Many questions put to a fleet manager require research, interpretation, assessment, and analysis to provide a proper response. The role of research in formulating replies is often overlooked. In fact, with more resources available than ever before, it’s often easiest to take shortcuts and fail to invest the necessary time in amassing information and validating the facts.
Assessing the Available Resources
In terms of resources, there are virtually limitless options; however, the biggest constraint is time. Limited time often forces researchers into restricting their research to a few, “easy-to-Google” options. The full range of sources available to fleet managers includes publications, such as FLEETSolutions, Automotive Fleet, Government Fleet, and Fleet Digest. These journals are all available through subscription to the hardcopy magazine or online.
Another excellent forum for conducting research in a short time is industry trade shows. Here, a fleet manager can access multiple vendors in one location and hear firsthand about the advantages and disadvantages of various products and options.
When conducting research, it is important not to overlook in-house resources and data. The internal fleet information management system (FIMS) can be a rich source of information relevant to the question that needs answering.
Finally, benchmarking with industry partners can provide access to a whole range of information that would not likely be available through an Internet search. Benchmarking can be a time-consuming exercise, but the benefits can be significant.
Reaching the Answer
Deliberate and detailed research is not something that many do every day, so here are some tips and techniques to keep in mind:
- Plan your time and research activities. Start with a research plan that allocates specific time limits and deadlines to the areas that need to be covered. When time is limited, this is a must.
- Remember, the Internet can never replace walking a trade show floor or attending vehicle previews. Reading what other people say can be valuable, but testing those opinions firsthand is an even better research technique.
- Question initial findings, especially from Internet research. The first Internet answer is not always the best, or even correct.
- Look deeper than historical statistics or the annual report from a fleet management company.
- Research the research. Look into sources to verify their relevance and credibility.
- Have industry partners provide or supplement the research when time is an issue. Develop a request for information (RFI) — understanding that RFI responses are sometimes no better than promotional materials — or hire a consultant, making sure he or she completely understands the fleet’s needs.
Following a Step-by-Step Process
Putting these tips and techniques into practice takes some expertise and discipline as shown in the following case, in which a company wants to introduce telematics in order to monitor fleet utilization and driver behavior. The fleet manager is asked to prepare a recommendation for senior management, who follows a five-step research process to find the right solution for the fleet.
The first step involves an Internet search into the uses of telematics, products available, costs, and implementation concerns. The NAFA Fleet Management Association has a research tool, FleetED, which can assist and save time during this step. FleetED (www.fleeted.org) is an online source for fleet management education, whether the goal is to find specific information or to perform background research to determine the right questions to ask. It is a tool for researching resources that pertain to fleet management. Grouping information by category types for ease of use, the site offers an online library of articles and websites; sample tools, such as RFPs and policies; and website resources. A personalized, “My FleetED,” is also available to assist in managing resources for a personalized FleetED experience.
The second step is conducting an internal survey to identify user requirements.
Step three involves benchmarking against others in the industry to find out how they’re using telematics to measure utilization. To accomplish this, the fleet manager could rely on social media tools, such as fleet sites on LinkedIn, and industry chat rooms to identify similar organizations.
In step four, the fleet manager puts out an RFI to get information from telematics solution providers.
Finally, in the fifth step, the fleet manager should try to attend a trade show or product demonstration to fully understand the range of options available. Now the fleet manager is prepared to develop a thorough recommendation for management.
Good research involves having a plan in place, respecting the time allocated, and using the full range of assets available. These assets should not start and finish with the Internet, but extend to tradeshows, internal data collection, industry benchmarking and other sources as warranted. There is no quick fix for good research, but it is time well spent, as good research will equate to good decisions.
About the Author
Lt. Col (ret.) Katherine Vigneau, CAFM, spent almost 27 years in the Canadian Army, working in transportation and logistics. She retired in 2010 to start KMVS Fleet+ Consulting, specializing in fleet management education and training. Vigneau is a former NAFA trustee and currently serves as NAFA’s professional development strategist.