Using GPS Tools Gives Company Owners Ease of Mind

Small and large companies should all invest in GPS technology to keep tabs on trucks and easily dispatch them.

Using GPS Tools Gives Company Owners Ease of Mind

An example of the technologies where GPS fleet tracking can be accessed — tables, desktop computers, laptops and smartphones.

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Within every plumbing contractor’s business is a subbusiness that’s an exceedingly important cog in the wheel — the subbusiness of fleet and logistics management. Whether a small niche contractor with a couple of trucks or a large commercial operation with a dozen or more vehicles, the fleet is the lifeline that ensures materials and employees are on site and on time.

Logistics experts emphasize the importance of staying current with fleet management technology, and one of the most important investments is a global positioning system, or GPS, that works well with a particular contractor’s model.

“Any business with a fleet should implement a GPS tracking solution to gain greater transparency into their fleet operations,” says Gary Hatfield, vice president at Mercury Associates, a fleet management consulting firm. “The most profound impact (of GPS tracking solutions) is the ability to reduce overhead costs — fuel, maintenance and insurance premiums — that can save a substantial amount of money.”

TECHNOLOGY ADVANCES

While fleet tracking originally started out as a satellite communications technology, today, most tracking systems use the same type of GPS that cellular data networks use for cellphones. Advances in technology have allowed device makers to pack a lot more power into a smaller, less-expensive platform.

Perhaps even more important for smaller fleets is the advent of software as a service, or SAAS, a component of “cloud computing.” Instead of requiring a big mainframe computer, an information technology staff to keep it running, and a data guru to translate the data, companies today can simply log on to a website and see data presented in an easy-to-use “dashboard” format with reports, charts, graphs, and other pertinent information. This translates to an affordable platform that 10 years ago was only available to larger operations with substantial fleets and deep pockets.

These systems also aren’t just limited to a desktop. The platform can be accessed via smartphone apps, and alerts can be accessed via email or text. An example of an alert would be a driver straying too far from a preset route or “geofenced” area. Most systems allow users to customize alerts. “With the advent of mobile technology, logistics personnel do not need to be at a hub or distribution center to access data or receive immediate notification that there may be a problem,” Hatfield says.

“Hosting the data takes a lot of the IT burden off of the fleets,” says Charles Johnson, director of program management at Teletrac, a GPS and logistics software solutions provider. “The user interfaces are so much more intuitive these days, so everyone across the fleet can use it. The learning curve is short, and they can get a lot of data out of it quickly.”

Johnson emphasized the importance of meeting with solutions providers in advance of any kind of implementation so the solutions firm has a clear grasp on how a particular business operates, how their fleet works, and what they are looking to accomplish.

“There are a lot of functionalities and options with fleet management software,” Johnson says. “What works for your company may not be a good fit for mine. So, it’s important to really understand the operations and provide solutions recommendations accordingly.”

Despite the ease of access and relative affordability, there are still many fleets, particularly those with smaller operations, that are reluctant to embrace this technology, says Ken Weinberg, executive vice president at Carrier Logistics, a fleet management solutions provider.

“In many cases, smaller operations shy away from investing in fleet management software because they feel they can get away with manual procedures,” Weinberg says.

FINDING THE VEHICLES

There’s a lot to be said for knowing exactly where your vehicles are at any given time. For one thing, many customers today want almost immediate service. If an existing customer calls with an issue, for example, it can be determined in no time where the various fleet vehicles are situated, and the best option can be dispatched accordingly.

The ability to view the fleet in real time on a map can be a big timesaver and cost saver for contractors.

“Say you have several trucks operating in different sections of a city, and you get a call late in the afternoon for something across town,” Johnson says. “A logistics manager can look at a monitor and see exactly where those vehicles are and whether they are stopped or in motion. Say, one of the trucks is eight blocks away from the site; they can quickly contact that driver and advise them as to the last-minute scheduling adjustment.”

OTHER FEATURES

Implementing fleet management technology has other benefits as well. Contractors will have at their hands a variety of fleet metrics such as the total idle time, fuel consumption, average project times, travel distance, routing detail, service mileage and countless others.

“With a comprehensive set of historical reports, logistics personnel can analyze the information and look for ways to improve efficiency or perhaps see an inefficient trend with a particular team,” Hatfield says.

Safety data can also be mined from the fleet management software. “Some (software systems) will assign a safety score to an entire fleet or individual drivers based on the metrics extracted from miles analyzed for a specific time period,” Hatfield says. “These score carding capabilities can help fleet managers gauge how their drivers are performing at all times and pinpoint any areas of concern.”

Another benefit of logistics software is simply having the data as to where a truck is at any given moment of time. So, if a customer ever contested, for example, that a truck wasn’t at a job site at a particular time, it would be simple to pull the data and confirm the exact time of arrival and time of departure.

“The benefits to implementing a good fleet management system are far-reaching,” Hatfield says. “There’s a lot more to fleet management than simply tracking drivers to ensure they’re doing their jobs.”



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