Do you know where your trucks are?

HERE ARE TWO GPS-based software solutions that can help contractors keep an eye on company vehicles and that can minimize drive time, reduce fuel expenditures, and save on wear and tear. Microsoft's MapPoint 2006 with GPS Locator (www.microsoft.com) business mapping software provides detailed maps, geographical information and driving directions for North America for field personnel on the go, as

HERE ARE TWO GPS-based software solutions that can help contractors keep an eye on company vehicles and that can minimize drive time, reduce fuel expenditures, and save on wear and tear.

Microsoft's MapPoint 2006 with GPS Locator (www.microsoft.com) business mapping software provides detailed maps, geographical information and driving directions for North America for field personnel on the go, as well as demographic and other business data useful in the office. The 2-in. square USB-ready Global Positioning System locator plugs into the USB port of a notebook computer, no batteries or power pack required. (An alternate version, without the GPS locator, is availablefor office use.)

The software uses maps from various vendors stitched together to provide accurate map data to help find an address or plot a route to one or more scheduled locations. The program can import addresses from Microsoft Office Outlook, as well as other data from other business applications. Once an address is entered, the program zooms to it and push-pins the spot.

You can pan and zoom and specify which categories of places you want shown or hidden (e.g., restaurants, hotels, airports) to gain your bearings. If the starting location is entered, the software will generate detailed driving directions and estimated drive time.

The program can find an address even when some location details are missing by referencing geographic landmarks, businesses and other points of interest. The program offers voice prompting to Windows XP users.

Between each destination, travelers can select "quickest" route, which uses major highways and arterials, or "shortest" route, based on distance only. The program can automatically import daily data on road construction delays and closings. The program includes a night-viewing mode for the maps that darkens the background and glows the roads and road names.

The GPS locator can constantly monitor longitude and latitude, direction and speed of any trip, a factor that can encourage field personnel to keep to the legal speed limit.

Route maps can be saved for future trips. MapPoint 2006 maps can be inserted into Microsoft Office and other Microsoft business programs and into Web pages, enabling management to create and view sales territories, analyze trends and evaluate performance by geography.

Program users have access to a breadth of demographic data and lifestyle segmentation data from thirdparty vendors that could be useful in business planning, including federal government data on income levels by zip code, which can help a company target specific areas for sales territories or mass mailings.

FleetBoss Series 5500 GPS-enabled fleet management solution (www.fleetboss.com, 877/265-9559) can reduce a contractor's fleet operating costs and increase driver productivity, according to the company. FleetBoss' real-time GPS systems provide accurate tracking of the location and condition of all vehicles at all times. They provide maps and driving directions to each location or service stop on a daily schedule.

The FleetBoss Series 5500 collects fleet management data from a GPS locator that is plugged directly into each vehicle's onboard diagnostic computer. This comprehensive data can be accessed and viewed through a Web browser on any computer with Internet access.

In addition to standard GPS locationbased information and the ability to view detailed maps and driving directions, FleetBoss can record crucial vehicle performance measurements, including miles driven, fuel efficiency, speed history, malfunction indicator status and diagnostic trouble codes.

FleetBoss GPS solutions are available either as a passive or an active system. Passive systems record and store data on each vehicle for later download to the principal fleet management computer when the vehicle returns to home base. Active systems (which carry monthly access costs) communicate data that can be accessed anytime online using an Internet connection. With active GPS systems, management can keep track of vehicle activity and condition remotely in real time.

The software offers 16 types of reports that can help identify areas of waste and employee practices that should be curtailed. For example, the stop detail report shows trip details for any fleet vehicle, including trip mileage and duration and stop location and duration, data that could curb moonlighting or running personal errands on company time.

Begin/end of day reports show the first and last stop for any or all vehicles. After-hours reports chronicle unauthorized use of company vehicles. Alerts reports list all vehicles that need service or have diagnostic problems, enabling efficient scheduling of repairs that can decrease vehicle downtime. The location report allows office-based personnel to see, with one mouse click, the current location of all vehicles, which can help dispatchers make assignments more efficiently.

The "active" solution offers remote vehicle diagnostics and can automatically notify fleet owners via e-mail of any diagnostic trouble codes and maintenance-due issues (as well as speeding episodes). Other retrievable data include idle-time reports and maximum speed reports/alerts, which can alert management to fuel-wasting behavior.

Another benefit: By knowing how long each truck is at a jobsite, management can develop historical labor factors for each employee and for each type of job, which can help develop pricing for jobs similar in scope.

Bill and Patti Feldman are freelance writers for magazines, building product manufacturers and other companies on a broad range of topics. They can be reached at [email protected]