The U.S. is migrating to a self-serve economy. Interactive self-service technology permeates large swathes of our economy, with the retail, hospitality, banking, and travel industries being the early adopters. We utilize this technology with ATMs, online banking, pay-at-the-pump fuel stations, Web-based shopping, self-service retail checkout lanes, Internet-enabled travel reservation systems, and touch-screen kiosks to check-in at airports and hotels. Most of us don’t realize how huge this market has become. The IHL Consulting Group, a retail marketing research company, says sales from self-service checkout lanes in supermarkets, drug stores, and home improvement centers will reach $1.3 trillion in 2007.

Self-serve technology promises to make even further inroads into more industries. In 2005, a new organization known as the Society of Self-Service Technology Professionals (S3TP) was created to serve as an advocate across all industries for vendors and end-users of interactive self-service technology.

Self-Service is a Growing Phenomena
Today, self-service fleet management already exists for many company drivers. Drivers are notified by e-mail when eligible to order a new company vehicle, they can select the make and model online from a Web-based fleet selector, they receive online order-to-delivery status reports on the ETA of the new vehicle, and drivers can buy out-of-service fleet vehicles using an online fleet management system. All of this can be done 24/7, at home or at work, using a Web-based system without having to interact with a human being. Many drivers who function in this type of environment give fleet high satisfaction ratings. Fleet intranet sites provide drivers with access to fleet-related information directly from their laptops, streamlining the dissemination of information. Fleet intranet sites provide the answers to frequently asked questions, eliminating the need to contact the fleet department or fleet management company to answer routine inquiries. All of this, and more, are causing the relationship between the driver and the fleet service provider to transition from a person-to-person transaction to a digital one.

Where Does the Fleet Manager Fit?
In the early years of fleet management, the fleet department staff spent the day manually processing new-vehicle orders, updating driver records, registering vehicles, and answering routine phone calls from drivers in the field reporting maintenance problems or inquiring about new-vehicle delivery status. The majority of these jobs have vanished as a result of outsourcing and automation. Technology has pushed mundane tasks to the driver level, such as ordering vehicles and maintaining PM schedules. Many specialized fleet tasks have been outsourced to companies with the expertise and systems to more effectively manage these processes, such as accident management and subrogation.

The transition to self-serve fleet management is changing not only driver interaction, but also the skill set required of fleet managers. The exemplary fleet managers (today and in the future) need to rise above the level of simply managing day-to-day work. Besides being a fleet management expert, they must be knowledgeable about the company’s product line and services, market-ing objectives, corporate culture, and the needs of user groups. They must be proactive and anticipate changes in their corporate environment. They implement fleet programs that contribute to the achievement of overall company goals. These goals vary. Some companies focus on cash flow, while others zero-in on employee retention, hiring, productivity, and satisfaction. Different corporate objectives dictate different policies and fleet programs. Fleet managers must link fleet to the corporation’s overall mission and keep management informed as to how fleet is helping to improve the corporate mission.

A fleet manager validates his or her importance day-in and day-out by cost-effectively managing hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars of corporate assets and controlling the expenses associated with operating these assets. This requires a skill set that focuses on fleet policy development, the implementation of safety programs, selector creation based on exhaustive lifecycle cost analyses, and establishment of metrics to manage suppliers. Exemplary fleet managers proactively seek to maximize the productivity and revenue-generating capacity of each company driver at the lowest possible cost. A fleet manager can easily save a company millions of dollars by implementing the right fleet policies and selecting the right vehicles and suppliers. If you can reduce annual fleet expenses by $200,000, that will generate the equivalent of $2 million in sales, if your company operates at a 10-percent net profit margin. This is the skill set that will make you indispensable in the eyes of senior management.

Let me know if you agree.

Originally posted on Automotive Fleet