Desert Flower

To prove PMV isn't just about big grunting machines

Counting the cost: poor handling was costing $1,500 per incident and the costs were multiplied across the fleet.
Counting the cost: poor handling was costing $1,500 per incident and the costs were multiplied across the fleet.

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To prove PMV isn’t just about big grunting machines, we go flower shopping with fleet management software gurus Arab: IT

Keeping tabs on a delivery fleet for a flower company in a Middle Eastern climate is a lot tougher than it first sounds. For a start, you’re dealing with all the problems of keeping a fleet of truck operations moving plus the product you’re delivering has to be protected from an entirely alien climate.

Being late can not only be costly, it can also be highly complicated to rectify. Flowers are not easy to find in the desert.

When fleet management company Arab:IT was approached to provide a fleet management software to a Dubai vegetable, plant and flower grower and seller, the solution was not immediately obvious.

The first task was distil the challenge into its fundamentals; a list of specified problems, many of which will be familiar to any fleet manager in the region.

The company told Arab:IT that it was suffering from unacceptably high level of accidents and accelerating maintenance costs. It also felt that its existing monitoring methods had led to poor control over fuel consumption.

Drivers were regarded as loose cannons and poorly managed. The company often did not know how the vehicles were being used with some drivers suspected of abusing their access to them.

Finally it had realised that loose control of its operation was starting to hurt its revenue. Loss of whole consignments of flowers due to doors on chilled units being left open too long in high temperatures was estimated to be costing an average of $1,500 per occurance. With ten trucks in operation the problems were being duplicated and multiplied ten times over.

Perhaps entering the relationship with Arab:IT cautiously the client insisted the software company provide a proof of concept for the whole fleet. It wanted to be reassured that the potential benefits were clear before it invested into a complete AVMS (Advanced Vehicle Management Systems).

One of the first steps Arab:IT took was to install an advanced GPS tracking system to trace the movements of the ten trucks. Almost immediately it became clear where many of the problems lied. Using an integrated 3-dimensional data logger, within a week it was apparent the majority of problems arose from the way vehicles were being driven especially on the frequently rough and treacherous farm drives.

Together with the client, Arab:IT designed a system to measure the problem by allocating penalty points. The drivers were not told of the existence of the installed devices for two weeks.

At the end of the initial two week period drivers were averaging 1,426 penalty points per driver per week. The majority of these penalty points were incurred by drivers for poor driving. The GPS could show how on the harsh bumps of the farm drives drivers were recording speeds up to 95kph, taking vehicles and the precious cargo to the limit on the extremely uneven surfaces.

Armed with the data, the drivers were called in and told that they were being monitored and their driving standards were totally unacceptable. For the next seven days the client dedicated an internal resource to monitor and inform drivers each time they incurred a penalty, so that they knew the monitoring devices were giving accurate alerts. A penalty and reward scheme was then installed.

Gradually the acceptable threshold for penalty points was reduced to 100 per week (they now average 43). The best drivers and the most improved driver receive a bonus at the end of the month.

There were long term benefits too. Within a year the fleet was reduced from ten to nine vehicles. Furthermore, a reduction in accidents meant that no vehicle was off the road for more than seven days.

The year before the company lost more than three weeks to trucks spending time in the repair shop. Fuel costs were also reduced by 27% and maintenance costs reduced by 42% year on year.

Tightening up on drivers reduced idling by an average of 1 hour and 17 minutes per day or by three weeks annually. Greater care was also taken with deliveries and no loads were lost due to cargo doors being left open and exposing the delicate cargo to the elements.

“There was an amusing post- script to this project too,” says Richard Allenby, Arab:IT’s COO. “Four months after installation we were contacted by the client who had become aware that one of their drivers had been seen selling a particular type of flower for several months.

“The problem was that the client didn’t grow this type of flower! Having run a ‘stop’ report we were able to deduce where the driver was picking up the flowers every day. Our client was waiting the next day and was able to take pictures of the driver taking delivery of the flowers and putting them in the cargo compartment.

“The next day the driver was instructed to appear before his manager and was confronted by large size pictures of him involved in unauthorised activities. When the manager told him that with the new system he couldn’t get away with anything he admitted that he had been selling a competitor’s flowers for five months and making a profit of $275 per month.

“Not only did the driver agree to pay the company back $1,400 he also told the other drivers there was a djini (genie) in the vehicles!”

Allenby says that flexibility is key when a company is evaluating a suitable system, as each fleet has a different asset mix and the business activities of individual companies define the scope of any system.

“There is a growing acknowledgement that accurately managing costs associated with a company’s assets and vehicles is a very efficient and direct way to improve the profitability and overall positive performance of a company,” he says.

“This is reflected in the current demand for proven and reliable tracking and fleet management systems. The potential benefits are far reaching and results in very fast return on investment.”

“Various industries in the UAE are recognising the importance of adopting fleet management solutions ahead of the rest of the Middle East. The industry is not as developed as in Europe, North America, South Africa and Australia but things are moving fast and Arab:IT is positioning itself for other countries in the region.

“Persuading companies that often the weakest link in their organisation is their manual systems, coupled with inflexible staff and that technology will improve production and deliver efficiencies by a variety of means is part of our challenge,” he comments. ”
Providing accurate and reliable management information can have a positive effect on worker behaviour.”

Properly identifying each company’s individual challenges and then ensuring they are offered the most appropriate system invariably requires investment in time by both vendor and user. According to Allenby, the UAE, and particularly Abu Dhabi and Dubai, is driving the introduction of technology to control costs, deliver more efficient services, reduce waste and maximise fleet management.

“Our approach is to take time to understand our clients’ pain points to really provide solutions which they will benefit from. We believe in the savings and advantages that can be made with these systems and will work with the client to ensure they are realised.”

Hardware is getting smaller, communication in the region is improving with mobile coverage advancing and data transfer is becoming cheaper, says Allenby.

“The back end software required to monitor and report on the data gathered by tracking systems is becoming more sophisticated and user friendly,” comments Allenby. “Exception reporting is key to fleet managers to save trawling through data to obtain meaningful reports. RFID tags are being increasingly used to identify assets, even down to monitoring individual tyres.

“Hand held computers and mobile phones now provide a platform for a variety of applications including GPS and mapping and the application options will only increase with time.”

Strange, but true
A Southern California fleet manager oversaw the fire department fleet as part of his job. One day, he received a call from fire department staff, stating the department had a fire rig that was stuck at the local grocery store and needed fleet to respond and help get it “unstuck.”

The city’s mobile mechanic responded to the scene. After arriving, the mechanic called the fleet manager and strongly suggested that he come and view the situation in person.

The fleet manager arrived to see a full-size pumper truck up to its bumpers in a huge
sink hole. While the fire crew was inside the store shopping, the parking lot asphalt gave way and swallowed the rig.

With news helicopters flying overhead and half the store car park closed to allow room for the fire rig extraction, more than 100 police and fire department employees worked to free the truck. It took most of the day to clear the scene.

“I often wonder how much that basket of groceries actually cost that day,” the fleet manager commented.

Note: This event occurred on the second day this fleet manager was on the job. The first day, one of his staff was killed in an car crash. On the third day, one of his trucks rolled over on the freeway. On the fourth day, one of the City’s street sweepers was destroyed by fire. His second week in the job was far less eventful.
Source: Automotive Fleet

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PMV Middle East - September 2018

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