Fleet Auto News’ Caroline Falls interviewed Canada-based Kate Vigneau, who earlier this year joined the northern hemisphere’s mobility and fleet advisory fleetcompetence group. Caroline met the consultancy’s founder and managing partner Balz Eggenberger in Switzerland earlier this year and he referred Kate. Caroline jumped at the chance to talk to Kate about her own experience as a former fleet manager for the Canada Army and some of the current issues the industry is facing.
Let’s start with where you are right now — you’ve joined the European-based fleetcompetence (FC) as a partner for North America, where the consultancy has been expanding for several years. I imagine one of the exciting things about such a role is getting out to meet people. I wonder if that’s true for you and if that has been put on hold amid this pandemic — getting out and about? Are you doing video meetings? Tell us how your work set-up and routine has changed.
Well, like many business professionals, my last business trips were the week of 17 February, when I spent a week in Long Beach, CA, and then the next week 24 February, when I spent a week travelling across Nebraska doing a study for the State. I have been working from home for five months with no real end in sight. Canada is doing well — in my area we have been pretty much COVID free for the past month. But, businesses are being extra cautious, as they should be, and placing a premium on employee safety.
I have had virtual meetings with the FC leadership and thoroughly enjoyed attending a recent call with the full FC team. It was fascinating to hear about the COVID restrictions and FC’s proactive stance to prioritise its customers around the globe.
I would say that I am just as busy as before the pandemic, but the major change is moving online. My biggest client is NAFA Fleet Management Association and instead of live seminars, I am busy developing and delivering a whole host of virtual education offerings.
Now I’d like to ask you about your long experience with the Canadian Army. You are a lieutenant colonel and have had roles like fleet manager for the Department of National Defence, managing 32,000 vehicles. Can you go back there and tell us about the range of vehicles and some of the issues that you might have had to deal with that aren’t likely for a manager of a commercial fleet?
So much about fleet management for the Canadian military is the same as other government and corporate fleets. The military fleet consisted of both military pattern trucks and approximately 12,000 commercial-type vehicles. We had to have comprehensive policies, driver training, fuel contracts, maintenance facilities, vehicle lifecycles, etcetera.
What is different? One, focus on safety. Vehicle crashes kill more than bombs and bullets. The fleet manager or base transportation officer is a key person in ensuring driver safety. Secondly, urgency. If we see a UOR (Urgent Operational Requirement) request for a dozen 4×4 SUVs in Bosnia or Haiti, those vehicles are needed yesterday. Relationships with OEMs are essential in making it happen. And thirdly, what is different is adjusting to the operating environment – deployed operations generate unique requirements and our equipment and personnel have to respond. Humvees are too wide for the streets in places like Port au Prince; North American driving habits are not going to work in Afghanistan. You need to anticipate the changes needed to adapt to local conditions.
And you left the Army some 10 years ago and set up your own consultancy. Now you’ve joined with fleetcompetence. How did that come about and what will it mean for you. Will you be consulting across the continents and what sort of clients do you have?
My last four years in the Army were spent in a NATO billet in Stavanger, Norway where I was responsible for logistics and operational planning training for NATO. I travelled with a team of six to twenty other Colonels from NATO and PfP [Partnership for Peace] countries and delivered seminars and exercises. Returning to Canada in 2010, I was facing the likelihood of two to three relocations in a short period of time. With seven children, I thought I better put family first and develop my own business based on training and professional development in the fleet and wider logistics areas.
Since 2010, I have done dozens of projects on my own and with industry partners such as Mercury Associates and Matrix consulting. The FC model is to have partners in all areas of the world so that global projects can be accomplished seamlessly. This means that most of my work for them will be in North America. However, if there is a global client looking for a skill set that I have, I am more than happy to assist.
What are a couple of the new issues that companies and anyone managing a fleet have to deal with amid this pandemic
2020 should be known for the 3Ps — ingenious pivot strategies, partnering for survival and prioritising employee care and productivity. The “pandemic pivot” is the ability of an organisation to respond to what appears to be our new reality on a monthly, weekly, and sometimes daily basis. Distilleries are making hand sanitiser; car companies are making ventilators and school buses are moving meals for shut-ins rather than students. In all cases, fleet organisations have been instrumental in predicting future needs and adjusting fleet size, vehicle type and operational strategies to support.
“We are all in this together” is one of the biggest buzz-phrases of the pandemic and rings true for the fleet industry. North Americans, and indeed the world’s population are living in unprecedented times. This has led to a virtual need to come together and share information in fleet circles. The leading fleet management not-for-profit agencies, like NAFA, have led the charge in this regard by promoting mutual education offerings and encouraging member engagement and cross-interaction.
Fleets are also discovering that time invested in establishing strategic partnerships and a robust supplier relationship management (SRM) program are worth the cost and energy. Strong relationships are making a difference in access to vehicles, parts, and services across the industry.
There are millions of people in North America, from factory workers, to drivers, to technicians, who need to touch cars to keep the industry afloat. The protection of these people is being prioritised. Most fleet organisations are allowing work-from-home for administrators, rotating or staggering shifts for technicians, moving to virtual inspections and meetings, sanitising constantly and discouraging use of pooled vehicles. Some of these changes will stay post-2020 and will absolutely change the way we do business.
How do you stay abreast of the new rules and government guidelines or laws across various jurisdictions? What do you google to stay on top of what’s going on?
I often wonder how anyone can stay up to date on everything fleet! LinkedIn is great – I follow many industry icons and try to read as many articles as possible. In addition, I check regularly with key sources — Lukas Neckermann on mobility, Kent Rathwell on electric and sustainability, Fleet Management weekly, Fleet Solutions and Automotive Fleet for industry news and updates. NAFA’s legislative counsel – Patrick O’Conner in the US and Huw Williams in Canada.
I write a bi-monthly editorial for Fleet Digest in Canada (Kate’s Corner) and try to identify a key issue and share some practical info from my research.
Looking ahead again, what is something that will seismically shift: maybe the duration of a vehicle in a fleet, that’s one little thing with big implications, maybe even the hastening of the demise of the ICE engine and the rise of the electric vehicle? What do you think?
My crystal ball is a little cloudy right now. If I was answering this question in January, I would be heralding the mobility mindset and all it entails — alternatives to fleet ownership and autonomous vehicles. I would definitely be speaking about electric as the OEMs promise to move away from ICE and conventional fuels.
Now, it just depends how bad the recession is. If it looks like 2008, people are going to be much more focused on efficiencies and survival than new toys. So, right-sizing, right-typing, extended life cycles, which really doesn’t save money but which frees up cash in the short term, may become important.
I also think keyless, touchless, autonomous are going to be important. Anything that lowers the exposure risk to the virus will be embraced by fleets.
The industry has been fortunate to have had more than a decade of relatively good times. Many organisations invested in technology that will go a long way to helping them today to identify where serious efficiencies are possible.