Fiona Soltes

Strategies for Hiring and Retaining Skilled Technicians

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It’s no secret that today’s utility fleets have encountered difficulty finding job candidates with the appropriate training, experience and technical skills. And not only that – once qualified candidates are hired, those workers can be wooed by other companies offering greater salary and benefits packages.

So, how can you find and keep the right candidates for your fleet job openings?

Those in the know recommend partnering with area technical schools and colleges to ensure the right skills are being taught – and the right candidates are being snapped up early. On the other end of the spectrum, they recommend providing current employees with training and career development opportunities to keep them engaged.

“There’s a lot of poaching going on, especially on the utility side,” said Jason Ball, who worked as both a heavy-duty mechanic and fleet manager before taking the helm of Utility Training Group (www.utilitytraininggroup.com) less than two years ago. Specialized on-the-job training – delivered by someone like Ball or an OEM representative – sweetens the pot by helping workers learn new skills, gain confidence and stay up to date on the latest technologies.

But it’s important, Ball said, to make sure those conducting the training have the right experience, in addition to good references.

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Sandy Smith

Renting vs. Buying Heavy Equipment

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It’s a common occurrence for utilities and contractors: A piece of heavy equipment is needed, but it’s not immediately available in the fleet, so the project manager rents what’s required. But that may not always be the right strategy – especially when the rental is done outside the fleet manager’s purview.

“I have seen cases where equipment was rented for lengths up to 27 months and turned back in to the rental store,” said Daniel Fitzpatrick, fleet manager for NorthWestern Energy, which provides electricity and natural gas to more than 700,000 customers in Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska. “When this happens, you lose any rental credit and the equipment.”

Paul Lauria, president of fleet management consulting firm Mercury Associates (http://mercury-assoc.com/), has seen it too. “One of the problems we see, particularly in utility companies, is they allow business units to rent equipment to fill a temporary need,” he said. “Two years later, the rental unit is still in the fleet and no one has been paying attention. It would have been cheaper to purchase and then dispose of it.”

Granted, haggling over a purchase or evaluating the merits of rental versus ownership may not make sense when thousands of customers are without service. So, while there likely are no hard and fast rules that utilities can develop to address this issue, following some broad principles can help.

“It makes financial sense to own your equipment,” Fitzpatrick said. He tries to purchase any rental equipment at a reduced price when the rental ends, or when money has become available. “Where a buyout is not an option, focus on the interest rate and controlling costs in the short term.”

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Fiona Soltes

Will Solar Drive the Future of Electrified Trucks?

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Several years ago, when gas prices were higher and an industry need arose to reduce costs and seek alternative solutions, conversations about harnessing the sun intensified. Combined with advances in electric vehicle technology, the possibilities of what manufacturers and fleets could do in this realm began to grow.

Solar power began to be used to extend the range of some electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. And a full-size electric pickup truck using solar to extend its range was introduced at the 2014 North American International Auto Show.

Given the evolution of solar power use in vehicles over the years, where are we today?

As it turns out, on a slightly different course than one may have assumed. Rather than focus on the use of solar to add range to electric vehicles, utility fleets are, for example, adding panels as components of larger energy management systems. Solar power may be used to recharge vehicle starting and auxiliary batteries. It also can supplement battery charging while a vehicle is being driven or while it’s stopped – a valuable feature where legislation may prohibit idling. Additionally, solar power paired with an inverter system converts DC battery power to AC household power to charge cordless tools, laptops, test equipment and other work truck loads that require AC power without draining the battery.

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Partha Ghosh

Determining the Optimal Vehicle Replacement Cycle

Determining the Optimal Vehicle Replacement Cycle

Developing an effective approach when it comes to a strategic replacement cycle is a challenge that every fleet manager faces, regardless of the kinds of vehicles or equipment they may manage. The ability to gather and analyze data about your fleet and understand exactly how your fleet is performing has made the run-a-vehicle-into-the-ground approach not only woefully out of date, but it also has revealed just how expensive it is when compared to a well-designed replacement cycle.

The goal for every fleet should be to replace a vehicle before maintenance costs and downtime begin to rise, and at a time in the vehicle’s life when resale values remain meaningful. Determining how to reach that goal can vary from fleet to fleet, but by implementing an optimal replacement cycle for each vehicle or segment of vehicles in a fleet, a fleet manager can realize tremendous benefits and advantages, ranging from minimizing downtime and lowering operating costs, to keeping up with the fast-changing safety and technology features in more recent models, ensuring the safety and comfort of the fleet’s drivers in the process.

So, what considerations and best practices should you adopt in order to get the most from your replacement cycle strategy and experience the benefits of lower operating costs and optimal total cost of ownership?

