Balfour Beatty: Innovation and information are the keys to success

Change is constant across industry, and businesses and fleets must be flexible enough to innovate and adapt to meet the requirements of customers.

That’s the view of Carl Hanson, fleet director of Balfour Beatty Plant and Fleet Services, who advises other fleet decision-makers to embrace change and not retain the status quo. “Change means innovation and I welcome innovation,” he says.

Hanson, who was appointed fleet director two years ago, has experienced a wealth of change across the company following the launch of the business-wide transformation programme Build to Last in February last year. 

The programme was set up with four aims: to be lean, expert, trusted and safe. It meant an agenda to drive change focused on innovation.

The journey that the company has been on, notably in further increasing its compliance focus while simultaneously cutting costs, led to Balfour Beatty being named Utilities Commercial Fleet of the Year at last year’s Commercial Fleet Awards.

In presenting the award, the judges said: “Balfour Beatty takes an intelligent and data-driven approach to road risk management. It shows a high level of education and compliance which is best-in-class in that sector and takes a holistic approach to running the fleet, which has resulted in major improvements in safety and cost reduction. Gate checks, weight checks and toolbox talks are helping to drive up compliance levels.”

Hanson said: “It was brilliant to have our work recognised and means we are among the leaders in the field, enabling our customers to recognise we are doing the right thing.”

The ‘Build to Last’ programme saw Balfour Beatty Plant and Fleet Services establish its own initiative across four key operational pillars: procurement, fuel management, fleet efficiency and reporting.

They have been implemented across all Balfour Beatty operating areas, collectively delivering savings of around 6% of the fleet costs (including overhead, fuel, vehicles and technology), with identified forecast cost benefits running into millions of pounds. Specific actions include:

■ Procurement – on the back of awarding Lex Autolease a five-year contract for company cars and light commercial vehicles in 2014 (see panel overleaf), further significant savings were identified by standardising the commercial fleet and rationalising the supplier base. 

■ Fuel management – the introduction of new discount diesel fuel cards and educational packs, to encourage more effective usage. 

■ Fleet efficiency – a project team was set up to review existing data, identify where savings could be made, conduct ‘deep dives’ into fleet operations and support them via a change programme across key areas such as vehicle utilisation, efficiency and safety. 

■ Reporting – ongoing reporting is critical to ensure improvements and efficiencies are maintained over time and become the norm. Management information packs are generated monthly and sent to senior stakeholders in each business unit. They are designed to allow senior management to identify positive or negative trends in their fleet and act accordingly. 

Balfour Beatty’s gas and water and power transmission and distribution business units, which have almost 900 light commercial vehicles and around 150 vehicles above 3.5 tonnes between them, have each now adopted Plant & Fleet’s Permit to Drive scheme, which won the Fleet News 2015 Safe Fleet of the Year Award.

The initiative is an overarching scheme that supports the company’s ongoing driver risk assessment and management programme, culminating in all employees authorised to drive on business receiving a Permit to Drive card. 

Development of the tool now means that all drivers are continually assessed during their career with permits renewed every three years.

Hanson says: “The Permit to Drive process is a comprehensive risk assessment and management system that is undoubtedly having a positive effect on drivers’ attitudes and appreciation for the risk associated with driving on business.”

The risk management programme has delivered a year-on-year reduction in crash frequency and incident severity, thus generating significant insurance premium savings. The recipe for reducing crashes and improving road safety is to follow the four ‘Es’:

■ Engineering – using technology to improve safety such as the introduction of on-board weighing equipment with integrated reverse and left-turn cameras on all commercial vehicles above 3.5 tonnes. All vehicles below 3.5 tonnes also have on board weighing equipment.

■ Education – numerous driver training packages in different formats from toolbox talks to on-road coaching and e-learning to classroom workshops.

■ Enforcement – implementing robust policies, including gate checks, backed by disciplinary procedures to promote best practice such as a ban on the use of all mobile phones while driving.

■ Evaluation – using indicators to continually assess the impact of all measures to reduce incident numbers. 

Transport compliance in the field has been further increased with around 3,000 gate checks annually and 2,000 random vehicle weight checks, as well as 1,700 driver toolbox talks.

Most recently a new fall protection feature on large vehicles was introduced, which was an in-house innovation and has since been replicated by a number of other operators.

A further innovation has been the introduction of pull-out chain boxes below the chassis of larger vehicles to increase the amount of safe, secure storage. It means improved safety through reduced manual handling and the ability to safely store smaller items in a more convenient location, reducing the need to access the truck bed or to store unsafe items in the vehicle cab.

