The Benefits of Fleet Tracking
As digitalization and remote diagnostics take the consumer market by storm — from smart thermostats to entire building management systems — HVAC contractors should not forget that digital technology can make their own lives easier as well. As technology improves, fleet tracking software solutions offer contractors far more than a simple interface to track their vans. Instead, they offer a full suite of options to improve employee management, workplace safety, and profit.
Visibility, Insights, Results
Ryan Driscoll, vice president of marketing for GPS Insight, said that the advantages of a fleet tracking solution can be categorized as visibility, insights, and results.
“HVACR owners and managers get a clear cut advantage in implementing a fleet tracking solution almost immediately,” Driscoll said. “Right away, most drivers start to improve their behaviors once they understand what management is looking at/scoring.”
He explained that the systems can help reduce operating costs such as fuel, labor, and maintenance cost. Plus, as the software tracks driver behavior, it can make sure vehicles are safe to operate. Since so much of the tracking is automated, workflow efficiency is improved, since the software can eliminate paperwork and other time-consuming reporting tasks.
“Management and office staff get better visibility into what’s happening in the field, actionable insights that can save time and money, and ultimately get results that help the business scale and grow,” said Driscoll.
MANY BENEFITS: Ryan Driscoll, vice president of marketing for GPS Insight, said that the advantages of a fleet tracking solution can be categorizes as visibility, insights, and results.
He said that fleet tracking providers are continuing to think bigger by building larger, more complete business management solutions.
“Some GPS tracking solution providers, like GPS Insight, have implemented field service management platforms that seamlessly integrate customer intake, scheduling, dispatching, work orders, invoicing, and taking payments,” he said. “Those core business management pieces, combined with seeing vehicle/tech locations, routes, time on site, vehicle health, coaching driver behavior, etc., create a very compelling system to help contractors connect their business to their vehicles and technicians in the field.”
He further explained that some fleet tracking solutions have added smart dash-cameras to further improve tracking. Traditionally, fleet tracking would show that a driver slammed on their brakes, causing a reduction in driver score. But adding a smart camera could show that the driver was braking to avoid hitting a child running into the street.
“This is actually a positive behavior because he exercises great defensive driving and the dash cam solution will actually give the driver a positive score, rather than a negative score for slamming the brakes,” said Driscoll.
Payroll Verification, Safety, Operational Efficiency
The advantages of fleet tracking are almost too many to count,” said Jason Kaipus, vice president of sales for Rhino Fleet Tracking. “Tracking provides insights to your business that wouldn’t be available without tracking.”
He explained that with a tracking solution, an owner could tell how long a team was at a specific job, how long it took to get there, how many stops were made along the way, and more.
“An owner can tell when a team makes it to their first job of the day and when they leave the last job of the day,” said Kaipus. “This really helps to simplify payroll/timesheet verification. This all leads to great operational efficiencies and dollars saved which can go straight to the bottom line.”
Kaipus said that there is a tangible increase in operational efficiency when fleet tracking is implemented, and one study showed that an owner can expect to save about $50 a month per vehicle in just improved vehicle utilization. This is largely from savings in fuel and maintenance. Plus, if an owner believes they need to add another truck to manage the workload, tracking could show that the workload could be handled with the same amount of trucks if they were better managed.
“Most insurance companies will give an owner a discount on their premiums if they have tracking on their vehicles,” he said. “Drivers tend to drive more safely when they know their behaviors are being tracked.” Plus, owners can give the team tangible examples of specific employees who are driving exceptionally.
“People tend to think employees do not want to be tracked,” he said. “Good employees welcome it.”
“Fleet tracking goes beyond just simply tracking a driver on a map,” said Jeremy Collins, vice president of marketing for Azuga Inc. “It's really about delivering insights based on real world and real-time data. It's about creating an end-to-end solution, from dispatching of the job to optimizing the fleet operations, to even maximizing the customer experience.”
He said that fleet tracking is focused on connecting all the dots, from the entire fleet process to revenue, and giving owners the data to make the best decision to maximize revenue.
He explained that one large advantage was route planning and optimization.
“If a driver has four or five jobs in a day that they have to go out to, how do they get there?” he said. “And how do they make sure that the day is planned properly, without somebody manually checking Google Maps and putting it into a spreadsheet?”
If an employee calls in sick, he said that a fleet management solution can recalibrate the day’s work to make up for the lost technician, allowing for a lift in productivity. This also allows for managers to relax from a planning perspective, since that task has largely been taken off their plate.
He reiterated that fleet tracking is much more than simply being able to see where everybody is on a map.
“The reason it matters is because it tells you where they can go next, and how long it'll take to get there,” he said. “So it's not just the visibility — it is the optimization that the visibility provides.”
He also said that this can help a company navigate liability after car accidents, as well as lower insurance rates. He explained that adding a camera into the car can tell the speed a driver was going, whether the employee driving was distracted (as opposed to the other driver), and get video of the collision.
In addition to this, Collins said that after a company installs a fleet tracking solution, the number of accidents can decrease as much as 90 percent in some cases. This has led Azuga to partner with a number of insurance companies, who are willing to subsidize the cost of the solution since it reduces insurance payouts on their end as well.