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Bill Doman

Leasing vs. Purchasing: Making the Right Choice for Your Utility Fleet

Leasing vs. Purchasing: Making the Right Choice for Your Utility Fleet

When the time comes to add new vehicles to your fleet, the question of whether to lease or buy can seem daunting. The challenge of determining the best financial fit for your organization may feel overwhelming, but historically low interest rates have made leases increasingly attractive. Low interest rates are really just one consideration, however; cash flow and budget considerations, tax advantages, warranty coverage, cycling considerations and even concerns over a company’s image can factor into the overall decision. While utility fleets – especially regulated ones – traditionally have opted to purchase, more and more are successfully venturing into the world of leasing, allowing them to redirect capital expenditures in support of other revenue generating activities. So, how can you decide if leasing is right for your fleet? And if it is, what factors and strategies do you need to consider when deciding whether to lease or buy?

Before you make any decisions, it is important to understand your options, the benefits and limitations of leasing or purchasing, and the effect each will have on how you budget and plan. In the most general terms, when you are making the choice, the question comes down to how much money you will need to finance. When you purchase, you are choosing to finance the entire cost of the vehicle. With a lease, you are only paying for use of the vehicle, which is determined by the difference between the purchase price and the projected value of the vehicle at lease-end. This typically means that if you purchase, the monthly payments will be higher because the amount you are financing will be larger. If you want cash flow flexibility, leasing may be a better option for your fleet. It may also give you potential tax advantages and allow for cash preservation. Unlike a purchase, however, you will not own the asset at the end of the lease term.

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Grace Suizo

3 Mistakes to Avoid When Managing Vendor Relationships

3 Mistakes to Avoid When Managing Vendor Relationships

Maintaining strong working relationships with vendors is critical to running a smooth fleet operation.

To find out what makes and breaks these relationships, UFP recently spoke with Ron Henne, transportation supervisor for Eversource in Connecticut and Western Massachusetts; Matt Gilliland, director of transportation and facilities for Nebraska Public Power District; and Mel Holloway, product manager for global fleet management company ARI.

For all three men, customer service stands out as a major factor in determining if a vendor is going to be a short- or long-term partner.

Nebraska Public Power District has been working with several suppliers for 10 to 20 years because they continue to meet the fleet’s customer service expectations, according to Gilliland.

“We look for a vendor who will fix or supply it right the first time, on time, and at a fair price,” he said.

In addition to great customer service, vendors that provide total support – including post-sales support such as training – help seal the deal for Henne.

But what prevents fleet managers and vendors from establishing effective relationships? Be cautious of these three pitfalls.

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Fiona Soltes

Utility Fleets and the Sharing Economy

Utility Fleets and the Sharing Economy

In our increasingly shared economy, even some utility fleets are moving from “mine” to “ours.”

This certainly makes sense. In addition to the fact that utility equipment and vehicles often are costly, they’re also unlikely to be in constant use. Pooling and sharing resources, then, can help cut down on surplus, reduce expenses and streamline operations.

The even better news? As the sharing economy has matured – think of Airbnb, Uber and Lyft – so have the technology offerings that help make it possible. There’s online forum MuniRent (www.munirent.co), for example, which allows municipalities to share surplus goods and equipment. AssetWorks (www.assetworks.com) offers fleet management software along with an automated motor pool solution, and allows reservations through smartphones and tablets. And then there’s Agile FleetCommander (www.agilefleet.com), web-based fleet and motor pool software that has been used by fleets in virtually all categories.

Naturally, the argument can be – and often is – made that there’s a segment of a utility fleet that can’t be downsized because it’s used during emergencies and peak demand. It’s also true that some vehicles have specialized tools onboard that are assigned to a particular individual.

The key is in recognizing that “no vehicle sharing initiative should try to apply the same rules for all types of vehicles and equipment,” said Ed Smith, co-founder, president and CEO of Agile Access Control Inc., developer of the Agile FleetCommander software. Fleet managers must acknowledge that real obstacles are present, he said, but also that some constructed barriers to sharing “simply aren’t fact-based.” Technology can help fleet managers know who has custody of a vehicle – and its keys – as well as assist in reporting and chargebacks.

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Fiona Soltes

Is 3-D Printing Shaping Up for Replacement Parts?

Is 3-D Printing Shaping Up for Replacement Parts?

The mere presence of some cars can inspire creative journeys and wishful thinking. But a life-size Shelby Cobra, made with a 3-D printer? That takes even visionaries down a whole different road.

