Fleet tracking and management solutions are increasingly popular in the service industries, enabling awareness of where all your service trucks are when technicians are out in the field (typically within three meters) and a lot more data covering how they got there and when.
Potential benefits of tracking service vehicles with a GPS (global positioning system) fleet tracking solution include reduced response time, improved customer service and reduction of idle time (each hour of idling uses between .5 and .75 gallons of gas).
Other benefits include route optimization and resulting lower fuel costs, decreased overtime from more accurate accounting of time and elimination of fluffing and minimization of timesheet fraud.
Various reports from a well-featured solution also can inform management should technicians exceed company policy on speed or length of breaks between service calls. In some cases, running the solution also can reduce insurance premiums between 5% and 15%. And if your company has a take-home policy, vehicle tracking can assure management that use of the vehicle in off-hours is not abused, potentially saving on gas and wear and tear on the vehicle.
Some solutions are passive, relying on PC equipment and software in the office and a mobile unit comprised of a GPS receiver and transceiver (to determine a vehicle's position and store the data) in each vehicle. Typically, the equipment is purchased outright. Download of data occurs via the transceiver only when the vehicle has arrived at or returned to the base. Management in the office can then view or print reports of the vehicle's activities or print maps for future use.
Other solutions are active and feature real-time monitoring that permits near real-time viewing of location and other data.
These GPS systems are 100% Internet-based and require an activation fee and monthly fees. They utilize a wireless network to receive data from each vehicle in a company's fleet. Data can be viewed by each or all of the vehicles in real time.
Most active systems have automatic download of communications by wireless, cellular or satellite systems. Solutions vary in terms of download intervals.
A program may download data only at its arrival at the base or at intervals ranging from two minutes to every hour or so.
Contractors should pick a solution that covers their geographic area — some systems can monitor only a couple of zones, while others monitor many zones.
Basic features many service businesses want, at minimum, include abilities to: monitor speed and issue an alert when user-defined criteria are exceeded; record distance and time traveled; and monitor stops longer than the user-defined amount of time.
Many solutions include the ability to monitor when the engine is on or off and to monitor acceleration and deceleration.
Other features you may want to look for include vehicle diagnostics, including trouble code and geofencing by landmark or by vehicle.
Report types often include mileage, speed, which can help target technicians who drive too fast and help improve safety, drive time and stops, which can be used to verify drive time, arrival time and work tickets.
They also include sensor reports, which can identify excessive idling, geofence, which tracks vehicles venturing into and out of unauthorized areas, hours the engine runs and begin day/end day, which are virtual timecards that can quantify a technician's workday.
Some programs offer a fleet summary report that can help detect workflow patterns of individual technicians. A fleet status report can show dispatchers the location of every technician's vehicle.
Alert types, which can provide instant e-mail notification to a PC or notification to a mobile phone of any user-defined violation, include: notification of first movement of vehicle for the day; non-movement of the vehicle by a specified time of day; notification of vehicle arriving at user-defined location; and notification of vehicle departure from same.
Other alert types include: entry of vehicle into a defined geographic zone; departure from geographic zone, which could help in detecting an unauthorized side job on company time or using a company vehicle after-hours; first movement of day; movement of a vehicle during a specified period of the day (e.g. 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.); notification of extended stop (implying, perhaps, too long a coffee break); and notification if vehicle exceeds a specified speed. Sensor alerts can identify undesirable vehicle operations such as excessive idling or late-night and weekend use.
Some programs can locate the closest vehicle to an inputted address and have the ability to route technicians starting with where the vehicle currently is and building stops in an efficient order, adding stops and re-ordering stops as needed, which can speed response time and help improve customer service. Other possible features include the ability to dispatch calls over the Web and/or two-way messaging by e-mail and the ability to maintain vehicle maintenance schedules.
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].