Author: Sean M. Lyden

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The Power of Expectation in Leadership

In the 1960s, psychologist Robert Rosenthal and school principal Lenore Jacobson conducted an experiment at an elementary school in California. All students in grades one through six were given IQ tests. The researchers then identified the top 20 percent for each grade – those students who were to be considered the most gifted, with the greatest learning potential.

What the teachers did not know, however, is that those students in the top 20 percent were chosen at random, not by their actual scores.

And something very interesting happened. When all the students were retested eight months later, the randomly selected group scored significantly higher, with greater improvement compared to their peers.

How could that happen?

The prevailing theory is that a teacher with high expectations of a student pays closer attention when the child struggles, providing extra encouragement and help to ensure that child’s success.

And low expectations produce the opposite effect. The teacher doesn’t try as hard to motivate the student, thinking, “Well, he’s a poor student anyway. He’s hopeless.”

The takeaway here is that, as leaders, our expectation of others creates a self-fulfilling prophecy that can directly impact their performance.

For example, if we’re Gen Xers or baby boomers and expect that millennials are lazy or entitled – and we treat them that way – we’re more likely to see those younger workers fulfill our expectations by calling in sick more often or quitting altogether. And we think, “See, they just don’t have what it takes to succeed here!”

But what if we focused on the possibilities and unique advantages that millennials bring to the table? How much more willing would we be to try to understand millennials so we could maximize their potential?

That’s one of the thrusts behind “The Millennial Challenge: Attracting and Retaining Younger Workers in Utility Fleet Operations,” one of this issue’s feature articles. We demystify the generational stereotypes to help you better understand the way millennials think and to raise your expectations – and, ultimately, the performance achievements – of your younger workers.

By learning how to positively harness the power of expectation, you’ll radically transform your ability to connect with people across multiple generations and inspire them to achieve their highest potential. And isn’t that what leadership is all about?

Sean M. Lyden


The Final 3

Each issue, we ask a fleet professional to share three keys to fleet success.

This issue’s Final 3 participant is Dale Collins, CAFM, the fleet services supervisor for Fairfax County Water Authority (Fairfax Water), headquartered in Fairfax, Va. Collins manages approximately 270 vehicles and two maintenance shops in Fairfax County, with a total of 10 bays and five vehicle lifts.

#1: Get to know your fleet and how each vehicle is used.
“Learn as much as you can about how the vehicles and equipment are used by communicating directly with the operators. Also, develop a strong working relationship with your procurement folks and do whatever you can to help them help you get what your fleet needs.”

#2: Join an association, like NAFA.
“The fleet industry is very unique, and most fleet professionals are more than willing to help out and share their experiences. If you’re having a problem, chances are that someone else has encountered the same difficulty and can offer advice. Attend meetings and educational events so you can become your organization’s fleet expert.”

#3: Don’t get overwhelmed by Big Data.
“It seems like today there’s an ability to track almost everything under the sun and give it a value, which can waste a lot of your time. Spend some time learning what’s important for the fleet operation and any reports desired by the executive staff. Data is only useful when it tells you something; that’s when it’s useful information. Until then, it’s just data.”


Utilities Push Toward Fleet Electrification

Despite the recent trend toward lower fuel prices, vehicle electrification is a hot topic right now among utility fleets, as highlighted at the recent Electric Utility Fleet Managers Conference (EUFMC) held in Williamsburg, Va. The Edison Electric Institute (EEI), an association of investor-owned utilities, is leading the electrification effort and, according to some fleet managers we spoke to at the conference, many public utilities are following suit.

The EUFMC general session opened with a keynote address delivered by Jim Piro, president and CEO of Portland General Electric, who said that from the utility CEO perspective, expanding the electric vehicle (EV) market is a strategic initiative to increase demand for a specific utility product – electricity.

Piro went on to say that the challenge for electric utilities is slow growth in retail loads. If this trend doesn’t change, utilities may be forced to ask regulators for a rate increase, and such requests usually don’t go over well with the public. So, how can utilities increase retail demand and keep rates affordable?

The solution, Piro said, is to promote transportation electrification.

EEI Electrification Initiative
EEI announced its transportation electrification initiative in November 2014, during a White House event with U.S. Energy Secretary Dr. Ernest Moniz and former Counselor to the President John Podesta. According to Piro, who also sits on the EEI transportation electrification committee, the initiative seeks to achieve these four objectives:

1. Increase commitment to fleet electrification.
To date, more than 70 investor-owned electric utilities have committed to devote at least 5 percent of their total annual fleet acquisition budgets to the purchase of plug-in EVs and technologies.

