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Unified Fleet and Operations Management

By Matt Gunzenhaeuser, TomTom Telematics

Labor and fuel are the two biggest line items on a tow operator’s operating budget. If you could cut fuel costs by 15 percent or more, it would have a major impact on your business. What about maintenance costs? Insurance? Liability?

Forward-thinking towers are realizing a lot of value from integrating telematics systems with traditional dispatch and management software. The right approach can help you determine which is the best vehicle to dispatch to a given job, and give your drivers the best tools to perform their job safely and effectively.

Embracing Technology
Towers have long been at the forefront when it comes to using technology to drive more revenue. In a market where margins are tight, every competitive edge helps reduce costs and drive revenue.

Most everyone in the industry has implemented some sort of tow management software that helps with dispatching, invoicing and other tasks. Still, most dispatch today is done via phone – a call comes in, and the dispatcher may consult a GPS map that shows roughly where the drivers are, and then calls the operator that seems closest and available to assign the job.

With so much going on in the industry, squeezing more time out of the process is a win-win, allowing towers to get more done each day. Wouldn’t it be great to reduce the amount of time dispatchers have to spend on
assigning and managing a job? And wouldn’t it be helpful to have a truly clear view of which is actually the closest available driver with the right tools and skills? Integration can help.

Integration: What does it really mean?
Integration means different things to different people.

In some cases, it can be as simple as installing GPS or telematics software in all of your vehicles. This allows the company to develop one cohesive and accurate real-time map that helps you see where all the operators are in order to dispatch the closest available truck. This approach focuses on improving your visibility into driver location.

Or, it might mean being able to communicate directly with drivers via the GPS units in the vehicle rather than having to call them about a new job. The units in the vehicle provide the team back at the office with live realtime job status and ETA updates based on what’s happening in the vehicle. This type of integration plan focuses on optimizing communication between dispatcher and operator.

The most comprehensive approach to technology integration focuses on both scenarios – location and communication.

How Does Integration Work?
With a real-time view of where your trucks are located, current job status, and what the traffic looks like, it’s no longer about making a best guess about who to dispatch to the job.

Typically, dispatchers enter job and location information into two separate systems: initially into the tow management system, then duplicated into a separate dispatching solution, or sent as an email, text or phone call. Then, in many cases, the operator needs to enter the information into his personal GPS device in the vehicle.

In addition to wasting time, this process opens up the opportunity for mistakes. Each time information is re-keyed is an opportunity for a typo that can cost time and money.

In a perfect world, dispatchers create a single work order that is sent to operators in the field electronically. This significantly reduces data entry and errors, and improves response times. Instead of managing phone calls, texts and/or emails, the job summary and address information are sent directly to
the personal navigation device in the vehicle. Then operators can simply accept the job and start driving to their destination without having to take down information from a phone call with the dispatcher and enter the address.

Back at the office, dispatchers can see a real-time map of where all vehicles are located, where they are going, and what routes they are taking. Instead of managing two different systems, to see what’s happening, they can see plans, assignments and routes in a single view. All of this visibility, and process improvement delivers a host of benefits.

Reducing Mileage and Idling
Integrating telematics into your dispatching and back office operations can deliver value that adds up quickly. Smart dispatching and traffic avoidance do much more than simply provide turn-by-turn directions. They can actually reduce time and mileage driven. With the average tower spending close to $2,000 per month per truck on fuel, saving 15 percent can really add up.

GPS capability within telematics systems can reduce miles driven each day by a significant margin. By providing smart route planning and turn-by-turn directions that get vehicles to the job in the most efficient fashion, towers can see real fuel savings in a short period of time.

Idling also continues to be a problem across the industry. After deploying a telematics solution with engine idle monitoring, one tower found that some of his trucks were idling as much as four or five hours a day. With this information, he was able to set a company standard – and ensure that his drivers were following the rules.

Route planning, smart dispatch and traffic avoidance can also increase revenue opportunities. If you gained 30 minutes of time per driver per day, you’d save two and a half hours per week per truck. For a small operator running 10 trucks, that represents 25 additional work hours per week freed up for more jobs and more revenue. And with the ability to share actual, verified mileage with motor clubs, billing and reconciliation become much easier – and bulletproof.

