GPS: Living Up To Its Popularity

December 16, 2004
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GPS software enables dispatchers and service managers to track the movements of service and installation vehicles, enabling them to schedule jobs more efficiently. (Photos courtesy of Teletrac.)
Global Positioning Systems (GPS) have become so popular, in such a short period of time, that one consumer poll ranked GPS satellites in a list of the 10 most important innovations in the last 75 years.

The Henry Ford, an educational institution featuring the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Mich., conducted an online poll asking visitors what they thought were the most influential innovations in the last 75 years. The poll of 2.5 million respondents was conducted in conjunction with the 75th anniversary of The Henry Ford.

Global positioning satellites ranked fourth behind air conditioning, penicillin, and personal computers. The popularity of global positioning comes as no surprise to Brian Carroll, president of FleetBoss Global Positioning Solutions, Fern Park, Fla.

"When you stop to consider the universality of uses for GPS, it shouldn't come as any great surprise that this technology ranked fourth in a list of the top innovations of the last 75 years," he said.

"Although its commonplace commercial use is less than a decade old, the public can now utilize GPS in almost every area of life, including roadside assistance, 911 emergencies, teen driver tracking, lost pet location, homeland security, etc.

"The most fascinating aspect of GPS' high innovation ranking is the fact the world is just beginning to scratch the surface of all the ways GPS can be used to improve our quality of life and business."

Tim Van Cleve, COO of Teletrac Inc., Whitestone, N.Y., stated, "With the arrival of GPS in the public domain, our world expanded rapidly from one that was only reliant upon wireless coverage. The primary benefits the product offers include what virtually every business owner measures in his or her business."

GPS And Contractors

Carroll and Van Cleve broke down the benefits of GPS, asserting that the systems could help contractors by increasing productivity, reducing operating costs, and improving customer service.

"HVACR managers measure productivity on [this] percentage basis: hours billed to the customer versus hours charged by the employee," Carroll said. "The HVACR industry targets a 77 percent productivity rate for each driver annually." He noted his company can produce a "productivity graph" measuring service vs. non-service time.

Van Cleve stated, "Maximizing the billable time per tech is extremely important. We assist customers with more efficient dispatch and allow them to do more jobs more efficiently.

"Dispatchers having the ability to landmark service calls and determine in real time who is the closest qualified tech is paramount.

"We offer the ability to designate clearly on the screen the various skills by tech; so dispatchers always choose the correct tech and they are able to arrive more quickly and beat the competition to the customer."

Both men pointed out that GPS can help reduce operating costs. "Labor is the main expense in any business," said Van Cleve.

"With GPS, companies are able to better document arrival and departure times, breaks, start day and end day for more accurate payroll. We have seen on average a 30 minutes per day savings per driver."

Both men agreed that fuel costs are important to keep under control, especially in light of rising oil prices.

Carroll said, "Insurance and rising fuel costs can cut deep into profit margins and increase break-even percentages. Tracking where and when these expenses are used is essential for HVACR profitability."

"Dispatchers are reliant upon the driver identifying where they are and this can result in sending techs across town when a closer tech is in the area," said Van Cleve. "With GPS, we give the information to the dispatcher in real time so they can make more informed decisions based on actual locations."

Reducing overhead is important, but as these men point out, improving customer service can be even more important. "Most HVACR companies try to distinguish themselves by customer service," noted Van Cleve.

"This includes arrival time within a certain time frame that is established. With GPS, dispatchers can clearly see what the status of the driver is that is assigned to a particular account and determine if they have fallen behind. With this knowledge they can redirect another tech or at least contact the customer proactively to avoid an angry customer."

Carroll added, "Efficient routing practices are equated to faster customer service in the HVACR industry. Vehicles are often dispatched to assigned territories within the service area. The ability to find the closest vehicle or to advise a phone-in customer on how soon service will arrive is important."

GPS software also helps service and installation techs locate customers’ homes and businesses and map out the easiest routes.

Product Benefits

According to Carroll, information gathered by a FleetBoss system is downloaded directly to a client's computer for instant access and permanent storage. Data is accessed in-house, and not through an unsecured Web site that might allow a HVACR company's data to be seen by a competitor.

Some examples of benefits available to customers include:

  • Fighting rising fuel costs - By monitoring unnecessary vehicle idle times, eliminating speeding, and maximizing dispatch routing efficiency, a HVACR company in Orlando, Fla., decreased its fuel costs by nearly 15 percent, according to Carroll.

  • Eliminating unauthorized use and moonlighting: Fleet managers for a HVACR business in Lakeland, Fla., were able to use data to identify and hold accountable those drivers who were using vehicles for personal use during business hours.

    According to Van Cleve, Teletrac's "Landmarks" feature allows the user to designate landmarks such as employee homes, supply houses, customer sites, etc. The landmark can be incorporated into all of the data viewed on the system. "You can tell exactly how many techs have been to a site and the amount of time spent there," said Van Cleve.

    The system also provides a comprehensive report suite, which provides reports that can be broken down "virtually any way imaginable," said Van Cleve. "It is easy to read, including color coding for time periods that would seem to be out of the norm."

    For more information on FleetBoss, visit www.fleetboss.com. For more information on Teletrac, visit www.teletrac.net.

    Sidebar: HVACR Contractor Praises GPS

    As president of the Aire-Flo Corp., Columbus, Ohio, Steve Alexander is always striving to improve his company's ability to deliver heating, cooling, and electrical systems and services to residential and commercial customers in Central Ohio.

    Leveraging a staff of 14 field service technicians and two customer-service/dispatch representatives, Aire-Flo accomplishes as many as 100 service calls per day, every day of the year. Alexander's goal was to improve customer service and save time/money, so he turned to a new location-based, wireless Internet solution from @Road.

    @Road has developed a hosted Mobile Resource Management (MRM) platform using a Global Positioning System (GPS), wireless communications, and the Internet. Customers using the service have access to activity and workflow reporting, mapping, location-on-demand, two-way text messaging, and maintenance scheduling.

    The company's MRM service is integrated with a combination of technology solutions including an S2000 database and a Vaultus Mobile Platformâ„¢ for routing and dispatching. Using the integrated system, Aire-Flo employees can view a map of a given area, identify in real time the location of its mobile workers, and see onscreen the name and location of their customers. Now when a call comes in, Aire-Flo can immediately assign the nearest mobile worker to the job.

    "Because the @Road service is Web-based, I can logon and view field-operations maps and reports from anywhere in the world, so long as I have an Internet connection," Alexander said. "This flexibility is key to growing the Aire-Flo business."

    Using the service, Aire-Flo has been able to save an estimated 15 hours per month per mobile worker. And because distances traveled are substantially lowered, so are costs for fuel and vehicle maintenance.

    Aire-Flo has been able to improve its response times to customer calls - thus improving customer satisfaction - and the system also helps the company streamline its clerical workforce. In the last 12 months, Aire-Flo has lowered office clerical wages by $61,000 because the company can serve the same number of customers with fewer office administrators booking appointments and routing technicians.

    Prior to using the @Road system, office administrators created service tickets by hand, a process which impeded the delivery of service to customers. With the system in place, along with some companion technology, the process is automated and therefore more efficient. Today, service tickets are generated simply by entering customer information into the system. These appointments then appear as stars on a map. As jobs are completed, the stars disappear.

    For more information, visit www.atroad.com.

    Publication date: 12/20/2004

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