2. Support employee adoption programs.
Provide incentives for employees to own EVs – such as preferred parking spots and employee purchase programs – and they will become enthusiastic ambassadors for vehicle electrification to their friends, family and the public.

3. Expand customer outreach.
Be a resource to customers. For example, help them run load/cost analysis to determine whether EVs make financial sense for their applications.

4. Build an affordable plug-in hybrid electric pickup truck.
Pickup trucks represent the largest vehicle segment among utility fleets, but the cost of plug-in hybrid electric pickups trucks is still too high for widespread fleet adoption. To make a significant dent in utility fleet electrification, truck OEMs and EV technology providers must develop breakthroughs that make those vehicles more affordable.

Piro is a strong proponent of fleet electrification because he believes EVs can simply make good business sense for the utility industry, not to mention the EV market is quickly evolving. He said he personally owns a 2011 Chevrolet Volt that he estimates has saved him $1,200 in annual fuel and maintenance costs over the past four years.

The Data
During his EUFMC presentation titled “Fleet Electrification: Utilities Leading the Charge,” Kellen Schefter, manager of sustainable technology for EEI, provided some interesting data about the state of plug-in EVs in today’s utility fleets.

Following is the overall vehicle distribution by class for investor-owned fleets:
• Class 1-3 trucks: 48 percent
• Class 7-8 trucks: 18 percent
• General equipment: 16 percent
• Class 4-6 trucks: 14 percent
• Passenger cars: 5 percent

And here is the plug-in vehicle penetration to date for those investor-owned fleets:
• General equipment: 10 percent
• Passenger cars: 9.2 percent
• Class 4-6 trucks (ePTO): 4.5 percent
• Class 7-8 trucks: 2.8 percent
• Class 1-3 trucks: 0.3 percent

The total plug-in vehicle penetration rate across all vehicle segments in those utility fleets is 3.3 percent.

Notice from these numbers that there is a mismatch of fleet allocation and plug-in penetration. For example, at 48 percent, Class 1-3 trucks – light-duty pickups and vans – represent the largest vehicle segment of the investor-owned utility fleet, but that segment also represents the smallest number of plug-in vehicles at 0.3 percent. Passenger cars are the smallest vehicle segment at 5 percent but have the second-highest plug-in penetration rate at 9.2 percent.

The bottom line is that while utility fleets are currently buying more Chevrolet Volts, Nissan Leafs and similar vehicles, those purchases don’t make as much of an impact on the overall plug-in penetration rate because cars make up such a small percentage of a utility’s fleet.

Medium- and Heavy-Duty Opportunities
Medium- and heavy-duty truck segments – Class 4-6 and 7-8, respectively – are areas of opportunity that have experienced recent growth. Combined, they make up 32 percent of investor-owned fleets, with a combined plug-in penetration rate of 7.3 percent.

The growth in electrified medium- and heavy-duty trucks is driven by the increased fleet adoption of hybrid-electric ePTO technologies. The key players serving this space are Odyne (, Efficient Drivetrains Inc. ( and Altec’s Jobsite Energy Management System, or JEMS ( Current generation systems enable operators to run booms on battery power for about six hours. This saves significant money in fuel and maintenance costs by eliminating idle.

However, battery cost, weight – which impacts payload capacity – and size – which limits bin space – are still concerns that constrain wider fleet adoption. According to EEI’s transportation electrification white paper (available at, the incremental cost for Altec’s JEMS is $24,300 on a Class 5 first-responder vehicle and $65,000 on a Class 7 large crew truck. But the trend toward slimmer, higher-output battery technology will drive lower cost and higher fleet adoption.

Even with the current high incremental cost, the reduction of idle time offers a compelling business case for plug-in technologies in aerial truck applications.

The Holy Grail for Plug-In Growth
The light-duty pickup is the largest vehicle segment for utility fleets, so it offers the biggest opportunity for plug-in growth. However, limited availability of affordable plug-in technology has made this segment a hard nut to crack.

The key player in this market is VIA Motors (, which offers a Class 2 pickup plug-in hybrid system equipped with a GM 4.3-liter V-6 engine and four-wheel drive. It gets about 40 miles in all-electric mode before activating the gasoline engine. According to Mark Kosowski, technical executive for Electric Power Research Institute, in his EUFMC presentation titled “Plug-In Hybrid Medium-Duty Truck Demonstration and Evaluation Program,” the VIA pickup achieves a fuel economy equivalent – in terms of relative fuel cost versus charge cost – of 127 mpg.

