NAFA’s 2019 I&E: An Open Letter to NAFA Members from Michael Bieger and John Bieger

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Release date: 5/2/2019

It was advanced learning, new technologies, and friends both new and old (well, past friends, maybe not old). It also had networking and education covering everything from Canadian and U.S. legislation to workshops for all areas of the industry - utilities, corporations, pharmaceuticals, government, and university fleets.

There were classes on law enforcement fleets, online communication, the future of our industry, the environment, and what - exactly - mobility means; overall more than 70 sessions and events for the thousands of attendees; all students of the industry. The Twitter hashtag #NAFA2019 barely comes close to doing justice to the opportunity afforded anyone who attended NAFA’s 2019 Institute & Expo, which took place April 15-17, in Louisville, Ky. 
Sunday, April 14

Things began on Sunday with two half-day classes: a workshop on creating effective policy, and a “Masters Class” where seasoned industry leaders worked with their peers on fleet’s most persistent topics from acquisition to risk. Leading the latter session were noted CAFM®s Katherine Vigneau, Randy Owen, Patti Earley, and Bryan Flansburg. The day wrapped with the Annual Business Meeting, followed by a welcome reception which set the strong networking tone for the rest of the conference.

Monday, April 15

As conference attendees dove into Monday morning’s breakfast, Phil Russo, NAFA’s Chief Executive Officer, launched the conference with the introduction of the new NAFA Communities initiative. A key initiative which will enable industry leaders to crowdsource, network, share knowledge and solve problems directly with each other, NAFA Communities strives to serve the Association’s members in the ever-changing, social, interconnected world in which we live.

Presenter Jen Buhrow demonstrated the potential of working with others virtually with a quick “real-world” exercise, having attendees at each table exchange business cards with each other. She noted that such an easy interaction was now possible in a dramatically scaled-up way, thanks to NAFA Communities. She then introduced the individual communities and their leaders:

•    Associates Community - Marianne Stewart-Carbocci, CAFM
•    Government Community - Nina Hoffert, CAFM
•    Education Community - Mike Wilson, CAFM
•    Utility Community - Calvin Smith, CAFM
•    Corporate Community - David Hayward
•    Multinational Community - Joe LaRosa
•    Public Safety Community - Jeff Hawthorne, CAFM
According to Buhrow, communities are “…more than a chat room or Google for fleet, but really an online learning environment at its heart.” She also spoke of how the communities can additionally serve as a products and services showcase for Associate Members.  

What followed was a full day of educational sessions. Professional development, so important in our world today, was highlighted by classes that ranged from fleet-specific personal development with CAFM boot camps, all the way to professional level education with sessions on safety, policy, and industry-specific workshops.

A unit on complex decision-making hosted a panel featuring Sherry Calkins, Associate Vice President, Global Strategic Partners, Geotab; Phil Moser, Assistant Director of Global Driver Safety, Syneos Health; and Erin Rock, Government Consultant, Southern Strategy Group. The discussion addressed what one had to consider when making complicated decisions as fleet managers. Rock spoke to the complexities of the government process and how it is significantly different from the corporate space, including the procurement cycle, the funding cycle, and the challenges faced when her senior leadership are political experts but not fleet subject matter experts.

Calkins added her insight into the challenges of global operations and decision making; specifically, with the need to partner globally to navigate multiple political entities. She highlighted that NAFA has best practices and to use this resource. Key to successfully understanding global complex decision-making is who owns the data and to really read contracts to understand them and their inherent liabilities. Moser added that case studies can be very effective in understanding client needs and working at both the industry and local levels.

The Q&A highlighted some key points; one being the fact that some countries prohibit MVRs due to privacy laws and that this has undermined a company’s ability to reduce their liability if they can’t check behavior.

Most of us are waiting for tomorrow, but keynote presenter Chris Riddell took the entire conference audience into the future. His thought-provoking speech highlighted and fractured the ways we traditionally see what’s coming next.
Playing to a packed house, he provided insight into some of the philosophical changes the currently connected generation is driving. Humorously, this included an image of a Christmas list delivered to Santa, written in crayon but solely featuring a web URL for an Amazon wishlist.  

Riddell also warned of the dangers of becoming complacent with technology’s status quo, such as it is. He offered, as an illustration, the current Facebook headquarters sign, which was simply the former Sun Microsystems label turned around and rebranded with the Facebook logo on its front. No matter how quickly we thought we’ve seen change come, we haven’t seen anything yet.

Then it was back to the books with more than a dozen educational sessions on everything from another CAFM Boot Camp to an OEM Law Enforcement Panel on driving unique solutions for your fleet. During the between sessions breaks, you could get a cup of joe from the LeasePlan café, or possibly through their new voice recognition driver app, Elle, if you prefer.  

The day concluded with the “Derby Experience” welcoming reception. As a part of the overall networking theme, it was a great opportunity for colleagues, friends, and peers to mingle with some of the best minds in the industry.

Tuesday, April 16

Day two started with a breakfast and panel discussion featuring this year's Fleet Excellence Awards (FLEXY) winners, marking a noteworthy change from previous iterations. A supremely talented group of individuals was recognized for their accomplishments and excellence over the past year: Dave Dahn, CAFM, from Erie Insurance Group; Mario Guzman, CAFM, of the City of West Palm Beach, Fla.; Robert Stine, CAFM, from Hillsborough County, Fla.; and Jodi Weber, from Johnson Controls International.  

Adam Orth, CAFM, a FLEXY winner from 2018, also appeared as Jodi Weber was unable to attend.

