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Sean M. Lyden

Fairfax Water: Overhauling Crew Truck Specs to Improve Safety and Productivity

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In his classic bestseller, “Thriving on Chaos,” management expert Tom Peters put it best when he wrote, “Excellent firms don’t believe in excellence – only in constant improvement and constant change.”

Perhaps the same could be said about excellent fleets, where you never ultimately arrive at a destination called “excellence.” Instead, you remain on a journey of continuous improvement, making changes along the way to produce better results for your customers and the company.

This philosophy of constant improvement is what has driven Dale Collins, fleet services supervisor at Fairfax Water in Virginia, and his team to make significant changes with their new generation of crew trucks – to increase storage capacity, improve safety, boost productivity and reduce operational costs.

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Sean M. Lyden

Recruiting for Fleet in a Tight Labor Market

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Ask utility fleet professionals about their biggest challenge, and many will say that it’s recruiting – and keeping – good, young mechanics.

That's because you have to compete with OEMs, local truck centers and other types of fleets for access to a shrinking pool of highly skilled mechanics.

So, how do you gain an edge in attracting top talent in a tight labor market?

Tell the best story.

That’s the advice from Paul Smith (http://leadwithastory.com), the bestselling author of several books on business storytelling, including his latest, “The 10 Stories Great Leaders Tell.” The 10th story deals specifically with recruiting.

UFP recently caught up with Smith to get his take on how fleet managers can use stories to attract the best technicians. Here’s an edited version of our conversation.

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Sean M. Lyden

What are Your Stories? Share Them.

A couple of months ago, Dale Collins, the fleet services supervisor at Fairfax Water in Virginia, emailed me about four new crew trucks he had ordered. He and his team were proud of the final product – and of the nearly three-year process they went through to get the spec right.

Collins thought there might be a story to tell to UFP readers, but he wasn’t sure what that story would be or look like. He reached out to me anyway. And I’m glad he did.

That’s because I’m always on the hunt for real-world fleet stories that can inform, educate and inspire you to do more, be more and achieve more in your career.

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Sean M. Lyden

Women in Utility Fleet: Holly Giffrow-Bos

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In 2006, when Holly Giffrow-Bos applied for the open fleet position at East Central Energy in Braham, Minnesota, she wasn’t exactly sure what she was getting into.

“Automotive is what I knew, but I really didn’t know what fleet was all about because it’s a completely different animal than the retail automotive business,” she said.

Giffrow-Bos knew the automotive business because she worked in dealerships for nearly two decades. She started in the accounting department at a small Ford dealership in Cambridge, Minnesota, after graduating high school. About a year later, she moved to Northern California, where she took a job at another Ford dealership, starting at the service department appointment desk.

“And then I just became a sponge,” Giffrow-Bos said. By the time she left that company in 2004, after about 14 years, she had worked her way up to fixed operations manager for the company’s two dealerships.

Today, Giffrow-Bos is the fleet supervisor at East Central Energy, overseeing about 200 fleet assets and four technicians.

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Sean M. Lyden

The State of Drones in the North American Utility Market

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Line inspections using helicopters cost about $1,500 per mile compared to around $200 per mile with a drone. That nearly 90% reduction presents a compelling business case for utility companies to use drones, while also being able to improve safety by putting fewer lineworkers and helicopter pilots in harm’s way.

But drone sales in the North American utility market are still meager, projected to reach only about $1.5 million in 2019. Yet that number is expected to grow by nearly 18 times – to $26 million – by 2026, as U.S. regulations ease and drone technology improves, according to Michael Hartnack, a research analyst for Navigant Research covering drones and robotics for transmission and distribution operations worldwide. (For Navigant's full market report, visit www.navigantresearch.com/reports/drones-and-robotics-for-transmission-and-distribution-operations.)

These numbers represent hardware sales only and not revenue from ancillary drone services – such as piloting, training, software development, data analytics, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and other support offerings – which will make the overall U.S. utility drone market significantly bigger, Hartnack said.

So, what exactly is the state of drones in the North American utility sector today? What’s holding back widespread adoption of drones? And what are the future possibilities?

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Sean M. Lyden

How to Get Buy-In on Your New Fleet Initiative

You’re planning to roll out a new telematics deployment or ask senior management for a bigger budget, expecting to encounter some resistance. How do you position your proposal to get buy-in from stakeholders?

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle offered insight into this topic with his work “The Art of Rhetoric,” which was published about 2,400 years ago. He introduced the three elements of influence that still serve as the foundation for effective leadership communications today.