But the VIA truck comes with a very steep price tag. The EEI white paper pegged the purchase price of a VIA pickup in 2014 at about $75,000. As a frame of reference, a comparable gas-only truck costs under $30,000.

The key question here is, what are the light-duty truck OEMs doing in this space? GM has built a hybrid truck but not with plug-in technology. Are the major automakers pursuing factory-equipped plug-in hybrid truck offerings?

There’s been talk of Tesla building a pickup truck, but the company’s limited distribution and service network may not adequately be able to serve the fleet market. If there is an OEM who can get the e-truck technology to market the quickest, however, you have to imagine it would be Tesla.

This will be an interesting space to watch in the near future.


For Fairfax Water, Preventive Maintenance is Customer Service

A utility fleet is ultimately responsible for serving the public. So when a vehicle breaks down and delays an emergency crew’s response to a water main break or downed power line, that reflects poorly on the utility’s customer service – and on the fleet manager’s performance.

How can utility fleets reduce the risk of unexpected and costly downtime, especially when vehicles must be ready to respond in crisis situations?

The solution is timely preventive maintenance (PM), said Dale Collins, CAFM, the fleet services supervisor for Fairfax County Water Authority (Fairfax Water). “It’s so much easier and cheaper to maintain a vehicle than repair it after the fact. You’ll eliminate the downtime and the inconvenience, not only for your end users but also for the departments you’re serving.”

Collins started at Fairfax Water (, Virginia’s largest water utility, as an entry-level mechanic in 1997. After quickly moving up the ranks, he was appointed to head the fleet department in 2006 and is now responsible for managing approximately 270 vehicles, ranging from sedans to Class 8 dump trucks, plus another 140 pieces of miscellaneous equipment, such as trailers and excavators. He also oversees the operations of the water utility’s two maintenance shops, which have a total of 10 bays and five vehicle lifts.

Utility Fleet Professional spoke with Collins to learn more about the new technologies and processes he and his team have adopted in recent years to make Fairfax Water’s fleet PM program more efficient and effective. Perhaps you’ll discover some ideas here that you can apply to your own fleet.

UFP: The value of timely PM is clear – it helps to maximize vehicle uptime, avoid major component failures and reduce overall maintenance costs. But how exactly do you define “timely”? Is it based on vehicle miles? Engine hours? Or a combination of these thresholds?

Collins: It depends on the application, the vehicle’s job description. The interval can be different even for similar types of vehicles.

Say you have a plant mechanic’s truck, which for us is a Ford F-350 Super Duty utility body truck that travels between the two treatment plants in the county, with a relatively light duty cycle. In this case, we typically base the PM interval on mileage.

But if you take a maintenance truck – which is also a Ford F-350 – that services a distribution area, that requires a different approach. In the wintertime, these trucks are logging a lot of miles and engine hours on the job site or going through heavy traffic. In this application, we’ll tend to base the PM interval on a combination of both miles and hours, or we may do it on a threshold of a certain number of miles or hours, depending on which interval comes first.

UFP: When managing a wide range of vehicle types and applications in a fleet, how do you track and determine when a timely threshold has been hit for each unit?

Collins: In 2009, we deployed an asset management system by SAP ( At the time, our organization was already using SAP to automate customer service, finance and other operations functions. So it made sense for our fleet to use SAP as well. If you have a single system throughout the organization, it’s a little easier for everyone to speak the same language than it is to have different systems trying to communicate with each other.

Through SAP, we’re using a plant maintenance module that allows us to set up customized maintenance plans for each vehicle based on specific intervals of miles, hours or a hybrid between the two.

When a vehicle meets a specific PM threshold, the system self-generates a work order, automatically populates the form with the appropriate information and puts it in your queue that a particular asset is due for a PM. This really helps us stay on top of all our PMs and keeps our service backlog to a minimum.

Before automating our PM schedules, we had to depend on the operator to report when the vehicle was ready for service based on stickers placed on the equipment, which was very difficult to manage. The technology allows us to automate the process and take the operator out of the middle, so we can manage the PM schedules directly and ensure the service gets done on time.

UFP: How do you efficiently capture the vehicle data to feed into the system?

Collins: We use an on-site fueling system by E.J. Ward (, which we deployed in 2008, to capture the data. Each time an operator fuels the vehicle, the fueling system automatically uploads key vehicle information, such as the odometer reading, engine hours and any fault codes, like what you would see when there’s a check-engine light. And each night a file is generated, which updates the vehicle record in SAP.

