As electronics continue to become smaller, faster, and more affordable, more and more contractors are investing in fleet-management solutions that help reduce their technicians’ time on the road, improve productivity, save gas, and protect these major assets from misuse or theft.
Not your father’s fleet tracking
While fleet-management solutions have been around for more than 20 years, evolving technology has expanded its capabilities far beyond just dots on a map, says Todd Ewing, director of product marketing at Fleetmatics, a Verizon company.
“Fleet-management software today is expected to work with more types of information and work in more places than ever before,” Ewing says. “Supporting safety initiatives with unique insight, clear scoring, and quality programs has become the focus, especially for larger field-service fleets; meanwhile, smaller customers are looking for ways to utilize location and fleet data to better inform customers of service appointments and analyze trends in on-site time versus work quality. And for fleets of all sizes, the requirement to support decision-making in the mobile environment has clearly gone from ‘nice to have’ to ‘need to have.’”
Ryan Driscoll, marketing director at GPS Insight, says the fleet-tracking market has been growing at an estimated annual rate of 12%, which has been aided by pricing stability — an average of $20-$30 per month, per truck, he says — as well as by the development of mobile apps.
“Businesses are using mobile apps more and more, and the functionality of fleet-tracking applications is improving drastically to meet the demand,” he says. “Integration is also a trend. There is so much software out there, and businesses want them all to talk to each other to seamlessly share data. GPS fleet tracking providers are also working hard to make APIs available to customers on demand and to also set up turn-key partnerships.”
Additionally, fleet tracking has been expanding to include individual assets in the field, such as tools, says Evan Berns, ONE-KEY product marketing for Milwaukee Tool, which recently launched TICK, a professional-grade Bluetooth tool and equipment tracker.
“When compared with GPS tracking, the TICK is a cost-effective solution for users who would like to manage their fleets,” he says. “Products with a TICK attached are paired via the ONE-KEY app. Tool records and locations are updated when any device with the ONE-KEY app comes within 100 feet of the TICK. These location updates are transmitted through any ONE-KEY app that’s within range, regardless whether the app is open or not, allowing users to pinpoint missing tools more quickly.”
Surprisingly, with all these advances in tracking technology, privacy is often not a high concern for employees, says Simon Worsfold, analyst for TSheets.com
“The top two benefits employees cited was GPS’s ability to track mileage and improve accountability across the workforce,” says Worsfold. “We found that employees place a lot of value in the safety benefits of GPS tracking and that, because they are so familiar with apps like Facebook and Google using location services to tag photos and get directions, etc., privacy concerns are not as high as you might expect. In fact, when using a GPS tracking app at work, employees ranked concerns about data and battery drain more highly than privacy. So, practical concerns are just as, if not more important than, questions about privacy.”
You’ve got options
Depending on the size of the fleet, the business owner’s goals, and a myriad of other factors, the optimal fleet-management solution for one company often looks completely different when compared with another company’s fleet management setup.
Nathan Todd, director of product management for Teletrac Navman, says business owners should first carefully consider what they want to get out of a fleet-management solution.
“Those looking to track their construction vehicles should be thinking broader ― not only about traditional GPS tracking but also solutions that use these data to optimize routing and find inefficiencies in their workflow,” he says. “For instance, telematics will record the number of working hours for each individual asset, helping managers identify underutilized assets to remove from the job site. Some telematics platforms, such as Teletrac Navman’s DIRECTOR and Qtanium Connect, even track mixed fleets, an essential solution for fleet managers in charge of both vehicles on the road and assets on the job site.”
Fleetmatics offers its REVEAL solution, which supports light- and medium-duty markets by improving routing and providing turn-by-turn directions, Ewing says. For the heavy truck market, Fleetmatics provides its core vehicle-tracking services, which include items like harsh driving, fuel card integration, mileage tracking for IFTA purposes, and specialty sensors for PTO devices that support heavy trucks.
“When preparing to purchase fleet management solutions, it is important to think about the big picture and your specific needs to maximize all available benefits,” he suggests. “Additionally, with the new ELD mandates, it’s important to make sure you have confirmation from a knowledgeable party on which of your heavier vehicles require logging devices, and don’t be surprised to find out more light-duty vehicles than you expect may meet the requirements based on their hauling activity or operations radius.”
Driscoll also says identifying the company’s needs is the first step in finding the ideal fleet-management solution for one’s company. That means assessing every department’s use of and need for telematics.
“Any important purchasing decision, especially long-term investments like business software, should be done with great consideration,” says Driscoll. “That’s why it’s recommended to analyze all business opportunities, self-evaluate areas for improvement, and define your goals before purchasing a telematics system. This process not only helps avoid buyer’s remorse, it’s essential to maximize the effectiveness of the technology.”
Choosing the right business partner in a fleet-management provider is also crucial.
“You are entering a business partnership,” says Driscoll. “When making your decision, you should consider what type of partner you want in fleet management. Remember that cheapest isn’t always best.
“We all have a budget to consider, but selecting a telematics system solely on price almost always ends in dissatisfaction. If you don’t weigh the system’s ability to solve your business challenges, how easy the provider is to work with, value-added services, and a variety of other factors, you will likely suffer from buyer’s remorse. You get what you pay for.”
The future of fleet management
There is no doubt that technological advances will continue at breakneck speed, which will only lead to further innovation in fleet-management solutions.
“Providers will be creating complex algorithms to tie all of their customers’ data together to create something more meaningful for companies,” says Ewing. “This is already happening with improvements such as adding historical traffic data and elevating routing optimization.”
And, as the technology becomes more affordable, it may even be required in some areas.
“Similar to the transportation industry, it is likely we will see more mandated telematics technology in the plumbing and mechanical trades,” Todd says. “Especially in hands-on trades, safety is critical, and telematics help fleet managers track compliance and hours on the job.”
And, even if telematics is not mandated, it will become a competitive edge construction fleets must adopt, adds Todd.
“Those with the most successful job sites will be those using technology for improved performance. To keep up with the competition, managers will have no choice but to adopt telematics to streamline their workflow. As telematics adoption increases, managers will use analytics to identify industry trends as they occur — and if they utilize this knowledge correctly, the industry has a good chance of thriving as a whole.”