in place," he explains. 

Often the main disadvantages of outsourcing, according to Sadlier, are considered to be areas such as loss of control and potential quality issues. However, he explains that these challenges can be mitigated by choosing the right partner and implementing the right agreement
and processes. 

"Because managing the supplier does not end at the point of signing the contract, there should be a clear management strategy in place that will continually monitor the supplier's performance. This will benefit both parties," he explains. 

John Pryor, chairman of fleet operators' association ACFO, doesn't feel it is sensible for companies to place the responsibilities of the fleet manager on other people in the company who may not necessarily have as much experience. But he says that this decision will vary from company to company and from fleet to fleet. "Promoting the necessity and value of a fleet manager is critical and must be seen as a key professional role by employers. But ACFO acknowledges that the role is changing," he says.

Business Woman Wearing Suit

"So much depends on how the company is doing things, but businesses should understand and be aware of the consequences of not having a specific fleet manager. It does boil down to, 'If you were in court, can you justify your decision?'" 

Understanding what they're managing is therefore a vital element for anyone taking on the role of fleet manager. If outsourced and managed properly, Pryor does not feel that fleets should have to suffer. "But you should have somebody within the company who makes the final decision and is a central point for the outsourcing company," he says. 

Legislation and liability issues  

While the role of the fleet manager has changed considerably in the past five years with the increase in drivers' knowledge of legislation and the effects of travel on the environment, there are also many more changes to come with the introduction of new technologies that means the role will need to evolve further to keep up. Fisher explains that the most important areas to monitor will always be safety and legislation.

"While outsourcing will reduce the administration for a business, the responsibility and liability will still remain with the company so the management of the information will still be required. If a business does outsource its fleet, it should still keep internal processes to ensure regular checks are made, as well as obtain full reporting from the fleet management company, ensuring that complaints, maintenance and legislation are adhered to."

Legislation changes are happening as fast as new technologies in vehicles are being released, so keeping up to date with this is essential, notes Fisher. "Failure to do so may result in the business being non-compliant with UK law and environmental requirements, which can lead to heavy financial penalties or worse," he says. 

At Rexel, Fisher explains the company has just released a new vehicle choice list for car drivers in line with a company-wide sustainability policy that is the first to include BEV/PHEV options for the UK. "Without the communications, demonstrator programme and promotion of the benefits these vehicles can create for drivers and the business, we would not have seen the uptake we have, which is over 50% of all new orders being placed being for either a hybrid or PHEV," he says. "This is why someone who knows what they're doing is so important." 

Arval's Sadlier says  the expertise, services and support that can be provided by the fleet outsource company should ensure  the fleet is compliant and the potential for corporate manslaughter is reduced.

Outsourcing efficiencies

In terms of efficiencies, there are initial steps that can be made prior to implementation that will ensure the fleet is operated efficiently. "For example, it is crucial that the customer takes time at the outset to ensure  they have the right partner, and both parties are clear on the objectives of introducing an outsourced solution," Sadlier says. 

Sadlier advises companies looking to outsource their fleet manager to be very clear about, and document, which processes are to be undertaken by the leasing company and which are to be kept in-house. "Ensure that all internal stakeholders are aware of and agree with the new procedures," he says. 

"Finally, allow the leasing supplier to assist in the formulation of your fleet strategy - you have appointed them as your experts and they have access to best practice, new legislation and innovation that will impact on all of your fleet decisions."

Overall, if the person employed as fleet manager does not have the traditional fleet background and experience, Sadlier says that they would need to build a good working knowledge of the area of the fleet operation for which they are responsible, and understand the relevant services being provided by their suppliers. "They should also have regular communication and meetings with the outsourcing company to review performance on an ongoing basis," he says.

Walters says the change in approach of the role of the fleet manager mirrors a worldwide shift in attitudes to car ownership and what mobility means to businesses and individuals. "This changing trend is having a significant impact on the leasing industry, and as buying habits and technology advance, it is only natural that the sector will have to adapt and change as well," he says.

Sadlier explains that many companies will continue to have the role of the fleet manager who will be focused on all aspects of the operation of the fleet. "What we do anticipate seeing is that their role will evolve over time, as the fleet industry continues to develop outsourcing solutions. More focus will be on the strategic areas of the fleet, such as mobility, CSR, new technologies and cost-efficiencies," he says. 

Fisher says that, in his opinion, the fleet manager role as we know it will not exist in its traditional sense in the future as it will become more focused on mobility, encompassing all areas of business travel. "Be it via train, company car, hire car or public transport, this new mobility manager will need to look into all areas and offer businesses the best solution for its travel requirements," he says. "This will also include advising on whether travel is really a requirement and offering alternatives like conference calls and Skype meetings where a face to face meeting isn't essential."