University of Waikato

Meet John Ireland, Vehicle Fleet Manager at the University of Waikato.

John started with the University in 1996 as a Technology Facilitator working as an advisor with teachers in secondary school. In 2009 he also took on a fleet management role, recognising that a systematic and coordinated approach to managing the large university fleet could not only save time and money but significantly improve driver safety.

John is thoughtful, quietly spoken, and observant.He also has a natural affinity with cars and a background in vehicle mechanics. Combining these attributes, John was uniquely positioned to develop a vision for better and more streamlined management of the shared vehicle fleet.

When he first started at the university, John noticed that each department owned their own fleet of cars and created their own set of management and accounting rules with little or no strategic alignment between the departments. "There was no continuity of services across vehicle use at the university," John remembers.  "Everyone was operating in a silo with no cost saving or safety benefits. I had a vision to bring everything under a single fleet management role."

Preferring a proactive approach, John took it upon himself to write a business proposal and an accompanying Vehicle Fleet Manager's job description. He took his proposal to the University administration, pointing out the major benefits of an aligned fleet management approach:

  • Considerable cost saving to the University as a whole and the various departments individually
  • Global view of fleet utilisation, providing the ability to identify efficiencies and best practices
  • Greater awareness and improvements in driver safety

The University agreed with his approach and put him in charge of the implementation, initially part-time whilst still doing his IT job on the side. With the University and fleet growing, the fleet management part of John's job started to overtake the IT part and it soon became his sole focus. In 2012 John was appointed Vehicle Fleet Manager for the University on a full-time basis, reporting into the CFO.

In 2013 we used 160,000 liters of fuel, in 2015 this was brought down to 135,000 liters and for 2016 it looks like we are on track again to beat this.
- John Ireland "

John, committed to the success of the project, started keeping logs on the number of cars the University owned, the total kilometres driven per month, overall fuel usage and all associated running and maintenance costs. In 2012 and 2013 the University spent over $300k annually on fuel and about 30k on rental vehicles - a huge cost to the University. John figured there should be a way to decrease this spend, make better use of the fleet and still provide mobility for all users at the University.

John's vision and ability to see the bigger picture led him to look into a fleet management system that would provide better visibility, streamlined management of all operations, and simple integration with existing systems. John started scouting the market for a system that could address a range of issues:

  • Inter-department cost allocation
  • Fuel usage reporting
  • Visibility over how, when, and where vehicles were being driven
  • Indication and confirmation of driving and parking behaviour
  • Work-related versus private use reporting for Fringe Benefit Tax compliance

In Feb 2014 the University of Waikato and Smartrak joined forces. Initially the fact that the fleet cars were being tracked caused resistance and even anger by some of the employees. They felt it to be a violation of their privacy. However, the simple fact that GPS tracking provided a greater level of transparency and therefore increased self- awareness, implicitly changed driver behaviour.

Prior to using the Smartrak fleet management solution, John used to see 3 traffic tickets per month cross his desk. After two years, this number has been reduced to only 5 per year, all of which are minor offences. John has also seen a big drop in speed. He attributes the overall safer driving to Smartrak. Besides this, the overall slowing of speed has led to savings windscreen repairs and replacements reducing costs from $16k/year to $9k.

Not only has Smartrak helped improve driving behaviour, it has also made a difference to lower accident rates and employee safety. John recalled a time when a driver called in from out of town with a puncture. The driver couldn't describe exactly where he was but John was able to use the EyeQ map site to accurately locate him on the map and send help. Knowing the exact location of the vehicle allows faster response from emergency service and helps fast track and validate internal emergency protocols.

That's not the only benefit of pinpoint location. Smartrak's EyeQ map site has a journey history function that came in handy when a driver was accused of a parking violation. John was able to confirm that the vehicle in question was somewhere else entirely at the time of the alleged offense.

Besides this, John has seen a massive improvement in rental vehicle cost. What used to cost $300k annually has, with help of the Smartrak system, been brought down to $100k per year.

John uses Smartrak's pool booking system to streamline the vehicle reservation process and manage the automatic check-in and check-out of system-aware geographic boundaries, called geofences.

John's innate problem-solving skills kicked in again when he devised a self-help approach to pool vehicle key management, which is replicated at all of the University satellite campuses. John set up a neat and tidy room, accessed with University swipe cards. Every vehicle is represented on the wall with its own tray. The tray is clearly labelled with the vehicle registration number and holds the keys and a vehicle detail card. The driver needs only pop in, take their keys and the card, and make their way to the vehicle. It's easy to see which vehicles are in use because the clear plastic tray is empty. John can quickly reference the Smartrak Pool Booking admin page, shown on a big screen in the key room against the empty trays to check the status of the booking.

Since the implementation of Smartrak in 2014, John has seen a big improvement in fuel usage. In 2014 fuel spending dropped by $50k annually and dropped even further in 2015 by another $50k. 2016 looks to be a very promising year indeed with fuel spending tracking below $200k for the first time since John created his role. John attributes these cost reductions to five key factors:

  • Driving habits changed for the better - people are now driving slower and more carefully
  • Private use of the vehicles has reduced dramatically
  • Vehicle type has been changed to Toyota Prius, a more fuel efficient hybrid
  • Fuel prices have been trending down

Having the Smartrak system also allows John to get his reporting done on time, sort Fringe Benefit Tax (FBT) out, know when cars need to be serviced and schedule WOF (Warrant of Fitness) tests. There is a lot less manual work in being a fleet manager with the help of Smartrak. Fleet Management administration and Pool Booking management is now being replicated across satellite offices, without the need for John to be in that specific location. Smartrak connects John with the information he needs so that distance doesn't matter.

Having the Smartrak solution and the fact that John has an innate understanding of his fleet, fuel usage, maintenance costs, resale value etc. means he has created a winning formula fo an optimal fleet at optimal costs.


What does the future look like?

The University of Waikato is committed to being clean and green. For John that means a cleaner, more efficient fleet, being able to reduce vehicle fleet numbers even further as well as lowering CO2 emissions. His fleet already consists of mostly hybrid cars, but he sees a future with an entire fleet of electric cars. In anticipation of this John has already installed an electric vehicle charging station at the University compound. It's very handy for their first fully electric vehicle, a zippy and very useful golf cart.

And of course like any other organisation the University needs to keep an eye on costs. John's plan is to take advantage of recent cost savings from fuel use reductions, better and less time-consuming reporting, and efficiencies related to utilisation and pool vehicle operations to help fund the future and help future proof the fleet.

With John's visionary approach the University of Waikato can expect a fleet that keeps up with technological advancements, more cost savings, and continued operational innovations in line with the University's growth and environmental goals.

John's comment, in typical pragmatic and thoughtful fashion: "I'm very much a business within a business, paying my own way. Smart, indeed.

Benefits of the University of Waikato and Smartrak partnership:

  • Fleet cost saving:
    • Fuel
    • Reduced number of vehicles
    • Fewer speeding tickets and traffic violations
  • Ability to manage the safety aspects of drivers and staff
    • Self-managed
    • Oversight in a single, integrated system
  • Simplified management of a widely dispersed fleet (geographically)

  • Ability to run a successful business within a business
    • Correct on-charging
    • Overall need for cost reduction
    • Capitalize on your assets

In 2013 we used 160,000 liters of fuel, in 2015 this was brought down to 135,000 liters and for 2016 it looks like we are on track again to beat this.

- John Ireland