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Rise of the mobility manager

Technology and other developments are changing how fleets operate


November 7, 2018
by David Miller

From the October 2018 print edition

Whether you’re in the catering, cleaning, rental car or delivery service—if it contains a fleet of vehicles, the fleet manager is essential to its operations. The fleet manager has various roles that cover scheduling, driver management, financing, safety, as well as health and wellness, to name a few. And the success of one’s business may hinge on how they manage those fleets.

Like many other fields, the fleet world has gone through its fair share of changes stemming from an increase in online work, new technologies and the globalization of businesses as a whole. It has brought about a constant flux to the fleet manager role. That’s on top of additional responsibilities in understanding metrics, vehicle tracking, lowering costs, lowering emissions and increasing productivity as a whole.

Efficiency has always been key to the job, but it’s now done in a new, more technological format. Rather than focusing solely on drivers or vehicles, they both can be effectively monitored through ongoing digitized systems. No longer are paper maps and physical meetings needed. In its place are GPS navigation, fleet tracking and real-time driving directions. In addition, loads of data are aimed at simplifying the planning process, alleviate any arising situation—be it an accident or traffic—with an ultimate goal of saving on costs.

“For typical corporate fleets, it’s the impact procurement has had on how they do their jobs,” explains Phil Russo, chief executive offer, NAFA Fleet Management Association. “The focus has shifted from ‘total cost of’ (TCO) to lowest cost now.”

It all adds to the stress of the fleet manager position, placing them under the gun to do more with less. Jim Pattison Lease, one of Canada’s largest privately owned fleet management companies, founded in 1961, understand the new challenges and pressures faced by fleet managers.

“Fleet managers are required to review and analyze an overwhelming amount of data in order to optimize their total cost of ownership,” explains Lana Prokopuik, manager of corporate accounts, Jim Pattison Lease. “The fleet manager of today needs to be fully educated in deciphering and making sound business decisions based on the many fleet reports that are available at the push of a button. Aligning themselves with a proactive fleet management company will alleviate time and allow them to quickly focus on other areas of improvement.”

Prokopuik feels that it’s not just about dealing with new technologies, but understanding the data (overall acquisition costs, maintenance and resale and so on) in order to make quick and effective decisions such as which vehicle is best to utilize for a particular job. To do this, fleet managers should work with their respective teams to make corporate fleet policies and decisions, while keeping up with industry standards.

It’s a changing of the guard, explained best by Russo: “They are no longer just fleet managers, but mobility managers which add/change their responsibilities significantly.”

Dealing with disruptors
With an industry constantly in flux, there’s no way of hypothesizing what new technologies and systems are on the horizon. Industry experts can only provide estimates, while fleet managers have to be able to quickly adapt and be adept with whatever challenge comes their way.

Currently in the automotive sector, fleet managers have numerous disruptors including ride sharing; mobility as a service (Uber/Lyft); greenhouse initiatives; upcoming alternative powertrains and autonomous vehicles. None of them is a pipedream with almost all already well established in the shift towards mobility and connectivity.

“These are all shifting and adding responsibilities to fleet managers,” adds Russo. “If fleet managers are not on top of these changes and rather sticking their heads in the sand, they will become casualties of change.”
Looking at this situation from the other side is Peter Cornu, national commercial accounts manager, General Motors Canada Fleet. Cornu’s job is to liaise between GM, large and small companies, as well as fleet management clients to make sure everything goes smoothly for all parties.

He’s witnessed first-hand every one of these changes and believes GM is, “well positioned not only with its vehicles, but with technology and connectivity.”

GM main focus may be selling vehicles, but it has covered all its bases through owning Cruise Automation, a driverless car company, a car sharing service called Maven, and is a shareholder in Lyft, a company along with Uber that’s taken over the ride sharing space and buying lots of vehicles in the process. On top of that, it has one of the most connected and technologically-sound fleets in the industry with an abundance of technologies including: 4G LTE Wi-Fi for ultimate communication, OnStar for help with diagnostics and directions, My Link apps for remote starts, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

“GM needs to be competitive and efficient in all areas,” adds Cornu. “If fleet managers wants and needs aren’t handled well, other automakers can take away that business.”

Out of all the current disruptors, ride sharing seems to hit the fleet business at its core. Despite GM experiencing year-over-year growth, Prokopuik points to a potential future where fleets in certain areas will no longer require their drivers to have their own company-assigned vehicles.

“At Jim Pattison Lease, we can envision fleet management beginning to morph into a hybrid of asset based management along with an increased emphasis on mobile management,” she said. “Fleet reporting will inevitably shift from the traditional lifecycle cost of a vehicle to a more in-depth analytics around travel time and optimum, cost effective forms of alternative transportation.”

Cornu is also cognizant of these changing fleet demands that could reduce vehicle volume in the future: “We are taking a realistic approach, driven by the changing market demands and shifting accordingly in order to be well positioned within these disruptors.”

Preparing for the shift
Change is never easy, especially with new technologies. It creates mental and economic pressures that can only be overcome through education and experience. Fleet managers need to be well trained in analyzing data, and that’s where the NAFA Fleet Management Association can help. With time and the implementation of these new technologies, pressures will be alleviated and business can be conducted in an efficient manner.

Fleet managers should also take solace that once up to speed on these latest technologies, their workplace skills will be more in demand.

“Technology and connectivity actually add value to the fleet manager role,” explains Prokopuik. “It highlights the importance of a fleet manager even more, because the data provided allows them to be better equipped to make sound, effective decisions on the fleet, ultimately reducing overall costs.”

Prokopuik adds that understanding leading edge reporting tools will assist them in operating a cost-effective fleet. A fleet management program is only as good as its manager and the technology used, so as long as those two are up to date and in sync, productivity should stay up and the fleet business and its managerial role should stay healthy during this new technological age.