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Fleet Management: More than just a journey planner

May 9 • Features, Fleet Technology • 2095 Views • No Comments on Fleet Management: More than just a journey planner

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Fleet management is about far more than keeping track of your where your engineers are and how they get from A to B writes Sharon Clancy…

It’s becoming increasingly apparent that not knowing where your service people are at any given point in the day is likely to impact on the future prosperity of your field service business.

In this connected world of ours, live location data is becoming a given, It’s a core element in being able to react to real-time events such as unexpected delay to the planned schedule.

It’s becoming increasingly apparent that not knowing where your service people are at any given point in the day is likely to impact on the future prosperity of your field service business.

So, having acknowledged that you need to know where your field service workers are in order to be able to respond to dynamically developing situations appropriately, where do you get this live, real-time, location information?

The arrival of the smart mobile device has made live position fixes much easier to obtain. You can locate a device on a cellular network mast, or you can get a location fix from a satellite. GPS has become a generic term for the latter: it stands for Global Positioning System, the US Government’s free-to-use network of 24 orbiting satellites.

Satellite transceivers (often called GPS chips) in telematics black boxes and smart mobile devices communicate with a minimum of three satellites to obtain a location fix, which is accurate to between 10 and 15 metres. By contrast, accuracy on the cellular network is only as accurate as the distance between the masts.

Why fleet management pays

Given that priority number one for most field service companies is on getting engineers to their next job and maximising the number of technician visits per day, why bother with vehicle tracking-cum-fleet management system if you can get all the information you need from, say, scheduling software with location-enabled smart devices?

Well, an important part of any engineer’s day is, actually, the driving of the vehicle from Job A to Job B and so on.

Having an integrated or stand-alone fleet management system provides a lot of potential performance improving data and more field service companies are beginning to recognise that they can deliver a lot of data about what your vehicles and engineers are doing, and they capture that information automatically.

For smaller SMEs, it can be an alternative to scheduling software.

“Exception reporting underpins fleet management software, whether it is for tasks such as on-time arrivals at customer premises, working time compliance and speeding alerts.”

Exception reporting underpins fleet management software, whether it is for tasks such as on-time arrivals at customer premises, working time compliance and speeding alerts. You set up the parameters as to what is “normal” for that vehicle and receive live updates.

Some service management processes now receiving attention are, in fact, long-standing elements of fleet management packages, especially those relating to driver management and reporting: on-board telemetry fuel consumption, trip data, idling time and harsh braking.

For example, fleet management systems provide historical analysis of trips, helping confirm the scheduled route is the most economical in terms of miles, fuel and timing. Analysis of the routes driven can identify any issues, whether it is regular hold-ups at customer premises, congestion hotspots and engineers going off-route.

For those companies who’ve not yet progressed to a dynamic scheduling software, you can get a lot of similar features with fleet management systems: engineer location, automated alerts on arrival and departure form customer premises, paperless data capture.

There’s less upfront cost, too – fleet management specialists were early adopters of the pay-as-you-go cost model, charging on a per-vehicle-per-month basis. If you’ve acquired your fleet on a lease basis, fleet management can often be included in the monthly costs.

For some benefits, you do not actually have to do much at all.

Geofencing, for example, is a virtual fence around a site such as customer premises, depot, or engineer’s driveway. Once set up, it alerts managers if a vehicle is moved unexpectedly out of hours, and when vehicles arrive and leave customer premises.

Going green

Fuel represents a significant cost for any field service business and it’s also a big a contributor to carbon emissions.

Any company with a business plan to reduce its carbon emissions needs to pay attention to the contribution from its vehicle fleet. If they haven’t already, larger companies with their own commitment to carbon reduction are starting to ask suppliers and contractors for more specific information about their carbon emissions reduction strategy is – it’s becoming included in contracts.

“Several of fleet management companies now offer “Eco” or carbon footprint calculators. Masternaut, for example, has a carbon calculator that uses vehicle mileage and the known carbon output per km for each vehicle to calculate the footprint.”

