By Mark Boada
Government fleet professionals have vied to be chosen as one of the “100 Best Fleets” for over 20 years. It is recognition that is valuable to both fleet teams and top management. Fleet veteran Tom Johnson founded the Best Fleets organization and has run the annual competition for two decades to identify the best operations in the government fleet sector. Judges select the winners based on 12 criteria: accountability, use of technology, team collaboration, creativity in addressing challenges, celebrating successes, a high trust culture, employee recognition, the extent to which repairs and service are done right the first time, the speed and efficiency of repairs and maintenance, parts price control, efforts toward staff development, and maximum use of all resources, including human, capital and natural (fuel). The coveted award is typically celebrated at NAFA’s annual Institute and Expo (I&E). But this year, the current coronavirus crisis changed Johnson’s awards ceremony plans to go virtual.
With NAFA’s emphasis on promoting fleet manager professionalism through its continuing education and broad array of resources, it’s probably no surprise that 18 of the top 30 Best Fleets winners are NAFA members and each is a designated NAFA Certified Automotive Fleet Manager (CAFM).
You can find reports on a few of the NAFA member winners here
including Jeff Hawthorne, CAFM, Fleet Division Manager for the Palm Beach (Florida) County Sheriff’s Office, who tied for first; Gary McLean, Fleet Manager for the City of Lakeland, Florida, who tied for eighth place; and Mark Stevens, Fleet Manager for the City of Sacramento, California who was in 14th position. Their accomplishments are as inspiring as they are informative.
We bring you the stories of four more of the top 30 winners:
Shannon McIver, Fleet Manager, City of Greenville, South Carolina – 20th.
Edward Hamilton, Sr. Fleet Management Division Chief, Prince William County, Virginia – 23rd.
Lance Knudtson, CAFM, Fleet Supervisor, Chelan County Public Utility District, Washington State – 24th.
Robert Gordon, CAFM, Deputy Director, Fleet Management, DeKalb County, Georgia – 30th (1st in 2018).
What achievements earned you the award?
Shannon McIver: We spearheaded a buy-in initiative from our entire fleet services staff. We all had to commit ourselves to being honest about our procedures and taking what we learned during our self-evaluation, good and bad, learning from it and dedicate ourselves to making it better. Other achievements included getting the staff ASE certified and becoming an ASE Blue Seal shop. This means we have at least 75% of our technicians ASE-certified and 80% of our technicians are Master Certified with 50% Master Certified in more than one area. We even have our service writers ASE-Certified. Our technicians are TIA and EVT certified. I hold four ASE Master Technician Certifications, am TIA Instructor Certified, a Certified Public Fleet Professional and a Certified Automotive Fleet Specialist.
Edward Hamilton: We were accredited by the Virginia Environmental Program as an Exemplary Environmental Enterprise, with a fully implemented environmental management system, a pollution prevention program, and demonstrated environmental performance. Second, we coordinated the design for a new customer service area and realigned our staff to include a technical service advisor and customer intake functions. We also restructured our vehicle ordering and processing functions to provide for a single point of contact for new vehicle ordering, registration, and disposal. And finally, we completed our 2019 year-end fleet parts inventory just $8,141 over where we started the year, for an overage of just 1.62%, well within our allowable rate.
Lance Knudtson: The hard work by an amazing staff of people, each one doing their part to ensure the success of our fleet earned us the award. We manage a mixed fleet of 1,026 vehicles and pieces of equipment and run two shifts a day in three shops. Last year, we saw a 36% decrease in our running open work order count. Members of our fleet leadership team studied and earned a Sustainable Fleet CAFM certification through NAFA. We also implemented several sustainability enhancements at our fuel sites, including signage, spill prevention kits, and platforms to protect the environment. In other key areas, our fleet is 33% below the industry average for vehicle ownership, 45% lower in operating net fuel use and 43% lower than the industry in fuel expense. Our support costs were 6% lower than the industry and our total fleet cost was 36% lower. We have also committed to monitor and ensure that critical assets are available 95% of the time, and last year we achieved 99.82% availability and 100% customer satisfaction.
