The Evolution of the Fleet Manager in 2020

Fleet management gets more complicated every day. There are more vehicle options, safety concerns, regulations and mandates. The need for collaboration between fleet managers and other departments is becoming imperative to help drive organizational performance.

Fleet managers express concern that despite the increasing impact of their role, they’re struggling to make headway within the enterprise. Still understaffed and as overworked as ever, they feel pulled in every direction, even as they see key responsibilities being sliced up and divvied out to other departments – from procurement to risk management to HR and safety.

Fleet managers who thrive in today’s environment embrace industry knowledge, communication, advanced technology, the ability to use and share meaningful data by collaborating with internal departments.

Data is the common language of collaboration

With collaboration being driven by corporate financial considerations, data is the common language by which objectives are defined and improvements measured. As difficult as it may be, building usable data streams to support collaboration on important questions is a worthwhile project. The fleet manager will be the chief collaborator in this endeavor, bringing best practices from fleet management into risk (and vice versa), strengthening communication between the two departments and ironing out any remaining inconsistencies or redundancies.

Jim Bigelow, Enterprise Fleet Senior Directory at Cox Enterprises and Barry Lowry, Fleet Manager at LabCorp., point to Fleet Response as an important partner in providing them with usable data. They use it to measure the effectiveness of existing programs and to create solid business cases for change. Equally important is that the information is accessible and meaningful to other departments.

“If there’s any kind of incident, the first records lawyers are looking for are safety records, and we’re able to provide that easily,” Bigelow says. He continues: “When we justify adding safety equipment onto a vehicle, there is never pushback on it. You have the data that helps you identify the need and put your business case together. It’s great working for a company like Cox that allows you to put safety at the No. 1 priority. And Fleet Response makes it possible to provide that kind of detail about any aspect of our work any time the need arises.”

Add value to your organization by identifying trends

Fleet managers can add value is by bringing a fresh perspective to the organization by raising questions and helping identify potential trends. At a time of fast change, it’s important to seek out information and network with other departments about new ideas and capabilities and to apply this knowledge to each organization.

Time, cost and answering why can give valuable insight into the frequency and severity of vehicle claims. Maybe there are many claims at one location. Maybe there is another location with just a few claims, but they are all severe. Having this type of data and providing it to HR and safety teams can help them to develop training and educational programs for drivers.

“You have to be agile. You have to be able to take care of the current needs, but you also have to set yourself up for the future,” Lowry says. “Are you prepared for what’s going to be happening in the next three to five years?”

Being strategic means thinking about the larger, long-term issues in the context of what the company needs, which is efficiency in getting people and goods from one place to another. That involves considering different points of view both within and outside the company. “A lot of networking has had to take place,” Lowry says. “If you try to do this in a bubble, you’ll make a lot of mistakes.”

Integrate with other departments through collaboration

Every successful organization follows a finance-driven path over time from working in silos to working collaboratively across functions. It typically begins in a company’s core profit centers, but eventually makes its way through every department. Effective collaboration begins by taking time to learn the complexities and requirements that inform the decisions of managers in other departments.

Lowry provides the example of managing Labcorp’s safety program. “Our policy represents ideas of both fleet and risk management together,” he says. “We have MVR checks, safety classes, a points-accrual policy. We partner closely with risk management on all those decisions. The challenge is that we’re still two separate departments. There comes a time when you have diverging interests in whatever process you’re addressing. If you’ve been working together all along, you’ve built the trust and understanding to come together on the solution.”

“The key in collaborating is making sure that you’re addressing the needs when they need to be addressed,” Bigelow says. “You’re not crying wolf about every little thing. But you’re working together with others to put together a case that says, “We’re seeing this happen and we want to get out in front of it.”

It is imperative for cross-departmental collaboration to strengthen communication

Successful fleet managers communicate effectively in every direction – with users, with peer managers in other departments, with vendors and partners, and with executive management.

They provide solutions that meet the needs of internal customers, and – on those occasions when conflicting needs arise – communicate the issues in terms others will appreciate. A key to that is proactively engaging other departments that have overlapping responsibilities, says Bigelow.

“It used to be that you worked with the risk management team only when it was necessary. Now, if you’re only talking to them once a week, you’re going to have some big disconnects,” he says.

Interdepartmental communication happens organically at his organization, but Bigelow believes fleet managers need to do everything they can to make sure it’s part of the daily routine. Bigelow’s department at Cox is most closely connected with the safety team. “We want them involved in everything from ergonomics to preventive training,” he says.

Lowry suggests that while fleet initiatives should generally begin with the needs of other constituents, “every conversation can have a component about what this means for fleet.”
“It can be a rocky path, because a lot of times folks have never taken fleet into account when talking about things like building a new structure or relocating a branch,” he says. “Corporations are definitely embracing the idea that it’s all interconnected, but you have to be there to make sure they understand how.”

Jim Bigelow is Enterprise Fleet Senior Director at Cox Enterprises in Atlanta. A diversified company, with 15,000 vehicles, mostly light- to medium-duty but ranging from passenger cars to Class 7 trucks.

Barry Lowry is Fleet Manager at LabCorp., based in Burlington, N.C., which operates 6,000 mostly light-duty vehicles. With more than 20 years in the field, he’s seen the fleet manager’s role become increasingly strategic.

To discuss how Fleet Response can support collaboration in your organization, contact Jodie Varner, Vice President of Client Engagement at Fleet Response, contact@fleetresponse.com.