Several of fleet management companies now offer “Eco” or carbon footprint calculators. Masternaut, for example, has a carbon calculator that uses vehicle mileage and the known carbon output per km for each vehicle to calculate the footprint.

Fleet management companies use the on-board diagnostics port (OBD) now required on new vans to capture vehicle and driver performance data.

Congestion in towns and cities doesn’t just affect schedule times, it can have a big impact on fuel consumption – slow-moving traffic and idling.

Duty of Care

There is renewed focus on what processes are in place that demonstrate compliance with duty-of-care responsibilities. These combine an element of lone-worker protection and risk-analysis of employee behaviour.

For field service companies, the van is there to get your asset, the engineer, from job to job.

They might have all the on-site safety checks nailed but because vehicle operation is not the main focus of the business, field service companies won’t necessarily have a dedicated person to check driving behaviour – from whether the engineer has a valid a licence to whether he is guilty of always driving at 40mpg in a 30m0h zone.

“Over the past year at Field Service News we’ve seen encouraging signs that more field service companies are recognising the need to monitor the driving part of their engineers’ daily lives, both in terms of fuel consumption and from a Duty of Care and safety viewpoint.”

The risk is therefore higher that these drivers will behave inappropriately and that no-one at the company will be responsible for picking it up.

Over the past year at Field Service News we’ve seen encouraging signs that more field service companies are recognising the need to monitor the driving part of their engineers’ daily lives, both in terms of fuel consumption and from a Duty of Care and safety viewpoint.

It’s in-built into fleet management systems – not an add-on. You can prove compliance with duty of care responsibilities.

There’s an app for that. 

At any field service company, one of the biggest administration challenges is following the paper trail. Whether it is worksheets, job manifests, invoices, timesheets, expenses or vehicle safety records, losing vital pieces of paper is all too easy.

Fleet management companies have been big adopters of mobile app technology to help mobile workers do a host of things, from timesheet entries to holiday request. Everyone’s familiar with an app, so no great training is required.

Time and tax management

Fleet management systems can also provide proof of when employees start and finish work – this is particularly important in the EU, for example, where the Working Time Directive imposes limits on weekly working hours.

Service companies have to manage the fact that for many employees, their work vehicles will be also be used for non-business driving and one key benefit that fleet management systems can bring for van operators is the ability to automatically differentiate between business and private mileage – in some countries, employees are taxed on private mileage.

Driver log-on systems ensure there is no confusion about who was driving at a particular time, or you can set up a geofence – any vehicle which leaves the premises or the engineer’s home address outside normal working hours is deemed to be being used privately.

Tracking logs provide detailed breakdown of business/private mileage for each day and the week as a whole can be exported to other applications such as payroll. It’s easy to set up on most fleet management websites.

“Asking an engineer to complete a daily vehicle check might be prudent from a safety viewpoint but the engineer might see it as delaying him getting to that important first call.”

Asking an engineer to complete a daily vehicle check might be prudent from a safety viewpoint but the engineer might see it as delaying him getting to that important first call.

He’s probably logging on to get his job manifest anyway, so give him an app to do the check and not only is it faster and easier, it closes the compliance loop because once it’s complete, the data is sent live to the office. Managers can see non-compliant vehicles and any defects needing urgent attention. In the event of an accident and a claim, you have proof the vehicle was compliant.

Driver check apps can also be useful if vehicles are shared, pinpointing when the damage was done and whether the driver was at fault.

Miscellaneous small repair bills for items such as minor scrapes and cracked deflectors can add up and identifying if one engineer is more prone than another to this type of incident can identify a training need.

Fleet management systems deliver some quick wins for field service companies, especially in terms of vehicle utilisation, route management and fuel economy.

Quick-fix apps continue to offer still more opportunity to remove time-consuming unprofitable tasks from fleet operations. And If there isn’t one yet, someone somewhere is probably writing it.

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