2008 Annual Conference Report
As global fuel prices skyrocket and the costs of basic commodities reach record highs not only are beneficiaries in developing countries facing harsher realities necessitating greater interventions from the international community, but humanitarian actors themselves are encountering new challenges to their operations. This is particularly true for organisations operating vehicle fleets, which often account for a significant proportion of overall costs. While agencies must remain mobile to ensure aid is reaching increasingly needy beneficiaries, the cost of operating fleets has grown in some cases by as much as 40% while the quantity of aid being delivered has remained the same.
On November 5-7, the humanitarian transport sector came together at the United Nations Logistics Base in Brindisi, Italy to answer the question of how improving fleet management practices will directly impact resource utilisation, improve efficiencies and result in more effective aid delivery.
The Fleet Forum annual conference is a platform to bring together representatives from humanitarian organisations, donors, research institutes, and commercial partners to stimulate discussions, share best practices and develop solutions to the challenges facing humanitarian fleet operations.
In 2008, the Fleet Forum took a new approach to setting the agenda, and convened a board of experts in the humanitarian community to construct a conference that directly answered the questions facing the community today. Representatives from United Nations Logistics Base, Oxfam, Overseas Lease Group, World Food Programme, World Vision, Jacana and United Nations Humanitarian Response Depot came together in the months leading up to the conference to produce an agenda around the theme of The Economics of Fleet Mobility. The results, were a cohesive event that covered a wide range of topics and included plenary sessions mixed with interactive demonstrations and activities.
Throughout the conference, presenters from humanitarian, commercial and academic institutions challenged attendees to view their operations from a critical perspective and reassess their operations. At the same time, best practices were shared by organisations achieving interesting results in a variety of arenas. Specific sessions also delved deeply into topics in line with the Fleet Forum’s three pillar focus on efficiency and effectiveness, the environmental impact of fleets and fleet safety to ensure a holistic approach to addressing our current economic challenges.
The Fleet Forum Year in Review
As the annual meeting for the Fleet Forum members, the opening sessions of the conference were dedicated to a review of activities, discussions about future initiatives and objectives, and included information gleaned from a recent membership survey.
The conference began with remarks from Lars Gustavvson, World Vision International VP Humanitarian and Emergency Affairs and Steering Committee Member of the Fleet Forum. Mr. Gustavvson thanked the attendees and the event sponsors for being a part of the conference. He went on to offer praise to the individuals and organisations guiding and participating in the Fleet Forum, and focused particularly on how the organisation is making specific contributions to lessening the negative impacts on humanitarian transport through better business practices.
These sentiments were echoed by Dominic Grace, Chief, Project and Emergency Services (Admin) with WFP’s FESO, and Chair of the Fleet Forum Management Group during his presentation on the Fleet Forum’s Year in Review. Mr. Grace delved into the specific achievements of the Fleet Forum in the last twelve months, drawing particular attention to the Fleet Safety Project, the Fleet Forum’s largest initiative, in which 1200 staff members were trained in 6 Kenyan humanitarian organisations. Results of a stakeholder survey were also shared, which pointed to two key issues that remain top priority for humanitarian transport operators – Fleet Management and Fleet Safety – pointing to the need for the Fleet Forum to continue to focus on these two critical issues.
From the opening sessions the conference concluded that the Fleet Forum is maturing in terms of what it is providing the humanitarian fleet community and directly meeting the needs of its members. With a clear picture of the sector’s needs, and a strong foundation set over the first five years of growth, an even more exciting new chapter in the coming five years is expected with a renewed drive in membership and project delivery.
The Big Picture of Fleet Management
Fleet Management Defined
The management of a fleet of vehicles, using certain tools, to improve operational efficiency and effectiveness. This includes the use of technologies and systems such as computer software, communications systems, and vehicle location technologies for more effective planning, scheduling, and operations of transit vehicle fleets.
Fleet management is the fundamental foundation of all effective fleet operations. From technology, to models, to cost implications and vehicle lifecycle management, the big picture of fleet management is essential to the daily operations of humanitarian fleets. To delve into this topic, three presenters were invited to share their perspectives.
Using findings from multi-organisation assessments, Thomas Hansen, Business Development Specialist with Kjaer Group, challenged the group to rethink their vehicle lifecycle management by bringing to light key challenges that limit financial and operational efficiencies. The session concluded by pointing to several key barriers to efficient fleet operations including a lack of clear objectives, the problems of vehicle utilisation past their optimal lifecycle, little or no driver training, and a low use of vehilce sharing (pooling) which would lower costs and improve resource utilisation.
With the key challenges brought to light, Matthew Bader, Jacana’s Regional Representative in Mozambique, delved into the specific stops along the vehicle supply chain and offered a new perspective for organisations to focus on. He guided the attendees through a step-by-step assessment of the impact of each point in the supply chain, emphasising that any decision made will be dependant on the scale of an operation, and that any valuable assessment can only be done with an appropriate Fleet Management System in place. A long term committment to optimising operations that starts with change management is the key to successfully optimising fleet management.
Picking up the fleet management discussion, INSEAD Researchers Orla Stapleton and Alfonso Pedraza Martinez presented their preliminary findings on a research initiative that aims to understand fleet management in humanitarian operations. This long-term research initiative supported by the Fleet Forum, will result in a decision tree that will guide organisations through identifying the optimal fleet model for their operations. By presenting the preliminary findings, INSEAD were able to gain the insights of conference attendees on some of their research.
