Lessons learned at the 13th Fleet Forum Conference

A pool of global experts assembled in Rome, Italy, earlier this month at the 2015 Fleet Forum Conference to discuss fleet management practices worldwide. This gathering has been taking place for 13 consecutive years, bringing together leading professionals to exchange ideas and experiences designing and implementing effective fleet management systems for supply chains. Hosted by the UN World Food Program, the conference has attracted more than 120 participants from over 40 countries delegated from different establishments, including humanitarian organizations, NGOs, governmental organizations, as well as private manufacturing, supplying, and service companies. The conference highlights the role of technological innovation in successful fleet management.

Here are some of the key takeaways from this year’s conference:

  • Fleet excellence and professional fleet management are acknowledged as a recipe for effective service delivery.
  • A number of global megatrends are placing highest impact on the humanitarian transport and fleet management horizon… carefully crafted adaptation strategies need to be developed to accommodate this prioritization.
  • Innovations in global transportation and fleet management industry are least utilized in parts of the world where lack of transportation capacity is compromising quality of services. Thus, new approaches must be devised to maximize the benefits of existing innovations. In addition, a well-developed professional global network is important for innovation propagation.

As a Pharmaceutical Warehousing and Distribution officer, I oversee bimonthly delivery of essential health commodities to 500+ health facilities, and have witnessed firsthand the numerous inefficiencies of fleet management that hamper our commodity security goals.

The two day conference was organized under the theme ‘professionalizing fleet management’ and included presentations, breakout sessions, moderated discussions and experience-sharing activities. From the range of areas covered, I was compelled by three important ideas:

  1. The use of telemetry and remote vehicle tracking and monitoring systems significantly enhances the effectiveness, efficiency, and cost advantage of institutions.

As supporting partner to Ethiopia’s Federal Ministry of Health Pharmaceuticals Fund and Supply Agency (PFSA), JSI has recently introduced the use of GPS systems on refrigerated vehicles owned by the Agency. Although this initiative by JSI is the first of its kind, achieving the grand goal of creating a technologically-supported fleet management system requires installation of GPS System to 180+ trucks of varying sizes administered by PFSA. This thought also provokes the idea of: how much does it take and how would it be possible for us to expedite the creation of necessary capacity that allows the administration of modern fleet management?

  1. Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) for the last 2.5 years, an intervention study in rural districts of Zambia involving introduction of Systematic Fleet Management has pinpointed one of the weakest links in ensuring access to healthcare in rural settings. This intervention package was implemented by UK-based NGO Riders for Health and has resulted in significant improvement in last mile healthcare delivery.

The contribution of USAID|DELIVER PROJECT to Ethiopia’s pharmaceutical sector in the last 10+ years has brought about a paradigm success with the introduction of an innovative system called Integrated Pharmaceutical Management System (IPLS). IPLS has created a need-based supply of essential health commodities to service delivery points, where the different supply chain units are interconnected through an information system that records and reports lower level data to the next level, and where direct delivery to was made possible to over 1500+ health facilities on bimonthly basis. Due to less developed road infrastructure, however, about the same number of health facilities are supplied indirectly via a pass through woredas (districts). This often results in recurrent shortage of supplies and interruption of service deliveries.

Similarly, with financial support from BMGF, JSI has extensively been involved in facilitating smooth transition of vaccines supply chain management to PFSA in Ethiopia. With the current structure for vaccine distribution systems, the final destination foresighted through the direct delivery for vaccines also is to the (districts), and product movement down from this level to the SDPs would remain problematic.

Given all these circumstances, I believe that the success observed in Zambia by creating improved fleet management capability at the district level provides a good lesson that could be benchmarked and implemented in Ethiopia.

  1. In a world where specialization has gained momentum, outsourcing some functions of an organization could be the best strategy to ensure efficiency and effectiveness. Rooting its argument in the practical successes of integrating private-sector business models, capital, and expertise to improve health systems in Sub-Saharan Africa, a social enterprise called VillageReach has made compelling argument of the benefit of leveraging external transport capacity as a big opportunity for outsourcing fleet management functions.

As same is true for most of the other presentations and discussions, these three thematic areas were convincing enough for me that resource limited countries like Ethiopia should start looking at fleet management in a sound and systematic way if their grand goal of ensuring healthcare commodity security is to be achieved.