While speaking to their accomplishments and what it takes to be successful in the industry as a fleet professional, the best quote of the entire I&E came from Stine, who opined that to be good, you must immerse yourself in what you do and not lead from on high. As he noted, you must get out there and “…feel the steel.”

Then the floodgates opened on one of the largest fleet-oriented conference floors in the U.S. in 2019; over 62,000 square feet of knowledge and innovation! From trucks to law enforcement, telematics to safety, vehicle maintenance to vehicle tracking and vehicle remarketing, the Expo floor was packed with every kind of solution that today’s fleets require. Certainly, there was too much to take in during a single day, but I was not worried because the Expo would continue the next day.

Walking the floor was hard work! My smartwatch counted 1.3 miles on the first day of the Expo alone, which quickly built up my appetite. I took time to sit and use my Pep Boys Bucks to fund my lunch where I enjoyed a surprisingly good pulled pork sandwich (surprising in that convention floor food has never earned a single Michelin star). Wash that down with soda and a bag of chips and then it was back to the books and classes!

Tuesday afternoon, much like Monday’s, was chock full of educational sessions. Topics included: The Road to Full Autonomy, Customer Retention through Trust-Based Relationships, and much more; a full plate for anyone. An especially relevant session in this cost-conscious world was on Proven Strategies to Reduce TCO.

Total cost of ownership is a prime driver of fleet decisions and the panel keyed into several very successful initiatives across multiple industries. Henry Kayler of Vestas Winds Technologies drove projects with $7.7 million in savings over three years using telematics to identify underutilized assets and remove them or improve them.

Brent Miller of Heart to Heart Hospice improved his asset-cycling flexibility and realized $188,000 in maintenance cost savings. This flexibility also became important in normalizing TRAC gains and losses.

As a final example, Kris Peterinelli of Jubilant explained how he used scorecards and gamification to obtain a 5% increase in fuel economy and a 12% decrease in preventable accidents.

The evening offered a choice of private parties with colleagues or NAFA’s new Dinner with Strangers Program! Held just two short miles from the convention center at NuLu, Louisville’s trendy, cosmopolitan district, attendees were able to join new dinner-mates while sampling some of the best food Louisville has to offer. NuLu is a thriving neighborhood dining hub with eateries ranging from an upscale New American cuisine to casual BBQ; all accompanied by craft beer and bourbon.

Wednesday, April 17

Wednesday, the final day, featured two general sessions. The first was the unveiling of 2019’s 100 Best Fleets rankings which recognize fleets in the Americas. Congratulations, Miami-Dade County, for landing the number one spot! 

The second session featured a roundtable discussion by five fleet management company leaders: Dan Frank President and CEO of Wheels; Jay Forbes, CEO of Element Fleet Management; Bob White President of ARI; Matt Dyer, President and CEO, LeasePlan USA; and Tom Callahan, President at Donlen. All participated in a conversation with moderator Mike Joyce, Executive Director, American Automotive Leasing Association, on the future of the private fleet sector. Whether you manage a public or private fleet operation, there was some deep expertise to dig into from both sessions - a dynamite way to start the last day and a nice segue into the final day of the Expo (and another couple of miles of walking)!

Afterward, just when you would expect things to slow down, things really revved up with a comprehensive look into the future. The entire afternoon was devoted to mobility and advancement. Lunchtime started with an engaging and enlightening talk by Lukas Neckermann on the world we helped create, namely, how we in the transportation industry have unknowingly contributed to the damage of the planet, and how we might help fix it. An engaging keynote speaker for the closing afternoon of I&E, Neckermann set the tone for the afternoon discussions on such topics as Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) to various business and environmental challenges.

With a quote from Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts,” Neckermann drove home the point that while we have severely and negatively impacted our world, we as humans can positively affect the same. Rather than speaking in generalities (future generations, the next 50 years, etc.), he linked it to something close to home: our children.   

He showed that in some states more than 50% of the total CO2 emissions are the direct result of the transportation sector. However, by taking steps now to reduce our emissions by using other options, we can help reverse the trend. “What are we doing to leave a positive legacy for our kids?” he asked. The impact is immediate, but the good news is that we have control over our actions and these can positively impact damage reversal.   

This was an afternoon full of possibilities and excitement - mobility, electricity, and the future! Topics ranged from dealing with EV-charging anxiety to determining what portion of your fleet is ready for an electric solution now. A wealth of sessions looked at our present needs as well, asking necessary questions: Can Level 4 autonomous vehicles and Mobility as a Service work for your organization right now? What are the implications of vehicles and the Internet of Things? Who are the players in the mobility segment, and which companies are looking to drones to accomplish both tedious and dangerous tasks? Above all, with rivers of data flowing in and out of fleet, where do we stand with cybersecurity? 

All this seemed too much for any one person to absorb, but the subjects were relevant to the here and now, cohering into a fast-paced and in-depth afternoon. The only drawback was that the myriad choices left many with a headache just trying to figure out how to prioritize session attendance!

All said and done, the 2019 I&E was a resounding success and a great harbinger of things to come for NAFA 2020 I&E! Next year’s planning committee now has a new and higher bar to hit.  See you all in 12 months in Indianapolis!

Michael Bieger and John Bieger are Managing Partners of Black River Fleet, an independent fleet consulting company dedicated solely to helping the corporate fleet professional. Michael Bieger previously served as President of the Automotive Fleet & Leasing Association, and as Senior Director of Global Procurement for ADP.