Utility fleet managers faced their share of challenges in recent years. They needed to respond quickly and effectively to emergency situations and rising customer expectations while keeping drivers feeling safe and supported. They also needed to maximize the utilization of vehicles while extending lifecycles and complying with regulations—even as they evolve faster than ever.
Like their counterparts in other industries, utility fleet managers are also wrestling with high fuel prices, driver shortages, tightened budgets, vehicle replacement lead times, and supply chain issues. As fleet managers shoulder more pressure, emerging technologies help alleviate these challenges and enable more digital transformation within the industry.
Technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and advanced telematics are streamlining fleet maintenance, safety, and operations managers’ day-to-day tasks. Integrating these technologies into a fleet program is crucial to ensuring that a fleet is operating as safely, efficiently, and sustainably as possible.
Fleet intelligence platforms help to break down the mountains of data and provide the key insights fleet vehicles and heavy equipment produce every time they are turned on. But the real value comes when this data is analyzed and displayed to fleet managers in an easy-to-digest manner so they can make data-driven decisions about key aspects of their fleet operation every day in real time.
From maintenance to safety to route optimization, here are a few ways utility fleet managers can benefit from integrating fleet intelligence solutions into their fleet program.
Few things derail a fleet’s performance more than poorly maintained vehicles. Utilities want to maximize the uptime of their vehicles and equipment to keep them on the road and out of the shop at inopportune times. If a breakdown during a power outage delays service restoration, customers are going to call a utility’s phones nonstop with complaints. To avoid this, utilities must adhere to a proactive and predictive preventive maintenance program that addresses problems before they occur and avoids long waits to get vehicles in for service.
Managing a repair process is difficult, but modern fleet maintenance platforms can help. Centralizing data enables utilities to create and manage preventive maintenance programs based on vehicle use, time, or mileage. Vehicles equipped with telematics have even more information at their disposal. They can trigger alerts to accelerate service timetables based on the performance of an individual vehicle.
Modern fleet solutions break down silos between daily inspections, telematics, and services so that issues in the field are communicated properly to the shop. Unified maintenance and inspection data help utilities prioritize and execute work, extending the life of their fleets and reducing unplanned downtime.
Preventive maintenance programs pay off. They improve overall reliability: Vehicles in preventive maintenance programs experience 20% fewer downtime delays than those that are not. They also help operators avoid increasingly high replacement costs of used work trucks.
Safety is a heightened concern for utility fleet operators. For one reason, safety costs are high. Along with the high costs of commercial vehicle insurance and incidents, fleet operators must deal with driver turnover, and the impact of accidents and CSA (compliance, safety, accountability) scores on their brands’ reputations. Operators in the utility sector also must contend with large numbers of service calls during severe weather. Operators cannot control road conditions, but they can institute programs and implement technologies to ensure drivers are doing their best to keep roads safe. They can do this by creating a culture of safety and by taking advantage of fleet operation technologies like dual-facing dash cams powered by AI.
The culture of safety starts with getting the leadership team to buy in to safety concepts from day one. Then it extends to the people—hiring the right people, doing the right background checks, and investing in drivers’ well-being. Incentive programs are an effective tool. Rewarding good behavior can spur workers to go a step beyond basic driver safety protocols and dedicate themselves to safety best practices. Utilities can offer extra sick days and other financial incentives to encourage linemen to keep the roads safe.
Fleet intelligence platforms also facilitate better driver safety. Telematics devices can monitor speed and distance traveled, giving leaders visibility into drivers’ adherence to schedules and regulations. Fleet managers can configure their AI-enabled dash cams to detect the behaviors and events most important to fleet safety, such as phone usage, inattentive driving, close following distance, and forward collision risks, and they enable in-cab alerts that help drivers correct behaviors on the fly. When combined with G-force data gathered from advanced telematics devices, aggressive driver behaviors such as speeding, harsh braking, and hard turning are monitored and coached.
Advanced driver scorecards are customizable and weighted according to a fleet’s needs, and are best displayed as real-time dashboards. Fleet managers, driver supervisors, and drivers should have access to scorecards. This transparency helps the entire team understand company leadership’s goals and performance expectations, and drives a culture of safety. Incorporating AI video data into driver scorecards and safety reporting can identify risky behaviors and trigger coaching before they cause an accident.
Utilities that are nimble operate efficiently. Outages happen on a haphazard basis, so trucks in one area are diverted to another. Delivery schedules change. Customer work orders can get canceled or moved. And if a worker calls out sick, dispatchers must realign everybody’s schedules and routes to meet the business’s needs that day.
Route optimization technology gives utility fleet leaders the ability to change routes on the fly based on data tracked by a fleet management system. Route optimization does not just pick the shortest distance between two points. It incorporates algorithms, GPS, and traffic data to identify the best route with the fewest obstacles. It also considers factors ranging from the number of clients on the schedule, their locations, in-between stops, service windows, and driver and vehicle availability.
Better route management generates benefits for utility fleets in a variety of ways. It boosts efficiency, allowing utilities to get more done with their current vehicles. It reduces wear and tear; fewer miles on the road means vehicles get to jobs and back faster. It cuts operating expenses; optimized routes increase driver efficiency, use less fuel, and promote a more efficient maintenance schedule. It keeps customers happy; communication is better, and customers are notified of accurate arrival times that meet their expectations. And it increases revenue; more billable orders lead to more jobs, enabling utilities to expand their fleets.
A Technology Solution Worth Considering
Fleet intelligence platforms positively impact utility fleet operations in a variety of areas, starting with maintenance, road safety, and route optimization. Utility fleet managers are pushing hard to shore up response times, and at the same time, keep drivers safe and supported. They are making moves to maximize the utilization of vehicles and assets without wearing the vehicles out. And they are trying to stay on top of ever-changing regulations. By making use of the data and insights readily available within a fleet’s vehicles and heavy equipment, utilities can further enhance the safety, efficiency, and sustainability of their fleets.
—Erin Gilchrist Rugg is vice president of Fleet Evangelism for IntelliShift.