The Agile Fleet

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Iowa State University Battles Fleet Costs & the Pandemic with Help from Fleet Management Software

Posted by The Agile Fleet on August 17, 2021


Thanks to the Iowa State University (ISU) Transportation Services' ability to collect utilization data and manage their fleet online, Director Kathy Wellik and her team have right-sized their fleet, saving an approximate $2 million in the past six years. But the 2020 coronavirus pandemic presented new challenges to the university's fleet, which she tackled with the same ingenuity. Learn more about ISU's fleet success story in this blog.


ISU’s Fleet Automation Back Story

Kathy Wellik is a Certified Automotive Fleet Manager (CAFM) and a recognized 15-year veteran of the fleet industry. She was awarded the National Conference of State Fleet Administrator’s (NCSFA) Fleet Excellence Award in 2016. She is a regularly featured speaker at many industry events, including NCSFA, NAFA's Institute & Expo, and 100 Best Fleets. 

"Our mission is to provide safe, economical transportation to faculty, students, and staff for university travel, whether that's the admissions folks going to high schools for career fairs and recruiting, or the football program, or any of the 800 student organizations that travel to different competitions," Wellik says. ISU is an agricultural university that supports farm locations across its region, adding to the complexity of its fleet vehicle requirements.

Also, the university requires specialized food service trucks, vehicles for the campus police department, and its veterinarian school. Additionally, it supports the State of Iowa's Braille and Sight Saving School and School for the Deaf.

"We are 100% self-funded so I need to make sure that we are staying competitive and are still delivering our services, so users don't need to go to an outside vendor," Wellik says.

Wellik notes that the system ISU used before FleetCommander did not have the self-service advantages found in the Agile Fleet platform. "Customers would email their request to the dispatcher, who then had to re-enter all of the information into the motor pool system. This doubled our workload and caused keying errors. With manual data management, the more times the data is keyed, the greater the chance of introducing errors."

She adds, "We are open Monday through Friday, but we do allow people to rent on weekends. If someone needed a vehicle on Saturday or Sunday, they had to pick the keys up on Friday which renders it unavailable that day when it could have been used."

Such time-shifting caused situations where vehicles might not be available as needed, and the previous system did not allow for complex vehicle time management. "Their vehicle grid display only allowed for inefficient vehicle availability in half-day increments, making it more challenging to move reservations around to alternative vehicles on busy days. FleetCommander drills down by the hour. If you are out of a vehicle type, you can move a reservation to a different vehicle with minimal impact on the schedule. Being able to see that hour-by-hour reservation versus a half-day made a huge difference."

One of the university's first goals for implementing FleetCommander was to automate the reservation system so customers could reserve vehicles themselves online anytime. This directly impacted billing, so automating that process was another important requirement. "In the past, with the system we were on, people would have to either fax, call, or email their request to the dispatcher, who would have to type it into the system, assign the vehicle, then let the customer know. That generated paper tickets that had to be filled out and signed when they came. It was a laborious process."

With online reservations and the accompanying key box and kiosk, 24-7 rental requests are handled easily. "The customer can book their vehicle on their iPad or cellphone, laptop computer, whatever works for them. They can also change their reservation if needed. Vehicles are not overextended just to accommodate an off-hours rental," Wellik says. "This translates to greater utilization, having fewer vehicles, and reduced insurance and other carrying costs. Having the ability to check vehicles in and out is a huge cost-savings to us." Another benefit is reduced burden on staff because paper tickets are eliminated.

FleetCommander has allowed the university to continually refine its vehicle composition. "We perform utilization audits every year to right-size and drill down," Wellik says. "We had 130 minivans at one time and now we're down to 90, and we are able to still meet  demand. We use the system's utilization reports to right-size on an ongoing basis."

Facing the Coronavirus Challenge

Although Wellik's primary motivation for using the FleetCommander solution was to reduce costs and improve service to the university, she was also able to use it to assist with their COVID-19 mitigation efforts.

ISU was not immune to the shutdown of operations caused by the coronavirus pandemic of 2020. Wellik says however that did not mean vehicles were unnecessary. On the contrary, the school did its best to keep employees active and on the payroll, even as students studied online and at home.

Vehicle cleanliness (which was always a high priority) was now critical, and even more so when students were allowed back for in-person study.

Wellik found that the FleetCommander system allowed for greater flexibility in terms of social distancing. Drivers could reserve vehicles online from anywhere. The kiosk offered a grab-and-go solution that likewise cut down unnecessary human interaction.

“With FleetCommander, we were able to change our timing,” Wellik notes. “We put the vehicles in prep (cleaning and waiting periods), and you can adjust different settings to create time buffers in between reservations. We were able to change our time from two to 72 hours. That allowed for either extra cleaning time or time just to sit to make sure potential virus would not survive to affect users.” With the system, the university fleet driving community would have the assurance that the vehicle could not be chosen until after the 72-hour safety buffer.

At the same time, the COVID-19 crisis precipitated frequently changing policy updates that needed to be read and acknowledged. Strong communication became essential as the pandemic unfolded. Iowa State already had an annual policy review/re-sign protocol to update records, but as new health mandates were issued from state officials and the CDC, revisions were communicated quickly and directly to the ISU fleet user community.

“Each time a policy changes you can send a message to people with an alert,” Wellik says. “The system also records that people have read and acknowledged the policy, changes and all,” she says. “We also put different messages about COVID-19 into the system so that when people sign into FleetCommander online they can immediately learn about the latest actions we are taking.”

“The system also allows you to send an email directly or send an email via a service like Constant Contact,” Wellik says.

She shares they had no idea when first implemented that it would also play a role in keeping faculty, staff, and students safe during an unprecedented time in human health history. “It was comforting to know we were helping our customers that way,” Wellik says.

Agile Fleet President Ed Smith reflects on the company’s six-year association with ISU: “Our relationship with ISU is a long and highly valued one, and we’re thrilled to be a part of Transportation Services’ success,” he says.

In fact, in 2021 Iowa State University (ISU) Procurement Services named Agile Fleet, Inc. the winner of the Customer Service Award in its Supplier Awards Program. The Customer Service Award recognizes those suppliers that go above and beyond to provide professional, responsive, and proactive service to ISU. Agile Fleet's core values were cited as key reasons for the win.

"We are thrilled that Iowa State University has chosen us for this award," says Agile Fleet's president Ed Smith. "We are dedicated to providing excellence in customer service because our values demand it,” he says. (For more on Agile Fleet Core Values visit this page.)

Fleet Utilization and Motor Pool: A Comprehensive Guide


Topics: Insider, University Motor Pool, Utilization, Fleet Management Technology

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