Even if you’ve satisfied one or more of the above criteria, choosing the right GPS tracking system is dependent on understanding whether the solution solves your business challenges and whether the provider is the right fit for your business. - Photo: Getty Images

Even if you’ve satisfied one or more of the above criteria, choosing the right GPS tracking system is dependent on understanding whether the solution solves your business challenges and whether the provider is the right fit for your business.

Photo: Getty Images

After you commit to investing in a GPS tracking system, you’ll go through a series of steps to evaluate and choose a provider. One impactful step is running a pilot, in which you’ll run a live test of the hardware and software on your vehicles and assets over a defined timeframe, usually two to four weeks. 

Here is a checklist of considerations for a successful pilot: 

  • Do you need to run a pilot? 
  • Establish criteria to measure success. 
  • Define the scope of the pilot.  
  • Decide if your drivers will have pilot knowledge. 
  • Put the pilot into action.  
  • Post Pilot: Making Your Decision.  

Do You Need to Run a Pilot? 

You’ve done your research on GPS tracking system providers and narrowed the search to one or two with which you’re comfortable. For busy small businesses like yours, is a pilot necessary?  

You might consider bypassing a pilot if a) your needs for a GPS tracking system are immediate, b) you have a simple goal for how you’ll use your GPS tracking system, or c) you’re satisfied with the vetting you’ve done of providers, and you feel the comprehensive demonstrations they’ve performed are enough to make a decision.  

Even if you’ve satisfied one or more of the above criteria, choosing the right GPS tracking system is dependent on understanding whether the solution solves your business challenges and whether the provider is the right fit for your business. Running a pilot program will better equip you to answer those questions and help prevent buyer’s remorse down the road. 

A pilot will help you more fully understand a system’s operational requirements. It will test how your internal processes mesh with this type of solution and put into action the provider’s theoretical promises — without the pressure of a long-term commitment.  

Yes, pilots take time to plan, implement, and collate the results. However, think of the work as a deposit toward integrating a GPS tracking system into your fleet.  

Establish Criteria to Measure Success 

The next step is to establish the pilot’s goals and how you’ll measure success. That starts by defining your fleet’s specific challenges — the reason for GPS tracking system implementation in the first place — and working with the provider on system functionality to solve them.  

The top three challenges businesses face that motivates them toward a GPS tracking system solution are: 

  1. Safety 
  2. High fuel consumption 
  3. High labor hours 

Easy-to-measure metrics to center success around for these three challenges are speeding, idling, and miles driven. 

From these metrics, start developing baseline criteria to assess after the pilot’s completion. Keep in mind your end goal — projecting whether the GPS tracking system can solve your business challenges and give you the return on investment (ROI) you expect.  

Define the Scope of the Pilot 

Keep the pilot’s scope simple, manageable, and executable. It’s ok to limit your pilot to a handful of vehicles for a month’s test. Indeed, many providers offer a “30-day risk-free trial” as part of their marketing and are happy to facilitate a pilot for you.  

If you’re deciding between two providers, you may want to consider running two simultaneous pilots. Yes, it’s more work — but running a side-by-side comparison of systems will provoke a more informed decision on the right solution for you.  

Depending on how many vehicles and assets you need to track, running the pilot on two to three vehicles will be sufficient. If you have a diverse group of vehicles and assets, consider putting a device on at least one of each. Also, consider your drivers — you may think tracking your worst drivers will have the most benefit for the pilot. However, including a few perceived “good” drivers will be more representative of overall driver behavior.  

Defining the scope will also determine the cost of the pilot. While the provider may not charge for the hardware or any fees related to the system during the pilot, there may be some costs involving functionality such as dashcam or ELD integration. You may also have to pay a third party to install the devices. Also, keep in mind your internal labor costs to manage the pilot. These considerations include self-installations and the overall managing of the software and implementation of the pilot. 

Decide If Your Drivers Will Have Pilot Knowledge 

There are two types of pilots to consider — one in which your drivers are aware of it, and one where they are not. Businesses that have run pilot programs have seen more success without telling the drivers upfront. Drivers will most likely change their behavior if they know you are installing GPS tracking devices in the vehicles. Running the pilot without telling the drivers will give an accurate baseline of behaviors, timecard discrepancies, and unauthorized vehicle use. 

Capturing how drivers perform without their knowledge — a “ghost pilot” — has benefits as well as limitations.  

A ghost pilot may not allow you to thoroughly test functions that will be relied upon after full system installation, such as driver communication tools for routing or in-cab alerts to modify driving behaviors. Driver involvement is also unavoidable to test other functions such as dashcams, vehicle inspections, and ELD devices. You can’t gain driver input into the user experience, nor can you assess improvements over your baseline specific to driver behaviors. 

Installing a ghost pilot involves managing after-hours and clandestine installations. You’ll need to work with your provider to understand if any hardware might be visible to the driver. Some providers have workarounds to hide hardware for this reason specifically.   

If you choose to do a ghost pilot, you’ll need to prepare for the inevitable communication to make drivers aware you’ve conducted a GPS tracking system test. Even in the pilot phase, you may uncover some uncomfortable revelations you didn’t expect. Be prepared for conversations with specific drivers and any consequences or rules changes you’ll need to establish in your driver policy moving forward.  

Put the Pilot into Action 

Once the pilot begins, you’ll assess how the system performs, how the solution functions within your workflow, and your interactions with the provider. 

It’s essential to commit to giving the pilot a fair shake, which means going beyond the basics to “kick the tires” on system functionality. Configure the dashboard to your specifications. Dig into the reports to understand ease of use.  

Ask lots of questions, internally and to the provider to assess the provider’s attention and responsiveness to your needs. 

  • Is the provider helping to identify the causes of your business challenges? 
  • Is the provider showing you how to utilize the solution to change behavior?  
  • Do you have a dedicated account manager?  
  • Was the provider helpful in gathering the pilot data for analysis?  

Be sure to put the provider through a “stress test” by contacting customer service after hours or on weekends to judge responsiveness.  

Post Pilot: Making Your Decision  

The pilot period is over. Now what?  

Return to your baseline assumptions and work with your provider to assess the results to see if they meet your original expectations for success. Compare expected costs — from the system and your internal labor — with cost savings realized from the pilot. The main question to answer is, “Does this solution meet our needs and solve our challenges?”  

During this assessment period, the benefit of running pilots with two providers becomes apparent, as you’ll be able to make real-world comparisons on hardware reliability, system functionality, user experience, and the customer service of two systems. Ask yourself this follow-up question, “Is your company comfortable and eager to do business with this provider?” 

Be open to what the results are telling you.  

You may uncover issues that you didn’t initially contemplate that you’ll need to address when you configure your system for company-wide integration.  

Keep in mind that this analysis is still only a projection, particularly for 30-day pilots. Certain benefits, particularly regarding improved safety, take more time to realize. For instance, you may not see a reduction in crashes or traffic violations during a one-month pilot. However, you will better understand unsafe driving behaviors to fend off better before they produce incidents. Over time, avoiding just one catastrophic collision will far outweigh the cost of a GPS tracking system. 

It’s easier to think of a GPS tracking system pilot as a baseline projection into your efficiency gains and safety benefits. From here, you’ll have more accurate key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure after the company-wide install. You’ll have a window into driver operations that wasn’t open before to coach and improve this behavior.  

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