About a year ago, the fleet team at Eversource Energy (www.eversource.com) launched an initiative to standardize vehicle and equipment specifications across their three-state service area that includes Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire. Their objective: Cut fleet costs by limiting vehicle configurations to specific job descriptions. This would enable the fleet to strengthen its buying power (by purchasing a higher volume of same-spec units); streamline parts inventories across all their locations (by operating more equipment from fewer OEMs); and benefit from shorter order-to-delivery cycles (by ordering from fewer vendors).
“If you're a lineworker, the function of a material-handling truck is going to be the same whether you’re in New Hampshire, Connecticut or Massachusetts,” said Steve Driscoll, vice president of operation services for Eversource, which is New England's largest electric and gas utility, with about 6,500 fleet assets, including trailers. “In the past, we allowed for differences and customization in equipment, based on an operator’s personal preferences. We recognized the need for going to a standard vehicle across the board to be more efficient and reduce costs.”
But the Eversource team also recognized that many of their end users might not like the change. After all, operators had become accustomed to having their vehicles a certain way for years. And they would likely feel resentment toward fleet, especially if no one clearly explained the why behind the changes.
Effective Change Management
So, to help ease the transition, Eversource decided to take a new approach to introducing new vehicle and equipment models to operators. Beginning earlier this year, the Eversource fleet team began conducting comprehensive in-service events, each lasting about two to three hours, with classroom instruction and hands-on demonstrations.
The events are led by each of the key vendor partners involved with the build-out of the truck, including the chassis manufacturer, body manufacturer and equipment upfitters. The utility’s insurance agency, Liberty Mutual, also sends an expert, who typically opens the event by teaching safe driving and equipment operation practices during the classroom portion of the agenda.
“We recognized that this change toward fleet standardization was significant, and we would need to address the change directly with those who would be affected by it,” Driscoll said. “We couldn’t simply have new trucks dropped off – as in, ‘Here’s your new truck’ – without explaining the changes. So, it's helpful to have all the manufacturers there because they bring a lot of credibility in helping explain some of the benefits that come with the new specs.”
In the past, if an aerial platform truck was being delivered, only the aerial device manufacturer would conduct a brief in-servicing overview for the operators. “There was no involvement of the chassis manufacturer, no involvement of any of the other upfitters involved with the truck. They would come in, go over the owner’s manual and briefly demonstrate the platform operation,” Driscoll said. And in some cases, depending on the vehicle, “it would just be in-serviced by the mechanics in the garage, with a ‘come by and pick up your new vehicle’ approach.”
But now, Eversource puts on a full-scale in-service event whenever they introduce a new vehicle. “You're taking the time to explain the whys behind the way things are, and I think this has been very helpful with our people accepting the changes,” Driscoll said.
A ‘360-Degree’ In-Service Event
By the end of 2016, Eversource will have conducted over 30 of these comprehensive in-service events – about two to three per month – with anywhere from five to 30 people in attendance, depending on the location and the vehicle being introduced.
What’s on the agenda?
Driscoll said the event starts right after the attendees’ departmental morning meeting. “We try to get the event started early in the morning so the crews can get out to the field.”
The first part consists of a 30- to 40-minute conference room session, with a welcome and introduction by Eversource leadership, a presentation by Liberty Mutual on safe driving techniques and an overview by the vehicle manufacturer. “If it’s Altec, for example, they’ll go over some of the highlights and what’s new in the equipment from previous years,” Driscoll said.
“I’ll do a ‘walk-around’ on PowerPoint,” said Adam Engel, senior account manager at Altec Industries (www.altec.com), who has participated in several in-servicing events with Eversource this year. “And whatever the option we’re going over – whether it’s a ladder rack, a cross-arm holder, a chainsaw box – the goal is to make sure [attendees] understand that there's a function to each piece of equipment that was put on the vehicle.”
After the indoor session is over, the attendees take a quick break and head outside.
“We have a couple of the vehicles outside pre-staged to go through,” Driscoll said. “We'll do a walk-around on the vehicle with the attendees, with the chassis manufacturer explaining all the options inside the cab. Then we'll go through the body with the body manufacturers.”
If the truck is equipped with an aerial device, the manufacturer’s representative demonstrates the operation and the characteristics of the aerial itself. “We're going to start by highlighting everything inside the cab that pertains to the equipment, such as all of the switches and anything that we've added inside the chassis that the operators might not be familiar with,” Engel said.
Then there’s an opportunity for hands-on driving for the participants. “We'll have an area set up with cones, where Liberty Mutual will take each driver through a course to practice backing, using the mirrors or backup camera, and so forth,” Driscoll said. “Depending on the type of vehicle, we take people over the road so they can get the feel of towing a machine behind that specific vehicle.”
To minimize downtime for operators, the Eversource fleet team and vendor partners bring the in-service event to the area where the operators will be using the new vehicles. “We want to have an efficient session and be cognizant of their time – to get people back out doing what they need to do in the field as soon as possible,” Driscoll said.
What makes an Eversource in-servicing event different than typical new vehicle deliveries?
"Eversource’s in-depth and interactive in-service is unique in the industry,” Engel said. “With [an Eversource event], it's a comprehensive, 360-degree model. You've got somebody who has ownership on each piece of this vehicle, who has the expertise to answer questions specific to their part of the truck. Altec is proud to be a part of Eversource's in-service events, and we recognize the importance they bring with enhancing safety and streamlining the delivery process.”
Driscoll said the company expects to continue the pace of two to three in-service events per month for the foreseeable future, indicating that the events have been helping smooth the transition to the new standardized specs.
“If you don’t take time to explain things when in-servicing a vehicle, you run the risk that there will be friction with drivers because of all the changes, and that can taint the perception of the fleet,” Driscoll said. “As the asset owner, we’re very sensitive to that. We want drivers to know that when we invest in fleet, we do it in a thoughtful way and understand how they’ll be using these trucks. These in-service events help us communicate that message directly.”