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Introducing telematics into fleet operations

December 14, 2014

When considering vehicle tracking, business owners and fleet managers are often torn between the desire to achieve substantial cost savings and productivity improvements on the one hand, and the fear of being considered to be using a heavy-handed ‘big-brother’ approach to people management on the other.

In a series of articles to be published in this blog I will look at both aspects – discussing not only the potential for financial gain, but also considering ways in which implementation and contractual issues can be dealt with effectively, with practical examples. Given the competitive environment in which most companies with mobile employees operate, it is difficult to ignore the potential for financial savings – which are usually considerable. Here are a few examples of how a vehicle tracking system can be used to maximise the effectiveness of a fleet:

Last week, I described the substantial financial benefits that can accrue from vehicle tracking. But clear communication with the employees affected is the only sure way to avoid pitfalls, as it would be for any change to working practices. In this article, I have outlined the main areas of an employee’s contract that can be involved, together with some practical suggestions for dealing with them. A well-planned implementation process will ensure that bottom-line impact is maximised from the outset.

CONTRACTS OF EMPLOYMENT

The guidelines provided below are not intended to be a replacement for proper legal advice, but they are hopefully a useful starting point.

Why are changes necessary? In order to reap the maximum benefit from a vehicle tracking system, it is important that the reports provided can, as a minimum, be used for payroll administration, staff supervision, fuel management, vehicle usage, driving style monitoring and risk assessment. It is essential, therefore, that employees understand in advance that the system may be used for these purposes and that each aspect is mentioned in the contract and clearly explained and accepted.

Is it difficult to change an employee’s contract?Your solicitor will advise on the steps necessary. But provided there are sound business and economic reasons for introducing vehicle tracking (which there normally are) it should be feasible to do this in consultation and agreement with existing staff, and also to draft a new contract which can be used with future employees as well.

How are employees’ other rights affected?Employees’ rights to privacy and the protection of any personal data relating to them are safeguarded under the Human Rights and Data Protection Acts – and these must, of course, be respected in the operation of any monitoring system. (My next blog post will focus on these issues.)

Dealing with disciplinary matters. Occasionally reports will point to issues which require disciplinary action to be taken against an employee. In order to avoid any potential problems in dealing with these, it is important that this possibility is covered by the company’s disciplinary procedure. As a further precaution it should also be made clear that any wilful damage to the vehicle tracking system or its installation will be considered as misconduct. Good management practice obviously dictates that in all cases the employee is presented with the report data and given time to respond with his or her version of events.

IMPLEMENTATION – MAINTAINING TRUST AND MOTIVATION

Our advice on this is simple: involve employees in the project at the earliest stage possible, and inform them of the business reasons for considering it.

Regardless of the wording of a contract, implicit in each employment agreement is a degree of trust between employer and employee. A tracking system installation made without the employee’s knowledge will be viewed as a breach of that trust, and may in any case defeat the original object of the project. So here are some guidelines that you may find useful:

Communicate the business objectives clearly. Vehicle tracking will improve the capacity and efficiency of your business, and this in turn will lead to greater profitability, security of employment and better prospects for employees. These benefits should be quantified and presented to the employees affected, together with your proposals for implementation of the system.

Provide scope for feedback and comment. Employees should be given the opportunity to respond to the proposals made, with sufficient time for consultation on any reasonable objections to the system before the plan is finalised.

Publish a company “use of telematics data policy”. In the same way that your company may have policies for the use of the Internet or e-mail, it is important to provide employees with a policy statement stating how the data will be used and managed, and who will have access to it.

Maintain a consistent approach to implementation. It may not be possible to equip the whole fleet at the same time: budgetary constraints or vehicle-lease timing issues may dictate that the installations are carried out in phases. The reasons behind this must, however, be clearly explained to employees to avoid any accusations of victimisation or unfairness in the approach taken. Some of these issues may seem a little daunting, but in practice they are no more than common sense and good practice. As in the management of any project, extra time and thought spent at the planning stage will pay dividends once the system is installed.

Andy Walters founded Quartix in 2001 with three colleagues. All four founders are still associated with the company, which now has more than 6,000 fleet clients and operations in the UK, France and USA. Quartix has also carried out more than 70,000 installations for telematics-based insurance policies. Prior to Quartix, Andy held senior positions in technology and communications businesses within Schlumberger and Spectris.

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