Peter Golding first got the germ of an idea for launching a fleet management company while working for independent garages in the early part of his career.
“I dealt with a substantial number of small businesses that had little or no understanding of what they had to do,” he says. “There’s a lot of ignorance when it comes to running a fleet of vehicles.”
The sector is full of misconceptions – Golding lists three:
- Employers who believe that someone with a company car will look after it – “not the case”, he says.
- Van drivers who assume it’s the company’s responsibility to look after the vehicle – while that is ultimately the case, they are also accountable.
- Companies who lease their vehicles believe the responsibility sits with the contract hire company. “Not true,” says Golding. “The company holds the duty of care.”
He adds: “I have spent hundreds of hours with hundreds of companies and I hear the same stories regardless of fleet size, although the smaller the company, the less the resource they have.”
Golding believes the biggest issue is in the van sector, where there is no regulation and drivers are either not interested or not aware of their responsibilities.
FleetCheck was conceived in 2006 to support the “reluctant fleet managers” in smaller businesses who have limited knowledge and time. “Fleets running up to 100 vehicles do not want to run multiple reports; our user interface requires little training. We are taking people from spreadsheets into a central database,” Golding says.
FleetCheck’s focus on the SME (small- to medium-sized enterprise) sector led to Freight Transport Association (FTA)selecting the company earlier this year as a key partner for its Van Excellence small fleet programme.
However, while SME was the starting point, FleetCheck has been slowly gaining traction with larger fleets. This sector opened up when the company began to integrate data from other providers, such as TomTom, into its software.
“We have gone from stand-alone software to a data platform with more than 200 data streams – leasing company, fuel, telematics, SMR – coming in,” Golding says. “It has allowed clients to consolidate their information, for example licence data with telematics and leasing company recharges, to identify the high cost drivers and take action.”
The biggest challenge with the larger fleets is engaging staff when the organisation has multiple depots. “Our system allows them to align the view from each depot and display the information in a succinct way both centrally and at each depot,” Golding says. “We have worked with these fleets to enhance the product; a lot of our development work comes from our clients.”
FleetCheck has increased its customer base by around 40% in the past two years. Around 60% operate more than 200 vehicles, while 70% of those vehicles are vans, 30% cars. However, the majority operate cars, vans and trucks, as well as plant and machinery.
Lack of resource for fleets of all sizes
FleetCheck has three types of relationship based on fleet size:
- companies with five to 50 vehicles tend to take an off-the-shelf solution. Relationships are at a director level and they are able to make fast decisions.
- companies with 50-250 vehicles have greater awareness of their responsibilities because they tend to employ a fleet manager or have someone with direct fleet responsibility. They make minor changes to the software and require bespoke reporting.
- companies with more than 250 vehicles want systems that align internal policies and procedures which requires tailored software solutions.
Regardless of size, they have mutual issues and concerns which usually revolve around lack of resource.
“We spend a lot of time helping with best practice to help people manage their fleet effectively and in a legally responsible way,” Golding says.
“Fleets need to be aware of the redefined sentencing guidelines for serious injury on the road, not just corporate manslaughter. They have to meet a national standard and, because authorities take financial records over three years into account, the fines are so high a company could go bust.”
Golding’s strategy is driven by three key areas: legal exposure, financial control and improving admin processes.
“Saving money on a fleet isn’t easy outside of fuel. It takes a level of management that most companies don’t have,” he says. “More companies are looking at fleet management and understand that using a spreadsheet isn’t good enough. Software gives peace of mind that everything is being managed, checked and recorded.”
This has taken on greater importance since manufacturers began embarking on a journey of ever-extending service schedules. But while oil lasts much longer, tyres and brakes still wear out at the same frequency.
“Responsibility has therefore moved from the garage to the company,” Golding says. “If a vehicle isn’t due a service for two years, these other issues still need addressing.”
And he has identified another major concern with longer service schedules: advisory notices. If a garage issues an advisory notice, such as tyres at 3mm when the company has a 2mm policy, who manages the process to ensure the car goes back into the garage in a few months’ time?
“There is not a mechanism for following up these notices and if that leads to an accident, the company will be in breach of duty of care by not acting on the advisory notice,” Golding says.
FleetCheck reckons it has the solution. It is piloting a new garage portal with ATS which enables the garage to log an advisory notice into the fleet software system. This links to the mileage capture system to automatically notify the fleet and the garage when the vehicle needs to return to have the work carried out.
Diminishing safety as maintenance costs fall
“We are addressing a failure by the manufacturers who are moving to reduce maintenance costs on vehicles but are diminishing safety,” Golding says.
“This puts the responsibility back onto the garage and means the fleet doesn’t have to make a judgment. It also means the garage can forward plan, which minimises downtime.”
Here, the savings can rapidly rise for fleets. FleetCheck calculates that it costs on average £690 per day if a vehicle is unexpected off the road. If managed well, a fleet could easily save several days per vehicle.
“We can move a fleet from reactive maintenance to pro-active maintenance to reduce their maintenance bill safely and legally by monitoring it properly and acting on advisory notices,” Golding says.
He also believes vehicles should be inspected relative to their use, regardless of the servicing schedule – he recommends an annual inspection at a garage as a minimum.
FleetCheck has a hand-holding approach towards fleets new to its software. It takes on the task of loading the vehicle data onto its system prior to the handover training, which takes about an hour.
It also contacts clients if they have not logged in for a few weeks. “It might be a staff change and it is important to give them that support,” Golding says.
Up to 95% of new customers running up to 1,000 vehicles are converts from spreadsheets or an internal database rather than conquests from another software system.
Spreadsheets are, says Golding, still “massively prevalent – all the software companies have a very small proportion of the market”.
He adds: “Our single biggest challenge is to educate companies that what they are currently doing is not enough. They are exposed and once something has gone wrong it is too late.”
‘Give fleet managers the tools to do the job’
The majority of companies running a fleet of vehicles do not use fleet management software. So what is the catalyst for change?
Peter Golding says the main reasons are: the issue is brought up at board level because someone has identified a risk, possibly through media coverage; the fleet has expanded to a size that means spreadsheets simply do not work; or it is driven by a financial desire to save money.
“If you are a director that employs someone to manage your fleet, you should give them the tools to do it,” he says. “We’ve seen fleet managers offer letters of resignation to the director who wouldn’t take up software.”
One of the biggest issues is the fact that finance directors are wedded to spreadsheets and are reluctant to sign off investment in specialist software.
“You shouldn’t wait for an accident to happen in order to have a catalyst,” Golding warns.