It used to be that our drivers would have to fill out a form on a clipboard each time they fueled up their vehicles, and we would have to manually input that data into our fleet management system. There was a lot of human error we had to deal with, making it difficult to have good, clean data on which to base our PM schedules.

Although we have five fueling sites located throughout Fairfax County, a small percentage of our vehicles operate in the Falls Church area, which is not near any of our fueling sites. In this case, we have fuel cards obtained through our Virginia State Motor Fuel Fund that our operators can use. I’ll get a monthly report generated by the fuel card system, which we’ll feed into the SAP system to update the mileage and hours record for those vehicles.

We can’t get the same level of detail using the fuel cards, and it’s more of a manual process, but it affects only a small number of our vehicles.

UFP: As a fleet manager, you’re not only managing assets; you’re also dealing with people. How do you efficiently coordinate with drivers across the organization to ensure they bring their vehicles in for PM service at the appropriate time?

Collins: Yes, if you’re dealing with just assets, that would be easy. But you have to make sure you can accommodate the people you work with. I don’t care what business you’re in, ultimately, we’re all in the people business. Even the best asset management system can’t take into account all variables, so we find that it’s easier to work out the logistics on a personal level.

When a PM work order on a vehicle is generated by the SAP system, we’ll usually contact the employee’s supervisor and say, “Joe’s vehicle is due for service. When can we schedule him?” They can then look and see when the best time would be for him to give us an hour or so to perform the service. Or, depending on the relationship we have with the employee, we may contact that person directly to schedule the PM.

A standard PM usually takes 45 minutes to one hour. If we find that a corrective repair needs to be done, requiring more time, we usually have a spare vehicle or two already set up for their type of work. This way, we can perform that repair without having to add to the employee’s sit time, when he really needs to be out in that vehicle servicing the customer.

UFP: What is your strategy with spare vehicles?

Collins: We try to carry at least two service trucks – which are first-responder vehicles – at each shop location.

For construction inspection vehicles, we have vans set up as a mobile office. This way, if we find during the PM that a van needs an evaporator, we can work on it immediately, while putting the inspector into a fully upfitted spare van so he can do his job, without disruption, until his vehicle is repaired.

We like to have at least one spare for each type of customer we serve and multiples for the more critical stuff like a service truck or inspector van.

UFP: Ultimately, what has been the impact of automating your PM processes?

Collins: It’s difficult to quantify specifically. But I can tell you that although we’ve taken on a greater geographical area and more physical assets, we’ve kept our staffing level about the same. And we’re not working longer hours. I guess you can quantify the fact that our fleet size has increased, but we’re maintaining the same level of service, if not better, prior to automating our PM schedules.

And I can’t tell you the last time we had an oil-related failure or a transmission failure with PM schedules generated and managed through the automated system. We save tremendous amounts of time and money on not having to do major component swaps like transmissions, engines or rear differentials.

UFP: Is there anything we haven’t covered that you think would be important for our readers to know when it comes to maximizing PM effectiveness?

Collins: Make sure you have the right asset to begin with. This always helps with PMs. For example, you wouldn’t want to buy a half-ton truck to haul gravel all day. You want to make sure the truck is the best fit possible for the job. If you have a piece of equipment that you’re constantly overworking and overloading, asking it to do things it wasn’t designed to do, all the PMs in the world aren’t going to compensate for the component failures that will occur because it’s the wrong vehicle for the job.


Prevent Overloading with Onboard Scales

Overloading trucks and trailers can be an expensive habit. It puts the safety of operators and the public at risk, increases fines and leads to premature wear and tear on vehicles. But when you can’t physically inspect drivers’ loads throughout the day, how do you ensure your trucks are operating at a safe weight?

One solution is to install onboard scales, which help operators immediately determine whether loads fit within the allowable weight capacity of a truck and/or trailer.

How do onboard scales work? Air-Weigh’s LoadMaxx system ( measures change in pressure within an air suspension and then converts the scale’s measurements into comparable on-the-ground weights displayed on an in-cab digital gauge. For axles with leaf-spring suspensions, LoadMaxx uses a deflection sensor that measures the flex in the suspension to determine weight.

Vulcan On-Board Scales (, which are compatible with most suspension types, use load-cell technology with built-in strain gauges that monitor changes in electrical resistance when the cell is deformed by a load. The system transmits and converts the cell’s resistance signals into actual weight readings.

Hauling Variable Loads
While onboard scales can be applied in a wide range of straight truck and tractor-trailer applications, they are especially useful when hauling variable and unpredictable loads.

