Finding Your Way

Nov. 1, 2008
GPS fleet management systems give business owners the ability to monitor fleet activity, control and secure their inventory, and ensure that employees are working at maximum capacity

Many business owners and fleet managers may think that GPS is becoming a necessary evil since it can help them track employee activity. However, GPS fleet management systems can be put to many other uses — not only do these systems oversee what happens to truck fleets on a daily basis, more importantly, these systems give business owners a way to increase efficiency and productivity, which is what every business owner wants to do, especially in an unstable economy.

“During this time of economic uncertainty, where every minute and every dollar counts, business owners need to have the ability to monitor fleet activity, control and secure their inventory, and ensure that employees are working at maximum capacity,” says Jeff Hanft, president of Skypatrol.

People are concerned about how to operate their companies since customers don't make as many service calls given the economy, and business owners want to know how they can continue to make their companies efficient since the economic climate is so difficult, according to Keith Halasy, senior marketing manager for business-to-business products at Telenav.

Plumbing and HVAC business owners have not always had the opportunity to see via GPS what happens to their trucks once employees drive them to service calls. Before consumers could utilize GPS, it was only available to the U.S. Military. GPS came out in the late 1960s and was developed by the U.S. Department of Defense. The system was made available for civilian use in 1983 when President Ronald Reagan declassified GPS, according to GIS Development, a Geospatial Communication Network.

Ever since its declassification, GPS has been a public project, and plumbing and HVAC business owners are using GPS systems for a variety of reasons, from eliminating paperwork and improving customer service to minimizing overtime hours and improving dispatching efficiencies. Business owners are now utilizing GPS to also track the mileage, real-time location, engine idle time and gasoline consumption of every truck in their fleets.

There are many different GPS fleet tracking and management systems on the market with a variety of useful applications that can help owners run an efficient and productive business. Most GPS systems have Web-based maps, real-time tracking, streamline routing, travel directions and mileage tracking. More advanced applications of GPS fleet systems include a vehicle locator that finds the nearest vehicle to a specific address or point on a map; speeding, vehicle activity and tampering alerts; automated e-mail reporting; wireless/electronic timecards; and vehicle maintenance and historical reports.

Some of the remote sensor activity applications, such as the applications available on Skypatrol's fleet management system, FleetPatrol, can help decrease maintenance costs and insurance premiums for business owners. FleetPatrol notifies managers of unlocked doors, flashing lights and a sounding horn. The system also alerts fleet managers if seat belts are not fastened, the back doors of a vehicle are opened and wipers are on.

Marcus Mobile Solution, a Discrete Wireless fleet management system, not only offers business owners applications that locate and track vehicles; report stops, run times and mileage; and alert fleet managers of odd hours of use, speeding and arrival/departure location; the system also locates the closest ATMs, gas stations and restaurants. In the near future, weather and gas price information will also be available through the system.

Another type of GPS product is the CarChip, which is a small black box that plugs into a vehicle's on-board diagnostic system port. The CarChip, fleet management software and GPS solution hardware allows users to track vehicle activity including detours taken, speed, hard braking and quick accelerations. A Driver Performance report is also available with a safety score for each driver.

Fleet tracking and management systems are usually available as hardware that has to be hard-wired/mounted onto a vehicle's battery. This black-box system has many benefits for the business owner and fleet manager. Since it is attached to the vehicle's battery, alerts can be set up to notify managers when someone is speeding. Geofencing can also be set up to notify a manager when someone leaves a designated customer service area. Hard-wired systems allow users to view all locations the vehicle stops at, and travel and idle times of the truck. Mileage is also tracked with the installed hardware device.

“I use all the FleetMatics applications including the customer/vendor locator, directions search feature, mileage tracker, speeding application and vehicle locator,” states Charlie Ciecirski, fleet manager at Apollo HVAC in Bay Shore, N.Y. “Using the software increased efficiency of the business. Employees know that they can't side track from a job. There is no use of vehicles after hours anymore. Also, by tracking the mileage, you can gauge miles per gallon of gas used.”

