Global Positioning System satellites have been in place for decades, but the practical application of the information provided has been expanding rapidly in the last few years and continues to expand. Products for consumers to get accurate directions while driving in their cars - interactively in many cases - has been offered by auto manufacturers for a few years, and the systems are becoming popular. You have probably seen them advertised or purchased a new car with a system installed in it.

Much more is offered for service and repair business owners and managers.

The data available from the combination of the input from the space satellites, which is mostly precise location and time of any device with a GPS receiver, and the ground-based hardware/software packages provide a substantial amount of in-depth data. Most of us have heard about some of the commercially available systems that will allow us to pinpoint the location of our trucks. However, there is more and more data that is easier to interpret and manage available every few months. I suppose the real question is what do you do with the data? Or more importantly, does having all that data pay off? Can I make it pay for itself in my business?

The primary issue is 1) what data do you need; and 2) is it cost effective to invest in such a system? If it is cost effective, every day you are not using it to keep track of your trucks, technicians and, with some programs, the maintenance schedules and physical condition of your trucks, you are losing management information that could help you better operate your business. Recent upgrades and product offerings tend to make a strong case for GPS as a cost saver. No more gimmick.


It is nice to know where your trucks are at any given time, but a GPS system will provide more than that. In fact, the companies we have worked with to help them get started with GPS are often surprised at not only the amount of data they receive, but the data itself. For example, companies have discovered that their trucks were at banks, malls, grocery stores, technicians' friends' houses and any of a number of places, other than at the jobsite.

“We used to joke about finding our trucks at X-rated places; now we have shown that those things occur,” some owners have remarked.

A valuable vehicle-tracking system today will record the whereabouts of every truck: when it arrived, when it departed, its route, time en route, average speed and much more. Keeping track of this data documents misuse of the trucks and serves as a deterrent to wayward technicians. The practice saves wear and tear on the trucks and maintains the company's public image.

For dispatching the trucks to another service call, GPS is a windfall because the dispatcher can accurately identify the location of every available truck. She can easily select the closest truck or desired technician to assign to the upcoming job. If a technician has driven his truck to get parts, the dispatcher will know. No assumptions have to be made on the truck's location.

A benefit not always noted is the positive location of the truck in the event it is stolen. It can be recovered with a minimum of searching. GPS suppliers cooperate with and coordinate recovery efforts between customers and law enforcement agencies. No more missing trucks.

The obvious benefits to managing the service and repair business stem from knowing where all the company's trucks are located, reducing non-billable time, fuel consumption and truck wear. However, there are now available systems that can include additional data that will save the business even more money.


Including diagnostic data on board each truck gives a company a system that reads the data then sends it to the main system at the company's office. These numerous functions can be added to a company's GPS. Of course, cost savings accompany all this additional data, too.

For example, details about the maintenance condition of the truck are available immediately. These might include vehicle emissions, fuel efficiency, transmission problems and status of the brakes on the truck. All the maintenance data permits timely repairs before more serious, and expensive, work is necessary. Fluid levels, even the condition of light bulbs, can be included in the data port located on the truck.

Similar to tracking locations and times at various sites, GPS can record and maintain records of past maintenance issues with any specific truck. This additional dimension of the system adds substantially to the value of the package and saves money.

We use a product from Networkcar that offers a specific set of data that we find valuable. They call their integrated location and maintenance data “remote diagnostics.” Knowing the weak systems on a truck can pay off if you act on the data you are provided. Other systems offer more or less data. Try to determine your needs before looking for one of the new, comprehensive systems.

Disadvantages-Big Brother Watching

It would seem that having the location of the truck that each technician drives monitored would present a concern for technicians; they might feel “big brother” is watching them, or that the system was installed because of a lack of trust in the technicians. And it can be an issue if it is not handled right from the management of the company.

We openly discuss the installation of GPS, mentioning that the reason for the installation is not a lack of trust but better management of the trucks. Dispatching is improved, maintenance expenses will decline; overall, costs will be reduced for company operations. Since the benefits provide many savings to the company, the company's growth and stability are assured. Sharing these concepts with the technicians will show that the company's interests and the technicians' interests both are addressed.

New Features

A valuable feature available on some systems, but likely to be added to many others soon, is the moving map with active directions. You may have seen this in passenger cars: “turn right in one-quarter mile ... two miles to the next highway intersection.” This feature could prevent some technicians from getting lost, delaying their arrival for the billable service work.

Other features will continue the trend of integrating the data available from the GPS into the dispatching services, but going beyond that into providing data to all the back office functions: accounting, payroll, etc.

Who Uses GPS?

Surprisingly, only about one in four contractors has a modern vehicle-tracking system. That means the remaining three risk the loss of billable hours, more challenging dispatching and less control over the maintenance and use of their trucks. Is it only for large companies with dozens of trucks? Actually, it is potentially valuable for just about any size company - even if it only has a couple of trucks.

Naturally, GPS is more cost effective per truck if several trucks are sending data to a central processing station. However, companies with few trucks still can make it cost effective, which is the real decision factor in determining whether to use GPS.


A small company can cost-justify a basic system by looking at the time it takes to return the cost of the system from the savings it provides. The cost recovery time, even in a small company, is less than one year. That means that the system is paid for in a year or less - and the benefits continue. If there are problems with employee use of trucks, or in the unfortunate situation that a truck is stolen, the payback will be noticeably quicker. If no unusual situations exist, the improved management information available from the system will continue to generate savings for a long time. As the business grows, more features can be added, generating further savings.

The capital outlay (accounting terminology for upfront costs) is only in the hundreds of dollars and the monthly fee is around $25 or less. Usually vendors will provide or coordinate financing if the business cannot sustain a cash payment for the system.

If your business hasn't computerized or is well behind the industry in service and management techniques, GPS may not be appropriate. But that's only a few businesses.

See For Yourself

Global positioning systems are very impressive, particularly considering the data provided and the automation. If you are not a GPS user, you owe to yourself to check out what is available and how it can save you money. This space-age gimmick is a gimmick no more.