Updated Article: As of Nov. 16, 2009, the feature article, Tracking Your Fleet Can Increase Bottom Line, was corrected, regarding Colville Plumbing and Heating Co., Lafayette, La. The company uses SageQuest's Mobile Control, featuring mapping, a complete set of management tools and integration with back-office systems. Additional information is available at: www.sage-quest.com.

If you're not yet using a GPS fleet-management system, and you're looking for a way to increase your company's bottom line, it's time to consider what a GPS fleet-management system can do for you.

There are many different GPS fleet-management systems available, all with a variety of useful applications that can help boost company profits, not to mention employee productivity and efficiency. GPS systems on the market today have a variety of features, including, but not limited to, Web-based maps, route optimization, real-time tracking, speeding and vehicle maintenance alerts, wireless/electronic timecards and historical reports.

GPS systems are available as a hand-held device, a cell phone, Blackberry, etc., which employees carry, or as a black box, a piece of hardware installed in a vehicle. Both systems offer a variety of features, and many GPS companies offer integration of the two systems, giving fleet managers the ability to track assets and communicate with employees about jobs, routes, etc.

“Usually what service a contractor should use depends on what the company wants to track,” explains Jeff Cuthbertson, data solutions engineer at Alltel Wireless. “Are you tracking the vehicle or the person? The contractor needs to decide what he wants to track.”

When using a black-box GPS system, speeding and idling alerts can be sent via e-mail or text message to fleet managers. Features of many hard-wired systems include stop and travel time reports. Mileage is also tracked with the hardware device.

Handheld devices that enable fleet managers to locate their technicians with mobile phones/handsets are becoming more popular among contractors. These devices keep track of technicians in the field and can also cut down on office paperwork. Features of some handheld fleet-management systems include turn-by-turn driving directions, real-time traffic alerts, intelligent rerouting and field data capture.

According to Jonathan Durkee, vice president of product management and sales at SageQuest, having a device installed into a vehicle is important for a company focused on bottom line savings.

“The installed vehicle solution is important to ensure an objective, accurate understanding of vehicle locations,” explains Durkee. “An installed solution will tell you when a vehicle arrives at a customer location, office, home, etc. It's an excellent way to authenticate payroll information. We have customers use the product for that very reason. They want to look at when the technician is getting into the vehicle, arriving at their first destination, arriving at the office, etc.”

Handheld devices can also be cost effective since they can capture data in the field, eliminating excess paper- work in the office.

“If we can eliminate paper work, we can save money,” explains Keith Halasy, senior marketing manager for TeleNav's business-to-business products. “Cell phones can be used in place of paper forms, so a tech is completing forms on the job — compliance forms, a customer form for service completed, etc. As a worker completes a job, it queues up what needs to be captured.

“A lot of firms prefer black boxes installed, but the wireless devices can capture a lot of information, which helps firms get more information more accurately, and saves costs in the back office,” adds Halasy. “It's very cost effective; you don't have to buy an extra device. The cost is rolled into the phone bill.”

Some of the benefits a company may experience when utilizing a GPS system include lower gas consumption, equating to lower fuel costs, reduced maintenance costs, improved customer response time, lower emissions and reduced insurance costs, plus, increased employee productivity and efficiency.

“The first value comes from eliminating some of the behaviors in the workforce,” explains Durkee. “You can tighten up payroll expenses. Typically the return on investment time frame is very short, it happens quickly.”

“Some people route vehicles better, keep track of idle time, etc.,” explains Craig Whitney, vice president of marketing at Networkfleet. “Depending on what they track they usually see a savings. Sometimes you can get in one more job per week by being more efficient. Just one extra job a week makes a business more efficient.”

Cost savings

According to Robert Donat, president of GPS Insight LLC, GPS reports, maps and alerts all help to drive the money-saving aspects of GPS.

“GPS Insight has proactive alerts to both the supervisor/manager/owner as well as to the driver of the vehicle in the alert situation,” explains Donat. “This means instant, and ‘anonymous’ corrective alerts go to the driver when he or she speeds, idles too long, drives during non-work hours, leaves certain areas, or stops for longer than authorized based on the time and location.”

