How to choose fleet management software

Features - Waste Software

Cost should not be the leading factor in determining what solutions are best for your fleet.

Photos courtesy of Fleetio

Cost plays a key role in purchasing fleet management software (FMS); however, if you start your FMS search based on price, you could miss out on features and functions crucial to your operation.

Why cost isn’t everything

Rachael Plant

Cost is a huge factor in determining what solutions you can adopt for your fleet. This won’t come as a surprise to most fleet managers as the question of cost tends to come first when making most purchases —and for fleets, the purse strings can be extra tight.

Tom Rowlings, assistant fleet manager for the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, says, “Something many fleet managers know is that in companies—whether public, private or municipalities—a fleet is oftentimes overlooked. We’re a cost center; we cost the organization a lot of money. Therefore, when you need something as a support mechanism like software, a lot of times, it’s hard to get the funding for it because you’re already spending millions of dollars in repairs to vehicles and on parts and service and things like that.”

Over the past several years, FMS has become an increasingly powerful tool for fleets, and different FMS packages have different levels of features and functionalities that might pair perfectly with what an organization wants to accomplish. With cost top of mind, it makes sense that when shopping around for FMS or other fleet solutions, the lowest bidder appears the most appealing. But if you search by cost alone, you might miss out on getting a solution that:

  • tracks key metrics;
  • meets reporting needs;
  • has a user-friendly interface;
  • has features appropriate to your fleet; and
  • can scale with your fleet.

When it comes to choosing FMS, features and functionality are pivotal to the success of its implementation and proper, consistent use. FMS that doesn’t meet your fleet’s needs or is too difficult to use ends up being a waste of time and money—no matter what the original cost.

FMS should always add value to your fleet, whether by extending asset lifespans, decreasing maintenance and repair-related costs or improving data visibility for compliance reasons. Before investing in FMS, it’s best to determine specific objectives for your fleet, answering questions, such as:

  • Are you looking to improve asset record keeping for insurance and compliance reasons?
  • Are you trying to cut down on pencil-whipping and lost forms associated with asset inspections?
  • Do you need customization of inspections, reporting or quick view fleet metrics?
  • Do you need to improve asset service times?
  • Are you looking to track asset use for precision billing?
  • Are you trying to improve parts inventory organization and use?

From processes and operations to communication, jot down what you want to improve within your fleet. FMS features and functionality will speak to the ability to accomplish your goals, and from there you can narrow down by cost.

Breaking down features and functionality

“Features” and “functionality” often are used interchangeably, but they are not the same. Features are what software can do and functionality is how the software does it. Let’s dive deeper into FMS features and functionality and why they’re so important when choosing software. 

Features. The features an FMS offers tell you what you can do using the software, whether that’s maintenance, fuel, equipment or parts inventory management, electronic vehicle inspections, remote vehicle tracking, route optimization, etc. That’s why determining what you need an FMS to do is one of the first steps in the research process. 

When Rowlings was researching FMS, he focused on two features he knew would benefit his fleet the most: integrations and a mobile app—features commonly looked for among fleets.

While a mobile app is conducive to the mobile nature of fleets, integration capabilities increasingly are becoming important to consolidate data and improve data transparency for stakeholders. Additionally, integrations allow for better overall business data consolidation and transparency, as you can integrate other software into your FMS, including telematics, development services, fuel cards, maintenance shops, predictive analytics, risk and safety, finance, human resources and software dealing with most any aspect of your fleet’s business. These types of integrations better allow a fleet’s precision billing and scheduling while automating daily processes and reducing the time it takes to track down important information.

Functionality. Say you find a few FMS options with all the features you need, but you also need functionality that includes fully customizable inspections, automated workflows and configurable dashboards. It’s likely not all FMS options with your needed features also will have your needed level of functionality; for instance, they might only have two of the three functions, or they might offer all three but only offer partial customization capabilities.

Determining the functions you need can help you pick the right software to maximize your efficiency and return on investment (ROI). 

The most common functionality factors fleet operators typically look for include ease of use and implementation.

For instance, for Rowlings, the basic functionality he needed included a user-friendly interface, easy setup and something that could scale with his organization. He had experience on his side, having gone through successful and not-so-successful FMS implementations.

“I was familiar with some of the softwares that I, or friends in the industry, utilized. I sort of used that as my starting point and, believe it or not, cost was not anywhere in my research equation,” Rowlings says. “Cost came at the end of my research after I found a couple of softwares that would function the way I wanted them to.” 

The most capable, robust FMS in the world will mean nothing if end users can’t actually use it because of difficulty with training and implementation. Therefore, it’s important to trial and/or demo several of your preferred FMS of choice with members of your team so you can get accurate and useful feedback from them regarding its usability.

Cost versus ROI

It’s time to talk about cost. Chances are, the FMS that best meets your needs won’t be the cheapest—but it might. Regardless, you’ll likely have to justify its cost.

Having worked in public and private fleets, Rowlings knows budgetary constraints. In a previous role, he had to justify the increased new FMS cost relative to the FMS being used at the time.

“It came to justifying what you get for the money you’re paying—that was key,” he says. “I was able to convince my finance team that this was the right move. It met everything that I needed and provided all of the reporting that they needed, so it was justifiable to have that increased cost.”

It’s important to remember when advocating for your preferred FMS you must set implementation expectations with leadership. This includes setting expectations for an FMS’ ROI.

“You have to make sure that your leadership above you understands your expectations of time,” Rowlings says. “That they’re not thinking, ‘You have this new program that’s three days in now; let me see those cost-savings reports and let me see where you spent all your money this month.

“You have to set the expectations, and you have to have leadership that understands that it takes time to implement new technology,” he says. “You’re not going to get that automatically. You have to set those expectations and explain that in order for the organization to get the payback it’s looking for, you need to make sure you implement it the right way.”

In his current position in the public sector, Rowlings unexpectedly found buy-in to help his case in his very own neighborhood. “I found out that in Cambridge, the police and fire departments had been using Fleetio separately. That helped convince my leadership that this was the way to go,” he says. “[Our FMS] is also on one of the state government sourcing contracts, so we didn’t have to go through a bid procurement.

“I did still have to convince a lot of people, but it really came down to selling them on the functionality of the program,” Rowlings adds.

Some FMS providers offer an ROI calculator so you can get an idea of how much money you’ll save over the course of a year after implementing the software.

While cost is one of the most influential factors when adopting an FMS and other fleet solutions, you can improve your chances of successful implementation, fleetwide use and overall ROI by finding an FMS with features and functionality that best meet the needs of your operation.