One day, for example, a Class 8 tractor-trailer might haul a heavy transformer. The next day, that same unit could be transporting a large backhoe. When you’re dealing with variable weights from load to load, onboard scales give crews visibility into the weight of the truck and individual axles (or axle groups) during the loading process.

And the weight of each axle is important to get right. As Tricia Baker, marketing manager for Air-Weigh, put it, “The DOT will still issue a fine when you have just one axle that’s overloaded, even if the total vehicle weight is OK.”

To help ensure compliance with individual axle weights, onboard scales enable crews to quickly identify the optimal load placement relative to each axle. “If you place the transformer too far forward on the trailer [ahead of the trailer axle], your drive weight will be too high because too much weight has been transferred toward the fifth wheel [the hitch above the tractor’s rear axle],” Baker explained. “But if you load the transformer too far behind the axle, the trailer’s axle weight will be too high.”

With onboard scales, crews get immediate feedback on load placement so they can make adjustments, if necessary, without having to drive to the nearest truck scale and wait in line.

Both Vulcan and Air-Weigh systems offer wireless communication capabilities to transmit vehicle weight data to fleet managers and other authorized personnel, giving them greater visibility into their crews’ performance with their day-to-day vehicle payloads.

Baker also said that Air-Weigh’s customers have talked about using onboard scale technology as an effective CDL driver retention tool. This is because onboard weighing helps CDL drivers ensure their load is always compliant, reducing the risk of truck-weight violations being placed on their safety record.

According to Baker, an Air-Weigh tractor and trailer system starts at about $1,000 and goes up from there, depending on the configuration that best fits the application. The company’s online return on investment calculator ( offers scenarios of how much time it can take for fleets to recoup their investment based on the system type, projected number of weekly loads and the estimated scale fees that are eliminated by using onboard scales.

A Practical Application
When you can’t personally inspect each vehicle before it leaves your yard, onboard scales offer a practical way for you to hold crews accountable, ensuring they are operating their vehicles within the proper weight limits. This protects their safety while reducing your organization’s liability exposure.


The Expense of Excessive Weight
Onboard scales can help your fleet reduce these costs associated with operating overweight trucks and trailers:
• Increased liability and safety risks to crews and the public.
• Department of Transportation fines.
• Accelerated wear on tires and brakes.
• Premature failure of major components such as engines, transmissions and axles.
• Potential loss of warranty coverage.
• Shorter vehicle life cycle.


The Impact of Soil Conditions on Digger Derrick Auger Selection

If you don’t have the optimal tool for the job, you might still be able to get the work done. But it often requires more time and effort to perform the task and shortens the life of the tool.

That’s especially the case with augers. An auger is like a drill bit, attached to the boom of a digger derrick and designed to drill into the ground to dig holes in which to set poles. The properly spec’d auger empowers your crews to dig holes as quickly and efficiently as possible.

And one of the major factors in selecting the right auger is the soil type, whether it’s loose dirt, sand, mud, rock or extreme rock. So, here are four important items to consider to ensure your augers are best suited for the various soil conditions your crews may encounter.

1. Flight Length
The flighting is the spiral section near the bottom tip of the auger, much like what you would see on a corkscrew. “Flight length” refers to the auger’s total spiral length, which typically ranges from 52 to 60 inches.

Why does this matter? “If the tool is digging into a real sandy or loose dirt area, the longer flighting allows you to pull more material out of the ground at one time. Otherwise, you’re having to repeat the task several more times to pull out enough dirt to secure the hole,” explained Dale Putman, product support manager for auger tooling and drills with Terex Utilities (

2. Flight Thickness
This refers to the material thickness of each flight, which impacts both the strength and weight of the tool. The objective is to strike the right balance between building sufficient strength for the application and avoiding adding unnecessary weight to the auger, which would detract from the digger derrick’s overall payload.

“[At Terex], we like to go with a thicker flight at the bottom of the auger for heavier-duty applications,” Putman said. “We’ll build a 1-inch-thick flight at the bottom and then we may go to 3/8- or 5/16-inch on the flights above that. A stronger cutting edge [bottom flight] of the auger makes it much easier on the tool to cut into rock.”

3. Flight Pitch
This represents the distance between the top and bottom of each spiral or flight. The shorter the distance, the flatter the pitch. More space between top and bottom will make the flight pitch steeper.

What’s the impact of flight pitch on auger performance? “When digging into loose soil with a steep flight pitch, all the material will just slide right back into the hole every time you try to pull the tool out,” Putman said. “If you go with the flatter pitch, the material stays on the flighting a lot better.”

