By Brian Albright, Field Technologies magazine
With a new telematics solution, Basic Energy Services has automated its hours of service reporting — saving hundreds of hours per month — and improved vehicle safety.
Plenty of fleet operators use GPS-based telematics solutions to track their vehicles; a slightly smaller number have taken these systems to the next level, monitoring driver behavior or vehicle condition in order to improve safety or maintenance programs. Only the most advanced operators, however, take full advantage of telematics to build robust safety programs and automate processes.
That’s the case at Basic Energy Services (Basic). The Fort Worth, TX-based company provides well-site services for gas and oil companies, with more than 600,000 active wells in its service area. The company has approximately 6,000 employees at 120 locations throughout Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arkansas, Kansas, the Appalachian region, and the Rocky Mountain states.
It also operates thousands of light and heavy vehicles. The company recently upgraded its telematics solution to a new system that provides second-by-second location and operational data. The company has also been able to use the telematics solution to help improve driver safety, eliminate paperwork associated with Department of Transportation (DOT)-required hours of service (HOS) data collection, and simplify its fuel tax tracking.
GPS, Telematics Solution Provides Second-by-Second Data Collection
According to Brad Bounds, Basic’s fleet efficiency manager, the company was in the market for a solution that could streamline its existing GPS/telematics infrastructure. Originally, Basic was using multiple telematics solutions from three different vendors at the same time. These disparate solutions were deployed to accomplish separate tasks before newer-generation technology that could accomplish all of them was available, and, in the end, the company wound up with a tangle of different solutions.
Basic’s goal was to find a single solution that would provide all of the functionality the company was looking for in a fleet management solution. “When I took over this position, I quickly realized the number one goal for a new solution would be real-time visibility. With the solutions in place, we would know how fast the drivers were going and where they were located every five to six minutes — but there was no data in between those points.”
Basic wanted a system that would provide second-by-second trip re-creation, enable two-way communication for drivers, automate the DOT HOS reporting, improve driver behavior, and would allow the company to develop and utilize a performance scorecard that would assist in improving driver behavior and safety.
Automating HOS reporting was of particular concern. All commercial motor carriers must comply with federal DOT CSA 2010 regulations, which include these HOS logs. Drivers previously used paper logs to track their time, miles, and state fuel tax reporting information. Drivers and other staff spent hundreds of hours per month recording this information manually and processing it for reporting purposes, and the same was true for fuel tax data. While extremely time-consuming, there is no way around documenting this information — not doing so can result in costly fines and penalties. The goal was to automate the logging process to take the burden off the drivers.
When the search for a new solution began, Basic quickly realized how far the technology had come since the initial solutions were deployed. When the previous systems were selected, the focus was on the track-andtrace functionality that GPS has long provided — the solutions were not evaluated in the context of how other departments within the company might use GPS data. “We realized that fleet management technology isn’t just about driver location data — it could be a tool not only to maximize job efficiency, but to help reduce accidents, to help the tax compliance department gather necessary information on miles driven by state, and to help the DOT compliance department better manage compliance,” Bounds says.
Thoroughly Evaluate Fleet Management Solutions
Over the course of a year, Basic thoroughly investigated dozens of solutions. “We quickly found that there were multiple solutions that would do what we were looking for,” Bounds says. The company ran numerous system demos, then narrowed the field down to about ten companies. The company then built a score sheet to score each of those ten vendors on elements such as reliability, customization, and reporting.
The company piloted four different systems on the vehicles, including the fleet management solution from MiX Telematics that the company ultimately deployed. According to Bounds, there were three reasons the MiX solution was selected over the other providers that Basic evaluated. First, the system provided second-bysecond data and stored that data regardless of whether or not a triggering event had locked it in. Second, the system could generate driver performance reports on speeding, hard braking, and other behaviors. The reports are driver-specific, so the company can provide comparisons by site or region. A unique driver ID also lets the company track who is driving which vehicle at all times. “Tracking and monitoring drivers, instead of only vehicles, just makes sense,” Bounds says. “Having driver-specific data adds a whole new paradigm versus our previous system.”
The third thing that set MiX Telematics apart from the competition was its solution’s geofencing capabilities. “The MiX Telematics solution provides after-the-fact geofencing,” Bounds says. “You can geofence an area and retroactively see who has been in or out of that area prior to the establishment of the geofence. Most systems don’t have that.” This capability allows for detailed data for asset utilization information, dispatching and routing efficiency, and invoicing controls. “This feature shows us which drivers and trucks entered a job site, exactly when they arrived, and when they left, all in a quick report.”
Basic installed the MiX hardware on more than 3,500 vehicles at 120 sites across its operating region. It took seven months for the complete equipment installation, with driver training taking place the day before installation at each service location. The system went live in December 2011.
Each vehicle is outfitted with a MiX 3306 FM Communicator onboard computer. When drivers enter a vehicle, they plug their assigned USB drive into the port on the MiX device. The USB device identifies the driver and logs them in to the system. They key enter any other required information (such as trailer number or any pretrip information), and the system takes over from there. The drivers don’t have to enter any other information into the device unless they have to add an invoice number or change their duty status. At the end of the trip, they log out of the system.
The units in the vehicle communicate data wirelessly back to MiX’s servers. MiX then takes the location and operational data and converts it to a viewable and reportable format for Basic staff to view. The FM Communicator and the MiX Display monitor drivers’ activities and send that information to MiX’s online FM-Web application. Through that Web-based solution, Basic can review reports, trends, and track drivers in real time.
