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How to Use Telematics to Increase Productivity

July 2014, by - Also by this author

Gary McCollum of ServiceOne used his company's system to recover a stolen van in less than 25 minutes.
Gary McCollum of ServiceOne used his company's system to recover a stolen van in less than 25 minutes.

Some 20% of North American fleets currently employ a telematics system, according to ABI Research. As telematics systems become more robust, fleets large and small are installing them in greater numbers and using them for more fleet management tasks.

From managing route changes on the fly to automating time-consuming tasks to diminishing unscheduled downtime and communicating with drivers more efficiently, five fleets share how they take advantage of their systems to achieve a key benefit of telematics — increasing worker and vehicle productivity.

Easing the Communication Logjam

For Brandy Waugh, office manager of Mr. Rooter of Amarillo (Texas), a plumbing and drain cleaning company, the increasing amount of phone communication between customers, dispatchers and technicians all at once had gotten to be too much.

“It seemed like every technician would call at the same time and be waiting for us to get them the information,” Waugh says. “We would be trying to call the customer at the same time we were trying to get information back to the technician.”

Further, when technicians called in with their locations, dispatchers needed to manually plot them on the map, another time-eating task.

Dispatchers for Mr. Rooter of Amarillo use a telematics system to update job changes with a few mouse clicks and send the new routes to technicans' in-cab navigation devices.
Dispatchers for Mr. Rooter of Amarillo use a telematics system to update job changes with a few mouse clicks and send the new routes to technicans' in-cab navigation devices.

The company installed NexTraq GPS Fleet Tracking System with Fleet Dispatch, which includes a two-way communication program that interfaces with the technicians’ in-cab Garmin navigation units. Now, the great majority of the process is automated.

Dispatchers create and assign jobs using the system’s Job Schedule Board. As changes arise, they can drag and drop assignments within the program and then click “send” to deliver the job itinerary directly to the technicians’ Garmin units. The technician can then use the Garmin to respond “yes” or “no” or text a longer response.

“Using a telematics system has cut our phone calling in half,” Waugh says. “I can do things in one phone call versus three to four calls in the past. It’s great for multitasking.” She adds that this increased efficiency has allowed technicians to take an extra two to three jobs per week.

And simply having technicians’ vehicles visible on a computerized map is invaluable, especially to reroute the nearest one to handle an emergency. “Customers are amazed by our quick response,” she says.

Waugh says the telematics system has benefited the work environment in general. “The whole atmosphere is different when phones are ringing like crazy,” Waugh says. “It takes a lot of stress from the office having to make fewer phone calls.”

Reports Tell the Story

A key function of a telematics system is the ability to see vehicle locations at a given moment and act dynamically. Another is to collect that information after the fact and use it to make smart business decisions.

“When we looked at the reports, a lot of things were brought to life that we didn’t even think about, like idle time,” says Gary McCollum, operations/IT manager for ServiceOne, an HVAC and plumbing repair business with offices in Dubuque, Iowa, and Omaha, Neb. “We actually had vehicles that idled longer than they were driven.”

Soon after ServiceOne installed a telematics system from Verizon Networkfleet (about eight months ago as a test in five vehicles), the reports showed that the vehicles weren’t idling to use the heat or air conditioning. “They got used to running the engines even when the weather wasn’t really cold or hot,” says McCollum, who now has the system installed in 42 vans.

McCollum also uses the reports for vehicle diagnostics. Based on the engine diagnostic trouble code (DTC), he can understand the severity of the potential repair, which decreases van downtime and facilitates a more cost-effective repair — such as at a cheaper local mechanic instead of a dealership.

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