The big takeaway from “The Art of Rhetoric” is that if you overlook any of the three elements when crafting and presenting your proposal, you’ll stack the odds against you being able to win over your audience.

What are those three elements?

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Sean M. Lyden

Lessons Learned from a Telematics Deployment

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Cut fuel costs, promote safer driving behaviors and improve storm response – these are just a few examples of how fleet telematics that captures and tracks vehicle data can help you run your department more effectively.

But deploying telematics across hundreds or even thousands of fleet assets can be a daunting task if you don’t know what to expect.

UFP spoke with Paul Jefferson, fleet manager at Oklahoma City-based Oklahoma Gas & Electric, who oversees about 2,000 fleet assets, to learn about the utility's experience with telematics.

Jefferson and his team began working with the benchmarking and telematics provider Utilimarc (https://utilimarc.com) in 2015 with a pilot program that included 30 vehicles. To date, the company has installed telematics on about 1,200 vehicles.

What advice does Jefferson have for other utility fleet professionals when it comes to a telematics deployment? Here are five tips.

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Sean M. Lyden

The Low-Hanging Fruit for Greening Your Fleet

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What if you could convert the majority of your fleet to run on a cleaner-burning, renewable fuel with minimal capital investment. Would you do it?

According to NTEA’s 2019 Fleet Purchasing Outlook, a growing number of fleet professionals are saying they would, with survey participants naming biodiesel as their top alternative fuel choice – and their top choice for future interest.

Think of biodiesel as the low-hanging fruit for fleets to make a significant dent in their green initiatives without breaking the bank. That's because the fuel is relatively easy to get, and biodiesel blends up to B20 (20% biodiesel and 80% petrodiesel) can be used in most diesel engines without modification. Compared to petrodiesel, B20 reduces carbon emissions by 16% on average, according to the National Biodiesel Board. And you can use biodiesel in conjunction with your fleet electrification efforts, such as with hybrid-electric diesel trucks.

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Sean M. Lyden

The State of Self-Driving Vehicles: Proceed with Caution

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Norman Vincent Peale, author of the classic self-help book "The Power of Positive Thinking," put it like this: "Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars."

Peale’s message is clear: Aim high. That way, even if you miss your target or it takes you longer than you had hoped, you’ll accomplish so much more than you could have if you had set your sights lower.

It appears that after a decade of shooting for the moon, the automakers and tech giants working in the self-driving space have realized that replacing human drivers with software is a much harder challenge – and will take longer – than anticipated to solve. But in their pursuit of full autonomy, OEMs have made significant progress in developing driver-assist systems and other technology that could pay significant dividends in saving lives until the day that "driverless" becomes a reality.

What has happened in the past year to change the trajectory and outlook for fully autonomous vehicles? Where does the industry stand today?

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Sean M. Lyden

Electric Outlook for the Work Truck Industry

My biggest takeaway from this year’s NTEA Work Truck Show? The industry appears to be headed toward an electric future. But a lot of work still needs to be done for that future to become a mainstream reality anytime soon.

Here’s what I mean: Electrification is building momentum because the cost of battery technology has been trending downward to the point where electrified trucks are becoming a more attractive and financially viable option for fleets to try.

According to Bloomberg’s New Energy Finance report, lithium-ion battery prices have fallen 73% per kilowatt-hour since 2010. That trend is expected to continue until EVs become cheaper to buy than their fossil-fuel-powered counterparts by 2025 to 2029.

As battery costs have dropped, this has allowed for more affordable power that extends the battery range between charges, making it comparable to the range of conventional-fueled vehicles – and thus more acceptable for more fleet applications.

That's why we’re seeing a growing number of OEMs like Tesla, Freightliner, Mitsubishi Fuso and now Ford – with its recent $500 million investment in Rivian to produce an all-electric pickup truck – entering the fray.

But here’s the challenge: charging infrastructure. There's not enough of it.

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Sean M. Lyden

New Truck and Van Upfits for Utility Fleets in 2019

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As you review the current specs for your truck and van fleet, where are your best opportunities for improvement? Could you decrease the size of your fleet vehicles while improving functionality and usability? Could you upgrade your service bodies for enhanced fuel efficiency and more eco-friendly operations? Or, could you add more versatile service tool storage options to boost accessibility and safety for your crews?

Here are eight new developments from truck and van equipment manufacturers that could help you find and maximize opportunities to strengthen your fleet specs and performance.

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What’s New: PHEV System for Ford F-250 Pickup
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XL has introduced a new plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) system for the Ford F-250 pickup truck. This product expands the company’s PHEV line that also includes the PHEV Ford F-150, which the company began shipping in 2018 to utilities such as CPS Energy, Tacoma Public Utilities and City of Palo Alto.