Improving Driver Performance
Integrating telematics technology into your systems can also put you in the passenger seat of every truck you have out on the road by providing the ability to monitor the habits of each of your drivers. If they know you’re watching, you’ll suddenly have a fleet of vehicles that never speed, where hard braking and hard steering are unheard of, and idling is just not an option.

With real data on what your drivers are doing, you can move to a model where each employee treats your vehicles as well as they treat their own. In addition, the ability to monitor PTO and after-hours driving can eliminate side jobs and non-revenue generating driving. Add visibility into their habits with the real-time map of where your vehicles are, and you now have real data to measure and train on good driving habits, how to follow the best routes and improve response times.

Integration makes sense
Towers have always been early technology adopters. Most have already made investments in GPS, tow management, or dispatch software – or some combination of these. If you want to get the most out of these investments, think about ways to integrate these systems to give you a whole lot more visibility into your business.

Matt Gunzenhaeuser is Director of Sales & Marketing at TomTom Telematics. Learn more at www.tomtomtelematics.com.

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Integrating Dispatch and Fleet Management Software

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Dispatch is essential to your business. It is also frequently cited as one of the biggest headaches in towing. But technology advances have made it possible to integrate dispatch and fleet management – and finally streamline the repetitive business processes and potential for mistakes that can plague even the most organized tow managers.

Obviously, there are many things to consider when undertaking a search for new technology. There are the hard factors – how many trucks, how many calls a day, how many dispatchers, etc. And there are the business factors – are drivers based out of an office, do schedules change throughout the day, how do you determine who to dispatch where?

Another important factor to consider are your current business practices – how do you receive jobs, dispatch them, get the driver to the right location, record the job, and bill for the job?
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TomTom Telematics provides many businesses with the tools to operate more efficiently – including live traffic updates and vehicle tracking. WEBFLEET also provides operators with an accurate arrival time to the customer site, as it takes into account expected traffic on the route to reach the customer for each vehicle in your fleet.

In many cases, getting all of this done requires manual processes that are repeated in different systems, raising the probability of errors. Like virtually everything related to electronics, technology has changed. Processes have become more efficient, more accurate, and have provided a safer driving environment for the operator.

Perhaps the most important thing to focus on is implementing technology that works together. For instance, the last thing a dispatcher wants to do is create an order in dispatch software and replicate the info into an application to get to an operator. This process can be extremely time consuming, and take up valuable time that could be dedicated to dispatching additional jobs.

By using TomTom Telematics’ fleet management solution, WEBFLEET, your dispatching process can transform into a seamless one that resembles the following:

  1. Determine best/closest/appropriate operator to send job to
  2. Operator electronically receives job info and navigates to the site
  3. Operator one-touch updates for the status of jobs
  4. Operator confirms completion and closes out job
  5. Operator available the next job

Let’s Talk About Driver Safety
In addition, driver safety is a bigger concern than ever before. Here are some numbers* to consider:

  • 13 – the number of states that have banned all handheld cell usage while driving
  • 23.2 – the number of times more likely you are to be involved in a safety-critical event if you’re texting while driving
  • 44 – the number of states that have banned text messaging while driving
  • $11,000 – the average fine for an employer of a driver who causes an accident while using a mobile device

If you’re using phones to dispatch and communicate with your drivers, you could be held liable for incidents that occur. TomTom Telematics has proven to provide towers with a safe and legal alternative to dispatching jobs to operate in the field. So, not only is a tower able to dispatch more jobs in the same amount of time with the same resources, but they’re able to do this without the same liability.

For this reason, and many other reasons, the best towers have implemented an integrated dispatch, routing and fleet management solution. TomTom Telematics can integrate with your software and can deliver all of the dispatch and driving information a driver needs to the truck, can be voice-enabled, and allow one-touch and hands-free calling if the driver does need to call the office.

*Source: http://www.ncsl.org/research/transportation/cellular-phone-use-and-texting-while-driving-laws.aspx

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WEBFLEET from TomTom Telematics Helps Zores Towing & Metal Recycling Increase Efficiency and Accurate Record Keeping

Towing-Company-Indianapolis-Indiana
Company Background
44 trucks providing service across the Indianapolis Metro Area and surrounding states

Zores has been providing towing, metals recycling, auto parts and auto body services for more than 87 years. Based in Indianapolis, Indiana, the company has five offices and more than 80 vehicles in their fleet, 44 of which are used for towing and metals recycling, and are equipped with the TomTom Telematics solution. The company provides local and long-distance services, covering both the metro Indianapolis area, as well as out-of-state locations.

