As President of Mercury Associates, the largest fleet management consultancy in North America, Paul Lauria is better placed than most to reflect on the rapid rate of change witnessed in the fleet management industry in the past two decades.
“Fleet management practices in 1985, when I worked on my first two fleet management consulting projects, were not much different than fleet management practices in, say, 1915. They were not computerised and, hence, not data-driven,” says Lauria, who has worked with organisations around the world in his 37-year career in fleet management consulting, training and research.
In the pre-digital era, fleet performance and costs were difficult to measure, assess and benchmark in quantitative terms, says Lauria, which created a lack of transparency and accountability, “a prerequisite for improving any type of business activity” in Lauria’s view.
In the absence of data, “fleet management practices were governed by traditional work methods, long-standing relationships with suppliers, decision-makers, customers, and employees, first-hand observation, anecdotal and second-hand information, opinion, prejudice, and subjective judgment. Employees who had accumulated many years of first-hand experience in various fleet-related roles were, generally, the unchallenged experts on all fleet-related matters.”
As a result, he says, “if they did not recognise that fleet management practices could be improved, improvements simply were not pursued.”
Since then, says Lauria, “computerisation – especially the advent of GUI-based management information systems in the late 1990s – profoundly changed these practices by making it possible to objectively assess the merit of beliefs and practices that had held sway in the fleet industry and fleet management profession for decades. Ever since then, pressure has been growing on fleet owners and fleet managers to be more objective, transparent, and accountable in the utilisation, operation, and management of fleets.”
Addressing the future of fleet management
Lauria will call on his experience designing and leading strategic improvement and change management projects for fleet owners in government, military, utility, construction, and transportation services organisations when he delivers the international keynote address at the IPWEA Australasian Fleet Conference to be held in Brisbane in 28-30 March 2022.
In his address, Lauria will discuss the challenges of modernising the fleet management practices of an organisation that spends $A420 million on its fleet per annum. “Many people would assume that an organisation that spends such a large sum on its fleet every year would have both the motivation and means to implement sound fleet management systems and business practices,” he says. “Understanding the reasons that they did not do so until a new COO commissioned Mercury to perform a top-to-bottom review of those practices is central to designing and executing an effective change-management strategy and plan.”
In 2022, data-driven management is a fixture of the fleet management industry. “Data and analytics will slowly but inexorably reduce the need for human judgment based on first-hand experience and past practice in fleet management decision-making. A good example of this is condition-based maintenance of vehicles using information derived from sensors embedded within in-vehicle systems and components.”
However, “old habits die hard,” says Lauria. While technology is rapidly advancing, organisational change can be slow to follow. “Many fleet owners’ investments in information technology have not been matched by investments in workforce or business process development needed to leverage technology, and many organisations are not just unskilled and under-resourced in the use of technology-enabled business processes, but highly resistant to such use,” he says. “Twenty-five years after the advent of Windows-based fleet management software, many fleet owners with which Mercury Associates works have a rudimentary understanding, at best, of how to use work order data to improve their fleet maintenance and repair practices.”
Lauria says fleet management has arrived at a critical juncture driven by unprecedented global interest in fleet sustainability and electrification. “The fleet management profession’s 15 minutes of fame is upon us,” he says, paraphrasing the famous line by Andy Warhol. The crucial question to ask, he says, is, “Is the profession ready for its close-up?”