Top

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.