The PHEV F-250 includes a driveshaft-mounted electric motor powered by a lithium-ion battery pack that can be charged using standard Level 2 and Level 1 plugs. The system also features regenerative braking, enabling the vehicle to store energy while stopping and transfer that energy back into the drivetrain to assist the vehicle during acceleration.

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Budget Talks: Why Fleet Needs a Seat at the Table – And How You Can Earn It

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When it comes to fleet, senior leadership may not fully appreciate all that the job entails.

"What I would often hear from folks either in finance or in the senior leadership groups was something along the lines of, ‘Every year, fleet costs go up. But I have a 2004 Honda with 300,000 miles on it. It costs me 421 bucks a year to operate. How come you can't do the same thing?’” said Chris Lindquist, a 30-year fleet veteran from Colorado Springs Utilities and Xcel Energy, who retired in 2018.

Sound familiar?

“People think they understand fleet, but they really don't,” Lindquist said. “The reality is that most folks in the higher echelons of utility companies tend to view fleet strictly as an expense that's large and assume that their fleet must be underperforming because, well, the costs keep going up.”

If leadership doesn’t understand the value that your department brings to the overall business, your budget becomes a prime target for cuts.

“At the beginning of the year, that budget you fought for the previous year would be set in stone,” Lindquist said. “But in the spring, all of sudden there would be an edict that came from the budget officer or the finance department that basically said, ‘Budgets are X. We're going to have to start cutting from Y.’ Fleet was always one of those departments on the cut side of the budget.”

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Sean M. Lyden

To Lease or Not to Lease

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The conventional wisdom for most utility companies is to purchase their fleet assets outright.

And there are some advantages to that approach: potentially lower vehicle acquisition costs, no debt added to the balance sheet, and greater control over resale timing and pricing.

But as utilities see their profit margins getting squeezed, their fleet departments are becoming bigger targets for budget cuts.

So, when you’re under mounting pressure to do more with the same money as last year – or even less – how do you manage? How can you work within tighter financial constraints without sacrificing your fleet’s performance and reliability?

One option is leasing at least a portion of your fleet. But how do you decide which assets to lease? When does leasing make financial sense? And when doesn’t it?

UFP recently spoke with Charlie Guthro, vice president of global strategic services at ARI (www.arifleet.com), a fleet management company that works with several utility companies in North America, to get his perspective. Here is an edited version of our conversation.

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Sean M. Lyden

Your Job Title Says ‘Fleet,’ But You’re Actually in Sales

Whatever position we’re in, we’re all selling something – an idea, a point of view or a proposal – whether we want to call it “sales” or not. That goes for fleet professionals as well.

In his book “To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others,” best-selling author Daniel H. Pink put it like this: “Physicians sell patients on a remedy. Lawyers sell juries on a verdict. Teachers sell students on the value of paying attention in class. … Whatever our profession, we deliver presentations to fellow employees and make pitches to new clients. We try to convince the boss to loosen up a few dollars from the budget or the human resources department to add more vacation days.”

But far too many fleet managers believe a myth that’s putting their careers at risk: “My work should speak for itself.” The truth is that, even in fleet, perception is reality. And if you don’t intentionally shape the perception of senior leadership to match the reality of your work, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Think about it: Your fleet could be one of the top performers in the utility industry. But what if leadership doesn’t know what top performance should look like? All they see is that fleet costs keep going up. So, from their perspective, you must be bad at your job, right?

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Sean M. Lyden

Storytelling for Fleet Safety

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If you’re rolling out a new fleet safety initiative, you can expect some pushback from crews in the field or technicians in the shop. That’s a given because people tend to resist change.

But what if you could improve the odds that your message will get past that resistance and be more memorable and impactful – that it will actually change behavior?

You can … by telling stories.

Think about it. Even if your organization equips vehicles with all the latest safety systems and provides extensive driver training, you can’t be with operators every day, 24/7, to make sure that they remember to follow through on company policies. But a good story will stick with those employees, reminding them of lessons learned, long after it has been told.

So, what makes storytelling a powerful leadership tool to increase your influence? Why do stories work? Here are three reasons.

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Sean M. Lyden

Going Sideways: Technology that Protects Crews in Rollover Incidents

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It was early 2017.

A crew for Oklahoma City-based Oklahoma Gas & Electric (OG&E) was traveling on the highway in a Class 8 digger derrick when the unforeseen happened.

There was a truck pulling a trailer ahead of them when, suddenly, the axle broke off that trailer and began hurtling, with wheels still attached, toward the digger derrick.

