Utility fleet managers have faced numerous challenges in recent years. They needed to respond quickly and effectively to emergency situations and rising customer expectations, while making drivers feel safe and supported. They also needed to maximize vehicle utilization while extending lifecycles and complying with regulations—even as they evolve faster than ever.
Like their peers in other industries, utility fleet managers struggle with high fuel prices, driver shortages, tight budgets, lead times to switch vehicles, and supply chain issues. As fleet managers apply more pressure, new technologies are helping to alleviate these challenges and enable greater digital transformation within the industry.
Technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and advanced telematics streamline the daily tasks of fleet maintenance, safety and operations managers. Integrating these technologies into a fleet program is critical to ensuring a fleet operates as safely, efficiently and sustainably as possible.
Fleet intelligence platforms help unravel the mountains of data and deliver the key insights that fleet vehicles and heavy equipment produce every time they turn on. But the real value comes when this data is analyzed and presented to fleet managers in an easy-to-understand way, so they can make real-time, data-driven decisions about key aspects of their fleet operations every day.
From maintenance to security to route optimization, here are some ways utility fleet managers can benefit from integrating fleet intelligence solutions into their fleet program.
Few things affect fleet performance more than poorly maintained vehicles. Utility companies want to maximize the uptime of their vehicles and equipment, keeping them on the road and off the shop floor at inconvenient times. If an outage during a power outage delays the restoration of service, customers will incessantly ring utility phones with complaints. To avoid this, utility companies must maintain a proactive and predictive preventive maintenance program that addresses problems before they occur and avoids long waits to get vehicles in for service.
Managing a repair process is difficult, but modern fleet maintenance platforms can help. By centralizing data, utility companies can create and manage preventive maintenance programs based on vehicle usage, time, or mileage. Vehicles equipped with telematics have even more information. You can trigger alerts to expedite service times based on an individual vehicle’s performance.
Modern fleet solutions break down silos between daily inspections, telematics and services so issues in the field are properly communicated to the workshop. Unified maintenance and inspection data helps utility companies prioritize and execute work, extending the life of their fleets and reducing unplanned downtime.
Preventive maintenance programs pay off. They improve overall reliability: Vehicles in preventive maintenance programs experience 20% fewer downtime delays than vehicles without. They also help operators to avoid increasing replacement costs for used work vehicles.
Safety is a heightened concern for fleet operators. Security costs are high for a reason. In addition to the high cost of commercial vehicle insurance and incidents, fleet operators have to deal with driver turnover and the impact of accidents and CSA (Compliance, Safety, Accountability) scores on their brand reputation. Operators in the utility sector have to deal with a large number of service calls, even during severe weather. Operators cannot control road conditions, but they can institute programs and implement technology to ensure drivers are doing their best to keep roads safe. They can do this by creating a culture of safety and leveraging fleet operations technologies like AI-powered dual-view dash cams.
Safety culture starts with the leadership team accepting safety concepts from day one. Then it extends to the people – hiring the right people, running the right background checks and investing in driver well-being. Incentive programs are a powerful tool. Rewarding good behavior can encourage workers to go beyond basic driver safety protocols and embrace safety best practices. Utility companies can offer extra sick days and other financial incentives to encourage law enforcement to keep the streets safe.
Fleet intelligence platforms also enable better driver safety. Telematics devices can monitor speed and distance travelled, giving managers insight into drivers’ adherence to schedules and regulations. Fleet managers can configure their AI-enabled dash cams to detect the behaviors and events that matter most to fleet safety, such as in-flight behavior. Combined with G-Force data collected by advanced telematics devices, it monitors and coaches aggressive driver behavior such as speeding, hard braking and sharp turns.
Advanced driver scorecards are customizable and weighted according to a fleet’s needs and are best viewed as real-time dashboards. Fleet managers, driver supervisors and drivers should have access to scorecards. This transparency helps the entire team understand leadership goals and performance expectations, and promotes a culture of safety. Integrating AI video data into driver scorecards and safety reports can identify risky behaviors and trigger coaching before they cause an accident.
Nimble utilities operate efficiently. Outages occur randomly, causing trucks in one area to be diverted to another. Delivery dates change. Customer orders can be canceled or postponed. And when an employee calls in sick, dispatchers must realign everyone’s schedules and routes to accommodate the needs of the company that day.
Route optimization technology gives utility fleet managers the ability to change routes on the fly based on data captured by a fleet management system. Route optimization doesn’t just select the shortest distance between two points. It integrates algorithms, GPS and traffic data to find the best route with the fewest obstacles. It also takes into account factors such as the number of customers in the schedule, their locations, stopovers, service windows, and driver and vehicle availability.
Better route management benefits supply fleets in a number of ways. It increases efficiency and allows utility companies to get more done with their current vehicles. It reduces wear and tear; Less mileage on the road means vehicles get to and from work faster. It lowers operating costs; Optimized routes increase driver efficiency, use less fuel and encourage a more efficient maintenance schedule. It makes customers happy; Communication is better and customers are notified of accurate arrival times that match their expectations. And it increases sales; More billable orders create more jobs and allow utility companies to expand their fleets.
A technology solution worth considering
Fleet intelligence platforms positively impact utility fleet operations in a variety of areas, starting with maintenance, road safety, and route optimization. Utility fleet managers go to great lengths to reduce response times while ensuring driver safety and support. They take steps to maximize the use of vehicles and assets without wearing out the vehicles. And they try to keep up with ever-changing regulations. By leveraging the data and insights readily available in a fleet’s vehicles and heavy equipment, utility companies can further improve the safety, efficiency and sustainability of their fleets.
—Erin Gilchrist Rugg is Vice President of Fleet Evangelism for IntelliShift.