by Bryan Shannon, Director ORDP

As someone who has talked with literally hundreds of truck drivers and carriers over the years, I’m in a good position to have heard a lot about different fleet management companies – the good and the bad. I wanted to take time to put some of these thoughts to paper, with the hope that my experience can help carriers get the most out of solutions offered by fleet management companies.
There are so many options out there that it can be overwhelming to try and identify a new solution, so if I can help your company to save time and headaches then I will consider that a win. To be clear, ORDP is not a fleet management company. Through a membership model, we offer a suite of services to help protect your CDL, together with great extra benefits like discounts on hotels and car rentals. If this is something your company could use, take a moment to fill in the membership application at the bottom of this post.

What is a fleet management system?

First things first: what is a fleet management system? If you’re in the industry, you’ve certainly heard the term, but if you’re not currently using one you may not know exactly what they are. In general, fleet management systems are software products which often also integrate with hardware products like sensors or cameras.

These systems enable carriers to increase productivity of drivers and vehicles, improve safety and compliance, and improve efficiencies. Within this broad definition, there are many types of fleet management systems with different capabilities. Not all fleet management systems are designed specifically with the trucking industry in mind; some are designed for commercial vehicle fleets that might be doing in-town deliveries of packages. Others might be aimed at companies that have large fleets of work vehicles that drive around town making service calls like plumbers or electricians. This means that the functionalities, robustness, support and training offered by each differs, too. Be sure you’re specifically searching for truck fleet management systems.

What are the benefits of working with fleet management companies?

Sometimes companies think they can just create their own fleet management solution, rather than working with a fleet management company. This way you’re sure to get all of the features you need, right? Just tell your IT guy to build it, and you’re all set. No – don’t do this!

Unless your company is a software company, you should focus on what you do best and leave the software development to the people who do that day in and day out. One benefit to working with a fleet management company is that because they work with dozens or hundreds of other clients who are also carriers, they have a great birds-eye view of what works for this industry and what doesn’t. They have processes and procedures in place to train you and your team on how to use the systems, and they have customer support teams in place to help you work through issues with the systems when they arise. They have developers who will maintain the product over time with updates and patches. They have people on their team whose job it is to keep up on the changing regulations and make sure that those changes are reflected in the features of the product. Are you prepared to do all of that yourself? For most companies it’s going to make more sense to buy something commercially available off the shelf.

Who are some of the leading fleet management companies?

There are many different fleet management solutions, not all of which are specifically designed with the trucking industry in mind. Several providers are particularly well suited for carriers. One that has strong adoption with carriers is Motive. Motive offers a solid all-around solution that can help you with things like tracking, dispatch, compliance, and maintenance. Another industry leader is Samsara, offering similar functionality to Motive. Both Motive’s and Samsara’s solutions include an ELD (electronic logging device), which is the nerve center that enables fleet management systems to do what they do. A newer entrant to the fleet management systems market is TruckSpy. Like Motive and Samsara, TruckSpy offers functionalities that all carriers would expect to have, but they tend to be more competitive on their pricing and their training resources are perhaps more robust. There are many others out there too, but these are some of the ones I hear about most frequently.

As a carrier, how can I start working with fleet management companies?

In my experience, the best business relationships are ones that are consultative – where the person selling you something takes the time to truly understand your needs and proposes a solution that specifically addresses your needs and your budget. So, my first recommendation is to find a fleet management company that has this same mentality. The five steps mentioned below will also help you to be a more informed and prepared customer – if you go through them, you’ll be able to more clearly describe what you need, understand what you don’t need, and understand the limitations of what fleet management systems can and can’t do for you.

Step 1: Take inventory of your company’s current assets (vehicles, drivers, information systems, etc.) to see where you stand currently

Before you even talk to any fleet management companies, you need to understand what your company is currently working with. How many vehicles do you have? How many drivers do you have? What’s your company’s relationship to your drivers (are they employees, or owner-operators)? What sorts of loads are you hauling? How long is your typical trip? This is not an exhaustive list, but you should take time to make a list of these areas that really define your business, because they will translate directly to what features you need or don’t need in a fleet management system.

Step 2: Before looking at the solutions offered by any specific fleet management companies, clearly define your company’s success criteria. What do you and your team really need from a functionality standpoint?

Next, work with your team to understand what capabilities you really need when using a fleet management system. As I said earlier when describing who some of the market leaders are, a lot of the functionalities across solutions are very similar. Almost any fleet management system will have the same core functionalities – the things that any carrier would expect them to have – like tracking, compliance, and dispatching. Most of the time where they will differ is at the margins. If you have a very specialized need for a specific functionality – for example, load optimization – you need to be sure you have this on your list because not all fleet management companies will offer this functionality.