The in-cab MiX Display also provides real-time visual and audible alerts to drivers when they are operating outside of the company’s defined safety standards (for instance, exceeding the company speed limit). That way, the driver can take immediate corrective action. “In-cab feedback is like having a driver coach on board, with the goal to aid in a culture of everimproving driver performance,” Bounds says.
The Telematics Learning Curve
Since Basic had already used telematics for a number of years, Bounds says, there was no real driver resistance to the monitoring. There were, however, some process changes that required additional training. “Before, the drivers didn’t have to engage the GPS system at all,” he says. “Now they have to log in to the onboard computer. There’s been a learning curve, and we’re currently in the middle of that process.”
Although all of the equipment is installed, different locations are at different stages of fully adopting the system. The company is building what Bounds calls “flagship yards” where the system is fully implemented, and drivers are fully utilizing all of the features. “Some sites have not fully implemented all available features yet,” Bounds says. “That’s the challenge with such a geographically dispersed company. Getting that consistency across the board will come, but with telematics solutions that can take several months.”
Advanced Fleet Management’s Benefits
Basic will measure the success of the solution based on the increase of driver efficiency and reduction of paperwork. “We are already seeing a savings there, and we’re just getting started,” Bounds says.
One benefit that has been immediately apparent is the time savings at locations that are using the automated HOS functionality and International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA) reporting. Basic is confident that automating electronic DOT HOS logs and state mile reporting for IFTA compliance will reduce hundreds of hours of paperwork and data collection per month across the company.
In the trucks, drivers no longer have to maintain paper HOS and fuel tax logs. Automating the fuel tax reporting process has also saved time in the back office. “Fuel tax reporting is very labor-intensive,” Bounds says. “Before, drivers would have to write down their odometer readings, and then our back office staff would take those logs and enter them into a spreadsheet. That information would have to go to the regional office, and then to corporate.”
Now, the MiX solution can capture odometer information and marry that to location data. A simple report is now generated to capture that information, which eliminates a significant amount of paper shuffling previously generated by the daily reporting done at each yard, as well as the monthly and quarterly reporting that had to be manually compiled at the corporate level. And since the solution automatically captures state-line crossings, the data is more accurate than relying on the driver’s writing that information down. Basic also has access to much more detailed vehicle information, which can become important if there is an accident or any other type of incident involving a company vehicle.
The company has completed what Bounds describes as phase one of the telematic project. Phase two will involve incorporating the two-way messaging capabilities of the MiX solution, including job messaging. “The dispatcher will be able to send job information to the drivers as they set up different tasks for the day,” Bounds says. “The drivers can then reply to the dispatcher’s direction and even initiate the communication. For safety, these features are not enabled while the vehicle is in motion.” Eventually, Basic also plans to use the vehicle maintenance and license renewal features of the MiX Telematics solution.
By moving beyond basic location and driver monitoring, Basic will be able to continue improving driver efficiency and safety, while also addressing compliance requirements monitoring driver behavior. The fundamental source of Basic’s success with this solution was incorporating the goals of various stakeholders across the company, so that the system could be designed to address multiple data needs and deliver a faster return on investment. “Our goal is to operate as safely and efficiently as possible,” Bounds says. “Automated tracking is the only way to get the type of data we need to do that, and the system we have in place now is giving us better visibility than we ever had before.”
Telematics Solution Provides Second-By-Second Data
Midland, TX-based Basic Energy Services (Basic) provides well-site services for gas and oil companies, with more than 600,000 active wells in its service area. The company has approximately 6,000 employees at 120 locations. When it was time for Basic to choose a new telematics system, it chose to deploy a solution from MiX Telematics. MiX Telematics provides driver safety, vehicle tracking, and fleet management services and solutions to companies with all size fleets. Solutions MiX provides include FM-Web, a secure Internet-based fleet management system that allows fleet managers to view and manage their fleet data anytime from any Web browser. MiX DriveTime is a solution geared toward owners of heavy commercial vehicles. MiX Track is a simplified fleet tracking solution for commercial vehicle operators who need to improve customer service and perform essential fleet management functions by monitoring and managing their vehicles and mobile workforce in real time. And, the MiX Mobile application portfolio includes various smartphone applications that allow fleet managers to access information from the mobile device of their choice.
The solutions MiX provides enable companies to gather actionable information at the driver level. You’re able to uniquely identify each driver to run employeespecific reports and scoresheets to evaluate driver safety and behavior. MiX also allows companies to geofence an area and then run reports to see which vehicles had entered that area in the past. In most telematics systems, that kind of information can only be generated for vehicles entering the geofence after the geofence has been created (not the other way around). Being able to geofence at any time is helpful when an incident occurs — a company can go back and see which drivers were where, if a driver was speeding or hard braking, etc. Finally, the MiX system generates second-by-second historical data. In most telematics systems, granular data is only stored or “locked in” after a triggering event occurs — such as excessive speeds or major collisions/impacts. But most collisions happen at relatively slow speeds; a truck might hit an object or another vehicle while slowly backing up, for example. In those cases, the second-by-second data wouldn’t be available. With the MiX solution, the data is stored regardless so that it’s always available should a company need it. For more information on the solutions MiX Telematics provides, visit www.mixtelematics.com.