Post time for Kentucky fleet

The problem with vehicles, from a management standpoint, is that they're vehicles ' they don't stay in one place. People drive them away, and managers of fleets struggle to keep track of their location and condition.

To help gather, consolidate and manage data on its fleet of vehicles, Kentucky's Agriculture Department turned to an online system from Agile Access Control.

'We're not a large fleet by any means,' said Steven Minter, manager at the department's Vehicle Operations Branch, which owns a few more than 200 cars and trucks. 'But trying to manage it all with spreadsheets is very difficult. We had spreadsheet after spreadsheet, and it is next to impossible to keep it straight and up to date.'

'The most useful tools you have are maintenance history and keeping up with the odometer readings,' Minter said. But maintenance data entered by hand from multiple sources was not standardized, and odometer readings submitted on field employees' timesheets were never up-to-date. 'By the time we got the report, it was a month old. You're between 3,000 and 5,000 miles off on the odometer.'

To correct this, 'our goal was to get all of our information in one place, where it could be easily manipulated for reporting and tracking,' Minter said.

Taking command

His office is in the process of moving this data onto Agile's FleetCommander, which promises to consolidate data and improve the quality of drivers' reporting.

Just keeping track of who has reported mileage recently can be a big job. 'This does the report for you and saves a lot of time,' said Matthew Wade, vice president of sales at Agile.

FleetCommander is a Web-based system that lets managers access data from anywhere. Employees in the field can access a portal to make timely reports from any location, which is expected to improve field reporting. The software package can be used to track and schedule regular maintenance based on time-and-mileage requirements. It will alert fleet managers when scheduled maintenance or a mileage report is overdue, and they alert the driver to bring a vehicle in for repair or make a report.

Most managers opt to contact a driver manually when an alert is received rather than have automated notices sent, Wade said. 'Fleet managers tend to want to control that communication,' he said. 'They want to know what things are going out.'

The Agriculture Department only began using FleetCommander in December and still is in the process of setting it up, so it is too early to see many results, Minter said. 'I did learn a little bit about fuel usage' while importing the data, he added.

Consolidating the data on a system that can generate reports is just the first step in improving the department's fleet management. The next step is to improve data gathering.

FleetCommander lets Minter import data from Fleet One, a company that provides the department's fuel cards.

Minter downloads monthly reports from Fleet One and puts them into the system, and the company soon will begin providing weekly reports. A new feature on the reports will be odometer readings that will accompany each fuel purchase.

This will let Minter get weekly updated mileage reports on each vehicle from Fleet One, eliminating the headache of keeping track of driver-supplied mileage reports.

Automatic choice

Agile can customize FleetCommander with an interface to allow automatic feeds of this kind of data from third parties, but with the relatively small fleet he is managing, Minter said he did not think that was needed.

'I just import the information manually,' he said. 'It saves us some money on the software.'

Most of Agile's customers use Fleet- Commander as a managed service, with the Web site hosted in the company's data center.

But the Agriculture Department has opted to buy the software and host the Web site itself.

The department has a good information technology office that provides networking services, and their policy is to keep as many Web activities as possible in-house, Minter said.

System requirements for FleetCommander are pretty basic. It requires a Microsoft SQL database and uses a Microsoft Internet Information Server Web server. The size of the box needed for the server depends on the size of the fleet being managed.

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