IT literate fleet decision-makers are waking up to the fact that today’s hi-tech vehicle management systems can seamlessly interact with other internal and external software to dramatically improve operating effectiveness and efficiency.

Sophisticated web-based software developments means that fleet operators no longer need to manually input every item of fleet information from a driver’s name to a car’s numberplate and from a fuel purchase to a vehicle service.

Instead, computers using a common language, for example .NET and XML, seamlessly populate systems in real-time ensuring up-to-the-minute accurate management information, according to Jason Francis, managing director of fleet software and occupational road safety experts Jaama.

“Fleet decision-makers are becoming increasingly software savvy and they understand the importance of choosing technology that can fully integrate with systems operated by external suppliers and other company departments, such as HR, payroll and finance, and can also be accessed by drivers,” said Mr Francis.

“Only five years ago fleet managers still had to manually enter virtually every single piece of fleet relevant information. This was not only time consuming and administratively cumbersome, but could be prone to mistakes. Additionally, the way data was stored meant it was difficult to monitor, measure and compare and contrast the performance of individual drivers and vehicles effectively.”

Today, data and information feeds from contract hire and leasing suppliers, daily rental companies, fuel management operators, fast-fit organisations and residual value suppliers, for example, can update fleet management systems along with information supplied by drivers - mileages, expense claims and working hours - and information from other departments on, for example, new starters, employee promotions and changes in driver circumstances.

One beneficiary is Claire Walker, compensation and benefits manager at mobile phones provider Caudwell Holdings, whose subsidiaries include retailer Phones 4u. The company operates a fleet of more than 1,300 cars and also has over 300 cash allowance drivers.

She said: “Technology has transformed the management of our fleet as we have moved online from a paper-based system. We are saving many hours in administration time every month as well as thousands of pounds in overall costs and have cut invoice queries from 150 a month to zero.

“We used to have more than 30 spreadsheets covering every aspect of the fleet. It was a nightmare inputting fleet data and also updating staff changes that had originated in HR. Our move to web-based software has reduced an almost impossible workload and all departments, including HR and payroll are benefiting.

“The technology is also enabling us to capture more information on our fleet so we can be far more proactive and analytical in our management. That will improve operating efficiencies and ultimately reduce costs still further.”

Jaama’s Key2 Vehicle Management system is at the centre of the technology revolution and Mr Francis said: “The technology is now available and today’s forward-thinking fleet operators can utilize it to their advantage to maximize fleet effectiveness. In turn the management information they can supply to their bosses on every facet of fleet functionality has never been more detailed or more accurate.

“Historically, many fleet managers have believed that the advance of technology would leave them without a job. This is far from the truth as the technology revolution enables fleet decision-makers to be far more strategic in their job and less process-driven.”

Meanwhile, Mr Francis has dismissed fears that fleet decision-makers could be sunk by the volume of data available and reports generated.

He said: “It is true that data available to fleet operators has increased by a factor of 50 in the last decade and will continue to increase. However, they can decide what they want to monitor and measure by exception. They can customize the software to meet their own individual requirements.”

Published on: 12:00AM on 19th July 2006