Putman also said that a steeper pitch is more useful when you’re drilling into wet, sticky clay and gummy dirt. “This way, when you pull the tool out of the hole, it will be easier and faster to get the clumpy material off the tool.”

4. Teeth
The pilot bit, found at the tip of the auger, creates the starter hole to help hold the auger straight before it goes into full-power drilling mode. Right above the pilot bit and below the first flight is a set of teeth designed to cut into the ground. There are typically three different types of teeth, depending on the soil – dirt teeth, rock teeth and extreme rock teeth.

“A lot of utilities will primarily use a dirt auger, and then when they get into a rock application, they can change the teeth out to make the tool more appropriate for drilling the harder material,” said Dana Scudder, vice president of sales and marketing for Pengo Corp. (, which builds augers for many digger derrick manufacturers.

But isn’t stronger better? Why not just use a rock auger for both dirt and rock applications? That way, you don’t have to keep hauling the different sets of teeth and taking the time to change them out.

Scudder recommends against this one-size-fits-all approach. “The problem you run into when you try to use a rock auger in the dirt is that the dirt will get stuck in the conical teeth [typically used for rock applications] and cause the teeth to lock up. So, when they try to drill into rock again and need the teeth to rotate, the teeth can’t do the job because they’re stuck with dirt.”

Bottom Line
When it comes to auger selection, one spec does not fit all soil types. Work closely with your digger derrick and auger manufacturers to determine which augers work best in your fleet’s applications.

Managing Assets, Leading People

As I meet with utility fleet managers, a common thread keeps emerging from our conversations – that highly effective fleet professionals are also great leaders.

This is because the job is about more than managing assets; you also have to work with people to get things done.

Take telematics, for instance. From strictly an asset management perspective, telematics can be a powerful tool to reduce fuel costs by tracking driver performance. But if drivers perceive the technology as Big Brother to catch them doing something wrong, this negatively impacts their morale and productivity. So, how do you manage a telematics deployment in such a way that operators become more receptive to the technology?

That takes listening to drivers, understanding their concerns and building consensus among all stakeholders. That’s leadership.

Anytime there’s change – whether it’s a new technology, new safety policy or new rightsizing initiative – employees will naturally be concerned about the impact on their jobs. They’re looking for a fleet manager who will be candid, yet understanding, and walk them through what to expect.

In short, they’re looking for a leader.

And that’s why we’ve included leadership seminars at our Utility Fleet Conference, a new three-day educational program that will take place September 28-30 at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, Ky. Highlights include “Awakening the Leader in You” led by Bob McCall, general manager of fleet services for Duke Energy, and “Expanding Your Influence: How to Garner Senior Management Support for Fleet” led by Matt Gilliland, fleet services manager for Nebraska Public Power District.

UFC seminars like these are designed to equip you to grow as a leader so you can get big things done in your fleet – and become indispensable to your organization.

To get more details on the educational agenda and reserve your seat, visit the UFC website at

Thank you for the privilege to serve you. We look forward to seeing you at UFC!

Sean M. Lyden


The Final 3

Each issue, we ask a fleet professional to share three keys to fleet success.

This issue’s Final 3 participant is Jim Bishop, director of fleet services for INTREN Inc., a full-service utility construction contractor based in Union, Ill., with more than 1,000 employees and offices in Illinois, California, Wisconsin and Missouri. Bishop oversees a fleet of nearly 1,400 assets.

#1: Build a support network.
“Get involved with the various fleet organizations, such as NAFA [National Association of Fleet Administrators], where you can meet other fleet managers, learn from them and get real-world-tested ideas that you might be able to apply in your own fleet. If you try to do things on your own, without support, you can get steered in the wrong direction pretty easily.”

#2: Collaborate with the end user.
“Far too often you hear of fleet making a decision and buying what they think is the best thing, without talking with the people who are actually using the vehicle. When you include the end user in the specification process, you can make certain that you spec a vehicle that meets their needs to do their job most productively.”

#3: Pay close attention to the details.
“If you’re spec’ing a 33,000-GVWR truck but don’t take into consideration that you’re also pulling 25,000 pounds behind the truck, you may find that you’ve built a truck that does not meet your customer’s needs – after it’s too late. Be clear on the truck’s job description and go through the details to make sure the truck spec matches the job.”


The Art and Science of a Telematics Deployment

A growing number of utility fleets are turning to telematics to improve driver behavior, cut fuel consumption, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and uncover numerous cost-saving opportunities throughout their fleet operations.

