10 Elements in Outsourcing a Fleet Safety Program
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Sometimes, fleet managers cannot rely on "do it yourself" practices. Building in-house programs like those for safety requires a budget, adequate staff, and long-term commitments from senior management.
Thus, as with nearly every other area of fleet management, outsourcing some or all of a safety program is not only desirable, but necessary. Because safety is arguably the single most important responsibility a fleet manager has, outsourcing the program must be done right.
Here are 10 key elements in the outsourcing process:
The first step in outsourcing is not very different than it is for building an in-house safety program. There are key elements in either, including training, testing, rewards/penalties, accident reviews, review of motor vehicle records (MVRs), and more.
A basic outline of what shape the program will take should be done first. It is impossible to outsource (as it is to build from within) a safety program unless a fleet manager has determined what that program will contain, how it will be delivered, and what approvals must be obtained.
Also, much as with an in-house program, the approvals are critical: when the outline is complete, the fleet manager should get not only approval, but also a written endorsement of the program itself, as well as the fleet manager’s authority to enforce its provisions, from the highest executive level possible. Doing so will help to avoid conflicts going forward when the inevitable “special circumstances” arise, and exceptions are requested — or even demanded.
Most, if not all, companies have a formal process for procurement or purchasing products and services from suppliers, and fleet is not an exception. This process can take different forms, depending on the corporate structure and policy.
Many companies have adopted the strategic method of outsourcing, where sourcing staff look into company expenditures to combine spending in return for volume discounts. For example, a manufacturer with assembly plants almost certainly has formal safety programs in place for factory personnel; if these programs are outsourced, the existing supplier may have driver safety programs to offer.
A more traditional procurement method involves running the outsourcing through the purchasing department, which will manage the issuance of the request for proposal (RFP) and the scoring and selection of suppliers.
Either of the above now often use online auctions to bid the business, where the RFP is provided, and suppliers actually provide live bids during the auction, with the idea that bidding will result in more competitive pricing.
Before starting the bidding process, it is a good idea for the fleet manager to review the outline, and determine what, if any, elements can reasonably be handled in-house.
For example, perhaps there is an existing safety newsletter that functions just fine, so outsourcing it would not be necessary. Or, one or more aspects of driver training are in place, and a supplier need only supplement it. It is, in some cases, less expensive for the company to perform in-house one or more elements of the program, and, thus, no outsourcing is required.
No matter what the company policy is for outsourcing, the fleet manager will need to build a scope of work — taking the basic program outline from step one and expanding it to give potential suppliers exactly what they will be expected to provide:
- Training: What form should it take? How often? For whom? How will it be ? Immediately for drivers with bad MVRs or chargeable accidents? How will it be delivered — on-site/in-person, via webcast, online? Suppliers need to know what their costs will be (travel/expenses, maintaining a web presence, webcast time) before they can provide a firm quote.
- MVRs: Again, how often (all-new drivers, all drivers annually/quarterly, problem drivers)? When “scoring” MVRs, are they willing to use the customer’s methods, or do they have their own?
- Rewards programs: What are the criteria? Will/can the supplier track records and provide notification when a driver qualifies? Do they have a means by which rewards can be issued? Can/will they handle communications?
- Communications: Does the supplier have a “canned” safety newsletter? Can it be customized with company identification? How often is it issued? Via e-mail? What form does it take (PDF, Word document)? Can it further be customized with company-specific content?
- Customer service: What kind of customer service is provided? Does the company have field representatives that will visit and conduct program assessments?
These are examples of the kind of information that a supplier will need to provide a firm quote in response to the RFP, or during the online auction. Finally, make certain that the scope of work includes a format for the quote(s), so that a fair comparison can be made when awarding the business.
The fleet manager has built the outline, reviewed it to determine what might not be outsourced, and developed the scope of work. The next step is to work within the company procurement policy to issue an RFP to obtain proposals and bids on pricing.
In some cases, the company is smart to issue a request for information (RFI), to get a general introduction to the bidders, and even to ask for a rough estimate of what costs will be involved. This is particularly applicable when company policy requires an approved budget before going out with a bid.
Most fleet managers will have a list of suppliers that they’d like to see bid. Beyond that, a meeting with risk management can provide other potential suppliers, as in the case above where company facilities already have safety programs in place and those suppliers can be asked to offer a proposal.
If there will be an online auction, it should be prominently noted in the RFP, so that there is no mistake. Suppliers tend not to like these auctions (it doesn’t always allow for presentations where the supplier can expand and explain what they’re offering). If the company does not require the use of an online auction, it is often a good idea to avoid them.
