EXECUTIVE INTERVIEW: San Diego Fleet Operations a Data-Rich Enterprise

February 11, 2019

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An ACT News Executive Interview with Alia Khouri, Fleet Operations Director, City of San Diego, California

Alia Khouri is a third generation San Diego native, proud to work for the City’s Fleet Operations Department as the Director. She loves San Diego, which motivates her to implement innovative strategies to advance the fleet towards the ambitious climate action goals adopted in the San Diego Climate Action Plan (CAP). The CAP identifies steps the City can take to achieve 2035 targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and benefit San Diego’s environment and economy. This includes creating a renewable energy program, implementing a zero-waste plan, and converting the majority of the City’s fleet to electric vehicles.

The San Diego Fleet Operations Department (Fleet Operations) manages the acquisition, maintenance, service, repairs, washing, fueling, replacement and disposal of the more than 4,200 fleet vehicles and motorized equipment used by all City departments. This includes sedans, light-, medium- and heavy-duty trucks, trailers, tractors, police patrol cars, fire trucks, refuse trucks and miscellaneous motorized equipment. These assets—described as “the lifeblood of department operations throughout the City” in a report to City Council—are critical to City departments’ ability to carry out daily operations.

San Diego created a renewable energy program, implemented a zero-waste plan, and plans to convert the majority of the City’s fleet to electric vehicles.

Alia pioneered the Fleet Operations Transformation Project, which incorporates numerous technological upgrades and system improvements; proactively incorporates training and long-term planning; and steers the fleet department towards becoming a data-driven organization. She continuously seeks out process improvements to enhance the City’s fleet program to meet the City’s Strategic Plan.

San Diego is working smartly to ensure a clean, sustainable city for generations to come. ACT News caught up with Alia Khouri, herself from a multi-generational San Diego family, to learn more about how the city’s fleet is a leader in innovation and sustainability.

ACT News: How do you foster innovation at the San Diego Fleet Operations Department?

Alia Khouri: We create a team environment where all ideas are welcomed, which helps to fuel innovation, because it allows for collaboration to meet challenges and resolve problems. We have departmental leadership guidelines, called our Fleet Fundamentals. We value our employees, lead by example and hold ourselves accountable. Individually we are good, but together we are unstoppable. We are here to make San Diego great, and we are proud of our service to the city.

We understand the value of the fleet data we collect, and the importance of making data driven decisions related to fleet operations.

ACT News: Three words to describe the Fleet Operations Department?

Alia Khouri: Dynamic, fun and high-energy!

ACT News: What aspect of your role do you enjoy the most?

Alia Khouri: As Fleet Operations Director I’m able to make positive changes in the work environment for our staff. We’ve implemented minimum annual training hours and improved personal protective equipment where the data showed it was needed. We’ve upgraded the shops by switching to LED lighting, and we’ve replaced outdated shop tools with new lifts, new cranes, new computers, more diagnostic tools and new tire machines. We’ve also fully embraced a Rewards and Recognition Program that rewards staff with bonuses and extra days off.

ACT News: What drew you to the Fleet Operations Department originally? And how has Fleet Operations changed since?

Alia Khouri: Initially, the financial management aspects drew me in. I was a financial manager for the City of San Diego starting in 2009, prior to being transferred in 2015 to the Fleet Operations Department as the Director. In my prior role as a financial manager, I saw that proper short- and long-term fiscal management and financial planning were vital to the success of the entire City. The vehicles and equipment managed by the City are essential tools for many of the services we provide for our citizens.

A decade ago, during the recession, I realized it was incredibly important to understand the financial impact of extending vehicle life cycles, or postponing non-essential maintenance. At that time, we did not have financial managers assigned to fleet operations to assist in painting an accurate financial picture. In 2015, when I was assigned to the Fleet Operations Department, we began to provide fiscal impact scenarios and manage both the short- and long-term financial planning. We continue to improve by understanding the value of our data and the importance of making data driven decisions related to fleet operations.

The most impactful change I’ve seen in the past few years is how electric vehicles are finally being embraced.

ACT News: How do you balance your career and family?

Alia Khouri: I stay very active and try to work out a minimum of three times per week. I enjoy the beauty that San Diego offers by hiking or jogging at the beach with my husband and our German Shepherd, Luna. She always puts a smile on my face. I believe my physical health is a major contributor to my mental health and stamina, so I make it a priority.

ACT News: What advice would you offer to young professionals interested in pursuing a similar career path? 

Alia Khouri: Take financial analysis courses, it’s important for fleet management. Acquire the skills to administer and manage fleet software and data. And welcome financial and data analysts onto your team.

ACT News: How have you seen the industry change since you took over as Director of Fleet Operations?

Alia Khouri: The most impactful change I’ve seen in the past few years is how electric vehicles are finally being embraced, by both fleet staff and consumers.

ACT News: What would you do for a career if you weren’t doing this? 

Alia Khouri: Coach women’s basketball or track and field.