An Outside Perspective Can Be a Good Thing

December 18, 2013

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There are two ways to looking at fleet audits (or efficiency reviews) — with dread or as an opportunity for improvement.

The term “audit” is often negatively viewed. It’s unpleasant having an auditor come in and say, “You’re doing everything all wrong.” This may be worse if the auditor is unfamiliar with fleet, because even if he or she does the research and interviews the right people, the comparisons, and hence the results of the audit, may not always be accurate.

I recently heard about a brutal fleet audit — one fleet manager had his fleet compared to those of other public agencies, but the method of data collection auditors used didn’t produce apples-to-­apples comparison numbers. When he pointed this out and told the auditors they needed to correct their numbers, they finalized it anyway and sent it over to City Council as the official document.

No wonder audits have negative connotations.

But audits exist for a reason, and hopefully, they’re ordered for a reason. For example, an official might suggest a fuel audit because someone noticed suspicious activity at the fueling station. Or it may be because your agency is seeking savings, and it thinks it can get it from the fleet department, whether that’s true or not.

Whatever the connotation, an audit, by definition, is simply an official examination by an independent body. A third-person review doesn’t have to be a bad thing, provided the reviewer is open to learning about fleets, works with staff, and respects the expertise of fleet professionals. An audit can provide a much-needed outside opinion that, in some ways, may not differ much from your own.

Reinforcing Your Beliefs

Let’s take the case of vehicle replacements. You may continually say, over and over, that vehicles need to be replaced after a certain number of years or miles. You draw the graph that shows that your vehicles are so old, they cost a ridiculous amount of time and money to maintain. But then, officials say there are other concerns, and in light of these, your requests for funding are tabled.

This is one example of when an official audit report backing you up would be helpful. I’ve seen many audits that say vehicles are too old or agencies need to create a vehicle replacement plan because there isn’t one in place. This is what you’re telling us, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the fleet managers at these audited agencies feel the same way. You’ve told the same thing to everyone about three times, but representing fleet, you may have biases. A document from a third party can go a long way, and that obstacle to obtain replacement funding may disappear.

Obviously, you can’t choose what an audit should focus on. While it may reinforce something you are already saying, it may also bring up something you know your operation is weak in, but haven’t had time to focus on. Or it may bring up a point you had never thought about at all. If you’re open to making some changes in your operation, and you’re confident that your fleet is well run, an audit might not be a bad thing after all.

Some audits are even solicited. For example, a fleet manager may seek a fleet-specific auditor or consultant, someone from the industry who understands fleet needs, to make recommendations. The fleet manager can then use that document as a guide for future improvement.

I recently spoke to some people about a fleet-specific consulting study. The report had various recommendations for improvement, and employees said it gave voice to their opinions and allowed them to get the attention from elected officials that would be needed to make some big changes.

Have you been able to make some positive changes as a result of an audit or fleet review? Or, conversely, have you had a bad experience with an audit?

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  1. 1. John Brewington [ December 19, 2013 @ 11:03AM ]

    Ms. Dao,
    In my opinion, government fleet managers have two things to fear when confronted with an audit of their operations – detection of fraud or wrongdoing (hopefully not applicable) and being audited by someone who does not understand their fleet. The latter appears to be all too common, especially those conducted by audit committees or other internal groups. Just knowing an organization’s processes and procedures does not come close to the knowledge needed to properly audit something as complex as a fleet operation. I’m sure you’ll be inundated with stories where fleet was blamed for all sorts of “sins” committed by drivers, operators, managers, and executives who disregarded established fleet procedures. Most fleet managers would welcome an audit by a peer organization or qualified consultant knowing these reviews should identify problems the fleet manager can’t control and that such a review can often give “legs” to issues the fleet manager has tried unsuccessfully to pursue.

  2. 2. Steve Kibler [ December 20, 2013 @ 10:39AM ]

    What a great and thought provoking article. Being the recipient fleet of criticism from our Finance/Accounting dept. after routine audits, I have felt the pain of ignorant accusations from auditors. We found that auditors will only accept one data base for vehicle asset management - Finance's. No matter how accurate and complete your FIMS is, auditors don't usually give it any credibility if Finance has separate accounting software for assets. I just read a term used in a comment to one of Mike Antich's articles: "negligent entrustment." Wow, 'if the shoe fits, wear it' comes to mind. From my experience, if top management sees a financial department's audit but also sees a fleet consultant's audit, they will only focus on the financial audit report. Finding a way to marry the two data bases so that Finance trusts and uses the data is vital to stopping the redundant labor a fleet manager spends reinventing the wheel when Finance/Accounting is audited every couple of years.

  3. 3. Jon White [ March 19, 2014 @ 03:40PM ]

    Thi - as an added comment............ we find that there is a lot of inherent 'intuitive knowledge' in the fleet ranks - up and down the organization. And very often the 'outside perspective' is an attempt to validate what is already known - but very often not known parametrically. the outside perspective from someone who does this over and over helps to bring forward metrics and modeling which helps to 'calibrate' something already known. Thanks for the perspective and the article.


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Author Bio

Thi Dao

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Executive Editor

Thi is the executive editor of Government Fleet magazine. She is interested in maintenance management and alternative fuels.


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