But it’s not the GPS data itself that makes telematics so useful; it’s how fleet and senior management use that information when managing their people and processes that ultimately determines the business case for the technology.

How can you use telematics to more effectively manage your drivers and their use of your equipment? How do you handle potential pushback from employees who might be wary of “being watched”? How can you integrate telematics with other technology systems to help your organization improve vehicle uptime, emergency dispatch response and overall service to customers?

The fleet team with utility contractor INTREN Inc. has wrestled with questions like these since deploying GPS technology in approximately 700 vehicles over the past five years. And they’ve come up with some innovative solutions and interesting insights that might help other fleets get the most out of their own telematics deployments.

Started in 1988 as a small trenching company in Union, Ill., INTREN has grown into a full-service utility construction contractor with more than 1,000 employees and offices in Illinois, California, Wisconsin and Missouri. Today, the company serves major electric and gas utilities and private corporations nationwide.

As INTREN expanded, so did its equipment requirements. That’s what drove the company to look into GPS technology as a tool to more effectively manage the increasing number of drivers and equipment assets.

Jim Bishop, director of fleet services at INTREN, said that the company started a telematics trial with 50 units about five years ago, and then gradually rolled it out on additional vehicles to the point that today “we put it on every licensed piece of equipment and certain high-dollar off-road equipment.”

The company had clear goals that it wanted to achieve with the technology. “While we’ve viewed telematics as a tool to green our fleet [because of tracking capabilities that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions], a major factor in our decision to go with telematics was to drive down our operational costs like fuel expense,” said Pat Williams, INTREN’s senior director of supply chain.

Handling Pushback
Despite the value proposition for management, telematics initially was a cause for concern among INTREN’s drivers.

“When we initially rolled out GPS, our field personnel had significant concern with the idea of Big Brother watching them,” Bishop said.

In situations like this, when you’re encountering resistance on telematics deployment, how do you handle it in such a way that drivers don’t feel like the technology is being shoved down their throats?

“Include drivers in the process by getting their input and feedback,” Williams advised.


Take idle reduction, for example. It’s nothing new that telematics can help fleets monitor excessive engine idle with real-time alerts and reports, acting as a tool to hold drivers accountable for cutting down their engine idle time and eliminating fuel waste. But if drivers perceive that the technology is there strictly to catch them doing something wrong, this could have a negative impact on their morale and productivity.

INTREN’s fleet team was sensitive to this risk and decided to take a more collaborative approach with drivers.

“We wanted drivers to know that telematics isn’t just Big Brother watching,” Bishop said. “So when we focused on idle reduction, we sought feedback from the field as to specifically why they were needing to idle. Some of the feedback we got was that their trucks needed to be running because of the power drawn from their four-way flashers, strobes or the power inverters inside the vehicle.”

Instead of coming up with a directive of, “Hey, you’ve got to change your habits to bring down your idle time or you’ll be penalized,” the fleet team looked at potential equipment spec modifications that could address management’s objective to reduce fuel costs, while also considering the drivers’ concerns.

“We took their feedback, ran some tests, found out what the average draw was and realized that, in some cases, an incandescent bulb could run the vehicle batteries down quickly,” Bishop said. “So we switched over to LED stoplights, turn signals and strobe lights. Now, even on a 15-degree day you can run that equipment for six hours, and the truck doesn’t need to be running.”

According to Williams, “You can use the telematics to spot a problem. But then you need to get to the cause. And in many cases, the best way to get that information is to talk with your people and find a solution that satisfies concerns across the board.”

Increased Visibility and Productivity
With GPS technology, fleet managers can get real-time and historical data on the status and location of their vehicles. That’s a nice feature, but what does it mean in terms of real-world impact on your business?

“For our road service technicians, location data eliminates a lot of phone calls and helps speed their response,” Williams said. “When we alert the tech that a truck is broken down, we don’t have to give them an address. They just type in the unit number on their mobile device, find the truck location on the GPS and get directions to get there.”

It also helps with mobilizing and coordinating storm response teams.

“We may send up to 200 people out on storm response,” Williams said. “Without telematics, you can’t really see what’s going on with all those units, where they are, whether any of them are having any mechanical issues and so forth. Now, we can immediately see what assets we have available, where they are and can more efficiently coordinate them.”

Real-time location data also facilitates safety audits in a way that minimizes impact on staff productivity.