Robert Gordon: Our fleet consists of 3,704 vehicles and averages 30 million miles traveled per year. I think the main reason we are one of the Best 100 Fleets has to do with our preventive maintenance program. Last year, we performed 95% of preferred maintenance jobs on time and that resulted in 95% vehicle availability. We are the only fleet in the nation I am aware of that has a full-time trainer for our technicians to keep them up to date on the latest repairs and maintenance procedures for all our vehicles. To date, our staff has completed 1,846 hours of employee training. The program has been so high-profile that technicians from government fleets all over our region enroll in it -- and we deliver it for free. Another big achievement was our commitment to clean alternative energy vehicles. We have 266 CNG (compressed natural gas) vehicles and 98 propane vehicles in service. Since 2014, we have reduced our annual usage of diesel fuel by a total of 952,204 gallons. Next year, we project that our usage of CNG will exceed our usage of diesel fuel by 200,000 gallons.
What were some challenges your fleet faced last year and how did you solve them?
McIver: Our main challenge was that we had a huge fleet that was not being utilized properly. We had to right size our fleet and make it uniform. By doing this, we cut the fleet vehicle count by 16% without cutting the level of customer service. We coupled this with replacing over 50% of the remaining fleet with new, up-to-date equipment and established a 15-year replacement program. We also reduced our vehicle OEMs to just two: Ford for everything Class 6 and below and International for Class 7 and above, and we only run Cummins engines and Allison transmissions. Our technicians can now concentrate on learning just a fraction of what they had to know in the past, my shop diagnostic tools are cut drastically, and shop morale went up because the stress went down.
Hamilton: We needed to streamline our customer reservation system and improve customer communications. To address the first, we completed migration to Asset Works’ FleetFocus FA system, with its computerized customer portal and motor pool reservation system kiosks. On communications, we issued laptop computers to our technicians, coordinated service level agreement improvements with county police, fire and EMS departments to ensure vehicle availability and created customer liaison programs to improve communications on vehicle repair updates and information.
Knudtson: After 69 years of managing our parts room in-house and following 17 months of planning and negotiation with the union, we decided to outsource our fleet parts department services, inventory, and procurement to reduce operating costs and improve efficiency. We forged a partnership with General Parts Company’s NAPA Integrated Business System (IBS) and its managed inventory program. As a result, we reduced our support expense by 11% and have realized a 40% reduction in district-owned inventory since implementation.
Gordon: A challenge facing every fleet is an increasing shortage of technicians. To address that, we created a paid apprenticeship program for military veterans and students in a local technical college. It started with four students, and we’ve since hired three graduates. Next year, we plan to expand the program to eight students. Along with the apprenticeship program, we have run a work-based learning program for students from a local technical high school for the past 18 years. Since it began, the program has delivered more than 1,400 hours of in-shop technician training.
What are your top recommendations to improve fleets?
McIver: Make an honest and perhaps even brutal evaluation of your current processes and see where the faults and where the good points are. Network with other 100 Best Fleets and pick their brains for ideas. Get your entire team together and have them take ownership of bettering fleet services, not just to win an award. If everyone is committed to bettering the process, you will have continuing growth that will not end when you win. Work with your customers on utilization to cut the fat and right size the fleet.
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Hamilton: Focus on vehicle availability. Reduce or eliminate backlogs. Ensure that your parts inventory is aligned with your fleet and eliminate obsolete parts. Provide the tools, training, and equipment that support your technicians to meet their goals. Engage your customers by keeping them informed and responding to their concerns with solutions, not reasons it cannot be done.
Knudtson: Do not be a lone wolf. Network with other professionals, be humble, value other people’s time, and be open to others’ perspectives. Establish healthy working relationships and value every employee. Be authentic, honest, transparent, and give credit where credit is due. The bottom line does not have to dictate every decision you make. Communicate your vision and expectations, establish a common commitment as a team, collaborate with your employees and then empower them. Benchmark your operation. Set your sights high and reach to exceed your grasp – otherwise, you will remain stagnant.
Gordon: Apply for the 100 Best Fleets competition. If you are honest, it’s like having a consultant review your operation – it will point out issues that you need to correct or improve on. Have a career development plan for every employee. Helping all our employees is the key to success. Also, establish a quality control (QC) program. Every repair needs to be inspected by a manager or designated senior technical. Develop a customer service monitoring process. We send satisfaction surveys for at least 10% of the units repaired in our shops every month. When we get any recurring negative scores, we identify what happened, how it happened and what can be done to prevent it from happening. Sometimes, this includes retraining drivers and operators on proper pre- and post-trip inspection. Finally, don’t forget the basics. It is not only important that all your PMs are done on time but that they are done correctly. Basic PM training is just as important as training on the latest technology.