GPS helps drive down fuel costs

Leveraging wireless, GPS, and Web technology, fleet management solutions give companies better control over vehicles

Just as costly electricity waste abounds in the datacenter and on the desktop, fuel waste is an ongoing problem on highways and city streets. Every day, organizations of all sizes send out delivery trucks, service vehicles, passenger cars and vans, and the like -- but there's little they can do to prevent fuel-wasting activities such as speeding, prolonged idling, or unscheduled side trips (whether that means getting lost or going for a joyride). Wasted fuel translates not only to wasted money, but also excess wear and tear on vehicles and a larger carbon footprint for environmentally conscious companies.

Fortunately, GPS and wireless technology have sufficiently matured to enable vehicle tracking and fleet management technology. By equipping vehicles with devices for tracking, navigation, and communication, organizations can pinpoint the whereabouts of all of the vehicles in their fleet on a real-time basis and communicate with drivers to ensure they're adhering to their schedules and routes or to notify them of jobs when they arise. Moreover, these systems can help companies track data such as fuel consumption, fuel efficiency (average miles per gallon), vehicle speed, and maintenance needs.

[ Learn how the U.S. Postal Service slashed transportation costs with green technology. | Improving transportation is one step toward a green supply chain. ]

One established player in this space is Navman Wireless, which is based in Chicago with offices worldwide. The company has 7,500 customers around the globe, ranging from local governmental agencies and SMBs with modestly sized fleets to large companies managing fleets state- or countrywide. According to Renaat Ver Eecke, vice president at Navman Wireless North America, the company's installed base has doubled in the past couple of years -- thanks in part to the gas-price spike in 2008 when the average price per gallon in the United States exceeded $4.

A core component of Navman's solution is the Qube GPS Tracking Device. Once installed, it provides the vehicle's real-time GPS location and tracks data such as location, speed, direction, stops, entry and exit to specific areas, as well as time and date. Via a GPRS-approved AT&T wireless network or a CDMA-approved Verizon Wireless Network (depending on which Qube model you buy), the Qube communicates with Navman's hosted OnlineAVL 2 GPS Fleet Management software.

Built on Microsoft .Net, the software enables users to monitor, manage, and communicate with vehicles in real time. Moreover, it offers a full reporting suite, with which you can schedule reports to be automatically generated -- such as the daily activity of a given vehicle or driver or fuel consumption over time. In addition, the system can be integrated with existing systems to generate reports such as overall fuel efficiency or carbon emissions. On top of that, the software can be used to track vehicle's maintenance schedule, which helps reduce wear and tear and ensure cars, trucks, and the like are performing as well as possible.

Other equipment includes the optional MDT 860 Two Way Messaging Terminal, as well as the M-Nav 750, which doubles as a job-dispatch messaging system and navigation unit. With the M-Nav, a dispatcher can send job details and customer information directly from a PC to a driver with the job location as GPS coordinates. The M-Nav can then guide the driver to the desired destination with turn-by-turn instructions. It's like the GPS navigation system in your car -- on steroids.

With all of this in place, an organization has some nifty tricks up its sleeve to keep gas prices in check while getting the most out of their drivers and fleets. The obvious benefit, of course, is equipping drivers and dispatchers with a navigation system to help them get from Point A to Point B without unplanned stops to Points C, D, and E.

Depending on your industry, you might have drivers who need respond to on-the-fly service calls. With the software, a dispatcher could see which driver is closest to the customer's location and assign tasks accordingly, thus ensuring that the driver down the block gets the job instead of the driver caught in traffic across town. In addition to saving gas, it ensures better customer service.

Additionally, you can use the system to track daily trips on a granular level, determining how long it takes to get to each stop and how much time elapses at each stop . Drawing from that information, an organization could adjust schedules to make them more efficient -- or they could pinpoint places where drivers are performing exceptionally well or not so well (such as spending 30 minutes on a delivery where most drivers spend 20).

Another example: Some drivers are notorious for leaving the engine running for minutes on end. The system can be configured to alert a dispatcher if a vehicle has been idling for a predetermined amount of time -- say, five or ten minutes. The dispatcher can then check in with the driver to see what's going on. The idea is to change the driver's behavior over time.

Speaking of unsavory behavior, some drivers keep company vehicles on their own property, but aren't authorized to use said vehicles outside of business hours. These types of real-time tracking systems can ensure that doesn't happen.

Among Navman Wireless's customers is Land 'N' Sea, a wholesale marine parts distributor with vehicles dispatched from warehouses coast to coast. The company reports savings of $72,072 per year thanks to -- among other things -- a 10 percent reduction in fuel consumption and a reduction in overtime pay, due to more efficient deliveries.

The latter came from the system's geofencing capabilities. When a delivery vehicle is returning to a Land 'N' Sea warehouse for another pickup, the warehouse is automatically alerted when the vehicle is five miles away. The warehouse staff can then ensure that the next delivery is ready to load the moment the vehicle returns.

Navman Wireless isn't the only player in this space. Competitors include FleetBoss, which offers its FleetBoss Series 5500, a three-in-one solution combining real-time vehicle location, activity reporting, and on-board diagnostic data. The latter includes the ability to detect diagnostic trouble codes from vehicles. FleetBoss's customers include the city of St. Petersburg, Fla., which uses the system to lower fuel costs, monitor vehicle speeds, boost safety, and improve delivery of service.

Another company in the space is GPS Fleet Solution, which works with companies such as the U.S. Postal Service, Proctor & Gamble, and Cintas. The company's offerings include its all-encompassing GO4v2 System, which can be used to track vehicles in real time; to generate a host of reports on subjects such as start and stop times, as well as safety (speeding, partial stops, and seat belt use); and to verify routes to determine if they're as efficient as possible.

All in all, these types of solutions demonstrate yet another way the IT can help organizations better embrace green practices -- even those without a datacenter (or even a server room).

This story, "GPS helps drive down fuel costs," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in green IT at InfoWorld.com.

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