Update 6/5/17: This post has been updated to include a new question about the 2017 ELD mandate.
If you’re worried that buying fleet management software will be involved and confusing, I advise you to stop, take a deep breath, and repeat after me:
“I know more than I think I do.”
I say this because the questions you should ask when buying fleet management software are, actually, pretty similar to what you should ask when buying anything.
Have you ever bought a car? A meal from a restaurant? Clothing with zippers and/or buttons?
If you have, you’re in luck! If you haven’t, I’m guessing you’re Amish, and I have no idea how you’re reading this article (although apparently, some Amish are interested in tech…).
Buying fleet management software takes work, but that work follows some familiar patterns. If you know how to shop smart for other products, the following helpful questions will make buying fleet management software easier than you thought.
1. Is the software a good fit for my company?
You want any clothes you buy to fit well. You need to know yourself, though, to know what will be a good fit. Otherwise, you can wind up with an outfit that doesn’t suit you (no pun intended). As someone who wages an ongoing war with the slim-fit dress shirt, I speak from a position of vulnerability and authenticity.
Likewise, you need to know your business, and its needs, to determine what software is right for you.
You’ll need to ask if this software, and company, are right for you. If they’re not, you won’t get as much value as you can.
What sort of problems do you want to solve with fleet management software? Are you looking to reduce fuel spend? Or monitor driver behavior? Or track where your vehicles are?
“It’s a good idea to have some expectations ahead of time,” says Robert Edilson of the fleet management software firm Collective Data. He adds,
Do you want to do a few simple tasks or manage the entire operation? Knowing your business’ needs and which ones you think can be helped by fleet management software will help narrow the field. There’s such a wide variety of systems out there that you need to figure that out ahead of time to know what to look for.
Automotive Fleet’s Shelley Mika suggests that you should even quantify that knowledge and “set measurable goals, like reducing idling by 10 percent or saving 5 percent on fuel spend.” As with buying clothes, the more you know, the better. If you say “I’m buying a dress shirt,” you may get the wrong thing. If you say, “I need something I can wear in warm weather, that’s good for work but can do formal occasions like weddings or funerals,” you’ll have a better result.
Kelsey Nolan, also of Automotive Fleet, attests that “telematics can provide virtually endless data, which can be a drawback if you don’t know what information you want.” In other words, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the diversity of FSM software functionality options. If you don’t know what data you want to monitor, you can easily become overwhelmed.
Rather than just diving into a purchase, Nolan adds that you should “know your goals, whether it’s fuel savings or safety, so you don’t purchase a telematics system giving you reports you won’t use.” If you don’t know what works for your business, you may wind up with the software version of clothes that collect dust in your closet because you have no occasion to wear them.
2. Is it easy to use?
Entire tech firms have risen or fallen on their products’ ease of use. Bill Gates’s appreciation for user experience (or UX, as techies call it) helped make Microsoft a success.
By trading text-based user interfaces (Dos, anyone?) for images, and ensuring the system was already installed on most PCs, Bill Gates made the computer user experience easy and fun. The result? More people and businesses increasing efficiency with PCs than ever before.
If a fleet management software program isn’t easy to use, your employees may not use it. In an expert roundup at Telematics, Mark Wilcox of Exactrak notes that “having tracked data on your fleet is all well and good but if it’s not in a user-friendly format then it will not be used to its full potential.” If the software’s user interface is too complicated or counter-intuitive, drivers may not feel it’s worth their time to learn.
Employee buy-in can be the difference between a successful implementation, and a wasted investment In one case study, a Taiwanese company with a 1,700 vehicle fleet stated that “resistance from employees” was a major cause for the implementation failure of their software. If the software your drivers and managers use is more confusing than the tax code, it will meet with resistance.
3. Is the customer service/support good?
I went to a local wine and beer place last week. When I saw an IPA by a new brewery, I asked the guy behind the counter what it was like. He explained the taste, compared it to another beer I’d had, talked about the brewery, then offered me a sample (they had it on tap). I was so impressed by the helpfulness of his answer that I’ve been back twice since.
Buying, and using, any software is a long experience. Even after the purchase, you’ll probably have questions and issues that need resolution. Good customer service makes that experience collaborative and successful.
Kristie Sanderson from Mix Telematics outlines the importance of ongoing customer support, saying that “it’s very important to receive some level of fleet consultancy from a tracking supplier to help get set up properly, to understand the system, to understand the data and offer support on how to get drivers on board.” Even the most intuitive software will require some initial help. That’s where customer service comes in.
Even the most intuitive software will require some initial help. That’s where customer service comes in.
Capterra’s vendor reviews are a good place to check for this information.
Look at whether customer reviews mention customer support specifically, and also about the quality of customer support they describe. The more detail, the better. A review like Paul Ostlund’s of ManagerPlus outlines what a good customer service team does. He says, “their team is easy to work with, responsive, and can speak our language, not just ‘IT lingo.’” If the customer service team is one that can teach you the skills necessary to use the software, that means they have the skills necessary for after the sale service.
4. Can fleet management software grow with your business?
When buying a family car, you want to know if the car can grow with your family. How long will it run with routine maintenance—until your kid’s first or fifteenth birthday? Is this a vehicle that’ll work for your kids as they go from preschool to Little League to high school practices? If your kids will eventually wind up driving it, how’s that safety rating?
Similarly, you’ll want to ask whether the software you’re looking at is a reliable product that can grow with your business. Does it crash frequently? If your business grows, will the software scale with your business?