Cincinnati Inc. (www.e-ci.com) – an innovative machine tool manufacturer for more than 100 years – has been behind the printing of two such cars through its Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) technology; the first was in conjunction with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (www.ornl.gov), the largest U.S. Department of Energy science and energy lab, located in Oak Ridge, Tenn. Over the past couple of years, the cars have been used as marketing tools, a clear demonstration of potential.

Even though the Cobras have been transported to events in enclosed trailers rather than driven, they’re still enough to make many stop and wonder: If a 3-D printer can make a car or other vehicle, wouldn’t it follow that it would soon be in use to supply equipment parts as well? Will we soon see maintenance shops creating their own replacement parts for utility and other vehicles, rather than having to store them, purchase them elsewhere or wait for delivery?

Time to tap the brakes. Three-dimensional printing is indeed showing promise in a variety of industries. But in terms of creating parts that can withstand heat, water, chemicals and other challenges facing current automotive materials, we’re not there yet. First, there’s a fundamental point of physics to be overcome, said Duncan Stewart, director of technology, media and telecommunications research for Deloitte Canada (www.deloitte.com/ca). Even if printers and processes become significantly faster – silencing those who believe no one will want to wait the hours it takes to create parts – there’s still the matter of allowing each printed layer to cool completely before the next one is applied. Eventually, the rate of progress will reach a saturation point.

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Tim Taylor

Using Gamification to Improve Employee Performance

Using Gamification to Improve Employee Performance

Today’s utility fleets have a powerful tool at their disposal, and it’s one that nearly everybody already carries with them: mobile apps that run on cellphones and tablets.

By tying new apps into existing fleet and work order management systems, fleet managers can help employees improve their execution of day-to-day tasks through use of their mobile devices. This article will take a look at exactly how today’s utility fleets can use gamification to coach and improve worker performance in real time, and why utility fleet managers should consider engaging with gamification to drive a more satisfied, efficient and safe workforce.

What is Gamification?
Gamification is the use of game mechanics in a context that is typically not game-oriented. It is used by software companies to build business applications that increase engagement and participation while accelerating learning. Gamification leverages our human nature to compete with ourselves and others, with the objective of encouraging teams to achieve company-wide goals and – in the fleet world – deliver greater safety, productivity and compliance. To accomplish this, the apps provide real-time data to users so they can track and eventually improve their performance.

So, how can you integrate gamification into your organization? There are three phases you must complete: establishing your mission, aligning objectives with your mission and deployment.

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Sean M. Lyden

Winterizing Your Drivers

Winterizing Your Drivers

It’s one thing to winterize your fleet, but what about the drivers who are expected to operate vehicles in harsh winter conditions to repair downed power lines or a broken water main? Are they winterized as well?

This is an important question because snow, sleet and ice impact how a vehicle accelerates, handles and stops. And if your crews aren’t prepared with the driving skills and mindset they need to safely navigate hazardous winter roads, they’re putting their health, the public and your utility’s reputation at risk.

So, how can your organization effectively winterize your drivers? UFP spoke with Art Liggio, president of Driving Dynamics Inc. (www.drivingdynamics.com), a Newark, Del.-based firm that provides companies with advanced performance driver safety training and fleet risk management expertise. He offered these three tips.

1. Reduce speed as conditions deteriorate.
“While you can actually move quite fast in a straight line on ice and snow, once you have to stop or turn, the laws of physics start to catch up with you,” Liggio said. “Drive responsibly by slowing down and staying vigilant in maintaining a sufficient safety zone.”

Liggio recommends that drivers avoid using the brake whenever possible in deteriorating weather conditions. “Slow down early enough, so you can roll up to a traffic light change without having to brake completely,” he said. “When coasting to slow down, it’s still important to engage your brake lights by lightly pressing the brake pedal so those behind you understand that you are in the process of slowing. But when you do need to stop or slow down, start braking early and gently to keep yourself and others behind you in control.”

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Sean M. Lyden

When Does Leasing Make Financial Sense for a Utility Fleet?

When Does Leasing Make Financial Sense for a Utility Fleet?

Own or lease – which vehicle acquisition strategy makes the most sense for utility fleets?

There’s no clear-cut answer, said Marcin Michno, project manager, strategic consulting for Element Fleet Management (www.elementfleet.com). “It’s impossible to define an ideal, uniform leasing scenario for an entire utility industry because there are too many variables, and every company has a different situation. Are they looking to preserve cash? What’s their tax strategy? Are interest rates favorable? What is the company’s risk tolerance? And not all vehicle applications should be treated the same. You have to look at the individual company’s situation and design a financial strategy around that.”

