Bringing greater insight: ARI Fleet managing director Keith Allen
ARI Fleet is geared up for businesses with highly complex, bespoke needs, MD Keith Allen tells Steve Moody.
Keith Allen is in a good mood. He bounds into the boardroom at ARI’s headquarters in Chippenham telling me about a number of deals signed just that week, which illustrate how the approach they are taking is beginning to pay dividends.
The crux of the matter is that ARI’s growth has been steady rather than spectacular. This is totally understandable; the business has undergone some big changes with Allen at the helm as managing director since 2012, including a new management team (most notably sales and marketing director Jason Chamberlain and operations director Matt Cranny, also with Allen in the boardroom), new technology platforms and a readjustment of its target markets. While it still deals with car fleets, the “sweet spot” as Allen says, is in the commercial sector, where ARI’s expertise and ability to add value are maximised.
Founded in 1948 by the Holman Automotive Group, ARI has grown into the largest privately held vehicle fleet management company in the world with a global workforce of more than 2,800 throughout North America, the UK, Europe and Hong Kong, managing more than one million vehicles. ARI now manages around 50,000 vehicles in the UK. While that may not sound a huge number in the context of some fleet businesses, it is the type of vehicle within ARI’s portfolio which perhaps tells the true story.
ARI’s customers are not running high volume, low regard fleets where cars or vans are brought in, run for three or four years and defleeted having barely seen any fleet management in that time. They are generally “core to the operational running of the business,” notes Cranny, and as such are high value and very carefully managed.
“Without wanting it to sound like a cliché, ARI is starting to motor,” says Allen. “It’s not your everyday, vanilla fleet management business. What we offer is a set of skills and technologies for those businesses where fleet is essential to their everyday operation. What we aim for is that every company we work with feels like they are our only customer. “I think the value of what we offer is that this is a familyowned business, looking to grow in a solid, sustainable way over the long term and deliver simple solutions for complex problems. So the investment in technology and systems is undertaken with that strategy in mind, delivering a family service with a corporate mindset and fostering customer loyalty.
“We spend our customers’ money every day and we are acutely aware of the responsibility it brings. We recognise that we have to get it right first time, ensuring they get the best prices and service and delivering on our promises.
“Customers can track everything through our fleet management platform ARI insights, and for us it’s about unbundling the services, looking at each area and then justifying what we are doing and why we are doing it. That’s why I say it’s not a vanilla product – what we offer is a bespoke, managed service for businesses looking to really drill down into every aspect of their fleet and ensure that cost, efficiency, downtime and all other aspects are extremely closely managed.”
Chamberlain adds: “That’s how we can add more value for the complex, vocational fleets and the commercial sector as a whole. We’re not trying to be all things to all people. There’s still a place for a business that wants to offer contract hire with all the extras bolted on for one simple monthly cost, and the customer is happy with that.
Allen concurs. “More often than not, we work with firms which already have in-house fleet expertise, so that it’s 50% their skills and 50% ours,” he says.
The result of ARI’s expansion is a wide range of new products and services designed to enhance complex commercial fleet operations. It has a rental product that won a Fleet World Honour for the scalable, flexible way it provides vehicles, a driver risk management programme, as well as a multi-bid product, Pay As You Go SMR and accident management, dealing with customers’ requirements 24/7, 365 days a year.]One of ARI’s strengths is the technology it can bring to bear; an advantage of being part of a large American company. By coupling customers’ vehicle telematics data with its ARI insights platform, ARI is helping customers drill down to the minutiae of fleet running, to see not just where each vehicle is, but how it has been running, what its downtime is, itemised parts costs and the exact moments when it arrives at or leaves an ARI garage. All of the garages that sign up to ARI’s network are running technology which reports when the vehicle rolls onto its forecourt. So, when there’s a problem and the fleet manager is told the vehicle is at a garage or being picked up by a breakdown service, instead of the usual issue of wondering when or if work is being done, they can see exactly what is going on in real time.
The technology ARI is developing is even allowing it to predict problems for specific fleets or vehicles by crunching the vast amount of data it has, in turn allowing it to come up with individualised service schedules that forestall issues, and so minimise downtime. It’s an impressively slick operation, with a lot of expertise. And there’s a sense around the ARI building of calmly getting the job done.
Allen adds: “Everybody is talking about how you manage ‘big data’ and drill down to a more granular level. But we’ve been doing it for a long time across the globe and focusing on ‘smart data’. Just one vehicle will produce hundreds of data points a year, but that data means nothing without having the tools and expertise to understand, in real-time, what it’s telling you or what’s going to happen next as a result. After all, our customers’ vehicles are integral to the success of their business and no one recognises that more than us.”