By Ed Pierce, Contributing Editor
With the many concurrent changes affecting business fleets these days, how has the role of corporate fleet manager changed? More than ever, the successful fleet manager is now an agent of change, not a victim of change.
Rather than being whipsawed by higher fuel operating costs, for example, while dealing with vehicle management direction to tamp down expenses due to market conditions, today’s fleet manager must stay on top of the economic, market, customer, competitive, and internal goings-on as thoroughly as they manage fleet operations using advanced fleet analytics.
More data, broader analytics, and advanced predictive tools should be applied at a macro level. The fleet manager must become a strategist rather than just an implementer to achieve the best results for all stakeholders – the company, its customers, and its drivers.
Business strategists take the ideas encapsulated in the strategic plan and create viable plans. They execute them with an eye toward achieving corporate goals and turning those ideas into reality.
Here are the key qualities of a successful business strategist as described by career consultant Liana Daren:
- Positivity & Confidence– A business strategist is a positive person who will always look for positive outcomes. A successful strategist will exude confidence in providing direction, build self-assurance to the team, and encourage those who implement their plans to stay positive.
- Competitive– Many plans fail in the business world because companies neglect to look at their competitors. Without knowing what others are doing and how their actions will backfire, a strategy will fail miserably even if it looks promising. A successful strategist recognizes that sizing up the competition is a critical part of any business plan’s decision-making process.
- Reasonable– A successful strategist acknowledges the challenges that lie ahead and proposes a viable plan that takes the realities of the situation into account, avoiding doomed-to-fail actions. Don’t mistake “being reasonable” with “being safe.” A successful strategist is a bold planner who never loses sight of achieving the goal notwithstanding business realities.
- Critical Thinker– A strategist plans for the future. So, a person who can think critically and determine the best course of action can certainly help a business flourish and achieve success.
- Persuasive Communication Skills – A strategist must do more than just deliver a plan. He or she must win the buy-in of management and team members for the plan. The team needs to understand exactly how everything will be executed and what sort of outcome can be expected.
Let’s look at some of today’s critical issues that demand strategic planning:
Overcoming OEM Supply Chain Issues
Two years into the post-COVID economic turmoil, most fleet managers agree that vehicle supply uncertainty is the top industry issue. Vehicle replacement schedules that fall outside corporate policy create havoc with leases, maintenance costs, driver satisfaction, and service continuity.
Corporate fleet managers have an increased responsibility when it comes to OEM supply chain issues to look at every aspect of the fleet supply and service value chains. It begins with enhanced OEM communication, but must also include the funding source, service providers from maintenance to fuel to vehicle transport, to remarketing.
Here is a good example of fleet managers assuming the role of strategists to address the lingering vehicle availability issue:
According to Teri Ross of fleet vehicle transport provider PARS, its clients still face smaller windows of time for confirming vehicle deliveries due to OEM delivery delays, creating havoc with vehicle replacement scheduling and end-of-lease actions.
These fleet managers took a strategic look at the entire service value chain and alleviated the delivery delay headaches by using their stored vehicles at nearby PARS storage locations for those drivers who were waiting for new vehicles to be built and shipped to the dealer. This novel idea eliminated rental costs during that time—assuming rentals were even available.
The Rise of Electric Vehicle & Infrastructure Challenges
With the adoption of electric vehicles, fleet managers must now consider the implications of charging infrastructure for their businesses. Without adequate infrastructure, EVs have very limited value.
Fleet managers face the unenviable task of transitioning from ICE to EV just from the product and application points of view. To be true change agents, fleet managers need to become informed about EV infrastructure as a component of TCO. They must understand the pricing structure and demand charges of electricity providers to avoid unexpected costs. They need to know how to forecast daily electricity consumption based on vehicle operations. They need to know when to charge multiple electric vehicles at one time. They must determine the best location for charging infrastructure.
Over the past few months, Fleet Management Weekly has published several EV infrastructure feature articles that can position fleet managers as strategists on the subject of EV infrastructure.
Understand the Importance of Data Analytics to Succeed
Today’s fleet manager must focus on collecting, analyzing, and integrating data to make strategic financial and performance decisions that allow effective collaboration with key stakeholders, including finance, operations, ESC, risk, and HR.
The evolution of the corporate fleet manager role always has been fueled by the emergence of new technologies. Today, organizations are focusing on quality and process improvements, and fleets must achieve measurable goals on an expanding array of fronts.
Fleet managers can adopt GPS and telematics, fuel cards, risk, and safety solutions, and so on to bring together all of the data onto an online portal’s dashboard. Such integrations offer a complete view of asset health, driver behavior, productivity, return on investment (ROI), and TCO, among other data points.
With more data readily available via automated reporting, fleet managers accurately determine performance, make data-driven decisions to reduce downtime and improve productivity, and legitimately become strategists in moving the company forward and increasing profitability.
More Complexity Calls for Strategists
The job of a fleet manager will become even more complex as new technologies and new transportation options become available. Mobility management, for example, will become more specialized in planning the most efficient and eco-friendly route from point A to point B.
It is imperative that this role is handled by a skilled professional who can coordinate multiple systems and technologies, as well as employees. In today’s world, the role of a fleet manager must be that of a change agent, able to deal with tight capacity, growing demand, driver shortages, changing industry regulations, and an increasing number of demands on the company.