Under the Microscope: We talk to BT Fleet's managing director, Henry Brace
03 April 2018
Author: Rachel Boagey
Henry Brace, managing director of fleet solutions at BT Fleet, tells
Rachel Boagey about the areas in which the company is leading through a focus on data and innovation.
When you think of BT, what pops into your head? It might be broadband, or maybe sport, but perhaps what you didn't know is that BT has the second-largest fleet in the UK.
With a 64-strong network of garages and counting, Henry Brace, managing director of fleet solutions at BT Fleet, describes the company as a one-stop shop fleet services provider.
We paid a visit to the headquarters in Solihull business park to find out exactly what this means for BT's fleet customers.
"We offer service, maintenance and repair as our core product, but we also offer plenty of other fleet services in between, as we are renowned for our specialisation in mission-critical fleets," Brace tells granitekitchen.
Principally under the Openreach brand, the company also runs the fleets for a number of external companies. Its specialisation means catering for these customers in the most convenient way possible, with a focus on quick turnaround, in an effort to reduce fleet off-road time.
"If we can meet the EU's projection of 20% alternatively fuelled commercial vehicles
by 2030, we will be doing incredibly well."
"What we're seeing is that lots of companies are feeling the pressure on their spending and they're looking for their fleet provider to be innovative in improving vehicle off-road time," Brace explains. "Everything we're doing right now is based around maximising vehicle on-road time for our customers."
To do this, BT Fleet has begun to increase the number of garages operating 24/7 around the UK. This number has recently grown from seven to eight garages, and Brace says that the company will continue to open up new sites and extend their operation time.
Despite the group's expertise, Brace says acquisitions are a vital part of growth and success. Last year, BT Fleet added SEV Automotive's capabilities to its network of garages across the country, to help accelerate its plans to provide comprehensive fixed and mobile SMR to customers.
"By adding mobile SMR services to our existing fixed offering, our customers can opt for the convenience of having their vehicles maintained and serviced on their own premises, or at one of our garages," Brace says.
The acquisition meant BT Fleet started with 40 mobile engineers, but it quickly had to up that number to 50 due to customer demand. Brace says there will probably be about 65 engineers in the next six months.
Just like other offerings that are core to BT's proposition, mobile servicing takes place in-house. Brace says, "This is a fast-growing trend; other companies will do mobile servicing by contracting out, but for us, it's another in-house string to our bow."
But in other segments of the company, there is reliance on external partners such as rental providers. "We definitely can't do everything in-house and partners rely on us like we rely on them. From a customer point of view, they want to have great service at a competitive price, so whether that's in-house or through partners, it doesn't really matter, as long as service is what they get," Brace says.
While there are distinct differences between van and car fleet maintenance, BT Fleet specialises in both and Brace says the two types of SMR complement each other. "The trends in both are the same, despite the car market being more mature in certain aspects," he says. "What is definitely the same is the driving forces towards air quality improvements and the environmental concerns we are seeing in the industry as a whole."
The green agenda
Another thing the company is doing differently, and even better, than others is its green agenda. In fact, BT Fleet is the greenest Telco in the world and the third-greenest company in the world. "Naturally, that means we need to set exacting targets on what we're doing. We're committed to having 75-80% ultra-low-emissions vehicles by 2030," says Brace.
But that doesn't come without challenges. "If you take seven years off that, as that's my replacement cycle, that doesn't leave a huge amount of time for us to get up to those levels. The challenge has been, 'Have we got the product to do what we can do in the field?' So we're working closely with manufacturers in CVs and cars to do just that," says Brace.
Another aspect of being mission-critical is to stay ahead of the trends in
Brace says, "It's incumbent on us, having the second-largest fleet in the UK, to set some exacting environmental targets and by around 2030, we need to lead the way on behalf of our external customers, who are the likes of National Grid and Network Rail."
But one issue is that many legislators make pronouncements about air quality, diesel vehicles and moves to alternative vehicles, but aren't setting an agenda. "One of the main problems is that in different cities and areas in the UK, the government is pursuing completely unaligned emissions standards," Brace says. "This is a complete disaster when running a national fleet. We have a replacement cycle of every seven years, so we can't just change our vehicles without having advance notice."
The solution is overarching standards, Brace explains. But he understands this is no easy feat. The company now has every electric car in the market on its company car list, and more than 40% of its line-up is plug-in hybrid or pure electric.
"The biggest challenge that we have is it's all about domestic charging," says Brace. "We have vehicles parked in depots, but there are lots parked at employee homes. The area in which the business case is best for alternative engine technology is in high-density areas, but it's not safe to have a cable running across the pavement in a multitenancy property. There are really interesting challenges there and we're up for working on that, but we will have to accept that the logistical challenges facing us are immense."
BT Fleet's garages will give the company a big opportunity to provide customers with a network of chargers and train its technicians in alternatively fuelled vehicles, to enable them to offer service in that segment.
"But there are many other challenges that will provide a natural brake to really well-meaning targets and if we can meet the EUs projection of 20% alternatively fuelled commercial vehicles by 2030, we will be doing incredibly well," Brace explains.
BT Fleet has been embracing technology to lessen off-road time for its customers, a task that isn't too hard when your company is wholly owned by BT. "We have started to roll out apps to help customers with accident management, self service, garage location, and to report daily defects," Brace says.
"These apps are able to capture data straight away and put it into our core systems. For example, the daily defects app means that, rather than fleets having paper-based systems on their vehicles every day, they can do it on the app. It will record vehicle defects and ensure that the parts are already on order when the vehicle comes in, meaning we can act incredibly quickly on its repair."
He says the real pull from customers is around data. The industry collects so much, but only a tiny proportion of it is used constructively to change outcomes for fleets. "What we see is that we have huge opportunities, with around 120,000 vehicles, to help our customers make better decisions," Brace says. "Our customers want to know why their vehicles have a peak in maintenance in years four and five, and if other customers have that. Inferences can be drawn and lots of data analysis through our group can help make customers make better decisions."
Having EE as part of the group gives BT Fleet access to aggregated data from around 30 million handsets in the UK. "This gives us huge insights on what people are doing and how they're doing it, as well as finding out how they are travelling and making their journeys more valuable," Brace says.
A good example, he explains, is the way the data helps engineering customers who need access to residential properties. "Their biggest challenge is knowing when people are in. What we can tell them is, on this street, on this day, at this time, there's a 60% chance that people will be home."
While these are not necessarily traditional fleet services, Brace says they are "gold dust" to his customers. "We are using technology to do things differently."
It's all about the service
Accident management is another area in which BT Fleet will be expanding enormously. Brace says the industry hasn't really seen much development in that field in recent years. "I think it's a bizarre anomaly in our industry that we tolerate only very low vehicle off-road time for SMR, rightly so, but we are more tolerant of long waits on accidents in the body shop," he says. "If we can offer more same-day repairs and radically change the vehicle's off-road performance for our customers through on-site repair and partnerships, we can offer something radically different and really shake the industry up."
"People don't want a morning or an afternoon slot anymore," Brace says. "We all now want to know down to the hour or the minute when our item is going to get fixed and when it can be collected. We see this with companies such as DPD who have made it big by communicating exceptionally well with their customers."
The trend in many industries is for service providers to become more customer-focused, responsive and communicate better. According to Brace, there's no reason the fleet industry shouldn't be following this.