Trucks: Fleet smarts

Who hasn’t heard the mantra, “If you can measure it, you can manage it”? With truck fleets, monitoring fuel usage, mileage, preventive maintenance tasks and parts inventory should be major concerns – and these must be managed. Even though technology exists to organize the process, 61 percent of fleets report not having or using fleet maintenance software, according to a 2007 survey by Arsenault Associates, provider of fleet maintenance software for truck and construction fleets.

“Fleet managers may have Excel or accounting software, but these are just a replacement for a composition notebook,” says Charles Arsenault, chief executive officer, Arsenault. Without a way to gather asset and maintenance information quickly and accurately, you could be losing more money from everyday operating costs than you realize.

Where to start
New fleet maintenance software has been created with end users in mind, and simplicity of use is critical to a fleet or shop manager. Many providers have revised their offerings to serve small, medium or large on- and off-road truck and equipment fleets, and made the software scalable – so it employs one application or all. Construction businesses benefit by integrating both equipment and truck fleet data into a single program, so owners and managers can see what’s going on with all or one asset at any given time.

The majority of programs are web-based and run through an application service provider or can be installed on a PC. Usually, one or several users will have access and be given user names and passwords.

Most high-quality fleet maintenance software will include fundamentals, such as identifying mobile assets, preventive maintenance and scheduling tasks. To get started, users should create categories for each type of truck or piece of equipment. Enter the data once, either manually or by electronically importing it, and the program will group like assets to make management easier.

Each program aims to reduce maintenance costs, increase labor productivity, monitor fuel and tire efficiency and parts costs and inventory. Customizable options are available, so you can incorporate payroll and track contracts.

Often, the biggest problems with truck fleets result from four things that can be identified through fleet maintenance software, according to Arsenault: 1) drivers, either by idling too much or by taking long routes and making excessive stops; 2) poor preventive maintenance performance; 3) low tire pressure, which causes degradation in fuel economy; and 4) the wrong specifications for the wrong job.

Below, find several software examples that you can tailor to truck and equipment fleets, or service trucks alone.

Maxwell Systems, StreetSmarts
Several years ago Maxwell Systems revised their heavy equipment StreetSmarts software to include the Truck Manager application, so users could monitor drivers and see full profit and loss of truck productivity.

StreetSmarts also tracks fuel quantity and transactions, by charging costs to each vehicle or machine and then calculating how many gallons of fuel the unit uses versus others. “In many cases, construction companies will track their fuel usage, but not their bulk storage,” explains Dave Bennett, product manager, StreetSmarts. “If you purchase fuel and don’t have an accurate report according to the meter reading and what was actually burned, you can investigate.” With a notebook, you probably wouldn’t see the issue until it was too late, and fuel and usage costs have been miscalculated.

Arsenault Associates, Dossier
Arsenault has interviewed more than 40,000 fleets to aid in the development of Dossier. Dossier works for both on- and off-road fleets by recording the number of hours trucks have been used, miles traveled and fuel usage (mpg or mph), showing the best and worst numbers. “It’s not unusual for 10 units to eat up 10 to 15 percent of your fuel budget,” Arsenault says. “If you can’t identify fuel costs on a unit-by-unit basis, you have an issue.” With Dossier, users can create a spreadsheet and incorporate a 10-percent rule to show the top 10 units dominating a fuel or maintenance budget.

Dossier also has a custom report writer option so you can highlight information about particular units, repair orders or parts and export files, use data with other programs, or e-mail the reports.

Qqest, ManagerPlus
Under ManagerPlus, each asset has an assigned ID number for tracking and reporting purposes. To detect vehicle or equipment fatigue, the program monitors performance based on fuel and/or oil consumption and sends e-mail alerts when a problem occurs. “The fuel/oil tracking feature interfaces with different gas systems to see the amount of gas being used,” says Grant Christensen, vice president of sales, Qqest. By detailing gallons used per mile/hour and oil used per mile/hour, ManagerPlus helps fleet managers identify potential problems early and automatically creates work orders when it’s time for preventive maintenance.

Qualcomm, OmniVision Metro
With OmniVision Metro’s Service Fleet Manager, view comprehensive fleet summary reports and decrease excess expenses such as fuel, miles and non-standard overtime by efficiently scheduling and routing drivers. “The program captures historical trends of wasted trips so you can increase productivity,” says Bert Gillespie, director of sales for Qualcomm’s OmniVision Metro. “The more jobs performed in the course of a day, the more the owner can bill.”

Service Fleet Manager’s dashboard display provides fuel and idling metrics as a gauge to make areas of abuse or inefficiencies more evident. Qualcomm stores data for 30 days so users can analyze it, but the program has the ability to store information indefinitely.

Learn as you go
Technology shy? Many software providers will travel to your office or present training seminars for an additional fee. New users and even ones who’ve had the program for a while can learn applications to help streamline fleet management.

Training fees vary on a case-by-case basis, and are determined by the number of trainees and material being covered.