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An Open Letter to Social Services Staff Requiring Clean, Reliable Vehicles to Serve Individuals and Families

Managing vehicles in a social services setting doesn't have to be hard.

There are very few causes more dear to my heart than helping families and individuals achieve and improve their independence, safety, and overall well-being. As my son was growing up, I was the coach, mentor, and often the driver to get kids and their families to and from soccer practices and games. Our family SUV helped make a difference in the lives of those children who otherwise may not have been able to get out and interact with their peers. Now, I volunteer for my local Department of Family Services (DFS) in their child mentoring program. Again, my vehicle helps get my mentee and me to group activities and helps me show him a world he otherwise wouldn't see. In much the same way that my vehicle fulfilled a mission that helped the soccer families and now enables my mentoring efforts, vehicles play a vitally important role in delivering services through the DFS with which I volunteer… a much bigger role.

Through my mentoring efforts, and now as part of my job as the provider of vehicle management technology, I’ve observed that, unlike in many government, educational, and commercial organizations, managing vehicles in the social services settings is time- consuming and often delegated to a trained social services worker who already has a full plate of other work. But, there’s hope. There are easy ways to automate these not-so-fun and very time-consuming vehicle management tasks.

I oversee a company that builds and provides tools organizations of all types can use to keep track of their vehicles and drivers. A unique feature our product, FleetCommander, is that we make it effortless to share vehicles 24 hours per day, in a secure and easy way. For organizations like the Department of Family Services, Health and Human Services, Department of Social Services, Child Protective Services and a range of other organizations who serve those in need, FleetCommander takes the manual, often paper-intensive, processes out of the day-to-day activities related to doling out keys and vehicles. Even mileage reporting and chargebacks (for those that require billing) are automated.

Would Automating Vehicle Management and Sharing Work for My Social Services Team?

While there are nuances between different types and sizes of social services organizations, most deal with the same challenges. Among the many human and social service organizations we support across the US and Canada, there are some characteristics they share:

  • The job must get done: Being certain that access to clean, safe vehicles is a requirement in a social services setting… not an option. It is not acceptable to run out of vehicles or for vehicles to be inaccessible because keys are locked up. Social services work is critical work.
  • Schedules are fluid: As our communities’ safety nets, social service workers respond in times of need. Those needs, of course, arise anywhere, anytime, and often with limited (if any) notice.
  • Flexibility is key: Like schedules, situations social workers encounter are also unpredictable. The ability to react and respond with the right tools to developing situations is everything.
  • Money is tight: It seems that everyone is asked to do more with less, but this is particularly true among human service organizations, where the need for social services is often greatest in times and conditions of economic strife.
  • Paperwork is massive: Those working in human service organizations operate in complex legal and regulatory frameworks, meaning paperwork (and a lot of it) is part of the job.

For human and social service organizations, a fleet management software platform is successful to the extent that it can reduce costs and lift administrative and logistical overhead on the part of social service workers who already have plenty of hats to wear. If we can minimize time spent managing vehicles, we can maximize time in service of our constituents and communities.  Below are several benefits of deploying a fleet management information system (FMIS).

Cost savings

There are several ways an FMIS saves costs for social and human service organizations. First, we know that motor pool vehicles cost 35-50% less to operate than personally or departmentally assigned vehicles or reimbursements for use of personal vehicles. Lower vehicle costs mean that more funding can be directed to higher value expenditures, like staffing, training, and equipment.

An FMIS also reduces the investment required in personnel to manage vehicle reservations and to dispatch keys. By making vehicle reservations available online and providing automated, secure access to vehicle keys 24-7 via self-service kiosks, we can remove the need to staff the vehicle dispatch process, further reducing our costs to support social services teams. To visualize how easy it can be to share vehicles, picture getting a boarding pass at an airport or checking yourself out at the grocery store.

Further, by leveraging a motor pool, the administration of tasks, like vehicle cleaning, fueling, and maintenance can be shifted onto fleet administration and away from the human or social services units. Aside from freeing up time to engage in the department’s core mission, this means that the social services unit pays only for vehicles when they’re needed and doesn’t have to shoulder the costs of vehicle procurement, maintenance, and related costs.

Around-the-clock Access & Flexibility

Given the unpredictable nature of social and human services teams’ work, vehicles must be ready at a moment’s notice. An effective FMIS will make a variety of vehicles available both via reservation and on an on-demand basis. A good FMIS will provide a means to securely access vehicles using a secure lock box during and outside of business hours.

When using motor pool vehicles, drivers can be assured that vehicles are fueled, clean, and well-maintained, when needed. And, since a well-structured motor pool will carry a variety of vehicle types with equipment like child car seats and ADA accommodations, users can select the appropriate configuration for the specific need of the moment, including the selection of vehicles that may or may not be marked with your organization’s name and logo.

Paperwork Eliminated

With the mountain of paperwork required of human and social service workers, an effective FMIS shouldn’t add to this burden. An effective FMIS should eliminate paperwork wherever possible and automate any low-value tasks on the part of both the driver and fleet managers:

Onboarding Drivers: When adding drivers to the platform, users should be able to submit their required data via an online form. Approvals can then be handled electronically via the FMIS administration area, and once approved, drivers are provided access to the platform electronically.

Policy: To limit exposure to risk, every organization should have a comprehensive driver policy, safety program, and processes to ensure drivers carry appropriate licensure and insurance. The FMIS should automate the process of distributing driver policies as part of the routine of reserving or checking out vehicles. This, too, is handled electronically to reduce the paperwork required of our driver stakeholders.

Reservations and Key Dispatch: Ideally, vehicles may be reserved via a clean, online interface requiring about 30 seconds to complete. The platform should tie into your organization’s single sign-on process and/or your RFID or badge-swipe authentication. At vehicle pick-up and return, whether scheduled or on-demand, the process should require about 30 seconds to remove or return keys to the secure lockbox. No paperwork should be required, and there should be no additional hoops to jump through.

Communication: Like a hotel or meeting reservation, an FMIS should distribute confirmations of reservations and reminders for upcoming pick-ups. All of this is handled automatically, directly to drivers’ email addresses.

In general, our aim as providers of FMIS platforms should be to stay out of the way of human service professionals’ good work. We should enable, not complicate or disrupt their processes.