No matter the amount of equipment you have in your fleet, you want to make sure you're optimizing each and every one of your assets. Keeping track of your equipment's locations, maintenance, costs, and other factors is key to making sure you avoid waste and ensure efficiency. This practice of monitoring your fleet to utilize your equipment effectively is called fleet management.
What Is Strategic Fleet Management?
Strategic fleet management is all about taking full advantage of this practice to better your business. Tracking everything manually isn't feasible if you have more than a few machines. Fortunately, advancements in technology can make your job much easier and help you do it far more effectively. Strategic fleet management in today's world starts with understanding how to take advantage of what current technology has to offer. What once would have been impossible for one fleet manager or even a team to keep track of and analyze is now possible through telematics — a system that remotely connects equipment to computers and records information in real time.
This is not to say that people are inessential to the mission of fleet management. On the contrary, people are still needed to direct the process, to analyze data and to make decisions based on what they learn. The technology is simply a tool. In the same way, your equipment operates with the necessary help of workers. Since equipment and workers go hand in hand, part of managing your fleet means managing your workers to an extent. Successful fleet management automatically brings with it a greater degree of accountability which may rub some workers the wrong way. It's important to emphasize that fleet management is not meant to stifle your workers or communicate distrust. Rather, it frees workers up to focus on getting the job done well and can even help them stay safe. And ultimately, it helps your workers and your business succeed.
The Main Goals of Strategic Fleet Management
There are four primary areas where strategically managing your fleet can help you succeed — cost savings, safety, scalability, and efficiency. Let's take a closer look at each one
1. Cost Savings
When it comes to saving money, you should focus on cutting costs without cutting corners. One way fleet management can help you avoid unnecessary expenses is by eliminating waste from your fuel costs. You can track the amount of time equipment is left idling — a common problem on construction sites — and how much money is being wasted during those times. Being more aware of this issue encourages operators to minimize idling time. With the proper alert systems in place, you could cut idling time in half. In the unfortunate event of stolen equipment — an issue that collectively costs construction companies about $600 million annually — fleet management GPS tracking can help you locate and reclaim your property. Another unfortunate scenario that can cost your company is a billing dispute. Here, too, fleet management can help by arming you with hard data on the time spent on job sites and the efficiency of your work.
Safety should be a top priority for any construction company. Fleet management systems can help you detect unsafe driving habits like rapid accelerating or hard braking so you can confront and correct them. You might be surprised by just how many accidents you can avoid with this approach. You can also make your equipment safer for workers by avoiding accidents on the job through preventative maintenance. With some telematics systems, you can also detect seat belt usage. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, not wearing a seatbelt in any earth moving vehicles such as scrapers, loaders, bulldozers, and tractors is a citable offense, and it puts your workers at risk.
Times change, and so does your business. Scalability is all about being aware of and embracing new opportunities as they come along and not sticking to outdated processes and markets that no longer serve you best. As your company evolves, the amount of equipment needed and the way you manage that fleet of equipment should also evolve. Fleet management can help you stay attuned to changing needs. You should make sure that your approach and the technology you use for fleet management has the flexibility to remain strategic no matter the circumstances or size of your fleet.
Fleet management systems that use telematics can provide extremely detailed reports on various aspects of your fleet that can help you more accurately plan for future costs and time estimates. Smart planning can help you minimize unplanned downtime and maximize productivity. Of course, all previously mentioned aspects of fleet management affect your company's efficiency as well. When you're saving money, staying safe, keeping vehicles in good working order, and effectively scaling, you can be satisfied that your company and its fleet are running efficiently.
Construction Fleet Coordination
Fleet coordination is essential to optimizing the use of your equipment. Disorganized schedules can result in mishaps that cost valuable time and money. Effective fleet management includes careful monitoring and planning. At any point in time, you should know where each piece of equipment is located. You should also be able to look ahead on your schedule to see what jobs are planned and where each piece of equipment will be required. You likely don't have unlimited access to machinery, so careful planning is necessary to ensure you don't overbook or to alert you to the need to rent equipment. If you have one trencher, and it's already going to be in use on Monday, you know to either delay scheduling a new job that requires a trencher or to rent an additional trencher.
Construction fleet managers have always been tasked with coordinating equipment, but in this digital age, they have some valuable help from technology. At the most basic level, a calendar on your computer or smartphone can be useful for scheduling and setting digital reminders. While a simple tool like this is a step above a physical planner, you don't have to stop there. You can now use fleet management software to more easily visualize and more effectively manage your schedule.
Software that employs telematics will connect to your equipment itself in order to track location, driving habits, maintenance needs, and more. Telematics software options that allow you to store and analyze this data are becoming more numerous and more advanced. Today, there are over 200 brands of software to choose from. With so many options, it's important that you figure out which software best fits the scale and needs of your fleet.
You can find countless lists and reviews online that rank available software according to different factors such as value, number of features, and user reviews. Let's take a look at just a few of the top brands of fleet management software in 2018:
- High Point GPS: Founded in 2002, High Point GPS boasts an impressive range of features and consistently receives high reviews. Their proven effectiveness has earned them around 80,000 customers.
- TomTom WEBFLEET: TomTom Telematics was founded in 1991 and made a name for itself early on in the world of GPS technology. TomTom's WEBFLEET software is highly-reviewed and is used by nearly 50,000 customers. It doesn't offer quite as many features as High Point GPS, but it's still a trusted option for many.
- Verizon Connect Reveal: Verizon Connect was founded in 2003. The newest iteration of its fleet management software, Verizon Reveal, is currently used by 41,000 customers. Its features have some limitations compared to High Point GPS and TomTom WEBFLEET.