The Challenge
New city contract significantly increases call volume

In 2011, Zores’ towing operations won a contract with City of Indianapolis Police Department (IPD), significantly increasing call volume. As part of the agreement, Zores was required to respond to any calls from the IPD within 20 minutes, or incur fines and a contract review. With this requirement in place, along with the increase in call volume, IT manager David Schroeder knew that he would have to improve the company’s GPS and telematics capabilities – and quickly!

“The contract with the police department significantly increased our volume, and came with a requirement that we be on the scene in 20 minutes or we’d be fined,” said Schroeder. “We knew that drivers weren’t always taking the best routes, and wanted to make sure that they would meet this requirement. We also needed a way to certify to the IPD that we were meeting the time requirement, should there be any questions.”

The Solution
Increased efficiency and accurate record-keeping

According to Schroeder, the decision to move to TomTom Telematics has significantly improved efficiencies, and made it easy to communicate with the IPD.

He said, “In the beginning, the police department was telling us three or four times a week that we didn’t make the 20-minute window. With TomTom WEBFLEET we were able to show them that we did – and saved ourselves quite a bit of money by not having to pay fines.”

The system also helps them meet the 20-minute requirement, even when the police don’t necessarily give them an exact location.

“Oftentimes, we can show that the original call didn’t provide the correct location, so that resets the clock for us,” said Schroeder. “We also find TomTom’s maps – which include mile markers – extremely helpful when we get a call for a vehicle that is between two exits on the highway. We can pinpoint where they are on the map and get there more quickly.”

TomTom Telematics’ WEBFLEET has also improved operations significantly, because WEBFLEET is integrated with Zores’ dispatch system job information and directions are sent directly to the driver in the vehicle.

According to Schroeder, “TomTom makes it simple for us to map where our drivers are going. They didn’t always use the best routes, but now, because we are sending directions directly to them, they are getting where they need to be faster and more efficiently. The savings have been significant.”

TomTom WEBFLEET has also helped Zores uncover fraud within their organization – and help drivers when they have been victims of crimes. On more than one occasion, drivers have been held up by thieves and were able to contact dispatch to let them know they were in trouble. Because they could track exactly where the vehicles were, office staff could send police to the location to stop the crime.

The Zores staff was also able to uncover a scheme where one of their drivers was using company vehicles to buy and sell vehicles after-hours. By tracking the vehicle, the Zores staff was able to uncover the crime and provide proof.

Across the company’s tow and recycling operations, TomTom Telematics has made a significant impact.

“Now that we have this system, even things like the hiring process have become easier. We no longer have to worry about whether candidates are familiar with every part of the city, as we know they will get accurate, detailed directions to every job,” said Schroeder. “And the benefits in terms of efficiency and reporting have improved our bottom line. We’re able to provide the service levels necessary for our IPD contract, and manage the increased volume and opportunity that comes along with that. The system provides unbelievable Return on Investment for us. I’d recommend it to anyone.”

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GPS Solutions Deliver Tangible Benefits

TOM TOM Web Fleet Pro
By Matt Gunzenhaeuser, TomTom Business Solutions

Labor and fuel are the two biggest line items on a tow operator’s operating budget. If you could cut fuel costs by 15 percent or more, it would have a major impact on your business. What about maintenance costs? Insurance? Liability?

Technology has undoubtedly changed the tow industry – in some cases, making things more challenging, but, in many cases, making it easier than ever before to get a handle on your business, save costs, and improve performance. One development that is delivering value to towers is the integration of GPS/fleet management systems with traditional dispatch and management software. The right commercial GPS solution can help you determine which is the best vehicle to dispatch to a given job, and give your drivers the best tools to perform their job safely and effectively.

Reducing Mileage and Idling

Integrating GPS into your dispatching and back office operations can have a measurable impact on your business. Smart dispatching and traffic avoidance do much more than simply provide turn-by-turn directions. They can actually reduce time and mileage driven for the current workload.  With the average tower spending close to $2,000 per month per truck on fuel, saving 15 percent can really add up.

We all know that reducing miles driven and minimizing idling are the best ways to reduce fuel consumption. Idling continues to be a problem across the industry. After deploying a GPS solution with engine idle monitoring, one tower found that some of his trucks were idling as much as four or five hours a day. With this information, he was able to set a company standard – and ensure that his drivers were following the rules.