Similarly, depending on your company and who your drivers are, you may have more or less need for training and support. If you have a high need for hands-on customer and technical support, be sure this is on your list too, because it’s one area where solution providers may differ.

Also think about how you and your drivers need to interact with the fleet management system. Do you want everyone to be able to access and manage the system using a regular old smartphone? Or do you expect your dispatchers or others to be sitting at a computer when they interact with the software? Put this on your list!

Whenever you’ve finished listing out the most important functionality your company needs in a fleet management system, prioritize them. Are they all must-haves? Or are some of them nice-to-haves? Next to each functionality, make note of their priority. Once you do all of this, you’ll have a comprehensive list of functionalities you need, and how important each of these functionalities are. This is your shopping list – now it’s time to go shopping.

Step 3: Gather information. Talk with fleet management companies, review their webpages, gather product sheets, understand how they charge, participate in some demos of their products, and ask for customer references.

Now that you’ve done your homework and become an informed customer, you’re ready to go shopping for a fleet management system. There are several ways you could go about this. You can look online for reviews of fleet management systems from 3rd party webpages like Capterra. You can look directly on the webpages of the fleet management companies to gather information about features and functionalities.

You can try to gather pricing information online, but in many cases the fleet management companies won’t publish this and want you to contact them for a quote. The pricing models vary from one fleet management company to the next, but in general many of them charge you a base monthly fee, together with a per-driver or per-user fee. Some of them will require a contract, while others are more flexible, allowing pay-as-you go.

You can also ask your drivers. Chances are, even if your company doesn’t currently use a fleet management system, some of your drivers may have been with a carrier in a previous job that did use them, and they may be able to offer their opinions (good or bad) of what was used. Similarly, you can ask around with colleagues with other carriers. Once you do get to a point of having direct contact with fleet management companies about their products, you can ask them to give you customer references too. Any reputable provider should be able to do so; if they don’t, or they seem hesitant to do so, it could be a red flag.

Throughout this entire information gathering step, take good notes of what you learn and tie that back to the list of required functionalities that you created in Step 2.

Step 4: Evaluate the solutions offered by the fleet management companies using your success criteria, and select a provider.

After you’ve gathered all the information that you can stand to gather, start comparing your options. A good way to do this is to score the options based on how well they meet your company’s needs. You could do this by yourself, or with your team, depending on how your company works. For example, if one of the key functionalities you need is automatic dispatching, after you review solutions from three fleet management companies you might score it like this:

Evaluate solutions offered by fleet management companies table

In this example, you found that Provider 1’s product is the best on the automatic dispatching functionality, giving it a score of 5, and Provider 2 is the worst on this functionality, earning it a score of 2. You can use any scoring scale you want, but a 1-5 scale keeps it simple and quick. Now, do this same thing for all of the functionalities that are important for your company: score how well each provider’s product does on that functionality.

Remember in Step 2 I said to think about how important each of these functionalities is for your company, too? You need to take that into account too. Let’s say for the automatic dispatching functionality you said it was a must-have. You could give a weight of 3 to features that are must-haves, a 2 to important features, and a 1 to features that are nice-to-haves. You then multiply the importance weight of that feature by its score to get a weighted score of each feature which takes into account how important it is for you.

evaluating fleet management companies step 2

Now, do this same thing for each feature on your list. Then, add up all of the weighted scores. After you add up all of the scores for each provider’s product, you have an easy way to compare across the different options how well each product meets your company’s needs. And, if you don’t have the ability to directly purchase the product on your own, it also gives you a tool to explain your recommendation of which product to buy to whoever it is that will make that decision.

Step 5: Have a plan for integrating the fleet management solution into your company. Fleet management companies provide tools, but they don’t know the particulars of how you run your business. You need to have a good plan for how you will integrate the solution into your business processes.

Buying the product is only one step in getting value out of it. To get maximum use and effectiveness from your new fleet management system, you need to have a plan for how to roll it out in your company. Will you roll it out effective immediately, or will it be gradual? How will you train your drivers? How will you train your office staff? What’s your backup plan if there’s a problem with it? How will the new fleet management system integrate and interact with other technology you already have in your company, like payroll systems for example (some fleet management systems work directly with payroll systems)?

Just like you did in Step 1, you need to take inventory of all of the different people, systems, and tools already in your company that will interact with the fleet management system and give some thought to how they will have to adapt.

About Bryan Shannon

Bryan Shannon is Managing Director of ORDP. His strong track record of helping carriers manage their fleet operations, grow market shares, and increase revenue is backed by years of experience in the trucking industry.

About ORDP

ORDP’s CDL Driver Protection Legal service finds attorneys for CDL drivers nationwide to resolve traffic violations and DOT compliance related issues impacting the bottom line of commercial fleets.  ORDP’s CDL protection comes with built-in trucking benefits that help carriers attract and retain top talent and improve employee performance.