Look Beyond Features to Meet Core Needs and Maximize a System’s Potential


Downtime Management

In part one of this article, three modules that are often overlooked were discussed: Cost-of-Service Analysis, Parts Inventory Management, and Parts Cross-Referencing. In part two, the remaining modules that get overlooked are explained, along with helpful tools for easing deployment of a fleet system and the measurements and dashboards to gauge overall effectiveness. Once a system is up and running, the focus will shift to keeping the system functioning well.

Scheduled Services: Scheduled services, such as preventive maintenance (PM), can be defined in a fleet system and linked to time and use intervals. Once standard services are established and linked to a vehicle or equipment type, the fleet system can project when an asset is due for standard service. All fleet systems provide this feature as a core function and its implementation is fairly straightforward. However, fleet systems can do much more in this area, including grouping services hierarchically, associating standard labor times to services, defining part kits, and producing a checklist of services to complete.

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Many systems offer the ability to schedule appointments and standard services in a calendar, similar to Microsoft (MS) Outlook or Lotus Notes. The fleet system may also be intelligent enough to calculate total available labor hours based on the number of technicians, existing shop workload, and planned leave. In such a case, a fleet operation can manage its planned workload fairly accurately.

Scheduling standard services also assists in assessing how much of the fleet operation’s workload is planned versus unplanned; a high rate of unplanned services can mean a poorly structured and executed maintenance program, an aging fleet, inadequate training, and various other problem areas in need of attention.

Downtime Management: Downtime is an often misunderstood concept. It is a measure of time during which the vehicle should be available for use, but is not due to a repair or service. However, if the vehicle is unavailable during a time in which it was not needed by the assigned user, service time is not considered downtime. Take, for example, a sedan that must be available to a driver 6 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday through Friday. The sedan is dropped off for service at 5:45 p.m. on Friday. The work is completed and the driver is notified by 5 a.m. Monday. The total downtime is 15 minutes. Because the bulk of service time occurred during off hours, downtime is limited.

Understanding how downtime is measured allows configuring the shift or service hours associated with each fleet vehicle and equipment piece. Shifts should be defined in a master table screen (e.g., system settings and defaults) and linked to an asset or group of assets. This step allows the system to accurately calculate downtime based on the vehicle shift, opposed to a 24/7 clock, which counts as downtime the total time from the point the work order was opened until the driver is notified the vehicle is available.

With this information, service hours, shop shifts, etc., can be set to manage downtime. A good fleet operation will have an average downtime of less than 5% when properly calculated.

Ad-Hoc Reports: Regardless of how good a fleet system’s standard reports are, ultimately, an ad-hoc reporting software package is needed. Custom reports address budget projections, customer information requests, “what-if” scenarios, cost reduction and control measures, performance and benchmark rankings, and other management information requirements. Ad-hoc reporting is a powerful and flexible solution for mining data to address these needs without the time and cost of hiring a developer.

Virtually every modern fleet management system uses an open database connectivity (ODBC)-compliant database—a standard method connecting to the database and reading data contained within. This feature, in combination with an ad-hoc report writer (e.g., Crystal Reports, MS Data Analyzer, or SPSS), allows users to create customized management reports, export data to MS Excel and other formats for further analysis, and even publish saved reports to an Intranet website.

MS Windows users can create an ODBC connection by going to Control Panel > Administrative Tools > Data Sources (ODBC). Once a connection is created, an ad-hoc report writer (cost: $250-$400 per license) can be installed to begin creating reports.

Although report writer applications are fairly intuitive, taking a class to learn how to develop reports is well worth the expense. Moreover, some fleet software companies even offer ad-hoc report writing training at annual and regional conferences.


Ongoing training is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to fully use a fleet system. Knowledgeable system users are more proficient in its use, generally are more efficient at tasks, and make better decisions due to the information available to them. A good fleet operation should allocate approximately eight to 16 hours of system training annually for every staff member; new employees should receive 16 to 24 hours of training. Power users may require up to 40 hours of training with a focus on broader aspects of fleet management.

A small training budget (e.g., $3,500 plus expenses) can fund a contracted trainer for a few days annually, during which the trainer can focus on identified key system areas. This training is particularly useful when implementing a new system module or feature. A seasoned trainer provides visual instruction system set-up and use and fields questions from users about specific features or concepts. Basic training on standard activities, such as creating work orders or running reports, can be provided effectively by a power user.

Additionally, it is a good practice to communicate and network with industry peers who deploy the same fleet system. Frequently, a peer has already implemented a feature a fleet manager is interested in using, has addressed system issues, and can provide guidance on potential pitfalls. Collaboration is very powerful and can assist in navigating the waters of rolling out new features.


Just as all fleet organizations should understand their costs, they should also understand their performance levels. Fleet systems provide the data and functionality to facilitate this important activity. Key performance measures to track include fleet availability, rate of repeat repairs, service turnaround time, PM compliance rate, and scheduled service rate, among others.

Many fleet systems include trackable functions and display performance graphically on dashboards. This functionality provides fleet managers and their supervisors and customers a quick and intuitive way to gauge organizational performance.


Fleet management systems are powerful tools that can make managing a fleet much easier than in the past, but they do require some set-up and ongoing care. To get the most from a fleet system, continue implementing system features, invest in training, reengineer processes to leverage system features, and benchmark performance—even after initial implementation. Keep investing in a fleet system and it will furnish information to streamline operations and capture greater cost efficiencies.


Bradley Kelley is vice president of Mercury Associates, Inc., a fleet management consulting firm. He can be reached at



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