And GPS solutions can clearly impact miles driven by providing smart route planning and turn-by-turn directions that get vehicles to the job in the most efficient fashion.

Route planning, smart dispatch and traffic avoidance can also increase revenue opportunities. What if you gained 30 minutes of time per driver per day? That’s two and a half hours per week per truck. For a small operator running 10 trucks, that represents 25 additional work hours per week freed up for more jobs and more revenue.

Improving Driver Performance

Imagine sitting in the passenger seat next to every driver, every day. Can you imagine what their driving habits would look like? If they knew you were watching, you’d suddenly have a fleet of vehicles that never sped, where hard braking and hard steering were unheard of, and idling was just not an option.

Today, technology allows you to virtually ride along with every driver. With active visibility into how your drivers behave, you can move to a model where each employee treats your vehicles as well as they treat their own, and that leads directly to significant reductions in maintenance costs.  In addition, the ability to monitor PTO and after-hours driving can eliminate side jobs and non-revenue generating driving.

Having the latest technology is important – but combining that with the right business practices is what really makes the difference.  Setting policies, and then deploying the right technology to help measure compliance is the best way to make a real impact.  After all, you can’t manage what you can’t measure.

Maintenance can also represent a significant cost. In this case, prevention is better than the cure. GPS solutions that offer “active driver feedback” engage drivers by providing them with data about their behavior while they drive, making them more invested in better driving habits, while also helping the tow operator to monitor what they are doing.  Towers who manage performance and bonuses through driver scores have seen significant changes driving habits, resulting in lower maintenance costs.

Liability is also a larger concern than ever before. State and federal authorities can hold you responsible if a driver is in an accident while using a mobile device. Still, the use of cellphones is still way too common in the tow industry. GPS solutions deliver all of the dispatch and driving information a driver needs to the vehicle, can be voice-enabled, and allows one-touch and hands-free calling if the driver does need to call the office.  Demonstrating that you’ve deployed the right technology is your best defense in a liability situation.

Increasing Visibility

By monitoring who’s doing the right thing, tow operators have greater visibility into their businesses than ever before.  With real data, they can focus on improving performance by tackling some of their biggest problems – like idling and driving behaviors. For any business owner, it is impossible to be everywhere. But with the right in-vehicle technology, towers can provide drivers with powerful tools and then monitor and manage their performance.

Matt Gunzenhaeuser is Director of Sales & Marketing at TomTom Business Solutions.  Learn more at http://business.tomtom.com

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GPS: From Tracking To Reinventing

GPS Tracking for Company Fleets

GPS Tracking for Company Fleets

There has never been a better time to assess the potential of GPS-based solutions for your towing and recovery business.

With the convergence in mobile technologies, there has been an explosion in the number and diversity of available solutions – options that can make a material difference in the performance of your business.

Before laying out the options, first some perspectives to set the stage:

  • “GPS” ain’t just what it used to be. “If past history were all there was to the game, the richest people in the world would be librarians” – Warren Buffet. GPS used to be expensive, and all about knowing where your trucks are. GPS navigation is now on your smart phone and all about operational productivity.
  • One size does not fit all. The competitor to be feared is one who never bothers you at all, but goes on making his own business better” – Henry Ford. The proliferation of GPS “bells and whistles” continues and often commands too much attention. The hard part in selecting among GPS-based offerings is looking past the sizzle to choose the right steak to make your business better. How could real-time information improve how you dynamically, better manage operations?
  • Tomorrow won’t be like today. Gretsky said it well: “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” The right “GPS choice” for your company should solve not only the issues of today, but position your business for the competitive challenges of tomorrow.

“Tracking” used to be the big idea. This remains important, but today GPS is often a component part in a broader solution to drive significant increases in operational productivity – both in the office, and in the field. I have found it helpful to think along a spectrum of options with four levels:

Level 1 – Tracking, while the most basic capability, tracking offers for many companies the highest short-term return. It addresses key owner concerns:

  • Where are my trucks (my most expensive assets)?
  • Are my drivers staying “on task”? Are they pocketing revenue from jobs that they are doing on the side?

