As a fleet manager, there is no question that fuel management is a major part of overseeing a fleet. But, it can also be a complicated area to actually “manage,” from frequently volatile fuel prices to the year-over-year goal to reduce fuel spend.
Several technologies are available to help fleet managers with this daunting task, and subject-matter experts share some advice to help select and better utilize fuel management and technology options.
The Importance of Fuel Management Technology
First and foremost, understanding the data related to fuel — including spend data — is crucial. “Fleet managers should do all they can to dig into and explore their fuel spending data. Thorough data analysis is a well-established best practice in many other industries, but it’s relatively new to the fleet world. In-depth data analysis may initially create challenges, but it also reveals opportunities to leverage and benefit from the experiences of other industries. Take advantage of that expertise,” said Kurt Thearling, VP of Analytics for WEX.
And, once you understand the data, the next step is working to take control of it.
“It seems that fuel costs will continue to fluctuate, but fleet managers are best served by focusing on what they can control. Level III data such as driver ID, vehicle ID, odometer, as well as fuel and maintenance product codes are key pieces of data, and visibility to such fleet data is essential,” said Jeff Pape, global transportation product and marketing manager for U.S. Bank.
When working to take better control of fuel data, Pape recommended fleet managers ask themselves:
- Do I have access to the right data?
- Am I measuring the right factors?
- Can I get this information easily?
- What actions can I take with this data to improve my fleet program?
“It’s really more about controlling the cost of fueling and managing driver habits, than the actual cost of fuel. Fleet managers can and should demand program management tools and mobile applications that support visibility and control,” Pape noted.
Also, gathering data is important, but the ability to analyze it makes the data actionable. There are many tools out there to help start analyzing collected information right away.
“Also take advantage of multiple data analysis tools (e.g., Hadoop, R, commercial business intelligence [BI] platforms, and cloud computing). Use advances in the art of data analysis to learn more about what the fuel purchase data can tell you,” Thearling said.
Once the data is analyzed, it’s possible to dig down deeper to reveal potential problems that can save on fuel costs right away.
“One of the biggest cost savings opportunities that comes from a fuel management system is through increased security that reduces waste and abuse. Make sure your fuel management system authorizes both the vehicle and the driver, whether through keypad entry, smart cards, or even wireless receivers on the vehicle and fuel pump. Set up parameters that recognize the type and amount of fuel that each vehicle should receive and apply limits. Also, use exception reporting that tracks fueling activity outside of the expected norms,” said Joe Basile, VP, Hardware Solutions for AssetWorks.
And, taking it further is the ability for more real-time data analysis through the help of fuel management providers.
“The ability to also compare transactions dispensed at in-house sites with commercial fuel transactions in near real-time provides a higher level of fuel control previously unavailable. Exception reports can now detail anomalies of misuse never before achieved,” Basile said. “As put by a fleet manager client, ‘The key is the real-time access. We have the ability to have all of the data coming in, pre-authorized. It makes everything much easier.’”
Finally, proper data management can help simplify the sheer amount of data and identify key metrics and trends.
“The fleet industry has been transformed by technology over the past 10-20 years. We now have access to plentiful amounts of data, which can often be perceived as cumbersome. We need to grow in how we interpret and use that data to make better decisions. To do this effectively, having your maintenance, fueling, and purchasing data available in a single system can help you pinpoint areas for improvement,” Basile noted.
Selecting the Right Fuel System or Technology
To help gather all of the data and help analyze it are myriad fuel systems and technologies. When making a decision between the various options, and do your homework.
“Look for a system that helps transform how you manage your fleet business; don’t just find a technology that helps you replicate your current processes in a computer,” said Basile of AssetWorks. “It’s in your best interest to partner with a technology vendor that will help you analyze what you are doing now and then offer solutions that combine new business processes, software, and hardware to save money — either by identifying ways to cut your costs or how to increase your uptime, which generates more money. The best way to achieve success is through integrated systems that relies on the same data to streamline processes in all areas of your company.”
Additionally, take a look at how the data and technology work with other programs already utilized in your fleet.
“Consider how data flows to and from these systems, and how they fit into the overall vehicle ecosystem. If the data is locked up, it can’t provide a lot of value. The fleet and fuel data needs to be combined with other data sources, enriched, and then analyzed to create new insights,” said Thearling of WEX.
And, there are options to get started beyond investing in larger analytics systems if they simply are not a current option.
“If a system such as ours isn’t an option, fleet managers can assemble a solid set of tools that can be used to explore fleet data from BI vendors (e.g., Tableau and Domo) to open-source statistical tools (e.g., R, Python, and Julia). It’s important to invest in and build fleet analytics expertise and it’s equally important for fleet managers make it a priority to understand their data and what that data can tell them,” Thearling said.
And, as always, do not forget to involve all key stakeholders in the decision-making and data analysis process.
“As fleet managers are making these decisions, I’d advise taking a balanced approach for long-term success. Advances in fuel management technology sometimes favor one stakeholder at the expense of another. To gain long-term traction and savings, innovations must be compelling for multiple parties — drivers, managers, and merchants,” said Pape of U.S. Bank.
The Bottom Line
Deciding which is best can be a daunting task. But, if you take your time and do your research, the future time savings will far outweigh the time spent.
“There are many competitive systems on the market and the process for selecting the right hardware and software solutions can be daunting. We believe choosing a vendor that offers integrated solutions can be much more beneficial to clients from a cost and central reporting standpoint. It’s important to trust your technology provider as a partner rather than just a vendor,” said Basile of AssetWorks.
And, the advances are forecast to continue, so it’s wise to not fall behind the learning curve now.
“Over the next few years, we are going to see some impressive advances in how companies understand their fleet operations. A rich variety of data will provide the foundation, and a growing list of analytics applications will turn that data into valuable insights. I would add that it’s not a question of whether or not fleet managers should invest in, understand and utilize data analytics tools — it’s only a matter of when,” said Thearling of WEX.