The evolution of the maintenance manager

There was a new addition this year, to what was already one of the busiest weeks in the Canadian trucking industry. I’m referring, of course, to Truck World, and for the first time ever the addition of the Canadian Fleet Maintenance Summit to the front end of that show.

CFMS has been around for decades, but not in the form it took this year. The event was hosted by this company, Newcom Business Media, along with several partners, and was supported by a variety of organizations involved in fleet maintenance. The turnout was great, the speakers excellent and the information presented was relevant and thought provoking.

One of the themes that kept resurfacing was big data, which, we learned, is not the same as “lots of data.” Big data is actionable and allows an organization to make changes that drive results. Lots of data, on the other hand, is just noise, if it’s not effectively analyzed and acted upon.

Analyzing big data and using it to improve efficiencies is increasingly falling under the domain of the fleet maintenance manager. And it’s changing the nature of the job entirely.

It was appropriate, in that sense, that the Canadian Fleet Maintenance Manager of the Year, Mike Gaudet of Armour Transportation, came to the position via an untraditional path.

Gaudet isn’t a technician – never has been. Instead, he brings to the position a business background and a numbers-driven focus, though, in his interview with me for the cover story of this issue, he cautioned against getting too wrapped up in reports.

Bill Dawson, vice-president of maintenance operations and engineering with Ryder System, noted during his keynote address that the top performers during Ryder’s technician skills challenges often break the mould of what was traditionally thought to be the best mechanic.

“The folks that are competing at an elite level now and getting to the top are not what we’d consider historically to be our most sound mechanical technicians,” Dawson said. “They are the best by far at managing information. They tend to be on the younger side. They come up using technology and they’re open and accepting of technology and they’ve mastered it. That, in the future, is what’s going to separate the quality of technicians from the excellent to the average.”

Effectively analyzing big data allows fleet maintenance professionals to better develop preventive maintenance schedules, predict parts failures and optimize their spec’ for the application. These all drive bottom line results. Is there a job description within trucking that is evolving more rapidly with the advent of big data than the fleet maintenance manager?

Dawson went further, suggesting that carriers will need to re-evaluate the types of people they select for this important position.

“These maintenance managers now need to be data-driven, they need to be analytical, they need to be able to (wade) through the noise and make key business decisions and that’s different than walking through making sure the shop is clean,” he said. “It’s going to change the nature of the people we promote into these jobs, the recruiting we undergo to find them and how we performance-manage the people we have. Those who’ve done the job a long time and have one set of skills may not have the skills they need to carry us and you into the future.”

Today’s fleet maintenance managers and the companies that employ them will need to embrace data and learn how to effectively use it, or risk being left behind.

James Menzies

James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 18 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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