OLD, outdated, and poorly configured computers are a leading cause of problems for fleet maintenance software programs, according to information from Arsenault Associates Inc of Atco, New Jersey, a supplier of fleet management solutions. The company's Web site is www.truckfleet.com
Many of the problems that occur early in the initial fleet maintenance software setup cause a higher than necessary program failure rate. A recent study of company software support records shows that initial installation problems are often traceable directly to a computer previously used by another department or individual in the company, according to Arsenault.
Modern software requires a modern computer. At the low cost of today's PCs, there is no reason to use ‘hand-me-down’ computers for such an important task as automating the fleet maintenance function.
“Providing the fleet maintenance department with a computer that may have been sitting on a shelf in an information technology (IT) department for who knows how long, is a formula for failure,” says Charles Arsenault, president. “Most often these make-do computers still hold data, software, and all of the operating problems of the previous users.”
The finding is significant, Arsenault said, because up to a third of all efforts to computerize fleet maintenance management ultimately fail to fully implement the software. As a result of the situation, many of those fleets return to manual systems.
There are three basic groups of truck software owners, he says. Of those, one third actively use the program daily and keep it up-to-date with the latest versions, the next third use the program for a single job or function for which it was originally obtained, ignoring the rest of the software's capabilities.
“This group doesn't keep their program current or supported,” he adds. “The final third is a sad story because they forget they own fleet software. These are the fleets that bought software, but failed to fully implement it — or failed to train more than one person to operate it, and that person left the company.”
PC troubles are frequently traceable to attempts to update older computers by simply removing old programs and cleaning off hard drives, but not verifying that it has the memory and processor speed required by the software. From Windows 95 forward, programs should always be removed using the remove program function within the Windows control panel, he said.
“Removing programs by simply erasing their files from the hard disk creates problems because it does not deal with the Windows registry,” said Arsenault.
Upon installation, many modern programs make changes to the computer's registry to facilitate their operation. Windows software consults the registry on boot-up to properly configure itself. If programs are removed but their registry entries are left intact, Windows will encounter problems, such as seeking to load files that no longer exist on the hard drive.
Arsenault recommends that new fleet maintenance software installations start with at least a clean machine, if not a new one.
“The best thing is a new computer, but if that isn't possible, make sure the computer you do have is properly configured and that it has enough random access memory (RAM) and processor speed to handle today's modern software and Internet technologies, such as online active server pages (ASP) services,” Arsenault said.
“If you can't be sure of the hand-me-down computer, the next best thing is to rebuild the machine. That means erasing the entire hard drive and starting over from ground zero by installing a Windows operating system, then installing your fleet applications — including the maintenance software. This may take a few hours, but then you're assured of properly configured software and of much smoother operations from that point forward.
“Investing a few dollars in a new computer for the fleet maintenance department is a real bargain.”