In the past year around 500 employees in the two operating units completed 35 hours of training to comply with the compulsory Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) regulations relating to the driving of vehicles above 3.5 tonnes. Hanson says: “It is testament to the company’s ethos and belief in both learning and development of its people, as well as
recognition of the importance of road safety.”

The whole Balfour Beatty fleet is Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS)-accredited at bronze level. 

Furthermore, Balfour Beatty is Freight Transport Association Van Excellence-accredited and its recently launched Driver Certificate of Competence scheme, which provides a nationally recognised qualification to drivers, is to become part of the company’s in-house training programme.

Advocating that other businesses operating fleets should join such schemes, Hanson says: “By standardising industry best practice we can work to a consistent level that delivers increased safety and improved operating standards which benefits all road users. As a company we already have in place many of the measures advocated by FORS and Van Excellence. But accreditations rubber-stamp what we do and bring a level of focus already required through legislation on HGVs to vans.”

The company’s Driver CPC programme includes an eco-driving course and a classroom module called S-A-V-E (Space, Awareness, Visible, Environment) to demonstrate ways of driving safely and economically.

In a move to reduce ‘unnecessary mileage’, a key challenge is driving up the use of tele and video conferencing facilities.

However, the gas and water and power transmission and distribution business units acknowledge that many journeys are necessary. It has therefore introduced speed limiters to all commercial vehicles, both as a safety measure and to reduce unnecessary fuel burn on roads with higher speed limits.

Working in conjunction with speed limiters is a telematics system installed in all commercial vehicles to encourage efficient driving. Drivers have in-cab feedback and weekly dashboard reports are sent to the two businesses from managing directors down to contract level to help improve driver and fleet performance.

With a focus on the environment, the dashboard reports include – as well as driving manoeuvres deemed ‘unsafe’ – league tables relating to engine idling and mpg performance versus expected performance and the average for a particular vehicle.

No single individual is responsible for the management, safety and legal compliance of the fleet. Instead there is responsibility for fleet activity across operating units with dedicated fleet support through a transport management structure that sees a transport manager in each business and vehicle controllers for each contract, plus a dedicated driver risk manager.

As the gas and water and power transmission and distribution business units continue to innovate, a raft of initiatives are taking place including constant reviews of short-term vehicle hire requirements across a portfolio of sites. 

These can number between 300 and 500 on any single day and Hanson says: “We would like all vehicles to be on contract hire, but we need to manage the utilisation risk by cost effectively using short-term hire.”

The decision to outsource the management of Balfour Beatty’s company car and light commercial vehicle fleet to Lex Autolease in 2014 has reduced the overall cost of running the fleet across the group and allowed it to invest in other initiatives. 

Lex Autolease supplies vehicles on contract hire – van replacement cycles vary from three to five years depending on contract demands – and provides a comprehensive range of fleet management services. They include service and maintenance, accident management and core vehicle hire. 

Hanson says: “The partnership goes from strength to strength. We are benefiting from improvements and efficiencies to processes such as flexible online ordering and in-life support tools. We continue to work with Lex to ensure we are challenging areas of high cost such as damage and misuse of vehicles. We measure Lex’s performance through a range of KPIs and the company is delivering.”

Vehicles above 3.5 tonnes and specialist assets continue to be purchased by Balfour Beatty, utilised via an internal operating lease arrangement and managed in-house. Replacement cycles vary according to contract demands, with Hanson highlighting that “it’s what’s bolted to the chassis that’s important”.

Explaining the decision to continue to buy and manage vehicles above 3.5 tonnes in-house, Hanson says: “Due to the complexity of the vehicles – particularly the bespoke design on the back of the chassis – external support is not available from a maintenance perspective.”

There is also a specific focus on increasing the use of technology to deliver fleet operating improvements that include:

■ Telematics to manage ancillary equipment such as crane engagement and road gritting so customers can benefit from more information on how vehicles are being used and when equipment attached to them is being activated.

■ Marrying up fuel card management data with telematics-sourced information to better manage fuel usage and identify any discrepancies.

■ In-vehicle camera feeds to obtain instant streaming following a road traffic incident.

Hanson concludes: “The ‘Build to Last’ programme continues across the business and we will keep on reviewing all aspects of the fleet as business requirements change.

“What we have learned from ‘Build to Last’ is when trying to implement change you must introduce a small number of initiatives and review them frequently. Everyone is busy, but as a fleet management provider you must identify problems and provide solutions.”

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