Thanks to advances in technology, as well as an increasing emphasis on operations efficiency and wise resource use, the role of equipment fleet managers across all industries has changed quite a bit in recent years.
Expect even more changes in the future, says Jim Schug, a principal and engagement manager for FMI Corporation.
Schug, who is also a certified equipment manager and the program lead for the Certification Institute, cites “adapting to technology, innovation, and the new workforce” as three big changes that have occurred in fleet management over the last few years. All fleet management professionals — no matter their industry or the type of equipment managed — need to prepare themselves for more changes on the horizon, he says.
“All vehicles are adapting across the industry,” says Schug, who participated in a panel discussion at ConExpo-Con/Agg in Las Vegas this March on the future of equipment management.
“We likely are not far from vehicles that troubleshoot themselves, remote sensors that predict what to repair based on the data they collect, and an overall expectation of zero unplanned downtime.” Jim Schug, principal and engagement manager, FMI Corporation headquartered in Raleigh, N.C. and has offices in Denver, Tampa, Phoenix and Houston. “In the future, trucks will be connected and serve as a tracking center; and they will likely evolve out of needing field repairs and emergency calls.”
Need to adapt to changes
Given this move toward automation and advanced technology, fleet equipment — including service trucks —will become much more sophisticated and provide “near perfect information” on how they operate, he predicts. Therefore, he says, companies will only remain competitive in the future if they can do the following: have the best, most “fit” equipment to perform the job; eliminate equipment downtime; and demonstrate the ability to sustain ongoing operations 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And much of this will rest on the shoulders of fleet management leadership and their ability to adapt to industry changes, Schug argues.
“This future is a big shift from where we are today and puts more pressure on the equipment manager to lead what happens in the field, so the intensity and importance of the role increases,” says Schug, who has a bachelor of science degree in quantitative economics from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and a master of science in engineering management from the University of Missouri. “If equipment managers are not already sitting at the leadership table today they should be … and I certainly believe they will be in five years.”
Whether playing catch-up or preparing for more changes, fleet managers should take proactive steps to better position themselves (and their companies) for what lies ahead, he says.
“Learn how to collect data and enter it into an efficient system that helps inform when making difficult decisions,” says Schug, who acknowledges many people already use maintenance management systems in their decision-making.
However, he advises fleet managers to think beyond simply collecting and entering data. On that note, he emphasizes how the gathering, harvesting and analyzing of data by fleet managers can help their CEOs make good decisions.
Recognize data’s value
“You need to recognize how valuable that data is to your lifecycle costs and current operations. Equipment data will drive operations in the future,” says Schug, whose company provides management consulting and investment banking services to various industries including construction and engineering.
Given the importance of data in fleet management, Schug says it is critical for fleet managers to “stay engaged” and “plugged-in” when it comes to industry associations and vendors. By doing so, fleet managers can keep abreast of new technologies, products and/or practices, all of which can benefit their overall fleet management efforts.
“You do not want your firm to fall behind the innovation curve. At the same time, we are seeing strategy evolve from a ‘gut feel’ to a more data-driven approach,” Schug says.
According to Schug, though, a data-driven strategy in fleet management is more of a “shared understanding” developed and refined through the experiences of employees serving customers in the field.
“CEOs seldom innovate effectively,” Schug says. “The field and front-line management is the source of all great innovations; and they will be what leads our industry forward. Great firms recognize this and harness it in the development and execution of their strategy.”
Mark Yontz is a freelance writer from Urbandale, Iowa.