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Efficient Fleets Start With Quality Software

Get Rid of the Grease Board and Scratch Pads

Managing a Fleet Efficiently with Software

Managing a Fleet Efficiently with Software

By Jeffrey Godwin

In the towing industry, we often overlook the fundamentals of operating a solid fleet. Though it is true we are typically more mechanically skilled and rarely cannot haul our own equipment when it is down, there is no reason to settle for reactive maintenance where we just fix what breaks. With simple fleet maintenance solutions, we can gather information in realtime from the drivers in our vehicles and then make decisions that can reduce downtime and repair costs. This is not a hypothetical case; fleet maintenance software saves companies money by reducing downtime, providing insight into expenses and through interactive preventative maintenance and vehicle inspection.

It seems many companies with small fleets often ignore tracking of fleet maintenance. This may be common practice and may even be acceptable in industries where the vehicle is not actually performing the work, but, in towing, we have too much at stake to not know what is happening in our fleets. Simple fleet maintenance software packages are available that can track all of your fleet costs and report back to you with real information to validate your gut feelings. Most packages are capable of managing and monitoring everything in your fleet from the heaviest rotator down to your personal truck, skid steers, trailers, or even generators and compressors. If it needs maintenance, many packages can track it. If it has wheels, fleet maintenance software is a must.

The benefits of quality software in this area of your business are significant. Using these tools, a company can expect to track its vehicles, manage parts inventory, identify over or underutilized fleet components, schedule maintenance, track costs, monitor warranties, receive alerts such as upcoming needs forecasting, and capture data from the field including fuel, inspections, accidents and more. There are dozens of high quality, meaningful reports available from most systems, and these will help in your continuing efforts to understand your fleet costs, predict your needs, and reduce labor costs and downtime. There is no worse event in a fleet based operation than to have a vehicle down for an extended period of time due to unplanned maintenance. The vehicle is not earning for the company, and its driver is not earning either. Fleet maintenance software can help.

It is really a simple process. The system is set up with your trucks and drivers. You set when you want things to occur like oil changes or checking tire pressures. Your drivers use mobile apps or paper inspection forms to check with vehicles either before or after their shifts. Any issues are automatically reported to the person responsible for maintenance, and you have full visibility to items being reported, what is being addressed, what is being ignored, what you are spending and what you can expect to spend in the future. The system will make sure you do not forget to renew license plates, change the spark plugs, or simply inspect the appearance of your fleet. Mobile tools allow your drivers to record all fuel purchases, all inspection activity, special tire reports, appearance inspections complete with photos, guided accident reporting and more. Back in the office, the shop tools allow for work order management to deal with shop tickets for repairs and other issues. The office system allows for reporting on all of the costs and downtimes, as well as many other valuable tools such as fuel reconciliation, state mileage and/or fuel reports, and forecasts related to potential upcoming maintenance needs and their associated costs.

Efficiency with Software

Efficiency with Software

The fleet related software packages available today are easy to use, low cost and include significant functionality to help across all of your fleet maintenance and management needs. One of the most basic features is the ability for you to setup PM thresholds for a variety of maintenance work you perform on your vehicles. Using simple mileage or time related triggers, these software packages can track when services are due and notify you in advance so you can plan and forecast downtime (or avoid it altogether). These systems allow you to set these thresholds by vehicle type or even specific to each vehicle in your fleet. They don’t just track PMs; they track every aspect of your vehicles and things that need to be monitored, inspected, replaced, renewed, etc. From tire wear and pressure to greasing bed rails, and from PM service to simple truck washes, these software systems can tell you what to expect soon, what is needed now and what is overdue.

When coupled with mobile tools for pre-trip inspection, or at least regular odometer reporting from mobile apps or GPS systems, the fleet software can accurately predict the needs for fleet maintenance, as well as alert you to other reported issues across your fleet, including safety hazards or simple repairs.  The systems can track the work performed and then start all over again at monitoring to ensure you know when services are due. These are the most simple of the features available today, and with full featured fleet management packages available for a yearly cost of less than a single oil change, there is no reason not to use these powerful systems to improve fleet performance and your knowledge about the status of all items in your fleet. Let the software keep track of the fleet needs. One more headache solved.

Fleet maintenance software can be used to manage maintenance in your own shop or the maintenance you outsource to other facilities. It can even be used in an external fleet management capacity as another business for your shop. Good systems will allow you to track maintenance for your customer’s vehicles as well as to perform or manage the performance of the actual maintenance work. The customer gets visibility into their fleet, while you manage the work and the associated information and provide the customer wise direction supported by quality data built over the course of a variety of inspections and maintenance events.

Quality packages will provide you with a list of upcoming service needs based on your own custom criteria. This prediction of necessary maintenance needs is then coupled with the data being provided by drivers across the fleet who are entering pre- and post-trip inspection data, submitting vehicle appearance information, fuel purchase data, GPS driving data, accident reports, and more. From the day a vehicle is put into service until it is sold or otherwise disposed of, a complete day-to-day history is being built and the details of a fleet can be reported quickly and easily. This continuing stream of information allows for greater insight into the needs of the fleet or a specific vehicle and is combined with high end features like driver qualification file tracking and systems that support monitoring of licensing, permits and certifications for both vehicles and those who operate the vehicles.

Most fleet maintenance software can be integrated with dispatching systems to provide even greater efficiencies where appropriate. These external interactions can be with dispatch or load building software that may need to take vehicle status into account or may need to pair trucks with trailers or other asset groupings. Reports handle some of the external interactions as well when systems can submit accident reports, complete with photos and audio or video details, gathered on the scene and submitted in a standardized manner acceptable to the insurance industry.

There are fleet maintenance software packages that can be installed on your office PC for simple tracking or even in your shop for detailed maintenance and repair tracking. The best systems are operated as Software as a Service (SaaS) systems and allow access from anywhere with an Internet connection. Maybe you use a computer in your office to run reports, but the shop technician uses a rugged tablet so data can be entered while working on the vehicle. Drivers use a combination of iPhones and Android devices to enter inspection data daily and at home you check in on your dashboard with your iPad. From the field, a manager can find the nearest vehicles or run mobile apps that can be customized to allow for everything from simple fuel or odometer entry for drivers to complex management reporting from these portable devices.

Checking the motor oil in a big rig

It always seems difficult to make a change, and the move to fleet maintenance software can be a scary one where concerns about making the process more of a burden are warranted. The key is to not get too bogged down in the heavy details but to instead begin by getting your vehicles into a system and then allowing your employees to interact with that system. Simple daily trip inspections, recording of fuel usage, and documentation of all work performed on a vehicle will yield incredible dividends over time as you build the data. You can provide better time management to your employees and better record keeping with fleet maintenance and management software. The efficiencies you create will be rewarding for everyone. There are hundreds of reasons to use fleet maintenance software, but resistance to change prevents many companies from taking the time to implement a quality solution. Take some time and research systems. Pick one that you want to try and then put the effort into getting it solidly in place in your operation. Users will be more productive, and your fleet will have reduced operating costs and downtime. That is a win-win.

Jeffrey Godwin has 20 years of experience in the towing industry with most of those years in Information Technology. He currently serves as Chief Operating Officer of FTI Groups (towPartners, sureFleet) and as Vice President of TXI Systems (TOPS, BudgetGPS). He can be reached at jgodwin@ftigroups.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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