What I’ve learnt: Damian James of ACFO
Q: Making the move from running a fleet to advising others on theirs
A: I have been in fleet management for 16 years. During that time I have switched from being in charge of a 1,000-strong private sector fleet to a commercial vehicle-dominated public sector transport operation that has slimmed down to about 60 vehicles and on which I devote 10-20% of my role. I joined ACFO when I first started in fleet and, as a consequence of attending meetings and discussing issues with other fleet managers, I have learned a huge amount. I still have a lot to learn and I discover something new every day as the job is constantly evolving. Only by asking questions – no question is a stupid question – can ACFO through its membership continue to promote best practice.
Q: Dealing with the Government
A: As I work in the public sector I have an insight into the political sensitivities and pressure points that exist within Government. When dealing with any Government department, patience is required because nothing happens overnight unlike in the private sector where a decision can be made and implemented almost immediately. ACFO has forged strong relationships with various government organisations – the Department for Transport, HM Treasury, HM Revenue & Customs and the DVLA, for example. But, our civil service and ministerial contacts can change roles or leave and the relationships have to start again. Similarly, government policy can change mid-term and certainly post general election with a change of power. We have an opportunity to voice members’ views, which is valuable, but it does not always make a difference and you have to accept that the pace of change is beyond your control.
Q: How the UK leads the way on fleet management
A: It is frequently highlighted that the UK leads Europe and indeed many other countries due to the maturity of our market. Furthermore, ACFO during its more than 40-year history has been regularly asked to provide help and advice to similar organisations in other countries. Fleet decision-makers from overseas have visited the UK on fact-finding tours during which they have met ACFO members and ACFO representatives have spoken at fleet manager meetings in a number of countries. Additionally, many UK-based fleet managers have responsibility for overseas vehicle operations, but I don’t see that exchange happening in reverse. For me, it is clear Britain has many very skilled and knowledgeable fleet managers who are influencing operations overseas. The UK can act like a consultant to the rest of Europe and further a field in terms of fleet management.
Q: Getting fleet drivers on board with changes
A: Fleet management is ever-changing and that means managers have to implement change and that also frequently means involving drivers. Changes to long-standing practices may have to be introduced at an employer level due to internal or external factors and sometimes resistance can be encountered. One of ACFO’s strengths is through its large and diverse membership it is able to provide support to fleet managers in implementing new measures. Almost certainly a perceived problem for one fleet manager has been encountered and managed by a fellow ACFO member. That is why networking and communication across the membership is critical.
Q: The changing skills needed by fleet managers
A: During my career fleet management has changed beyond all recognition and due to the diversity of the job it is difficult to nail down a specific skill set. Financial, procurement and HR skills and knowledge are among those required, but fleet managers also have to understand technological change. Critically, fleet managers must also understand how changes outside of their control could impact on their business and the law of unintended consequences as introduction of one initiative may alter the dynamics in another are of existing fleet practice. Fleet managers are always being challenged and currently the changing face of technology across petrol and diesel engines and alternative fuels and the impact on running a cost-effective fleet is perhaps the biggest issue.