The owner and managers at Clean Air Quality Service Inc., Hawthorne, N.Y., decided to use Vehicle Tracking Solutions' Silent Passenger to keep track of technicians and see if there would be cost savings when fuel prices started to climb more than two years ago.

“We first started out with using GPS on six of our vehicles and within the first month using the system basically paid for itself,” says Louis Doro, vice president of Clean Air Quality Service Inc. “We now have it on about 24 of our vehicles. We wish we would have done it years earlier; the savings alone pays for itself every month. Our overtime has dropped even though the volume of work has gone up. It definitely makes a more productive staff.”

“By having GPS, employees are accountable,” says Pete Desiderio, senior business consultant at Vehicle Tracking Solutions. “It also creates efficiency and productivity. Since many contractors have workers take vehicles home, GPS makes them more accountable — the trucks can't be used for personal use.”

Just three months ago, management at Colville Plumbing and Heating Co., Lafayette, La., started using SageQuest's Mobile Control to track 16 vehicles. This is the first time the company has ever used a GPS fleet-management system, and the owner and manager are already seeing a return on investment.

When using Mobile Control a fleet manager can see how many techs are in the field and how many jobs there are in a specific time frame, and then figure out what is the right balance of resources to work with, according to Durkee. A contractor can then decide if he wants to bring more work into the company, increasing billable hours, how better to use company resources, such as expanding the service area, or to trim back resources.

SageQuest has already made techs more efficient and there has already been a savings,” says Doug Stutes, manager at Colville Plumbing and Heating Co. “We get a discount from the insurance company, and it helps with decreasing the wear and tear on vehicles. It also shows us if a tech is speeding and when a truck is in use when it shouldn't be.”

Added benefits

If a technician uses a company truck after hours for personal use, Mobile Control alerts Stutes. The system tracks mileage, so he figures out how much gas was used after business hours, the gas cost is then deducted from the employee's pay check.

According to Stutes, this practice makes employees stop using the company trucks for personal use.

“One of the main benefits contractors tell me is that they use the system for proof of service and how long they were at the job,” says Desiderio. “They can pull tracking reports to show they were at a customer's for two hours. This takes away customer arguments and going back and forth about invoicing. This also equates to better customer service.”

Some GPS systems even alert fleet managers as to when a vehicle needs to be brought in for service and repairs. This equates to proactive vehicle maintenance and the ability to make better decisions regarding future vehicle purchases.

“It [Networkfleet] saves costs in that it is hooked into the onboard computer, so I get real-time reports on gas consumption, it alerts me if a gas tank cap isn't on correctly, if it needs an oil change,” says Michael Riley, owner and president of Mr. Handyman of SW Denton and N. Tarrant Counties, Flower Mound, Texas. “In the long run it saves a lot of money, it helps with preventative maintenance. It allows the technician to keep focus on customer service since we get alerts about maintaining the vehicle.”

Hoffman Southwest, a Roto-Rooter franchise, with 10 branches, tracks and analyzes the frequency of diagnostic trouble codes on its vehicles, improving vehicle maintenance and purchasing.

According to a Networkfleet case study, by using its GPS system, Hoffman Southwest saves $128 per vehicle in maintenance and service related expenses per year, and the system even aided management in recovering five stolen vehicles.

Other companies have recovered stolen fleet vehicles thanks to utilizing a GPS fleet-management system at all times.

Both Vinnie Sposari, owner of a Mr. Rooter franchisee in Seattle, and Pam Hamner, owner of a Mr. Rooter franchisee in Farmington, N.M., were able to locate stolen trucks.

“We found the truck within an hour after it was stolen,” says Hamner. “If we didn't have GPS we wouldn't have any clue as to where to begin looking for it.”

“We always know where trucks are at all times since we have money invested in them,” says Sposari. “Plus, there are huge cost savings in fuel, efficiency, productivity. It is hugely beneficial.”