Are you running an in-house maintenance program but are considering moving to an outsourced solution? If so, there are many steps you must go through to ensure the fit is right. The fact is, how your trucking company runs their maintenance program is critical to other aspects of fleet operations, such as safety and truck driver satisfaction.
That’s why getting the most out of your budget while keeping your expensive heavy-duty commercial motor vehicles (CMV) properly maintained and well-looked-after is of utmost importance. It’s another reason why you should never take chances in this area. As we will discuss in a moment, the type of fleet maintenance program you run is likely based on your fleet’s size and function.
Many larger fleets, flush with excess capacity and plenty of available real estate on their side, run in-house maintenance programs, simply because their sheer size demands it. Whether it be huge shops ready to pull in-and-out dozens of trucks a day for a fleet of hundreds or otherwise, the big guys often like to retain control over their maintenance programs, if for nothing else than to appease the accountants in the back office.
Keeping It In-House
For large fleets, in-house maintenance programs allow them to control everything from product procurement to technician hiring.
As they bring in new vehicles – and perhaps new technologies – keeping technician programs in-house keeps training and development departments busy and provides for quicker response times and better management over the care of the most important part of your fleet: the trucks and their truck drivers.
Still, there are advantages to outsourcing your fleet’s maintenance program, you just have to know how to find them. This holds true even for larger fleets. You don’t have to be a tiny operator to put your CMVs in the hands of those who know how to handle them. But shouldn’t you be conducting your due diligence. Of course, so you’ll want to conduct a pilot program.
First, let’s take a crack at the larger question, which is: What is a Pilot Program?
Piloting the Program
A pilot program is really nothing more than an experiment. Whenever a business – regardless of size – tries a new product, service or initiative, they do it through a pilot program. This is also why new televisions programs generally start off with what is called a “pilot” episode.
Where business is concerned, pilot programs are small-scale and are generally run over a pre-set trial period separated from the overall business operation – in this case, the day-to-day operations of a motor carrier. This way they do not disrupt overall business operations.
Some examples could be a motor carrier testing a new type of fuel or running through a series of ELD options before the hammer of the mandate falls. Another could include dispatchers installing a new software platform that includes real-time fleet tracking. Integrating these components are often a job within itself, hence the need for patience.
Now imagine this expanded out to include a fleet’s maintenance cycle. There’s a lot to lose, but also a heck of a lot to gain. To do it properly, you must take a very careful and deliberate approach.
It’s important that a fleet shop manager define the goals of their fleet maintenance pilot program as the first step in the process. Make sure to have goals set out that are not only actionable, but attainable.
Your goals should, of course, take your return on investment in mind. One such example could be to decrease your overall fleet maintenance costs by 5% in the first year. So, once you’ve set out your goals, what’s next?
Identifying Your Vendors
There are validated research companies that you can contact to help you compare providers and vendors. Asking for a list of references is also recommended. If you choose to go with an outsourced maintenance option, perhaps you should be considering the outsourced company’s customer service record.
If the vendor’s pricing structure has changed, how much and how often has it changed? Does the vendor offer an impressive variety of fleet maintenance services? What kind of price-per-value can you expect?
Whether you are meeting with a company representative in person or speaking to a customer representative over the phone, don’t hesitate to ask your potential partner vital questions. After all, you need to ensure they are the right choice for your fleet.
Does the vendor have multiple locations? Furthermore, do you have multiple locations that you require a maintenance group to service? You’ll need to make sure your outsource provider can meet your needs.
And not only that, but are they available during the hours that you work? The vendor you choose needs to be available when you need them to be available, especially in case of an emergency. Your routes are at stake.
Your final consideration is the one you likely have least control over, and that’s affordability. Are you getting what you pay for in the value offered? Are there hidden fees or “subscription” costs? Is the vendor charging you based on weekly, monthly or annually – these are questions you need answered for the sake of how you run your business.
Choosing a Site and Setting a Time
If you are a small fleet with only one vehicle, the answer should be clear, but when you are a large motor carrier with hundreds of vehicles, choosing a location to run your pilot program may be a little harder.
The same holds true for fleets who have a mixture of different vehicles that they use in day-to-day operations. Whether light-duty trucks, to sedans or heavy-duty vocational equipment, you want to ensure your maintenance pilot program addresses the needs of all your vehicles.
Also consider the people you will have at the chosen location. Your onsite manager needs to be fully open to the pilot program and whatever changes you plan on adopting.
When you are choosing to go with an outsourced maintenance program, you want to ensure your onsite manager won’t just say yes to anyone. You need someone who will oversee the pilot program with a critical eye and not be afraid to make vital recommendations – or speak up when something doesn’t seem right.
Overall, the site you pick for the pilot program will depend on what your maintenance goals and options are. Utilize your outsource partners to help you find a site, especially considering it is their services you will count on to upgrade and improve upon your business.
Also, when considering when and where you are going to host your maintenance outsourcing pilot program, consider the duration. Programs like these last anywhere from three months to a full year, depending on your fleet. What will be your pilot program duration?
The time it takes to assess a product or service should run parallel to your end-result goals. It’s for this very reason that proper goal-setting at the beginning of the process is so important.
If you are working with a larger vendor, make sure they have benchmarks in place to ensure assessments can be made at certain points during the pilot program, whether it be one, three, six months or more, depending on the duration of the pilot program.
Correlate Efficiency and Cost
When it comes to the two most important things behind any change in a fleet management program, you can expect cost and efficiency to be at the top of the lists for what their concerns are.
For smaller fleets that must show a return on investment in a shorter period, leveraging cost and efficiency becomes more difficult. Larger fleets typically have a higher level of maintenance capabilities and expanded resources. They can standardize their procedures at a far greater pace and with more ease.
Therefore, no matter your fleet size, if you are considering outsourcing your maintenance operations, make sure you find a partner who fits your customized needs. A provider worth their salt in CMV maintenance will not be caught off guard when you require something for your smaller fleet; something that much larger – and perhaps more frequent – customers might not request.
Why Outsource Pilot Programs Matter
The last thing you want to do is hire a partner that you have trouble working with. Not only does a pilot program let you test a product or service, but it provides you with an opportunity to see how the company you are about to do business with reacts in real-world scenarios.
The results of a pilot program could reveal hidden problems you might not have uncovered otherwise. Getting better at responding to unanticipated issues also creates a more flexible, responsive and ultimately more profitable organization.
Also consider that you are making a large investment into the future of your organization and its partnership with another, separate organization. This isn’t something that should be taken lightly.
In actual real-world fleet decision-making, you need positive, facts, figures and results if you are going to either switch from or switch to an outsourced fleet maintenance solution. The pilot program, when combined with a clear line of communication between your fleet and the vendor can provide just the information you need to determine if the partnership will be successful. And this before any significant investments on either side. What’s not to like about that?