The Insider: You don’t know what you don’t know
This week I learned of two more well-respected award-winning fleet managers whose roles have been outsourced. The first to a leasing company who promptly took on the redundant fleet manager themselves to help them cope with the aftermath – but hey, if he got a nice payout I don’t suppose he is sorry. The second person’s fleet was outsourced to an Eastern Bloc country where the company’s new fleet staff don’t even drive cars themselves, much less understand the intricacies of fleet.
Oh, and there’s a third fleet manager whose new management apparently don’t approve of his exemplary methods, even though he has massively improved fleet costs across all areas and engaged with his fleet drivers resulting in an increase in staff morale. The people making these over-arching decisions may understand figures, but not the ramifications of the resulting loss of expertise.
Nobody is indispensable and all aspects of fleet can be outsourced, but the fact is that as it becomes more prevalent, there is a wealth of knowledge being lost. In an ideal situation – and the outsource companies admit this themselves – there remains a technical expert within the client company who pulls it all together, and who can pass judgement on the proposition, both existing policy and future recommendations.
Understandably, that might become a dual role, combined with travel or facilities or HR. But I don’t see much evidence of that happening; the country’s best fleet managers are being made redundant, maybe rocking up as consultants on the other side of the fence. There are a lot fewer fleet managers than five years ago.
Without that in-house expertise crucial aspects of running a fleet are in danger of being lost, as the outsourced service may be pared back by the uneducated client to cut costs again. Licence checking? Let’s not bother, of course everyone has a licence; accident reviews – what do we need them for, it was an accident for heaven’s sake. Tyre checks – don’t the garage do that when the car goes in for a service? Whole life costs – sounds complicated, tell you what, let’s just give everyone cash and then they can sort themselves out and we don’t have to worry. And against that kind of blind ignorance, standards will deteriorate and all the hard work the fleet luminaries put in to improve driver safety and promote a strong and ethical company image will be lost.
Think I’m being over-imaginative? Maybe, but think again. As we lose these fleet heavyweights, it’s not just their own businesses which are losing that expertise, but the fleet community in general.
When I got into fleet, much of what I learned was gleaned from other fleet managers’ experience, either through the fleet press or networking opportunities. The stalwarts were happy to share their knowledge with a newbie and there’s a lot to be said for learning by others’ successes – and claiming them as your own, of course.
The networking and learning opportunities are still open to us, through channels such as ACFO and ICFM, whose doors are open to interested parties, but unless we actively support them, and indeed they broaden their appeal, they too may disappear.
The internet has changed the world. Nowadays you can Google almost anything and gain knowledge within seconds – but that’s not the same as applied expertise, from practical fleet management learned over 20, 30, 40 years. It has often been claimed that fleet is the second largest business expense next to company pensions, so it would be foolish to look at it as an inconsequential and unimportant facet of one’s business. But unfortunately the new breed who have fleet loosely within their wider remit don’t necessarily know what they don’t know.