When the U.S. Air Force launched the last Navstar satellite into orbit in 1993, completing a network of 24 satellites known as the Global Positioning System (GPS), little did we know how much it would change our lives. Instead of having to stop at a gas station to ask for help, GPS gave us the freedom to not only figure out where we were in real time, but how to get to our destination in the most expedient manner.
GPS is one of those transformative technologies that does not come along every day. Most HVAC contractors adopted the technology early, and it quickly became an indispensable part of their companies. And, GPS keeps transforming, evolving from the clunky receivers that had to be hardwired into every truck to tiny plug-and-play devices and mobile apps that provide a multitude of data that can help contractors manage their businesses more effectively.
GPS hardware has transformed drastically in size and cost, said Todd Lewis, vice president of sales, SkyBitz. “When we first started, tracking devices cost $1,200 and consisted of large boxes with antennas that had to go on the roof. Now, our device is as small as a credit card, the installation is completely covert, and costs have come down dramatically. We also offer the product as a service with no money upfront for hardware, and we even have a unit that plugs directly into the vehicle’s OBD-II diagnostic port and requires no installation.”
Many GPS vendors are now offering these plug-and-play devices, which are easy to use in box trucks, pickups, and vans. “Advances have been made in the types of devices offered in order to avoid hardwire installations. These devices, as of very recently, now have internal batteries. If a driver wants to unplug the device to avoid being tracked, the device actually continues to track for a few more hours,” said Ryan Driscoll, marketing director, GPS Insight.
Plug-and-play devices feature all the same benefits of hardwired applications, including real-time location information, vehicle maintenance, on-demand reports, and scheduling and alert notification, said John Cameron, general manager, Trimble Field Service Management. “They are ideal for fleets of all sizes with all types of light-duty vehicles and provide a more flexible option for those who use leased or employee-owned vehicles where wired-in devices are not an option.”
GPS continues to evolve, said Cameron, as mobile applications can now allow managers to view and supervise their team and fleet while on the road. “For instance, we have apps for technicians so they are always connected to the back office and customers. We also have apps for supervisors that help them capture and share information, enabling them to make more informed decisions while in the field. And, we just introduced an app that helps field service organizations comply with U.S. Department of Transportation regulations.”
GPS has also become more affordable, thanks to an industry-wide move to an all-in pricing model, said Todd Ewing, director of product marketing, Fleetmatics. “This change meant that customers no longer had to pay high upfront costs for tracking devices; instead, those costs were packaged into monthly service plans. This change was significant because it made solutions more affordable for small businesses and brought ROI [return on investment] timeframes down from months to days.”
FEATURES AND BENEFITS
GPS was initially used to provide location-based information, but it has morphed into a comprehensive system that not only navigates employees to their jobs, but integrates with service software and monitors driver behavior and safety, said Lewis. “SkyBitz offers everything from basic track-and-trace functionality for HVAC contractors who just want to know where their employees are to additional features and services, such as job dispatch with navigation, driver identification, and full integration with HVAC field service software. Right now, monitoring driver behavior is popular and measuring for harsh braking, rapid acceleration, and hard cornering are hot add-ons to GPS tracking.”
Fleetmatics offers two core solutions: REVEAL, which is a GPS vehicle-tracking solution designed to drive savings and improve productivity for virtually any mobile workforce; and WORK, a mobile field service management solution designed to manage customers, jobs, schedules, invoices, and fieldworkers. “Our most popular features include the live map for dispatching and real-time locations as well as the daily reporting functions, which help enhance work verification and time card reporting and provide real-time alerts for events, such as speeding or harsh driving,” said Ewing.
All these features have tangible benefits, noted Ewing, as they allow contractors to extract actionable business intelligence from near real-time and historical vehicle and driver behavioral data, providing them with visibility into vehicle location, fuel usage, speed, and mileage, among other insights. “This knowledge ultimately enables customers to reduce operating and capital costs as well as increase revenue.”
GPS Insight offers three tiers of GPS tracking solutions: GPS Insight Standard, which is designed for small businesses (up to 25 vehicles) that are looking for a simple, yet effective, GPS tracking solution; GPS Insight PRO, which is for businesses with more than 26 vehicles that need more sophisticated GPS tracking software; and GPS Insight Enterprise, which is for large fleets (350-plus vehicles) with complex business structures that require highly customized data to effectively manage their fleet. Driscoll noted some of the more popular features offered in these solutions include the ability to dispatch drivers to customer locations, and the ability to provide ETAs to customers and provide proof of service for billing. “Most HVAC customers also utilize speeding/idling alerts and driver scorecards to monitor and coach driver behavior.”
GPS is extremely beneficial to contractors, said Driscoll, because they can use the technology to monitor their fleets, cut costs, and improve overall efficiency and effectiveness in order to stay competitive in today’s tech-heavy landscape. Some of the ways GPS can help their businesses include:
• Reducing fuel costs and consumption by eliminating wasteful idling, speeding, unauthorized vehicle usage, inefficient routing, and fuel card fraud;
• Improving fleet-wide productivity by monitoring time on-site and knowing where technicians are located at all times;
• Decreasing labor costs and overtime hours by comparing GPS reports to time cards and knowing of any padded hours or fraudulent hours reported;
• Improving overall safety by actively monitoring driver behavior with proactive alerts and detailed reports. This will ensure the safety of employees and the public, which leads to fewer accidents; and
• Extending vehicle life cycles by scheduling all maintenance within the GPS tracking software and setting up service reminders that will let management know when a vehicle is due for maintenance. This way, routine maintenance is never overlooked again, which eliminates expensive maintenance down the line and lowers vehicle replacement costs.
Trimble’s Field Service Management suite includes fleet management, work management, driver safety, and FieldMaster mobile solutions. This GPS solution provides real-time location information to companies that manage fleets of all sizes with all types of light-duty vehicles. “Popular features with our HVAC companies include real-time vehicle tracking, which enables managers to have complete visibility into where their fleet is at any given time,” said Cameron. “Other popular features include speeding alerts that reduce the risk of accidents; idling alerts to help reduce fuel usage; and driver safety, which monitors driver behavior to minimize incidents and lower costs associated with speeding, idling, and vehicle repairs.”
Companies with vehicle fleets and mobile workforces face serious demands to maximize efficiency and reduce operational costs while still managing to keep customers happy, added Cameron. “It’s a tough challenge, but it’s the only way to stay competitive in today’s market. That’s why HVAC businesses need a GPS fleet management solution that can improve field service performance and mobile worker productivity, as well as boost customer satisfaction and reduce labor, fuel, and other expenses.”
Fortunately, there are numerous GPS solutions available that offer the features and benefits necessary for just about any HVAC contracting business.
Publication date: 11/9/2015