Are Spreadsheets the answer?
Legal compliance is a crucial part of any business running a fleet. With this in mind, it’s staggering how many organisations continue to rely on multiple spreadsheets that do not support a robust audit trail.
The DVSA recommends that all companies keep an auditable trail covering defects, maintenance, repairs, and servicing “for at least 15 months”. This task, whilst not impossible on spreadsheets, can massively drain a fleet manager’s time, and take them away from other important jobs.
Spreadsheets are, by design a multiple use tool so can be far more inefficient, cumbersome, and prone to human error. But arguably more importantly, Excel can leave sensitive information open to unauthorised access.
You may have already experienced the types of mistakes and errors that can occur by using spreadsheets, for example; the errors that can occur by fields being inputted loosely typed with no automatic enforcement of data, “is that it a date or a number?”. Most errors are only found weeks or months after the event, when you need the correct data. What’s more, complex spreadsheets can often only be efficiently understood by their creator.
Here’s living proof…
Barclays Bank fell into the Excel trap in 2008 with a spreadsheet that was part of a major takeover bid. Columns containing highly confidential data should have been deleted before the spreadsheet was sent, but instead they were hidden. And of course found again…but too late, the damage was done. And in 2013, JPMorgan Chase lost more than $6 billion, allegedly due to copying and pasting incorrect information into a spreadsheet.
Although many companies recognise that spreadsheets are not adequate for fleet management, many are worried about the amount of resource, both in time and money that it would take to implement a new system.
So why do companies still insist on using Excel?
Primarily there are three main reasons why spreadsheets are considered the main ‘competitor’ to FMS platforms:
People ‘understand’ Excel.
At some point in virtually everyone’s career they will have to use Excel. Whilst most people are not proficient users, many employees are reluctant to learn a new tool. It is important to note that any FMS system which requires extensive training and technical expertise could be too complicated for the average user to master effectively, and therefore have very little benefit over Excel.
2) Companies have invested substantial time in their spreadsheets.
Spreadsheets typically reflect an organisation’s unique approach and their current processes. The fleet team, if indeed there is one, is already limited on time and simply can’t fit in anything else in to their day so changing systems is seen as a daunting task.
3) Companies assume that a dedicated system will cost too much and be too complex to maintain.
Licences for an on premise system are expensive, especially when you have infrequent users. These systems often take a long time to install and will require the involvement of a dedicated consultant and internal IT staff. As a company’s needs change these systems are not flexible enough to adapt and consultants must be brought back in to oversee any alterations.
And finally, some companies simply do not like change, preferring to stick with what they know.
What’s the alternative?
If you’ve explored FMS platforms before, you may have concluded that the benefits simply wouldn’t outweigh the costs or hassle. However, newer, more flexible on-line solutions are available. These solutions offer all the benefits of an on premise system whilst minimising the disruption, cost, implementation time, and maintenance requirements.
So, what should you be looking for?
As you evaluate providers, your goals should always be to a) streamline your processes and eliminate duplication of work, b) ensure the data you rely on is accurate, and c) keep any sensitive data secure. Below is how you identify key features and make sure you ask the right questions:
1) A single data source
Having a single data source for all fleet related information that can be easily shared across your company will hugely reduce your administration time. Without multiple spreadsheets to distribute, collect, reconcile, and redistribute, you’ll reduce the potential for errors that can severely affect your fleet compliance.
As you evaluate various solutions, ask the vendor if they can work with your current suppliers so you can be sure that you will have one place to look for everything fleet related.
2) Intuitive user experience
You can’t start to realise the benefits of a new system until your team is up and running, and unless the user interface is simple and intuitive, your team members will continue to struggle long after implementation. Look for a system that is visual, and try to stay clear of overly complex platforms unless you are prepared for a long learning curve.
Typically dashboards are fantastic for high level management, but your main users will rarely use them and the everyday view is much more important if you wish to have quick take-up and accurate data.
3) User based permission levels and security
Being confident in your data starts with controlling who can edit what and on which assets. Choose a solution that offers variable permission levels for users, and an audit trail that makes it easy to track down the source of any changes.
4) Pre-built functionality
It is important to look at the pre-built, ‘off-the-shelf’ functionality that will make your implementation process quick and easy. The majority of information that you could ever need to store on fleet should be present in the system you choose, and you should always ask to see this in a ‘live’ demo rather than screenshots.
5) Ability to customise the software
Whilst this seems to contradict the previous point, it is vital that the provider you select is supported by in-house programmers. This will give you the ability to build upon the standard software to meet your specific needs. Whilst many challenges are shared by companies, every organisation is unique and may need a level of bespoke work which some FMS providers simply can’t support.
The facility to customise software allows companies to look at future-proofing their chosen solution. Typically the needs that organisations have at the start of implementation change over the period that they use the system for. This is one major reason why installed, legacy systems fail as they cannot support company changes without major upheaval and extra expense.
6) Support and service
Processes change, people change, company priorities change, and systems change. Real success with an FMS relies upon the vendor offering quality support. Having a dedicated support team to help customers with general and technical questions is vital for the successful introduction of an FMS.
Ask if the vendor employs support professionals who are accessible by every client. Is this support an extra or is it included in the fee? Will you require overly complicated training which will take up your valuable time and is likely to be forgotten?
Implementing a robust FMS solution means your team will no longer spend all its time managing multiple spreadsheets, your forward planning of maintenance will be much faster and more accurate which reduces vehicle downtime, and you’ll gain functionality that will dramatically improve your compliance, reduce your fleet costs, and reduce how much time is spent on fleet.
You don’t need to take our word for it. In a recent interview with one of our clients, we had some fantastic feedback about the change in the drivers’ attitudes since implementing FleetCheck. Dawn Hubbard, Group Fleet Office Manager for Etel, Kwik Fit, and Stapleton Tyres explained that their drivers now trust them more since implementing an FMS. Dawn told us “the dynamic has really changed. They know that we are managing a tight ship, and they have raised their game too! It’s our job now, not theirs, to manage their vehicles”.
The experience that Dawn has had is by no means a coincidence. Many Fleet Managers that we speak to in the months after implementing a dedicated FMS comment that they simply didn’t realise how much better it can be without spreadsheets.
Every company still using spreadsheets has a fantastic opportunity to improve their processes, save money, and ensure compliance. Instead of questioning why you should implement an FMS, perhaps you need to ask yourself why on earth wouldn’t you?