“Sage-Quest GPS Fleet Tracking and Management Solutions just had an update to their system, and the new version is more accurate and detailed,” comments Tom Reeves, operations manager at Lehman Pipe & Plumbing in Miami, Fla. “I can see where trucks went. Productivity has increased and fuel usage has dropped tremendously - four out of six drivers were not shutting off trucks before we got the system. All the drivers now turn off the vehicles once they get to the customer's location. The savings from decreased fuel usage has paid for the system.”

Handheld devices are also used as fleet tracking and management instruments. Binary run-time environment for wireless allows applications to download to a network/handset. This allows fleet managers to locate their contractors with mobile phones/handsets.

“The big thing about this application is that it increases efficiency and saves money,” comments Kendell Koontz, manager of product marketing at Alltel. “The application can help companies reduce costs in a couple of ways: They can see where employees are at, so they can send the closest contractor to where a new job is. This can be a great savings in gas since an owner can send someone that is already nearby instead of having a contractor drive across town. This also allows a company to get to a job faster and get it done quicker.”

A company does not need a large IT department to run this type of program, according to Koontz. All a manager needs to do is go to a Web page, and in four to five steps, he or she can see where the fleet of trucks is.

Knowing where all the vehicles are in real-time not only keeps track of the fleet, it helps the dispatcher with his or her job.

“It allows contractors to be dispatched by looking at a screen. I can send the closest located guy to a job, which helps logistically,” says Ciecirski.

A Location and Service Fleet Management survey, published by Aberdeen Group, a provider of technology-driven value chain research, reports that location aid services, such as GPS systems, result in a 13.2% reduction in fuel costs and a 19.2% decrease in miles traveled.

“We are able to attain a daily mileage report from our GPS service,” states Paul Stefano, general manager at Benjamin Franklin Plumbing in Charlotte, N.C. “These as well as other reports available help management to determine what vehicles have been used more in any given week, so we may be able to manage their mileage better against other vehicles being used.”

Business owners and fleet managers can also use GPS systems to track engine idle times and speeding.

“The system points out idle times of engines,” comments Ciecirski. “A fleet of 56 vehicles was idling 94 hours a week. We were able to get the fleet of 56 vehicles down to 35 hours per week of idling. This creates a $600-$700 savings in gas a week.”

Each 5 mph driven over 60 mph is like paying an additional 15 cents per gallon for gas according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

“Once employees realized that the GPS worked, they started to drive the way they should and now adhere to good driving policy,” says Bryan Stansell, president of Stamar Inc., in Atlanta, Ga. “I set a speed limit with the system to keep speeds down.”

Business owners that do not use a GPS fleet management system may wonder if their employees would welcome such a system since it closely monitors employee activity.

“It is important for companies to think creatively as to how to have workers use the GPS, so they won't be resistant to the technology,” comments Halasy. “Companies need to tell workers that the system will help them go to jobs without getting lost. It can also help solve customer disputes regarding invoices.”

“Sometimes a customer will question something, like how long a job took,” states Stansell. “When using a GPS system, you can verify what time a contractor showed up for a job and what time he left.”

Additional information regarding the featured companies offering GPS devices is available at: -
800-358-6178 - 800-397-7762 - 800-678-3669 - 408-636-2920 - 866-227-1100 - 888-837-7243 - 888-428-2499

How to conserve gasoline:

  • Install GPS to monitor driving habits and service routes.
  • Schedule technicians to go directly to the job site without making a trip to the shop.
  • Schedule fewer trips to the supply house, and stock more commonly used parts in the trucks.
  • Purchase more vans than pickups, so employees go to jobsites in one vehicle.
  • Reduce the geographical area worked in.
  • Add fuel adjustment charges to service call fees.
  • Add fuel surcharges to invoices and bids.
  • Consolidate employee trips to a customer job site.
  • Implement a fleet management service for gas cards.
  • Maintain trucks and tires more frequently.
  • Buy smaller trucks for field supervisors.
  • Downsize motors in company vehicles.
  • Group service calls in the same area.
  • Make sure trucks are properly inventoried.
  • Dispatch each call to minimize drive time.
  • Cut costs in other areas of the business.

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