Fleet management systems reduce expenses, increase safety for contracting businesses, Part 1

Nov. 1, 2013
It’s pretty much a given that any contractor using a GPS fleet management system will tell you that fleet tracking systems are a surefire way to drive productivity in contracting businesses. It’s all about doing more with the same amount of resources. Plus, a GPS fleet management system can reduce expenses and fuel costs in almost any size business.  

It’s pretty much a given that any contractor using a GPS fleet management system will tell you that fleet tracking systems are a surefire way to drive productivity in contracting businesses. It’s all about doing more with the same amount of resources. Plus, a GPS fleet management system can reduce expenses and fuel costs in almost any size business.

According to Wendy Dessler, president of Falcon Plumbing, Miami, Fla., GPS is a blessing, enabling Falcon Plumbing to save money. The company, which currently has six vehicles in its fleet, has been using Fleetmatics since the early 2000s.

“Twice the GPS systems has helped us pinpoint where a stolen truck is at,” says Dessler. “One theft was at Home Depot. What saved us was we were able to pinpoint where the truck was exactly at.” 

Recently ServiceOne of Omaha, Neb., decided to implement Networkfleet by Verizon Networkfleet.

Dessler is a cheerleader of GPS since she is able to see where the plumbers are during the day. “Without GPS you are blind,” says Dessler. “It is great to pinpoint where all the plumbers are; this ensures a plumber’s safety in case anything happens when on a call or on the way to a call. It gives you peace of mind: it’s nice to know that someone is watching out and knows what is going on.”

Dessler points out that size doesn’t matter. “It’s a no brainer, everyone should have tracking for their vehicles,” says Dessler. “This is how you run your company and you need to run a tight ship. It doesn’t matter how small or big you fleet is.”  

On the road

Mark Sperry, superintendent at Fettes, Love & Sieben Plumbing & Heating Contractor, Chicago, started using Fleetmatics in 2010. The company has a fleet of 12 vehicles and uses the GPS system to see where vehicles and equipment, such as backhoes, are.

“We have recovered a stolen van and a stolen Bobcat in the past,” says Sperry. “We recovered a lot of money by getting our truck and equipment back. This is all about time management, like anything else, time is money.”

When there is a customer complaint about the amount of time a plumber was at a job, Sperry checks the data from the GPS system.  

“By having GPS, if a customer complains about the amount of time someone was at a job, we are able to look up time spent at the location, which usually ends the complaint,” said Sperry.  

Fettes, Love

Sperry added that a fleet management system makes technicians more productive. “We are able to usually fit more jobs into a day,” said Sperry. “Of course, this depends on each job and what it entails. If an emergency pops up we can send the closest person to that job, which is helpful and productive.”

Just recently, ServiceOne of Omaha, Neb., decided to implement Networkfleet by Verizon Networkfleet.

“The main reasons we chose to implement a GPS fleet management system were to more efficiently dispatch our vehicles, increase the fuel efficiency of our vehicles, and to better control our fleet maintenance and vehicle repairs,” says Jeff Churchill, vice president of sales and marketing. ServiceOne has 45 vehicles, which are used for plumbing, electric, HVAC, appliance repair and sales, that make up the company’s fleet.

Churchill adds, “We tried the program out on five of our plumbing vehicles for three weeks and we noticed value right away. The first thing we noticed was all five of our vehicles idling times were about double what the normal average is for our industry. If you take this issue across the board, we figured it might be costing us at least an extra gallon of gas per day per vehicle. If you multiple that out by the number of vehicles we have, it becomes a very large number over a year’s time period.”

Regarding how the plumbers and technicians took to the GPS monitoring system, Churchill says that most drivers are fine with it and understand the benefits of such a system. “The main purpose of this type of program, in our case at least, is to improve our dispatching, increase fuel efficiency, lengthen the life of our vehicles, and reduce repair costs,” explains Churchill.

The real test can be when Churchill can compare a six month time period. “Our expectation is that we will see considerable savings through better maintained vehicles, less idling time, and more efficient driving habits,” says Churchill.

Back in the office

At Mr. Rooter of Amarillo, Texas, NexTraq Fleet Tracking System and Garmin PNDs were implemented in August of 2011.

“Our reason for searching out a system was primarily for time savings and streamlining processes in the office,” says Brandy Waugh, office manager at Mr. Rooter of Amarillo. “Our CSRs where overwhelmed with the phones and our techs were waiting long periods of time for the jobs to be dispatched. Now we put the jobs in the computer as they are called in and when the tech is ready we just click a button and they're on their way.” 

Mr. Rooter of Amarillo, Texas, utilizes the NexTraq Fleet Tracking System and Garmin PNDs.

The majority of the plumbers responded well to the program since it saves time. “We did have some push back from one employee, but come to find out our work vehicle was being driven to the local bars at night,” says Waugh. “We've made it clear to the staff that we aren't using the fleet tracking solution to monitor where you are, we're using it to make things easier on everyone. Including if one of the techs needs a machine that another tech might have, we can look and see who is closest to them. Or if a customer has an emergency and needs their water shut off until we can service them, the closest tech can take care of that. As far as discipline problems that we have been made aware of since implementing the system, we address each one privately and personally.”

Waugh adds that the Mr. Rooter team has an understanding that the fleet is a tremendous investment to the business and driving vehicles home is a privilege.

“Again, we're not trying to check up on anyone, but they have no reason to drive their work vehicle for anything but work,” says Waugh. “Most other issues have been speeding violations or after-hours alerts. Those after-hours alerts generally just let me know the on-call tech has been called out. We also love the fact that the statuses in the Garmins change automatically from travel, to active. It’s all colored coded and very easy to utilize.”

Mr. Rooter of Amarillo also uses NexTraq's gas cards to help track mileage and to see if a van is running rough or even if the card was used when the van was on another side of town. “Any business owner would be naive if they thought they didn't need this system or something equivalent,” says Waugh.

Improved communication

American Leak Detection of Fresno has also experienced improvement in fleet efficiency after implementing NexTraq Fleet Tracking. Lindsay Arbogast, fleet operations manager for American Leak Detection of Fresno, notes that the ability to locate and monitor technicians has been the top business benefit. Arbogast says, “We were having issues trying to locate our guys in an efficient manner. Now, I can quickly pull up their locations and stay on top of jobs.”

Additionally, the company has improved communication between the office and field with the NexTraq Fleet Dispatch application. Being able to send jobs to drivers using various methods has helped the company to simplify the dispatching process. “I can send jobs to all three of the guys through email, phone or the Garmin itself,” says Arbogast.

Arbogast notes that the ability to monitor driver and vehicle activity has helped to improve driver safety.  

“Our fleet has improved tremendously: the technicians now are more time efficient, save on gas and they do not have to risk their lives getting directions from their phone while on the road,” says Arbogast. “The fleet system has improved driver safety, because if my fleet is speeding, I will call them and tell them to slow down. It is also fuel cost efficient, because the GPS takes them exactly where they need to go without hesitating.  Instead of sitting in idle typing in directions on their phone, I send it directly to their vehicle.”

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this article about fleet management systems. Part 2 will be about present trends in the industry and what is in store for the future of fleet management.

About the Author

Candace Roulo

Candace Roulo, senior editor of CONTRACTOR and graduate of Michigan State University’s College of Communication Arts & Sciences, has 15 years of industry experience in the media and construction industries. She covers a variety of mechanical contracting topics, from sustainable construction practices and policy issues affecting contractors to continuing education for industry professionals and the best business practices that contractors can implement to run successful businesses.      

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