The RFP should provide respondents ample time for questions (usually via an online system or through the use of a document) and answers, as well as the development of the response. Deadlines should be provided — with some flexibility for the nearly inevitable requests for extensions — as well as detail on next steps. If an RFI is used prior to issuance of a formal RFP, suppliers need to know that the latter will be forthcoming, and when. It should be made clear what format the responses should take (electronic file, hard copy). Suppliers should also know what criteria will be used in judging the responses and how supplier(s) will be selected.
Vendors will most often use the full time provided before responding. All responses should be sent to a single place or person.
There are a number of ways a fleet manager (and any other staff involved) can judge the benefits and drawbacks of bids. First, determine which of the program elements are most important — is it training, MVRs, communications? A simple point system can be used, or a matrix with the most important elements making up the largest percentage of the decision (this is, of course, assuming that the RFP has made whatever method is used clear to suppliers). An important point: be honest. If the decision will ultimately come down to price, say so.
It is not uncommon for purchasers to ask all or final bidders for a “best and final” bid, where they can “sharpen their pencils” if there is any room for further price concessions. This can be done whether pricing is the biggest deciding factor or not. Review all submissions; if a bidder or bidders have not followed any part of the response instructions, don’t necessarily dismiss them out of hand. You are looking for the best value possible, and giving respondents the opportunity to revise, extend, or meet a bid requirement will make certain that the company won’t miss out on what could be the best bidder.
Depending on how many responses have been received, the fleet manager can now winnow out those bids that are ultimately not responsive, or that aren’t attractive enough to consider further. For those, notify the vendors in writing that their bids will not be considered further, and, since they’ll be curious as to where they fell short, give each a reason.
Again, there may be elements in a safety program that are more important than others, and different companies often specialize in certain portions of the program. Some may be particularly experienced in training, others in communications, and still others in administrative functions such as MVRs or accident management. The process of eliminating responses will inevitably take this into consideration.
When the “winners and losers” process is complete, with losers properly notified, the winners should be contacted, and the next step — presentation and/or a visit — can now be taken.
Now is the time for the fleet manager to schedule formal presentations from those suppliers in the final group.
The formal presentation should provide history and background on the company, references, and deeper detail on their bid response. This would include samples of their safety communications, video or another example of the various types and forms of training offered, detail on the MVR program (including format and scoring), and the reward process.
If it has been determined that only portions of the safety program are to be outsourced, it isn’t a bad idea to ask for a brief presentation on those parts that are to be done in house; be flexible. If what is presented is better than what is in house, it may be smart to consider it.
When scheduling presentations, make sure to leave ample time for discussion and questions. Be open and allow presenters plenty of time to respond.
In addition, don’t have one bidder coming out of a conference room and passing another on the way in. Schedule the presentations over a period of time, which will avoid that and give the fleet manager (and any other stakeholders involved) time to properly assess what has been presented.
As with any other fleet function, when choosing a vendor from the final group, it is a good idea to schedule a visit to its offices. There is a great deal that can be learned by simply observing how the vendor’s staff delivers the product.
If, for example, there will be webcast training, ask to sit in on a session and see how it’s delivered. If behind-the-wheel training is provided, try to meet with trainers, and, perhaps, even ride along with them. Get as much hands-on or observational input as possible. Ask for specific input; don’t acquiesce for the standard tour.
The visit should take no more than one day, if that. Don’t ask for an agenda — provide one. Tell the supplier what you’d like to see, in one form or another. Don’t just meet with sales personnel or managers — it’s a good idea to request that staffers who actually deliver the product, and have direct contact with drivers, participate.
Before leaving, ask the company to provide an implementation plan: How will each element of the program be implemented, how long it will take, and what will they do to follow up on initial implementation to refine it?
At this point, the fleet manager should know all that is needed in order to make an informed decision, and award the business. As with the “best and final” winnowing out, notify all other bidders that you have awarded the business, why they weren’t chosen, and thank them for participating.
It is good business etiquette to award the business in person, if possible, rather than do it by e-mail or telephone. Using the implementation outline obtained during the on-site visit, flesh out the implementation plan in detail, with each element covered and a timeline. Any supplier will tell you that, more than anything else, proper implementation is the key to the ultimate success of any program.
Be sure to include key stakeholders in the company in the implementation process. Sales/service (or wherever the driver function lies), risk management, legal, human resources, and any senior managers who have provided approval should be included.
Outsourcing a driver safety program isn’t rocket science: most of it involves knowing what is needed, outlining the foundation, getting approvals, and ultimately choosing a supplier, and most of this is a combination of knowledge and experience and common sense. Don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees — the ultimate goal is to implement a program that will ensure the safety of your drivers, your customers, and the public at large.