You may not realize it, but June 26, 1993 was an historic day. On that date, the U.S. Air Force launched the 24th Navstar satellite into orbit, completing a network of satellites known as the Global Positioning System, or GPS. While GPS was originally developed by the U.S. Department of Defense to provide round-the-clock navigation capabilities for military ground, sea, and air forces, it has become crucial in a number of civilian activities, including surveying, hiking, and corporate vehicle fleet tracking.
It is this last use that is of most interest in the world of HVAC contracting, as many firms have found GPS to be indispensable in keeping track of their trucks and technicians. GPS has become even more valuable to contractors as its features have evolved over the years. What started off as nothing more than a dot on a map showing where a truck was located has grown into a detailed mapping system that can provide companies with tracking, reporting, messaging, and navigating capabilities. And GPS service providers state there are more features coming that will further benefit HVAC contracting firms.
THE BENEFITS ARE IN THE DETAILSWhen Navman Wireless North America started providing fleet tracking services in 2000, vice president Renaat Ver Eecke said the maps were pretty crude, often not even showing lakes or oceans. “What we have now is light years ahead of where we were before,” said Ver Eecke. “We have full satellite integrated mapping, which means you can get enough detail to see which building the technician is in and exactly where the truck is parked and for how long.”
The widespread adoption of GPS at a consumer level is the main reason why Ver Eecke believes it became possible to improve the mapping quality of GPS. “There are millions of products being pushed to the consumer, and that volume caused the underlying map data providers to be able to justify the costs of going out and getting more detail. The boom in GPS at a consumer level is what single-handedly drove the market.”
Discrete Wireless also started offering fleet tracking services in 2000, and the company’s director of marketing, Shawn Millar, agrees that GPS has come a long way since then. “Mapping providers have become much more sophisticated over the last eight years,” he noted. “When we started, the only reports we had available were start/stop, begin/end day, speed, and detailed activity (see every track sent by a vehicle).”
The evolution of the technology and the ability to respond to customer requests has led to the creation of Discrete Wireless’s current 17 unique reporting options, which include:
• Fleet summary (detects lower performing drivers and views trends across the entire fleet);
• Fleet status (current locations in text format);
• Alerts (all alerts triggered over time);
• Locations (all stops at a specific saved location);
• Sensor (triggered sensors, such as door open/close, excessive idling); and
• Driver (specifics for a particular driver if vehicles are shared by multiple drivers).
The company also offers 11 real-time e-mail alerts, which include no movement, extended stop, and sensor alerts. Eight years ago, the only e-mail alerts available were in/out saved location, in/out of zone, first movement of the day, and speeding.
Ver Eecke stated that input from HVAC contractors has led the company to develop a high-end navigation piece for its GPS lineup.
“With Navman Wireless’s fully integrated navigation product, it’s possible to determine which vehicle is closest to a location, then route that vehicle in the most efficient way with the least amount of fuel usage without anyone getting lost,” said Ver Eecke. “This is an important feature to an HVAC contractor, because emergencies come up throughout the day, and the navigation feature can result in efficient dispatch.”
LOOKING FORWARDGPS continues to evolve, and manufacturers state that other features are becoming available for HVAC contractors. Discrete Wireless, for example, will soon be offering a brand-new version of its Marcus® Web application, which will have better maps, easier reporting, easier alert setups, and an optional dispatch screen.
The company is also adding an optional in-vehicle navigation system with real-time messaging and dispatching. “Drivers will be able to receive job information from the dispatcher, and then have the navigation device provide turn-by-turn directions to the next job site with in-vehicle maps,” said Millar. “Drivers will be able accept jobs and notify dispatch when the job is completed, freeing them up to move on to the next available job.”
Navman Wireless also has new features available, including a recently released maintenance module, which allows contractors to track the maintenance of each vehicle. The module will send warnings when the oil needs to be changed, for example, and then the maintenance can be scheduled during downtime. The company has also added an e-mail feature for business owners who don’t necessarily want to log onto the system on a daily basis; instead, a monthly e-mail will be sent, detailing the activity of the vehicles.
And there’s more to come. “I think the next step for GPS will be to have deeper integration into the software that HVAC companies already use,” said Ver Eecke. “Companies can already integrate with our routing navigation system and our messaging terminals within the vehicle, so they can get the data back and forth from our hardware. This is the next step in making it even easier for these companies to use all the technology they have in their tool belts.”
Sidebar: Benefits of GPSThere’s no question that HVAC contractors can benefit from using a GPS system. From lower fuel usage to higher levels of productivity, studies show that GPS can pay for itself in no time. Shawn Millar of Discrete Wireless can list numerous reasons why a contractor should invest in GPS:
• Reduction of overtime pay;
• Oversight into actual employee performance;
• Better customer service;
• Validate time spent at the job;
• Ability to give more accurate estimates of arrival times to customers;
• Save on fuel costs through a reduction of engine idle time and better driver routing;
• Eliminate side jobs;
• Reduce excessive speeding and wear and tear on vehicles;
• Easily track maintenance items;
• Potential for stolen vehicle and inventory recovery; and
• Optimize fleet performance and demand greater efficiencies from employees.
Tech A.I.R. Florida, Oakland Park, Fla., bears witness to these benefits, noting that GPS has allowed the company to manage its 10 service and 16 construction vehicles much more efficiently. Consider that since installing a system from Navman Wireless, the company estimates it has saved more than $90,000 annually. This includes $269 per vehicle per month in fuel savings and $77 per vehicle per month in repair cost savings.
Those are savings too big to ignore.