To perform maintenance in-house, or outsource? That is the question.

To perform maintenance in-house or outsource? That is the question.

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Historically, fleets have weighed the benefits of doing in-house maintenance versus outsourced maintenance. As equipment has become more sophisticated and complex, it has changed the decision-making process.

Warranties and OEMs

“We use Volvo trucks and we use Volvo dealers around the country because we have purchased extended warranty programs,” began Peter Nativo, director of maintenance at Oakley Transport. “We also use a platform called Volvo Asist to monitor our repairs and their progress in real time. We also use Ryder Fleet Services to perform repairs and preventive maintenance across the country because we have an agreement with them to provide services for a predetermined rate.”

When choosing the programs and providers suited to his fleet’s needs, Nativo said, “we sit down with the key providers and explain our program for preventive maintenance to see if their program works with ours. Sometimes their program is not designed to help us and sometimes it is. We need to keep to our predictive and preventive maintenance program and only work with providers that can adjust to our needs. There is a lot of new technology coming out and we try to stay current and keep pace with it.

“I keep my ears open and listen to new programs and providers,” he added, “but I can only invest so much into the budgeted year for new equipment and technology.”

As for information management systems to monitor outsourced maintenance, Nativo detailed the Volvo offerings for the following assistance to monitor the fleet’s maintenance repairs:

  • Asist, a web-based service management system that connects Oakley with dealers and the Volvo Action Service. All parties can work together in real-time to improve communications with dealers, expedite repairs, and maximize vehicle uptime.
  • Remote Diagnostics, which monitors trucks and alerts Oakley when a critical fault code or diagnostic need is detected. Remote Diagnostic events are communicated through Asist and managed by Volvo Action Service to help the fleet make an informed decision and maximize vehicle uptime.
  • Volvo Action Service, a 24/7 full service customer support uptime center, there to support in case of an emergency.

Three types of outsourcing

“There are those fleet managers who believe outsourcing maintenance will be cheaper, especially if it is general maintenance,” said Darry Stuart, president and chief executive officer of DWS Fleet Management Service. “Others think outsourcing is easer and everything will be perfect. And then there are those with limited resources for whom there is no other choice. Whatever the reasons, when choosing the outsource provider some of the main things to consider are location, hours of service and the ability to perform the work in a timely manner. That includes the location of parts suppliers, and most likely the availability of parking.”

There are three types of outsourcing, according to Stuart: OEM dealers for warranty and contract agreements; leasing companies; and independent shops.

“At the end of the day the choice may come down to money, skill and vehicle location—or the fleet deciding that sometimes it is easier to shed the work,” he added.

Stuart went on to say that he believes most maintenance programs are built around “dollars first,” and the financial support may not be in place to pay for a good program.

“I have found that the easiest way to work with an outside supplier is to duplicate your own program with the vendor, but that can be cost prohibitive and you can’t duplicate a program if you don’t have one,” he said.

“My process is to get a quote for the work and develop personal and verbal relationships with those doing the work,” he continued. “Even with computer systems, it still takes a human to decide how to manage the dollars and downtime. That’s why it is key to communicate with outsourcing suppliers each day by phone—backed by limited emails—to determine each repair solution and decide quickly which repairs are needed, and if they will be warranty repairs. Then, act.”

A few simple questions

When asked about the main consideration for fleets when outsourcing maintenance, Bill Dawson, vice president of maintenance and engineering for Ryder, said, “Fleet operators should start by asking themselves a few simple, yet revealing questions: Is this really what I do, and can I do it well? Do I have the physical space to be in the maintenance business? Do I have the expertise to train technicians, to procure tools and parts effectively, and to stay on top of rapidly changing technology? Do I really want to make investments in gaining these capabilities? Are they part of my strategic plan? Is this the best use of the company’s resources? Finally, the main question you should be asking yourself is whether you’re in the vehicle maintenance business and whether you should be.”

Whether you lease or own your vehicle maintenance can be the most critical aspect of managing your fleet.

“Breakdowns happen, vehicle technology is becoming more complex, maintenance costs are rising, and the reality is that vehicle downtime can halt business,” Dawson said. “The idea of outsourcing can seem daunting to some, which is why Ryder offers a maintenance program that provides customers with flexibility and control, while enabling them to reduce risk.”