A Focus on Fleet Safety
With more humanitarian workers killed or injured in vehicle related incidents than in any other way, safety is a critical issue for the sector. Injuries and deaths impact multi-facets of organisations including human and financial resources, physical assets, and even programme and beneficiaries when assets and resources are compromised. As a key focus for the Fleet Forum and the sector, a multi-presentation session and discussion on fleet safety was incorporated into the conference.
Ken Shaw, an Advisor to the Global Road Safety Partnership, Rob McConnell, a Consultant and Trainer with the Fleet Forum’s Fleet Safety Project and Rose van Steijn the Fleet Forum’s Programme Manager presented the business case for fleet safety and officially launched the Fleet Forum’s Fleet Safety Toolkit.
Fleet Forum Safety Toolkit
A Guide and Training modules designed to reduce the number of road crashes and resulting injuries and fatalities caused by and involving the employees of international humanitarian organisations, by establishing a culture of road safety within these organisations, while aiding agencies to fully comprehend and advocate for road safety as a development issue.
Key findings presented during these sessions included the importance of data collection and analysis, the lack of reporting and recording of accidents and incidents across the aid sector, and the benefits that an appropriate technology system can provide in reducing accidents and lowering costs.
An in-depth conversation on fleet safety was had, and resulted in identifying management buy in to the initiative as key to its ultimate success. To gain management buy-in, here too data became an important element as appropriate data would lead to quantified reasons for embarking on fleet safety initiatives that would meet the financial concerns of senior management.
To complement the Fleet Forum’s initiative, Esther Bosgra from the North Star Foundation, explained their work with transport workers and taking a corridor approach to wellness through roadside wellness centres. The North Star centres were illustrated as an ideal tool for humanitarian organisations to utilise in their efforts to train their drivers in road safety and address the health needs of this critical segment of workers who are faced with some of the greatest health challenges due to the nature of their work.
Best Practice and Knowledge Sharing
Sharing recognised best practices is a key objective of the Fleet Forum as it strives to create a knowledge sharing platform. To meet this objective, throughout the conference presentations were given from a number of humanitarian agencies on their operational best practices. Complementing the humanitarian offerings, several commercial enterprises shared their own operational experience and knowledge in an effort to facilitate cross-sector learning.
Bill Warburton, Operations Director at Lodi Vehicles Ltd, talked about the challenge of maintenance, pointing to ways in which costs can be minimised and offering significant opportunities for savings.
Dario Moro, Vehicle Fleet Manager from ICRC, shared their specific experiences in Chad and the success of their fleet operation model.
Hilary Chambers, Fleetwave Administrator at IFRC, an insurance expert, shared the Federation’s experiences with a self insurance scheme that has significantly reduced their premiums.
Amedeo Micelli, Head of the Systems Maintenance Unit in Brindisi of the UN’s International Computing Centre, discussed the bespoke fleet management IT system created for the UN’s peace keeping operations (DPKO) that has allowed for significant monitoring and evaluation of their large fleet.
Mette Kok representing UNEP and Dominic Grace from UN-WFP, presented on UNEP’s Clean Fleets Toolkit, using the application of the tool within WFP to illustrate its practical effectiveness in reducing an organisation’s carbon footprint.
Martin Bettelley, Head of Fleet for WFP in Sudan, also focused on technology from the angle of the practical implementation of an fleet management system in Sudan, illustrating how new technologies have allowed increased security, cost reductions, and better fleet resource utilisation.
This year, in an effort to change the format of the conference by incorporating practical demonstrations and activities into the event, innovative competitions and a third day focused on the unique capabilities of the conference venue were offered. The practical portion of the conference allowed participants to get out of the plenary sessions, stretch their legs, and undertake hands-on operations.
In the spirit of competition, Hans Wentik of Safe-Wheels, put together a vehicle check competition where participants were asked in teams to conduct a standard vehicle check done by drivers on a daily basis.
Each team was provided three vehicles and had to determine which were road worthy. A great time was had by all, and while in the end one team was declared winner, all participants gained a greater understanding of the vehicles they work with and the responsibility held by their drivers.
The venue for the 2008 conference on the United Nations Logistics Base is home to the fleet operations of the UN Peace Keepers and a hub for the UN-Humanitarian Response Depot. Both offered tours of their premises, providing a behind-the-scenes view of the intricate and highly developed operations.
Guiseppe Saba, Network Coordinator for UNHRD, Bernard Lee Chief Technical Support of UNLB both gave in-depth presentations of their respective organisational offerings. Practical demonstrations of vehicle specific capabilities were also given including multiple demountable truck bodies that allow a single truck to be used for a variety of functions, ballistic vs. mine protected vehicles including the scenarios in which each would be utilised, and a presentation on equipment refurbishment that laid out the main points to consider when deciding which avenue to take.
As always, a key element of the Fleet Forum’s Annual Conference is the networking opportunities it offers for those attending. This year, with the help of conference co-hosts Overseas Lease Group a networking reception and group dinner were provided. The dinner, was generously hosted by the Mayor of Mesagne, a picturesque town near the conference venue, in the town’s castle. Media interest in the group which represented senior management from a variety of large and small humanitarian, UN and International NGOs was evident, as the Forum attendees were followed during a tour of the town. At the conclusion of the dinner, each Fleet Forum Conference participant was provided with a generous gift bag from the Mayor of local delicacies and art depicting the town. A unique opportunity, the networking activities provided an alternative way for Forum participants to get to know one another, share information and get connected to others in the community. A perfect way to conclude very busy conference days.