EROAD builds telematics systems that help fleet businesses operate safely and more profitably in a rapidly changing commercial landscape. But with change comes challenge, and many fleet managers find they need upskilling to meet the challenges of managing people and data.
We talk to thought leader Mace Hartley, executive director of the Australasian Fleet Management Association (AfMA), about how telematics is transforming the fleet manager paradigm.
Hartley’s cross-functional background includes fleet management and financial services for automotive dealerships and fleet-leasing groups, so he’s uniquely equipped to understand the challenges fleet managers face: “AfMA’s primary objective is to link people and knowledge to create outcomes. The whole reason we exist is to promote fleet management as a true profession or vocation just like a doctor, lawyer or accountant.”
Unlike most other careers, there’s no formal training programme to become a fleet manager, yet it’s a difficult role requiring an understanding of many functional areas: procurement and marketing, work health and safety, policy development, and people management.
“You need a strong acumen in accounting and systems management. Then, if you’re responsible for coaching drivers, you also need to be an expert in soft skills.”
In most industries, the fleet manager’s role is to provide safe, efficient vehicles and improve safety outcomes. “Fleet managers often have a lot of responsibility but very little direct authority,” says Hartley. They’re busy ensuring that all fleet vehicles are compliant, all fuel and toll passes are working, and that servicing, repairs, and replacement vehicles are properly managed.
They may also be responsible for vehicle dispatch, customer service, optimising fuel use, and other KPIs. Their focus is operational rather than strategic, and they typically don’t have soft skills or the bandwidth to upskill while juggling their many responsibilities.
Increasingly, businesses are turning to telematics as a means of achieving health and safety goals, but most of the time, fleet managers aren’t directly responsible for managing the fleet’s drivers. They’re responsible for assets and overall work health and safety, but they don’t have a direct line of sight over drivers. Telematics can help bridge that gap, but to minimise upscaling issues, a clear implementation plan is a must.
One organisation that installed 1200 telematics devices found itself in the unenviable position of suddenly having to manage 8000 occurrences of speeding: “Operationally, they just weren’t prepared for that. They had to bring in additional HR staff to instruct the many operational managers on how to counsel their drivers.”
If a fleet manager is responsible for driver health and safety, they will need comprehensive leadership skills to effectively coach driver behaviour. In the past, fleet managers had poor visibility over health and safety in the mobile workplace, but as telematics are adopted more widely, interpersonal skills will become even more crucial. Telematics provide a huge amount of transparency, in turn increasing the need for emotional intelligence and the ability to influence others.
It’s one thing to put a telematics system in place but quite another to put the findings into play, especially when you’re already overburdened with tasks, as most fleet managers are. The newest challenge for fleet managers is understanding technology and how to manage the data it generates. Often, they’re the only ones looking at it.
“When larger organisations embrace telematics and broader fleet management systems, the fleet manager may become more of a data analyst than before, so you’ll see functional role changes within businesses – if the business is large enough to support it.”
With telematics reaching a tipping point, most fleet businesses are examining the opportunities for improved health and safety outcomes for their fleets and their people. Having a management team skilled in handling both people and assets is the key to an organisation’s success.
“I always say that all fleet managers operate underwater: The only thing that changes is the size of the straw. Some days, you’re getting more air than others. There’s always an endless list of things to do; it’s a very complex world.”