Steve Wells from ClearPathGPS relates how scalable software can help a company. One of ClearPath’s customers, Progistics, provides last mile delivery for Amazon and others. “They’re the ones who bring it to your doorstep, and they’ve been able to grow with us very quickly,” Wells explains.
The growth is thanks to ClearPath’s open API. “Through our API, we’ve allowed (Progistics) to tap into all the Amazon management systems, and feed data from their tracking devices back to Amazon.” Providing this data to Amazon helps Progistics meet the online giant’s high delivery operational standards. The more proof Amazon has of Progistics’ successful compliance, the more business Progistics gets from Amazon. It’s a successful cycle, and it’s thanks to ClearPath’s scalability-enabling software.
The ease of data flow enabled by ClearPath’s open API has allowed Progistics to grow in other ways, Wells explains. “An open API greatly enhances all the abilities in the GPS tracking system. All the data in the tracking systems can be sent to all kinds of systems…all that data…flows seamlessly into any third party system you can think of.” Third-party systems you may have, such as accounting software, maintenance software, or CRM software, can benefit from the data provided by GPS trackers. Time otherwise spent matching disparate data sets is reduced to seconds or minutes, and that’s time that can be spent growing your business.
5. What’s made in house?
In the past decade or so, customers have become increasingly interested in where their food comes from. They want to know whether their meal is something prepared by cooks, or reheated by workers. Chipotle’s seized on this, down to the level of their employees’ uniforms. You may remember the employee shirts that used to say “I grilled the meat today” or “I cooked the rice this morning.” They attested to the fact that “the buck stopped here,” figuratively and literally.
When it comes to fleet management software, you’ll want to figure out if a company controls the product/experience you’re getting.
In some cases, fleet management companies may outsource their software design. The problem with this is any code-related issues with a program can become major problems. If a company’s programmers are in house, the fix to the software will come far easier than if the vendor has to talk to a third party.
John Cameron of Trimble Navigation advises that “you want a provider that offers APIs (application program interfaces), direct data feeds, and the ability to handle custom integrations so you can use your fleet data in your existing applications.” If a company farms out these stages of production, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to integrate the information.
6. What’s the company’s reputation?
When I go hunting for a new bar or restaurant, the first thing I check is their average Yelp rating. I want to read the reviews, see what features people like, and get a sense of how past customers were treated. Since Yelp can sometimes be subjective, I’ll also check the mainstream press.
Similarly, you’ll want to check a company’s reputation before you purchase their software. Gauging a vendor’s review footprint will help you determine their reliability.
News sites like Automotive Fleet, or its sister publications (Government Fleet, Schoolbus Fleet, Fleet Financials, and several more) are one information source. See how, and when, a potential vendor’s mentioned. If they’ve been acquired, like Fleetmatics and Telogis just were by Verizon, that bodes well. Likewise, it’s a good sign if they’re hiring or expanding.
Another strategy is to check for case studies on the website. Though case studies are written to advertise the company’s good side, they still give you an idea of their capabilities and accomplishments.
Lori Higdon of Fleetio advises two steps in researching reputation.
The first is to delve, detective style, into the company’s customer service quality. “Customer support is something you should ensure you ask about,” she advises. “For any software partner, you’ll have to be able to really trust their customer service, and I mean that especially from a perspective of whether they’re charging extra to use their support.” Given the support you’ll likely need, a vendor who bundles support with the cost is probably a good idea. “For us, customer support is always all-inclusive, with any plans that our customers are on.”
The more a vendor prioritizes customer service, Higdon argues, the better it bodes for the buyer. Higdon cites Fleetio’s policy of extending customer service to even those on a free trial. “A lot of our customer service tickets that come in are from trial customers, rather than paying customers, but we treat both the same.” If a vendor treats potential customers the same way they treat established, paying ones, it suggests that service is part of the company’s ethos.
Higdon’s second suggestion is to “make sure the company and product are focused heavily on mobile.” Higdon notes that “fleets are mobile by nature, so to work with a software partner that has mobile in mind at all times, and develops modern, mobile solutions,” is imperative.
When it comes to fleet employees, “virtually nobody touching the fleet sits behind a desk 24/7.” As such, it’s a good idea to ask whether your potential vendor has a native mobile app, like Fleetio’s. Can the employee do everything the software offers from his phone? If not, you may be reducing your fleet’s productivity.
7. What’s your ELD mandate compliance solution?
As of right now, the ELD mandate (a federal rule that requires most drivers on the highway to record their hours of service with an electronic logging device) is still in effect. Though the Supreme Court might hear a case protesting the law during the second week of June, 2017, the odds are good that, come December 20, 2017, your fleet will need to have ELDs in all vehicles.
Prepare for that by making sure your fleet management software provider has an ELD solution in place. Vendors like Telogis, Teletrac Navman, TomTom Telematics, ClearPathGPS, and others already offer ELD mandate solutions that can help keep you from fines up to $8,000. The silver lining to the ELD mandate is that there are other benefits to tracking fleet data, so you’ll get something out of Washington’s meddling. Capturing fleet data can help you save money, reduce downtime, and even help you with DVIR inspections.
An actionable, ten-minute next step
Got more information about your own fleet management software shopping experience? The more you say in the comments below, the better off future readers are.
If you really want to pay it forward, reviews are gold. An ounce of reviews is worth a pound of advertisements. If you’re happy (or sad) with your fleet management software, head over to our fleet management software directory and tell the world why. You may not hear from them directly, but other customers will be grateful for the info.
Interested in finding out more about fleet management software? Check out these related posts from Capterra’s field service management blog:
Looking for Field Service Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Field Service Management software solutions.