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Choosing Vehicle Technology Solutions to Improve Driver Safety

By Harry Storck, Global Leader Auto Liability, AIG

Harry Storck, Global Leader Auto Liability, AIG

Vehicle technology has come a long way since the invention of the “horseless carriage.”   In the last 20 years alone, the transportation industry has made incredible progress to help consumers and commercial fleet managers operate their vehicles more economically, productively and safely.  Technology once considered a fantasy is now standard on many vehicles.  As this powerful technology evolution continues, many companies struggle with how to best utilize solution(s) to solve their fleet challenges.  Here’s a partial list of vehicle technology in use today: Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), Plug & Play telematics, electronic logging devices (ELDs), in-vehicle cameras, collision mitigation, mobile device prevention, driver fatigue measurement.

"Unfortunately, many fleet professionals invest valuable time researching the marketplace to understand what solutions may fit their organizations’ needs"

The fleet management team must clearly understand that technology alone will not deliver sustained driver and fleet improvement.  A strong safety culture combining senior management and field management is absolutely necessary.  When thinking about adopting new or improved fleet technology the fleet team should follow these practical concepts.

1. Identify Specific Challenge(s) to Fix

One of the most common mistakes fleet managers make when considering a technology is allowing the vendor complete control of the product demonstration and outlining all of the features and benefits the solution offers.  This predictably overwhelms the audience and keeps them from concentrating on what is most important to their operation. 

Rule 1:  Remember, it’s your demo and not the vendor’s demo. 

2. Obtain Senior Leadership Team (SLT) Support

Unfortunately, many fleet professionals invest valuable time researching the marketplace to understand what solutions may fit their organizations’ needs.  It is recommended identify the top 2 or 3 most disruptive pain points and then quantify the value of fixing them.  Then create a business case to present to senior management to obtain approval for budget and other human resources to plan and implement the solution. 

Rule 2:  Get Senior Leadership buy-in early.

3. Communicate with All Stakeholders

A fleet technology initiative involves many company stakeholders.  Drivers, mechanics, field supervisors, operations management and SLT all play an important role to ensure the technology project is a success.  Moreover, including Safety, Human Resources, Finance, Sales and others help to create a strong awareness level.  In most successful programs, a “full disclosure” policy is recommended. Covert deployment is not a best practice

Rule 3:  Communicate early & often. 

4. Develop an Project Plan with Timeline

A successful deployment takes careful planning.  It is important to set appropriate expectations, communicate regularly with stakeholders, expect contingencies, respect that other departments may not share your enthusiasm for the project, set milestones with timelines and establish a means for measuring outcomes.

Rule 4:  Don’t “wing it”, too much is at stake

5. Vendor Selection

Once you receive a budget and organizational support, you need to start vetting vendors.  The fleet technology marketplace has undergone immense change over the last 5-10 years.  Consider partnering with a vendor only if they have demonstrated expertise in their space, strong financial position, appropriate customer service resources and the ability to adapt to your organization’s changing needs. 

Rule 5:  Do your homework.

6. Conduct Pilot(s)

It is highly recommended to pilot one or two solutions before making a final decision.  Collaborate with all stakeholders to create a thorough list of “must haves” and “nice to haves.”  The final vendor(s) selection should be based on measurable value satisfying all stakeholders and not emotional preferences.  The system must offer value to your entire organization while being easy to use.

Rule 6:  If it’s not easy to use, don’t waste your time or money

7. Program Launch

Remember to focus on a manageable list of priorities when you launch your program.  Start slowly to ensure early success and reduce the chances of pushback from drivers and supervisors.  It is very important to secure full support early so long-term sustained success is possible.

Rule 7:  Keep it simple!

In order to maximize your investment and achieve measurable improvement with fleet performance, your technology strategy must include these key ingredients:accurately identify driving behaviour, a means to take action with prompt one-on-one documented driver coaching, and incident-specific training to correct the unsatisfactory behaviour.  Knowledge alone is not adequate to change driver behavior.  Pie charts and driver scorecards are meaningless without active supervisory and senior management oversight.  There must be a “closed loop” strategy in place to achieve sustained improvement.  Driver and Supervisor accountability is needed for positive long term results. 

Changing Driver Behavior

Changing driver behavior has challenged fleet safety professionals for decades.  Balancing customer demands, driver productivity, profitability and safety is viewed by many fleet professionals as impossible.  How do you insure safe driving practices without sacrificing the other demands of a company’s fleet operation?  The key is to acknowledge that improving driver behavior is a long-term process.  Furthermore, managers must understand that knowledge alone does not change behavior.  Consistent consequences (documented rewards or corrective action) are the most powerful ingredient the changing driver behavior.

In summary, adopting a fleet technology platform involves many considerations. The stakes are very high and companies cannot afford to waste valuable time and resources on initiatives that do not provide measurable value. Careful planning, execution and sustained follow through are necessary to achieve positive outcomes.  Overlooking these critical ingredients will guarantee poor results and a less than desirable ROI.

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