John Mohler, staff information technology systems administrator in Denver, can run multiple reports from his desktop, including vehicle assignment histories and fuel usage reports. Photo: Denver Fleet Maintenance

If you want to avoid having horror stories to tell, said Sam Lamerato, do your homework thoroughly when choosing your fleet management software. It's a must to visit another government agency to see your prospective software in action, said Lamerato, former chairman of the Fleet Services Committee with the American Public Works Association.

Software support is critical. “They have to offer you product support all day, every day,” said Lamerato, who is the superintendent of fleet maintenance for the city of Troy, Mich. He uses FASTER, from CCG Systems Inc., Norfolk, Va., which offers the ability to fix and update software online, rather than exchanging disks.

Plus, the software company should visit your site annually to check up on how you're doing, he said. And the company should offer regional and national training conferences on the use of their software. “I go yearly, and come back with all these new ideas from colleagues about how to use my program,” said Lamerato.

In Denver, fleet software helps the public works department manage some 3400 pieces of equipment that are monitored in a database at the Fleet Maintenance Division. The city first started using software from Trinodal Systems Inc. several years ago; Trinodal is now managed by Starry Associates, Bowie, Md. Recently, the department upgraded to a new platform of software and hardware, said John Mohler, staff information technology systems administrator.

With the new upgrade to an Oracle database and UNIX operating system, the city chose report-writing software from Crystal Software, based in Australia. The configuration of software made the entire system more end-user friendly in running all kinds of reports, including a project management forecast, vehicle assignment histories, and fuel use histories. And the system generates monthly maintenance and fuel bills and sends them to more than 50 city departments.

Denver's Fleet Maintenance also uses software provided by Multiforce Systems Corp., Princeton, N.J., to track the use of fuel, fluids, and lubricants. The division has been using this fully automated tracking system since the 1980s. When an end-user fuels, he or she enters an employee identification number, a vehicle identification, a mileage or hour reading on the vehicle, and the type of fuel or fluids used. Vehicle mileage and other information are tracked. The fueling system interfaces with the maintenance system, allowing Fleet Maintenance to monitor vehicle performance, schedule preventive maintenance, and develop rental rate analyses.

In Anaheim, Calif., FASTER software enables the Department of Public Works to keep tabs on some 1200 pieces of equipment—and the accompanying repair parts. “We can now track our costs better,” said fleet superintendent Karl Hopfer. “Before, we had an older system and it wasn't tracking all parts issued very well.”

Now, parts are tracked from the time they come in to the time they're used on a vehicle. “The software makes sure everything is accounted for when it comes in, and all the billables are more accurate,” said Hopfer. “So we get reimbursed more accurately. We rent equipment to many different departments, such as police, fire, parks and recreation, and others, and parts and repairs are billed to them.”

The software also assists with vehicle replacement analysis. Points are assigned to each vehicle to indicate how close to replacement it is. With Anaheim's system, maintenance costs count for up to 10 points, chronological time counts for 5 points, and the odometer or hour meter counts up to 5 points.

“When a piece reaches 15 points, that triggers replacement,” said Hopfer. “That way we don't replace a piece too soon, but we replace them before maintenance costs get too high. You want to replace right at the break-even point.”

Daniel C. Brown is a freelance writer in Des Plaines, III.