Gone are the days of handwritten logbooks and paper ledgers – fleet management today is a digital enterprise. We asked two fleet managers and members of the IPWEA Fleet Council how technology will continue to change the way they do their job.
Dean Gutteridge is Manager of Fleet at the City of Gold Coast, where he is responsible for about 7,000 fleet assets from chainsaws and brush-cutters to earthmoving equipment and 50-tonne landfill compactors.
“We’re always looking for advances in technology to enhance safety, productivity and further refine our asset management processes,” he says. “We often look to retrofit new technology into existing assets as a precursor to this technology becoming available via mainstream OEM offerings.”
The City of Gold Coast recently upgraded from GPS to In-Vehicle Management System (IVMS), a platform with capabilities not featured in older-generation tracking systems, such as fuel-burn rates. Gutteridge says the new system “helps us further optimise route-planning as well as giving insight into driver habits for training purposes. These data insights are invaluable in extracting the highest levels of operational efficiency from our assets in the field.”
The previous generation of GPS tracking systems served as an important first step in understanding how equipment is used, acknowledges Gutteridge. However, he says, these systems were essentially standalone units that failed to integrate with on-board systems.
“Our upgrade to IVMS now allows us to monitor a far greater range of on-board systems and inputs, thus allowing us to take the next critical steps in improving operational efficiency,” he explains. IVMS also improves safety through a system of alerts in the event of an incident, and in-depth driver behaviour reporting that allows for early identification and intervention of at-risk drivers.
Gold Coast has deployed technology to improve communications as well as efficiency and safety. One example is TOMCAT – Team Outdoor Multimedia Communications Activity Trailer – a mobile multimedia video-conferencing platform housed in a disused trailer. “It has a full-blown smart-room setup installed to allow office-based staff to interact with in-field workers on job sites as though they were sitting in a video-conferencing-equipped meeting room themselves,” says Gutteridge.
The self-contained unit, which runs on the 4/5G mobile network, is also used for education and training. “It’s fully solar and battery-powered, so can run on a remote job site for days if required,” he says. “We plan to install a fridge and barbecue in the near future to make the TOMCAT world-class.”
Keeping pace with change
A crucial role of technology is to “keep abreast of where our assets are and what functions they are performing in their role of delivering vital services to our community,” says Peter Armour, Unit Manager of Plant and Fleet at Central Coast Council.
Over the last three years, Central Coast Council’s fleet team has introduced and upgraded a range of digital systems, including:
- Fleet asset management system
- Keyless car share technology trial
- Electronic asset key-boxes
- Costed work order management system
- Global positioning system in tool of trade vehicle assets
- A third-party crash repair quoting system
- Software to enable mobile phone and desktop booking and electronic key-box access to pool cars.
Armour says adopting this new technology has provided the fleet team with a deeper understanding of operational needs, improved management of planned and reactive asset maintenance, and led to greater accuracy in developing operational and capital budgets. In addition, technology delivers efficiencies such as through identifying under-utilised assets and reducing fuel consumption.
Council can now create business cases based on usage, supported by data gained from real-time tracking of assets, overruling the ‘old-school mentality’ that is often resistant to change, says Armour. The result is a “reduction of waste – there’s less need to hold assets ‘just in case’.”
Change always comes with challenges, particularly when resources are limited. One difficulty Armour encountered at Central Coast Council was “project-managing the introduction of new systems at the same time as running BAU functions with minimal or no additional support”.
Gaining buy-in from stakeholders to secure support and funding and encouraging staff to embrace new technology and systems presented other obstacles. “Debunking rumours and mistruths spread by those not wishing to have GPS fitted to their assets…was a big challenge,” says Armour, that required “the re-education of staff set in the old ways of doing business.”
Investing in a digital transformation
Workforce training has been integral to the digital transformation of fleet and asset management at the City of Gold Coast, especially when “rolling out IT-based systems and technology to field-based staff who have not regularly used such systems before,” says Gutteridge.
In an increasingly digital workplace, data literacy is an essential skill necessary to turn large volumes of “raw data into useful information that can be used in the relevant decision-making processes,” he says.
While high costs and teething problems can sometimes accompany the uptake of new technology, particularly when in its infancy, Gutteridge says, on balance, digital transformation is worth the investment. “The data and productivity we are seeing from improved technology is enhancing our asset management capabilities and driving our unit costs down.”