As the OG&E driver swerved to avoid the incoming debris, his truck flipped onto its side before coming to a stop.

“The driver was okay, and the passenger broke his hand, but it could have been a lot worse,” said Paul Jefferson, fleet manager at OG&E, who oversees about 2,000 of the utility’s fleet assets.

His crew was indeed fortunate. In fact, rollover crashes account for 55 percent of all commercial truck driver fatalities, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

“The driver did a great job by setting [the truck] down on the shoulder of the road,” he said. “If they had gone any farther, they would have hit the embankment.”

This was an eye-opening experience for Jefferson and his team. After all, even when you equip your trucks with stability control and advanced collision-avoidance technologies, and your drivers consistently follow safety best practices, there still are incidents like this that your people won’t be able to avoid.

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Sean M. Lyden

Respect

In a pre-show call for a fleet industry podcast, the interviewer asked me to talk about UFP and our audience to get insight into the range of topics we might discuss during the episode.

I shared what I’ve learned from speaking with many of you over the past four years. After I finished, the interviewer responded, “That’s amazing how much [utility fleet professionals] are responsible for and how much they must know compared to other types of fleets.”

He nailed it. Exactly.

As a fleet manager in the utility industry, there’s a high level of sophistication you bring to the job that’s not required in many other sectors. That’s because you have so much more on your plate than what you would deal with, say, managing an urban delivery or pharmaceutical sales fleet, where you may have a handful of vehicle types you’re working with – box trucks, pickups, vans and sedans.

But in the utility world, it’s a whole different realm. You’re managing road vehicles, trailers, off-road equipment and all-terrain vehicles. At some utility companies, even aviation assets, like helicopters and drones, are managed by the fleet department.

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Sean M. Lyden

How Technology Can Turn Idle Equipment into Revenue Generators

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If you’re like many utility fleet professionals, you’re under increasing pressure from senior management to do more with less. So, when you’re looking for creative ways to squeeze as much productivity and value as possible from your fleet assets, what are your options?

One idea is to put your underutilized or spare vehicles to work as revenue generators by lending them to other fleets that could use them. But how?

There’s an app for that.

Truck rental and leasing giant Ryder (https://ryder.com) recently launched COOP – pronounced “koop” – a commercial vehicle-sharing platform that links fleet owners with idle vehicles to trusted businesses in need of rental vehicles. Think of it as Airbnb for fleet assets, where you're able to rent out your excess fleet capacity more efficiently and safely to companies that have been vetted by the platform.

The service came out of its pilot phase at the end of the first quarter this year and is live in Atlanta and its surrounding areas in Georgia. The company said that it’s planning to expand to other states beginning in January 2019 but has not yet announced those locations.

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Making the Switch to LED Lighting in Utility Fleets

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Lighting via the use of light-emitting diodes – more commonly known as LEDs – has been around for over five decades. But only in recent years has the technology surged in popularity, especially among utility fleets.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, LEDs use 75 percent less energy and last 25 times longer than conventional incandescent lighting. That’s a big difference in terms of energy consumption and longevity. But historically, LEDs have been too expensive for fleets to justify making the switch.

That is, until the past five years or so, as the price gap has narrowed significantly, presenting a more compelling business case for fleets to convert to LEDs.

Getting Started
Take PPL Electric Utilities based in Allentown, Pennsylvania, for example. The fleet department began to expand its use of LEDs in 2014 for safety reasons.

“Our initial push was the safety factor of the brightness of the LEDs for better visibility when working at night,” said John Adkisson, transportation manager at PPL. “And the prices were starting to come down at that time, making LEDs more prevalent. So, we decided to give it a shot and see how it goes. So far, the change to LEDs has been well-received by the operators and the crews.”

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Sean M. Lyden

The Rise of the 4x4 Service Truck

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When it comes to service trucks in utility fleets, which is more popular: two-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive?

According to a recent report by Utilimarc (https://utilimarc.com), a Minneapolis-based fleet management software and benchmarking company, the clear winner is the 4x4.

But this hasn't always been the case. In fact, in 2012 – just six years ago – the two-wheel-drive led the service truck market by nearly 20 percentage points.

That would appear to make sense. All things being equal, the two-wheel-drive comes with a lower price tag. And conventional wisdom is that operating costs on the 4x2 should be lower as well, because there are fewer components that need to be serviced or repaired.

Yet in a relatively short span, the 4x4 has surged to the lead. Why? What’s driving this change in utility fleets?

UFP spoke with Paul Milner, senior analyst and product developer at Utilimarc, to help us dig into the data.

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