As an example, Dawson pointed to Ryder SelectCare, which offers a full range of managed maintenance service options to help keep trucks on the road serving customers and making money, from full service to preventive and on-demand.

Fleet operators should carefully consider their outsource partner’s capabilities. They should look for a provider with great technical ability, a strong network and well-trained people. Maintenance records are important to the life cycle management of a vehicle. Maintenance providers should be able to keep the records on their client’s behalf and provide them as needed.

“A maintenance provider should be able to efficiently access critical fault code data across multiple OEMs,” Dawson said. “Investments in diagnostic equipment to harness and interpret data are necessary for uptime and consistent vehicle performance. At Ryder we have made the needed investments in tooling and training to ensure we communicate effectively with the truck’s engine and onboard technology. We also added state-of-the-art roadside technology to help our customers quickly resolve service events and get wheels turning. Finally, a client that outsources maintenance should be able to access key data through customized reporting via a web portal.”

Beyond traditional

When commercial fleets consider outsourced maintenance alternatives, unsurprisingly, most of the energy is focused on taking care of the traditional “mission critical” items such as tires, brakes, engines, etc. But fleets should also be focusing their efforts on another emerging area: on-board technology systems.

This is important not only because of the inherent value of these systems in terms of cost savings, safety impact and efficiency, but also because many of these connected systems give remote and even predictive visibility to the performance of those critical tires, brakes and engines.

“It’s for this reason that Velociti established its ‘VelociCare’ support program in 2012, which currently provides such services for more than 250,000 on-board technology systems,” said Deryk Powell, president of Velociti Inc.

Velociti’s program was built on five core requirements, which Powell would recommend any fleet include in its analysis of the viability of an outsourced maintenance plan:

  • Proactive. Fortunately, many of the on-board technology systems, which must be supported, are within the broad telematics category. Their performance can be monitored remotely, and proactively. This is inherently important, but industry mandates such as ELD and its eight-day rule make this a must.
  • Mobile. On-board technology systems will typically not rise to the level of stopping a truck and missing a delivery. Therefore, the ability to repair these systems at a time and place convenient to the driver is key. A mobile service, with a technician equipped with replacement parts coming to the driver while re-fueling, delivering a load, or on an hours-of-service break eliminates out-of-route miles and cost.
  • Automated. Service providers should be able to integrate with a fleet’s maintenance system for automated work order processing and should implement APIs, providing constant visibility to assets, locations and dispatch data.
  • Certified. Technicians must be trained and certified to not only swap parts but to perform deep troubleshooting, ensuring that the problem is resolved the first time.
  • SLA. Completion timeframes must be defined by a service-level-agreement (SLA) and measured. Time is money for fleets.

On-board technology is great, when it works. Outsourcing the maintenance of such systems with a comprehensive plan can help many fleets make sure that it does, in fact, work. And as a bonus, effective outsourced maintenance for on-board technology helps ensure the success of outsourced maintenance for the trucks, trailers and reefers themselves.

The value of communication

“The most important consideration is not whether maintenance is performed in-house at company shops or by dealers or other outside service providers, but whether all participants in a service value chain can communicate and collaborate to collectively improve the management of service events for commercial vehicles,” said Dick Hyatt, president and chief executive officer of Decisiv Inc.

“That includes internal and external service providers, third-party breakdown services and OEMs. The key question is whether your maintenance choices are resulting in lower costs by reducing triage and downtime.

“Effective programs and providers have solutions that turn maintenance into a competitive advantage,” he continued. “They have access to real-time in-context vehicle specification and service history information, including warranty coverage, recall and campaigns, as well as data from on-board telematics. These closed-loop systems can deliver more effective asset service management, resulting in more proactive, consistent and cost-effective operations, and higher levels of customer satisfaction. When implemented effectively, these solutions deliver highly sought-after competitive advantages and address critical priorities for fleets, OEMs and service providers.”

Decisiv offers a Service Relationship Management (SRM) software platform that unifies service event management for commercial vehicles by enabling real-time communication and collaboration, Hyatt explained.

“The SRM framework acts as a bridge between multiple, separate systems of information to bring together all parties in a service supply chain,” he said. “SRM is already the choice of vehicle manufacturers, dealers and call centers, service networks managed maintenance providers and a growing number of fleets.”

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