The more feature-rich offerings will have Input/Output connections as part of the black box to track events on the truck (e.g., engine and/or PTO “On” and “Off”), show truck travel history (“breadcrumbs”), monitor truck speed, and create “geo fences” to alert dispatchers when drivers are straying into areas where they should not be. Importantly the black boxes are attached to and are tracking trucks (not drivers). The approach centers on driver supervision.

Level 2 – Guiding builds on the basic tracking of the “black box” by adding a user interface in the truck for drivers. This could be a ruggedized device or a derivative of a consumer product – such as a Garmin or Tom Tom. The user interface assists the driver in navigating to the incident and destination addresses. The better options in this category will first locate addresses on the map of the GPS product in the office, and then transmit the GPS coordinates to the device in the truck so that drivers do not need to enter any address details. A variant of this approach is to send an email to a driver’s phone with addresses that the driver can manually enter into the Garmin. This avoids the cost of the “black box”, but delivers a lower gain in productivity. Level 2 adds capabilities that benefit drivers – assistance with logistics.

The major differentiator in getting to Level 3 – Deploying is to have a GPS solution that is fully integrated with the dispatch solution. In Level 1 and 2, dispatchers will typically be looking at one screen from one provider for truck location, and a different screen from a different provider for dispatching – sometimes on one monitor! The underlying applications are different and so the synchronization of information between the systems is inherently limited. Level 3 solutions meet two key characteristics:

  • The GPS tracking/mapping component shows not only truck location, but also truck type, and truck status/availability (provides a complete picture in one screen for dispatchers) along with a list of jobs.
  • The mapping and dispatching components are intrinsically “in sync” – they share the same information database. Given the integrated design, updates to dispatch and mapping happen simultaneously. Detailed information on calls and open jobs is available and displayed on the map.

In Level 3, the integration of GPS tracking/mapping with dispatching creates the opportunity for major improvements in dispatching – dispatchers have all the requisite information for better assignment decisions available on the map for visual dispatch. Better call assignment in turn drives improved utilization of trucks and drivers. The better Level 3 solutions will also incorporate mobile messaging in the truck to collect vehicle information (e.g., VIN, odometer) and service delivery details (e.g., Extras, dropped location in storage lot).

Level 4 – Reinventing sounds a bit pretentious. However, integration of the dispatching solution with GPS tracking/mapping enables next generation operational productivity processes that go beyond presenting better information. For example, in dispatch:

  • Recommending the most logical trucks for dispatchers to assign to a new job (automatically identifying trucks that are close by and soon to be available) to enable better deployment decisions
  • Enabling dispatchers to assign calls from the map if they choose – i.e., drag and drop a truck onto the “pin” representing an open job to improve speed/efficiency and to make assignment easier. When assigned, call details are sent automatically to the driver’s mobile device
  • Providing “dashboards” so that dispatch becomes a control tower with real-time indicators and alerts for fuel efficiency, validity of incident and destination addresses, truck speed, and call progress vs. plan

In addition, by leveraging advances in mobile technology, it is now both practical and affordable to extend the operational processes of the office to the truck. This includes forwarding account-specific pricing parameters (and GPS calculated mileage estimates) to the truck. With this, the mobile device can calculate the correct pricing, and the driver can process the customer’s credit card while on-site. Companies can move away from the ticket book and print invoices in the truck. With the convergence of mobile technology, the business process capabilities are integrated with the same device that provides GPS information – ranging from your Android smart phone or tablet, to a Wi Fi device of your choosing that connects to a mobile hot spot in the truck (that also provides GPS and monitors/reports truck events – e.g., PTO on/off).

So what does all of this mean for you? What are the levers in your business to improve operational productivity? Among the growing range and scope of mobile/GPS possibilities, which approach gives you the biggest “bang for the buck” – now, and into the future? The growing application of GPS in the industry is making it competitive “table stakes”. How should you use GPS-based solutions to keep your company among the leaders in operational productivity?

“If you are driving comfortably around the track, you are probably going too slow” (Mario Andretti).

The author – Jim Shellhaas – is the founder and president of Ranger SST (Ranger Service Solutions Technology, LLC), a towing software and mobile communications company providing dispatching, two-way mobile messaging, GPS tracking/mapping, and impound-lot management solutions for the towing and recovery industry. Towers are invited to call Jim and the Ranger team anytime for consultation at 440-498-1495.

Also, see www.RangerSST.com for more information.

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