Comment: How to drive a resilient business
While the option for fleets to use technology such as the “Cloud” has been available for some time, the challenges arising from COVID-19 have made these innovations a necessity rather than a luxury. However, to ensure that fleet businesses can weather any future storms, new technology should be introduced in a way that does not leave the workforce behind, advises Debora Marras, project manager, and Matthew Garrett, programme manager, at business change consultancy Entec Si.
Much like many other organisations during the pandemic, fleet businesses have faced the challenges of interrupted services, the closure of offices and the need to follow the Government’s stringent safety guidelines.
Each of these challenges have required rapid responses to maintain business continuity. For example, the majority of fleets have had to embrace remote working and, in turn, cloud-based solutions, resulting in every process, from the viewing of vehicles, to video conferences and digital customer engagement, being moved online. This is something that not all businesses were prepared for. As a result, many fleets have been forced to rapidly transform their systems and processes, providing employees with the equipment and know-how to work remotely, but this is certainly not a negative thing.
By having access to maintenance information, reports and bookings on a single platform, fleets can increase their productivity and efficiency levels. For those which have invested in vehicle telematics, the move to online also allows this technology to be used to its full advantage. Fleet managers can see in real-time how many miles their vehicles are doing, when they need servicing and how many jobs are being fulfilled in a given period, as well as many other KPIs. Furthermore, analytics can also be utilised to better understand the client base, allowing fleet businesses to identify trends and make informed decisions based on their customer base.
Other pieces of technology that have come to the fore during COVID-19 include contactless confirmation systems that allow the carrier to comply with social distancing guidelines when delivering a package by taking a photo to prove delivery of the package, rather than taking a signature. Not only will these help during the pandemic, but it will also keep fleets moving towards a paperless future, something that will benefit both businesses and the environment in the long run.
When lockdown was first announced, some fleet managers may have rushed to choose a cloud-based solution; after all, the priority was to ensure that employees could work from home. However, this does not necessarily mean that the chosen system is the right fit for the business. As such, it is vital that any further technology solutions that are put in place are carefully assessed, in line with the organisation’s overall strategy. A business change expert can help to inform the decision-making process by objectively looking at the various needs of the company and selecting a system that suits it best.
However, it is important that technology is not a fleet’s only focus; they must also remember the business’ employees during this ever-changing period of time. Clear communication is essential to getting people on board with any transformation project, and even though COVID-19 is an exceptional circumstance, this fact still applies. By clearly explaining the need for each of the changes to employees and allowing them to voice their opinions and concerns, the transformation process can be made much smoother.
Rather than taking a technology-led approach, fleet managers should make sure that any changes are business-led instead. Understanding what the company needs and working from that will lead to an effective solution and a happy workforce.
Similarly, from a financial perspective, fleet businesses may wish to take a long-term view and consider easing payment terms where necessary. While this may seem like a contradictory approach, having a lot of vehicles returned early can be far worse than taking a slight up-front hit to help customers continue with their rental.
Areas for improvement within the fleet can be identified via a business health check. This involves looking at current processes and assessing whether they fit the direction that the company is going in. If the fleet’s future strategy involves a significant use of technology, then managers need to offer employees guidance on how to use it. Similarly, if remote working is becoming established within the company, then managers need to make all vital documents accessible online and carry out home working assessments.
At the heart of every company is its culture, and this should be reviewed regularly. Unless employees are involved with major business decisions, it is possible that there will be a level of resistance to any kind of change. Listening to workers and offering them support during the transformation period can be the difference between a successful project and one that fails.
It is essential to consider how employees are truly feeling at what is an uncertain and worrying time, particularly for drivers working on the front line. Keeping in contact with individuals and seeking regular feedback on current and new processes can help to create a safe and supportive culture, which can improve job retention and attraction of new talent.
Fleets have had to adapt at an unprecedented speed during this pandemic, ensuring that customers are satisfied, and employees are able to do their jobs safely. However, as normality begins to return, that does not mean that things should go back to how they were. Technology has the potential to make fleets more productive than ever before, offering a level of flexibility that can help businesses to remain resilient long into the future.