Powered by technology
It was Albert Einstein who famously said that “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”. Applied to modern-day fleet management, this axiom would probably translate into something like, “The people who build your vehicles aren’t necessarily the best placed to tell you what to fix, or how to fix it.”
Chippenham-based Fleet Support Group became ARI Fleet UK at the beginning of 2013 following the company’s acquisition by American fleet management giant, ARI. Claimed to be the largest independently held fleet management services provider in the world, ARI was founded by the Holman Automotive Group in 1948 and now employs more than 2,400 people and manages nearly one million vehicles.
Keith Allen took up the position of managing director at ARI Fleet UK in January 2013 and promptly set about focusing the organisation on its strength in offering information-based products that serve complex fleet needs at the top end of the UK fleet market.
Formerly managing director of ALD Automotive, Allen says that non-funded fleet management services will spearhead the company’s growth over here, despite rumour and gossip of a possible move into contract hire.
‘We are, if anything, an antidote to contract hire,’ explains Allen. ‘Our target market is the larger fleets where the management information we can provide would permit the un-bundling of contract hire should a fleet choose to do so.
‘We have particularly strong expertise in the commercial vehicle sector – both vans and trucks. The more complex the supply chain and vehicle operational requirements, the more value our information systems deliver to our customers.’
ARI's only business has been fleet leasing and management and, as a privately-held company, it has continuously invested in fleet-specific technology. The result is a technology engine room that includes a team of 220 developers at ARI’s Philadelphia headquarters as well as an exclusive partnership with SAP that brings a whole new level of fleet reporting capability.
However, and at the risk of over-quoting Einstein, Allen knows that “information is not knowledge” and hence is mindful of the need for an account management team with the same passion for customer satisfaction as their US counterparts. ‘I knew about both ARI and Fleet Support Group before I joined the company. What particularly impressed me about ARI was the “family” nature of the business. When I went to the states to visit them, I was really struck by the commitment to customer service, and the genuine desire to exceed customers’ expectations,’ says Allen.
Existing ARI Fleet UK customers will start to see the benefits of the new systems from March 2013 onwards, providing a more sophisticated level of management information. In particular, ARI believes that size really does matter and makes no secret of its ambition to tackle “big” data problems with its ARI analytics tool.
The technology allows fleets to bring together data from a wide range of sources including telematics systems and fuel cards, as well as online video monitoring of repairs. As a result, says Allen, fleet managers will be able to get more insight into costs – both actual and forecast. That will provide far greater budgetary control and more opportunities to identify cost savings.
Once existing customers in the UK have been introduced to the new systems, ARI will start to look for new business opportunities, with fleets running 500 or more vehicles being the prime targets. ‘It’s hard to say exactly how large the market is,’ says Allen. ‘We are interested in fleets with 100 vehicles or more, though it’s the 500-plus sector where fleets are purchased outright or finance leased where we have most to offer. At this level of operation we can demonstrate clear value from the management information our systems produce and we believe there’s still plenty of room for us to grow in this market.’
Despite a successful track record in the contract hire and leasing sector, Allen is dismissive of industry rumours that a move into risk-based funding is on the cards.
‘ARI is an ambitious company and senior management in the US are aware of the potential for expansion into Europe that a base in the UK affords. But we have no plans to enter the contract hire market. We are a provider of fleet management services and that’s the way we will stay.’