This is Part One of a two-part Interview with David Ancell, former Manager of Motor Pool and Data Operations for the State of Michigan.
Guest blogger and fleet expert David Ancell worked in fleet for the State of Michigan for 16 years. For three years, he served as the Director of State Purchasing. For the remainder of his career, he oversaw the management of the State’s large-scale motor pool operation as the Manager of Motor Pool and Data Operations, which operated 15 sites across the state. Ancell also worked in senior management for the State of Iowa for 26 years where he managed several large-scale enterprise level projects.
Part 1: The Challenge of Pooling Vehicles
Q: What is your opinion of centrally managed motor pools?
A: Using technology to centrally manage motor pools is a concept that works. For the State of Michigan, there were many far-reaching and unexpected positive outcomes of centralizing the management of our motor pool. Technology introduced over the past 10 years made specifically for managing pools of vehicles totally revolutionized the way we manage vehicles. Automated, self-service motor pools—with the help of centralized management technology tools-- are easy to implement and provide many cost-saving benefits. Key benefits include higher utilization of vehicles by many more drivers, the elimination of unneeded vehicles and their associated costs, centralized vehicle control, online vehicle reservations, self-service vehicle pick up and drop off, automated key management, and automated billing.
Q: What challenges did you face when pooling vehicles across the State of Michigan and how did you address them?
A: Michigan was facing a budget crisis. We were instructed to reduce the number of vehicles in the fleet dramatically. Pooling vehicles was a key part of the strategy. For 10+ years, the state of Michigan ran motor pools throughout the state. These sites were up to 7 hours driving distance away from our main administrative fleet offices in Lansing. The main challenges we faced were finding a way to manage our vehicles centrally -- despite their physical locations being spread across the state. We also had to examine the utilization of permanently assigned vehicles to determine if they should be eliminated or redirected to a motor pool. Improving the efficiency of motor pool vehicle reservations and billing were other major challenges we had to address. In 2009, the State purchased the FleetCommander fleet and motor pool software. The technology was launched at 14 Michigan sites that are now centrally managed. Not only has the State overcome the challenges they had pre-automation, we have vastly improved our ability to monitor and manage the fleet.
Q: How were things done prior to implementing FleetCommander?
A: Vehicle and Travel Services (VTS) managed statewide motor pools and DEQ managed DEQ permanently assigned vehicles in pools. Three of the five motor pools had no staff at their location. The two staffed pools used email and phoned requests based on an ‘on your honor’ philosophy. If assistance was needed,the driver would call our central office and if staff could not resolve the issue they would contact local business unit personnel and facilities managers to assist. At that time, DEQ had a homegrown reservation system that both of our areas used. It was quite effective for reservations, but there were no controls in place to deal with bad driver behaviors. As a result, cars were not picked up on time, cancellation of vehicle requests were not always made, vehicles were not returned on time, modifications to reservations were very difficult and paper trip tickets were sent a week or two weeks after the fact. The trip tickets which were used for billing but also contained information on problems with a vehicle and so repairs were not timely. Drivers were supposed to provide accounting information on what business unit the vehicle was to be charged to. Much of the accounting information was bad and created considerable problems for our customers. When drivers were accessing keys -- prior to implementation of FleetCommander -- there were some occasions where a key was not returned and the vehicle was not available to other drivers. We would investigate and if we did not locate the key, an email was sent to that location’s drivers stating that the vehicle was going to be reported stolen. Miraculously, the vehicle keys usually appeared within an hour of the email. Implementation of FleetCommander resolved these problems. Reservations are now made in real time online from internet browsers. FleetCommander’s dashboard indicates vehicle status, so vehicles are utilized to the fullest extent possible, modifications to reservations are made quickly and easily, vehicles issues are reported as vehicles are returned, and staff at the central location take the vehicles out of service and get them repaired immediately, and billing is immediate and every driver has a business unit accounting code assigned by designated business unit personnel so there are very few billing errors. Our fleet drivers are able to check vehicles out and in without assistance via self-service kiosks and secure key boxes, freeing up staff to direct their attention to other fleet business. The automation has enabled our motor pool system to grow by four new motor pools and from about 250 vehicles to over 500 vehicles in 15 locations. Of the motor pools, Vehicle and Travel manages seven 24 x 7 completely automated motor pool locations. There are nine DEQ locations and two DHS locations manage the features of FleetCommander except for billing and electronic key boxes.
Q: Did you have any way of measuring utilization prior to using FleetCommander? What was your method and how accurate was it?
A: At least two months’ worth of hand-written driver logs had to be analyzed to determine the number of days the vehicle was driven in order to decide who was given a permanently assigned vehicle. The logs are fairly accurate, however this was extremely time consuming. Running FleetCommander utilization reports took seconds, and were up-to-the minute accurate.
Part 2 of our Interview with David Ancell: "Rolling out Fleet Technology," can be found here. If you are interested in reading more about Michigan's 15-site motor pool, download our State of Michigan Case Study below.