- Teletrac Navman DIRECTOR: Teletrac Navman has been around since 1988. Its DIRECTOR fleet software is used by 40,000 customers. DIRECTOR's features are similar to Verizon Reveal, and the two have a similar number of users. The main differences are that Verizon is capable of maintenance scheduling and work order management while DIRECTOR is capable of dispatch management.
- MyGeotab: Geotab was founded in 1996. MyGeotab has about 22,000 customers — fewer than the other options listed here — but still an impressive number. This software offers an especially high number of features, including a host of maintenance features in addition to more general fleet management features.
While these systems do cost money, they can help you strategically manage your fleet and ultimately reduce your total costs.
Construction Fleet Maintenance
Any discussion of best practices for construction fleet management is incomplete without a focus on fleet maintenance. Maintenance ideally means you don't wait until something breaks to have your equipment serviced. Unplanned accidents can cause equipment to be out of commission for extended periods of time, which can cause a real setback for your schedule and your finances. Strategic fleet management means keeping your assets in good working order by tracking when equipment is due to receive routine checks, periodic services like oil changes and tire rotations, and having the work done when it's due. A golden rule of fleet maintenance is that only 30 percent of all maintenance should be unplanned, meaning the vast majority of maintenance should be preventative.
While some general rules of maintenance apply to your whole fleet, it's important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all maintenance plan for your whole fleet. Each piece of equipment has its own needs. It's never good to assume that even very similar machines — for example, two excavators from the same manufacturer — can be treated the same way. Instead, check the maintenance recommendations for each piece of equipment in your fleet. The manufacturer’s owner’s manual is a great place to start to find these recommendations and begin to formulate a maintenance plan. Understand, though, that this plan is simply a baseline. You'll need to stay attuned to the wear your equipment is experiencing to make sure your maintenance plan is truly tailored to the ongoing needs of each piece of your fleet.
How can you stay attuned to these needs? One way is through inspections. Routine inspections each time a piece of equipment is used are important for catching issues that require attention before they cause a serious problem. While these physical checks remain relevant and necessary, telematics technology is getting more and more advanced in its ability to alert you to maintenance needs. At the very least, you can use software to help alert you of when routine maintenance services are due. You can even have automatic requests for replacement parts go out to your dealer when the system detects that it's time for a routine change. It doesn't stop here, though. You can also take advantage of the technology to detect in real time when a machine is running suboptimally, which can tip you off to potential problems that may not always be prevented by regularly-scheduled maintenance.
Because the maintenance of your fleet is so important, if you don't do your own maintenance work in-house, you should rely on a trusted partner to service your fleet. Maintenance is no place to cut corners. Instead, continually look for ways to improve your fleet maintenance in order to enhance your overall fleet management strategy. By committing to preventative maintenance for your construction equipment, you can stay one step ahead of problems rather than reacting to them. Your schedule and your finances will thank you.
Scaling Your Heavy Equipment Fleet
Strategically managing the fleet you currently have can help you get the best out of your assets, but there may come times when you need to scale your fleet.
How do you know if it's time to scale? Temporary spikes in business may mean you need to rent extra equipment for a short time to get the job done, and temporary lulls may mean certain machines sit still for a while. While these minor fluctuations are normal, you may also begin to experience more lasting changes in your business. That's when it may be time to scale your fleet.
Scaling may mean increasing or decreasing your fleet — adding new machines or eliminating unnecessary ones. You can make these determinations by evaluating your current costs and benefits of each of your machines. Tracking this over time can help you determine if you need to scale. For instance, you may find that certain machines are being underutilized and can be eliminated from your fleet to boost your fleet's efficiency. On the other hand, you may find that you're turning away jobs because you're coming up short on necessary equipment. There are several factors you need to consider when deciding when and how to scale your fleet.
- Renting vs. Buying: Buying new machinery isn't always the right answer when you lack the equipment you need to complete a job. Sometimes, short-term needs are better fulfilled through renting equipment. Renting is lower-risk if you aren't sure where the scale of your business is headed. Through careful fleet coordination, though, you may see a real ongoing need for more equipment. If this is the case, it may make more sense to purchase your own equipment, since this can result in a lower total heavy equipment cost in the long-term. You may prefer to rent a machine first, however, before deciding whether you want to permanently add it to your fleet. Renting can be a great way of trying out the latest models of available machinery.
- Types of Machines to Buy: You should especially consider making a new purchase if the equipment you're coming up short on are staple pieces of machinery used for many different jobs, such as a bulldozer. Machines that serve more obscure functions are not worth purchasing but should instead be rented. The types of machines you should buy depends entirely on your particular business and the gaps in your current fleet. Having good fleet management practices in place can help alert you to your company's specific needs.
- Payment Plans: Finances can potentially hold you back from making a purchase even when you know it's needed. Some construction fleet owners may wait for a big job to provide the finances to purchase new equipment, but that job may never come if you aren't equipped for it in the first place. To buy new equipment when you need it without putting financial strain on your company, you should consider construction equipment financing options. If your dealer offers a rent-to-buy program, you may want to consider that option. You can also finance your equipment to make payments more manageable.
Keep Improving Your Fleet Management Strategies
There are many sides to strategic fleet management and best practices will continue to evolve to match changes in technology and the industry.
Stay on the cutting edge of fleet management — contact or connect with us on social media when you are in need of resources for fleet management. Save money, promote safety, scale effectively, and become more efficient. When you're optimizing the use of your assets, your whole business will benefit greatly.