By Pedro Pereira, Field Technologies magazine
The advantages of fleet management go beyond fuel savings and driver safety.
With average gas prices inching ever closer to $4 per gallon, fuel costs have been a major preoccupation for fleet managers. To control costs, fleets have been turning to GPS, location data, and telematics, which employ increasingly sophisticated in-vehicle devices and monitoring software to plan routes, spot trends, and modify driving behaviors.
Ask an industry expert to name the top five benefits of navigation and location technologies, and cost savings — primarily as a result of reduced fuel consumption — is bound to top the list. Next are improvements in safety, productivity, and customer service, all of which contribute to a fifth benefit — profitability.
Be it through reducing idling, rerouting vehicles around traffic hotspots, or telling drivers to slow down, data captured through navigation systems has transformed fleet management into a more precise, well-planned endeavor. Navigation systems are evolving into in-vehicle information hubs that receive and send data through Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and satellite-based connections, allowing fleets to better plan schedules, make staffing decisions, and work with drivers to improve safety.
#1: Fuel Savings Can Be Huge
“Fleet managers need a way to control how the fuel is being used,” says Ryan Driscoll of GPS Insight, a provider of GPS fleet tracking solutions. Driscoll and other experts say modifying driver behavior that causes long idling periods, hard braking, and speeding has a big impact on cost reduction. “If you use fleet management to monitor drivers to ensure they are behaving and driving in an efficient way, the fuel savings can be 30% to 40%,” says Tony Lourakis, CEO of fleet management solutions vendor Complete Innovations.
Some in-vehicle devices collect trend data and issue real-time alerts that tell drivers to slow down when speeding or shut down the engine when idling too long, which can translate to thousands of dollars in fuel savings daily. Addressing idle time alone can produce big savings, says Driscoll. “One GPS Insights customer saved $100,000 in one month by utilizing the idle alert.”
Other cost-saving benefits include better routing and maintenance and recovery of stolen vehicles and equipment, says Sean McCormick, product manager at fleet management solutions vendor Telogis. “Intelligent routing and planning also cuts down on the number of miles traveled by each vehicle in your fleet, which can reduce long-term maintenance costs and extend the life cycle of the vehicle.”
#2: Safety Improvements Positively Affect The Bottom Line
Safety is a close second to cost reduction when weighing the benefits of navigation and location technologies. Data collected from in-vehicle devices leads to modifying unsafe driving behaviors such as speeding, abrupt braking, and ignoring stop signs.
“Improving safety is one of the most important ways fleets can impact the bottom line. For many fleets, it’s now a strategic business priority to help trim costs and boost efficiency,” says Drew Hamilton, executive VP at Teletrac, a vendor of vehicle tracking and fleet management solutions. Data collected from Telectrac in-vehicle devices can be stored, indexed, and retrieved when needed. “We can show if the vehicle is running a stop sign. We can let a fleet manager know if his drivers are accelerating or stopping too quickly. We can let a management team know if their vehicles are driving over the posted speed limit,” he says.
#3: Improved Productivity
Advances in navigation and location data systems, such as color touch screens, messaging capabilities, and real-time alerts, and data collection are boosting productivity. “GPS enables a business to get more work done per day, per week, per mobile worker,” says Lourakis. “Knowing location information can enable a business to be more efficient and to direct mobile resources in a more efficient way.”
Driscoll sees it as a simple equation: GPS equals better productivity, which equals “more money in your pocket.” Management knows where vehicles are at all times. “They will know where vehicles have been, when they arrived, and how long they have been there. Dispatch decisions are made quickly and accurately, ensuring the right person is sent to each job.”
Capabilities such as navigation and automatic routing with live traffic updates enable fleet dispatchers to guide drivers around bottlenecks to improve arrival times, says Hamilton. For their part, drivers can use in-vehicle devices to notify dispatchers of arrivals, departures, start and end times, breaks, and work order numbers, all of which improve efficiency and reduce errors.
#4: Better Customer Service
Capabilities that lead to better driving, scheduling, and routing also improve customer service, say experts. Driscoll says a customer service rep can easily check the current location of a technician responding to a service call to better estimate the time of arrival at a specific customer. “No customer likes being told that the tech will arrive in a window between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.”
In responding to customer emergencies, he says, GPS tracking lets a dispatcher find the vehicle closest to the customer location and send directions to the driver via email, text message, or a navigation system alert. The ability to track a fleet at all times and the knowledge of where each tech or driver is, says Driscoll, make you more responsive to customer needs. “You can ensure you react to customer demands in the fastest and most effective manner,” he says.
#5: There’s More Innovation On The Way
While navigation technologies already have transformed fleet management, experts say more is on the way, as vendors add more capabilities and leverage cloud computing. For instance, providing GPS and tracking technology through SaaS allows fleets to deploy the technology quickly and costeffectively. In addition to fuel savings, a SaaS model eliminates technology obsolescence, which can be a deterrent for smaller companies.
Innovations for the near future, Hamilton says, include tracking of a driver’s cell phone for safety purposes, use of real-time positioning to determine which vehicle is closest when a customer request comes in, geofencing capabilities that spot vehicles straying from specified zones, and the use of tablet PCs for vehicle inspection reports.
Lourakis says more and more in-vehicle devices can now connect to laptops, smartphones, and tablets through Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capabilities, effectively turning a truck cabin or van into a mobile office, which helps improve productivity.