How to Choose a Fleet Tracking Solution
When a contractor realizes that it is time to incorporate a solution, how should they go about making the decision of which solution to choose?
The Steps to Choosing a Fleet Tracker
Ryan Driscoll offered a multistep process for choosing the best fleet tracking solution, beginning with contractors identifying their goals and challenges.
“Clearly identifying the pains you have as well as the gains you want to make in operating your organization is the first step in selecting the right fleet management solution,” he said. These issues frequently relate to a need for employee accountability, increased safety, or improved company efficiency.
Then, he said that contractors should meet with stakeholders in their business to decide which departments will use the data. This should include conversations with executive leadership, dispatch, finance/accounting, IT, operations, safety and compliance, and drivers.
Insights from those meetings will help set the criteria for the needed solution and will help guide conversations with potential buyers, Driscoll said. Contractors should then look into potential fleet tracking products, with the recognition that the right solution could be more robust, including GPS tracking, smart cameras, and field service management.
Driscoll encouraged using the solution in a pilot program first, before widespread implementation.
“Implementing fleet software can be a significant investment in time and resources,” he said. “Trying a pilot program can help you develop hands-on, real-world knowledge of how the solution and your provider truly work.”
He explained that this will allow the owner to collect feedback about the options available on the market.
The final step is choosing the best partner — one who offers the greatest return on investment.
“You can set yourself up for success by asking questions that will reveal how a telematics provider will respond once you sign up,” he said. “How do they respond to questions about problems, product functionality, and understanding information from their platform? Do they ask questions that identify your organization's priorities? These are key signs that your provider is invested in your success.”
A Driver-Focused Solution
Jeremy Collins said contractors should choose a software that is driver-focused.
“The biggest differences I see is the focus on the driver or the focus on the tracking element,” he said. “But if a solution doesn't focus on driver rewards and drivers, empowering and enabling that driver to be better at their job, these systems can fail really quickly.”
He explained that drivers are ultimately the ones who should be getting the value from the solution, but if the emphasis is on the tracking, owners could unintentionally create a Big Brother environment.
“You need to make sure there's a mobile app for the driver,” he added. “You need to make sure that there's driver coaching, that they can become better at their job, and that there's some transparency to it. Are you just setting this up to track drivers? Or are you setting this up by getting the platform that supports driver safety and protection of that driver?”
One example he pointed to was driver scoring. Azuga’s product, for example, scores drivers on values such as safety and productivity and allows for employees to be awarded for positive behavior. In addition to this, it also offers driver coaching personalized to technicians, offered through the driver’s smartphone.
“The driver has to see value, the admin has to see value, the owner has to see value,” he said. Collins said that this value becomes evident within the first week of installation. He added that installing a fleet tracking solution can also lower insurance rates, so contractors should speak with their insurance companies about the opportunities available to cut costs through the installation of a fleet tracking solution.
Look for a Partner, Not Just a Vendor
Kaipus recommended that contractors look for a partner, not just another vendor, since most tracking companies provide the same basic data: speed, location, length of stops, hard breaking, fast turning, etc.
“I would be sure to look for a solution that is an all-in-one reporting platform,” he said. “Do you have assets you want to track? Several companies will only track vehicles and not your assets. You also want to think about whether you want to sign a three-year contract or if you want to find a no-contract, month-to-month provider.”
Kaipus said that contractors will need to know what type of support they can expect. Sales reps should ask thoughtful questions to gain a deep understanding of what contractors want to accomplish with tracking.
“Once you become a customers, these same needs should be communicated to a company’s customer success team,” he said. “Having a great customer success team is vital to ensuring the relationship continues to run smoothly post-sale.”
Driver Safety and Customer Support
Andrew Chermak, owner of Smart Fleet, explained that contractors will know that it is time to look for a fleet tracking solution when managing their employees and trucks becomes overwhelming. If the phone is ringing and it is a challenge to keep track of where all the technicians are, it is time to begin fleet tracking.
He said that customers will first ask when a technician can get to their house, and without knowing where employees are, the customer service representative will be stuck telling them that they’ll have to put them on the board for the next day.
Chermak said that contractors should focus on picking a solution that improves driver safety. His company offers a rewards program to help with this, even allowing for electronic gift cards to be given directly through the app.
“They have these scorecards, where drivers can see where they rank amongst other drivers in the company,” he said. “Owners can send them electronic gift cards and reward them for safe driving. It gets the guys engaged and gets them to compete against each other. And it's a win for the driver and a win for the owner. Because there's less accidents, and there's less liabilities and lawsuits.”
Smart Fleet is a family-owned company, which Chermak said offers a benefit for companies using the product, since the company is able to offer personal customer service support.
“There's all these features and gadgets with this technology,” he said. “But if someone's not willing to take the time to teach you and show you how to use this technology, a lot of times you won’t really get the most out of your products, because you don't really have someone personally offering one-on-one service.
“When you're picking a company, you want to look at how easy is the system to use, what kind of support you are going to get, and whether the price is competitive.”