“Our crews are all over metro Chicago, San Francisco and other areas across the country. GPS helps us to supervise and audit our crews more efficiently,” Williams said. “If you’re trying to track down a four-man crew, a phone call is a difficult way to find those guys. For example, the safety department is not directly supervising the crews, but they are responsible to go find and audit them. With GPS location data, they can locate the crews without phone calls – just find them on GPS.”

The Next Level: Mobile Fleet Technology
While these benefits offer a compelling business case for GPS technology, what if you could take the power of telematics to a higher level: to maximize its impact – and value – throughout the organization? That’s what Williams said INTREN is doing with a proprietary system the company has dubbed “Mobile Fleet Technology,” or MFT.

With MFT, INTREN is integrating telematics data with the company’s in-house back office and vehicle maintenance software systems to help the fleet department more efficiently manage maintenance schedules, accelerate repair times and boost overall vehicle uptime and productivity.

“MFT is what we’re using with our technicians to record all of our repair services, so we can measure our costs better and really try to improve our speed of repair,” Bishop said. “How fast can we, as an organization, respond to a piece of equipment that is down? This helps us improve our utilization rates because we’re reducing the number of spares we need to keep in our fleet.”

“We’re also using the system as a repair and maintenance scheduling tool,” Williams said. “How should you go about scheduling your preventive maintenance, your road repairs, your in-shop repairs, third-party repairs? How do you manage all those repair schedules [for nearly 1,400 pieces of equipment] in a way that operations will optimize uptime on the equipment? That’s what MFT is intended to do.”

The Bottom Line
The key takeaway from INTREN’s experience with rolling out GPS technology itself is only half the equation. The other half is the human element. Fleet managers must be able to work through and with people to build acceptance of telematics and be able to think analytically about how the data can be integrated with other systems in ways that contribute maximum value for the fleet and the business as a whole.


Backup Cameras are Getting Smarter

According to the National Safety Council, the average medium-sized truck has a blind spot that extends up to 160 feet behind the vehicle. So you can imagine that for larger utility trucks that sit higher off the ground, with wider bodies, it’s even more difficult for drivers to see pedestrians, other vehicles and property when backing a vehicle.

That’s why a growing number of utility fleets are installing backup cameras on their vehicles: to enhance rear visibility and to reduce incidents – and the expense – of backing crashes.

But a new breed of vehicle camera systems is taking visibility to the next level.

Imagine a backup camera that’s also equipped with a motion sensor that automatically turns on the camera, records footage and alerts the fleet manager in real time when someone is attempting to steal equipment or tools from the truck. What if the video data captured by that same camera could also be combined with GPS telematics data to help exonerate drivers and the company from false claims?

This combination of advanced camera technology, digital video recorders and telematics is the promise of a new product that Newport Beach, Calif.-based Convoy Technologies ( has aptly trademarked as Videomatics.

In a nutshell, Videomatics integrates driver behavior software and telematics (GPS and routing) with live and recorded video from around and inside a vehicle, so that drivers and management can see everything with video that’s accessible via PC, tablet or smartphone. That way, fleets can be better equipped to eliminate backing incidents, improve overall driver behavior and generate high-quality video evidence for the purpose of proving fault.

Video data is stored locally on an external hard drive and can also be accessed remotely from the cloud. The local hard drive offers storage capacities up to 2 terabytes, which translates to about 45 days of data.

“What we’re seeing in the market is that backup cameras are becoming a standard, a commodity. Now the big question is, how do we turn vehicle camera technology into a tool for overall risk mitigation?” said Blake Gasca, Convoy Technologies’ founder and chief executive officer. “That’s what has led us to building motion detection sensors into our cameras and making sure the camera system can integrate with a monitor and external device to either broadcast video to the cloud or store it locally on the vehicle.”

Videomatics tracks and records events such as speeding, G-shock (impact and vibration), GPS coordinates, geofencing, route deviation, mapping and positioning of an entire fleet. Fleet managers can select whether they want continuous, event-driven or scheduled video recording.

How exactly does crash data recording get triggered?

“It can happen with a hard brake or hard stop or some sort of G-force event,” Gasca explained. “Video is stored 20 seconds before the event and 10 seconds after, so you have visibility into what happened before, during and after the event.”

While Videomatics can connect up to eight cameras per vehicle, the company said the typical configuration deploys three to four cameras.

How much does the system cost?

Videomatics’ monthly subscription pricing is based on a customer’s specific system requirements, starting at $59 per system. The company said hardware cost ranges from $300 to $1,700, plus installation, depending on the number of cameras.

Videomatics is available through participating truck equipment manufacturers and upfitters or directly through Convoy Technologies at

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