Bill Doman, department head, sales support at ARI (www.arifleet.com), agrees. “Conventional wisdom is that a regulated [public] utility is going to purchase everything, and an investor-owned utility is more open to leasing. But in reality, we know a few regulated utilities that lease 100 percent of their vehicles. And the vast majority of our utility clients – whether regulated or investor-owned – have a mix of owned and leased vehicles. They’re finding the right applications where they can take advantage of leasing and create a situation where they get the benefits of cash preservation, improved cash flow and potential tax advantages.”

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Jim Galligan

Assessing and Enforcing Distracted Driving Policies

Assessing and Enforcing Distracted Driving Policies

Policies that prohibit employees from using cellphones or being otherwise distracted while driving are so common today that it would be hard to find a utility company without one.

In fact, in 2011 the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration banned the use of all hand-held mobile devices by commercial vehicle drivers. This includes anyone driving a vehicle heavier than 10,000 pounds during interstate business, not just heavy-duty truck drivers with commercial driver’s licenses. Penalties can range from driver disqualification to fines for both the driver and the carrier. Additionally, as of press time, 14 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cellphones while driving.

The real issue for utility fleets, and for any company with vehicles for that matter, is how to measure a policy’s effectiveness. How do companies know if their policy is working?

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Jim Galligan

Selling Safety to Utility Fleet Drivers

Selling Safety to Utility Fleet Drivers

Despite the ubiquity of technology in almost everyone’s world today, drivers may resent the introduction of a GPS or telematics system by company management if they feel the technology is going to be used to spy on them. But explaining that these systems can improve safety, enhance driving skills and even reduce paperwork can go a long way to getting driver buy-in, said several fleet managers and industry executives.

Pacific Gas and Electric already had a fleet management system in place, but the company decided to look to technology as a way of improving driver safety and performance. In particular, they wanted to test telematics systems that fed performance data back to operations. Before doing that, however, fleet representatives first met with the union drivers and explained that the systems were being designed to improve their driving, not to discipline them.

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Curtis Marquardt Jr.

How Engaged Are Your Employees?

How Engaged Are Your Employees?

Across the globe, there is a shortage of a very important resource that is reaching epidemic proportions. What’s worse, it’s a resource that is vital to your fleet operation and has a substantial impact on your bottom line.

This increasingly rare commodity is the engaged employee.

So, what is an engaged employee and why are they the most important asset your fleet operation can have? Generally speaking, an engaged employee is one who is psychologically invested in the organization and committed to getting the most out of his or her abilities and efforts for the sake of advancing the growth and success of the organization.

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John Dolce

15 Tips for Improving Your Inventory Control

For some, the term “inventory control” may seem more like an oxymoron than a management practice. If you feel like your inventory is anything but controllable, here are 15 tips to help you better manage the process, thereby creating added success and profitability for your fleet.

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John Dolce

Fix That Money Drip

Fleet managers who develop objective, fact-based, data-driven decision-making processes often are successful because they don’t let emotions, irrational estimations or surface-level perceptions factor into their decisions.

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John Dolce

Driving Toward Discounts: How Telematics is Reshaping the Auto Insurance Marketplace

Dolce-1-WebHere’s a pop quiz for you: Driver A is a 17-year-old single male who conservatively drives his car a total of 12 miles a week to and from his high school. Driver B is a 52-year-old married female who aggressively drives her car 500 miles a week to and from her late night/early morning job at a restaurant. Both have perfect safety records and no traffic violations. Who is likely to have the more expensive vehicle insurance premium?

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Seth Skydel

Driving Fleet Value and Performance

EUFMC-6-Web“The Electric Utility Fleet Managers Conference is an unparalleled opportunity for fleet professionals,” said Gerald Owens, fleet manager at Oncor Electric Delivery and EUFMC president. “EUFMC offers educational sessions on management topics by industry experts, manufacturers and fleets, and roundtables where fleet managers share best practices and work with suppliers and service providers to address challenges. This conference is a unique forum where fleet managers can exchange ideas and network with suppliers who showcase new technologies and are prepared to discuss technical and operational issues.”

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John Dolce

Struggles and Strategies

Dolce-1-WebTo some, spare vehicles are presumed to be extra units that, for the most part, sit idle and therefore have no real cost associated with them. For the unfortunate fleet managers and end users who believe this, they will inevitably find out how inaccurate they are.

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Wade Vonasek

Helping Fleets Shine

ARI-5-WebManaging a fleet can be a challenging task. In addition to the day-to-day procedures and duties, it is essential to think long term as well. Whether a seasoned professional or a new arrival to fleet management, it is necessary to utilize new strategies and technologies to find efficiencies, cut costs and lower the total cost of ownership (TCO). How this is achieved can be a different strategy for each fleet.

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KNOWLEDGE, INSIGHT & STRATEGY FOR UTILITY FLEET LEADERS

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