Driving into 2013 with fleet tracking intelligence

Manufacturing Digital discusses how manufacturers can raise logistical efficiencies with Fleetmatics' Director of Product Marketing, Todd Ewing
 More focus needs to be placed on logistical efficiency

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MD: What do you think is set to be a major focus in manufacturing for the year ahead?

TE: In today’s manufacturing environment, with tougher margins and higher operational costs – especially in regards to fuel – you have to put more focus onto the logistical part of your operation, because for many, that’s where profit margins are being eroded. There’s now a clear focus on introducing software into the supply chain to accurately measure various factors and using that data to create efficiencies.

We provide a level of visibility that manufacturers not only want, but need to survive today. For many, when vehicles are loaded and leave in the morning, that is the last time there definite location is known throughout the day. A lot of our business arises from this discomfort and uneasiness managers feel surrounds their logistics.

Put simply, what is it that Fleetmatics provides?

What we deliver is an objective data point, something that’s been missing for a lot of our customers. Previously they may have relied on drivers or technicians to inform them about how the day panned out; but the truck is the truth so to speak because the truck can’t lie. How you then look at that data depends on the problem you are trying to solve; whether its efficiency, service or customer related.

Our web-based application provides real-time data on vehicle location, but what differentiates us is the fact we have such a large install base – we passed 300,000 vehicles last June – each of which tells us where they are every 90 seconds. We store all of that data in-house which we reference to build models and predict trends very accurately.

How is Fleetmatics’ application interface designed?

The interface is designed for two levels of functionality, the dispatchers who interact with the software daily and the executive managers who may not log in as often. The dispatchers live in our real-time map, replaying routes to understand how efficient they are and comparing different configurations to better construct delivery schedules. Executive managers receive the reporting and alerts we deliver– daily, weekly or monthly – to provide them with key metrics, averages, summaries and trends to better understand where their opportunities are. 

Our 30 standard reporting themes cover factors such as fuel, daily activities and routes; however each can be personalised in terms of what metrics you want to see displayed or collated. A section called ‘MyFleetmatics’ allows the user to select the information they want to see as a priority and, once entered those expectations will come to the top of any reporting or the dashboard. It’s just one example of how we really try to form-fit the product to each customer individually.

How do the solutions feed into the BYOD and mobility trends gaining in popularity?

We’ve offered mobile applications for the last two years and it’s been remarkable how quickly they’ve been adopted. It was important that we built a native application, not merely a web-browser app, which offers more flexibility in terms of what you can do with it, regardless of being online or not.

In terms of BYOD, each driver can utilise the mobile or web app to perform tasks such as finding vehicles around them; incredibly useful while at a job and needing to source a tool or part, without having to interrupt the dispatch team or returning to base. Managers can also use the mobile app to send messages to individual drivers via their sat-nav system and really speed up the channels of communication.

How do the benefits of using Fleetmatics’ offering go beyond just fleet tracking?

One big advantage we offer is extending fleet life through a scheduled maintenance feature. Often companies still manage vehicle maintenance on a paper or Outlook calendar, simply hoping that the engine has driven the requisite amount of miles. This uncertainty can lead to premature or delayed servicing. We remove this ambiguity through accurate measurement which signals specific notifications to help our customers become more pro-active.

Fleet life can also be extended by improving vehicle routing. Customers who drive 25 miles a day drop to below 20 pretty quickly. With a short route of around six to eight stops, it’s amazing how many miles you can drop and easily extend the life of a vehicle by months, even a year.   

Safety is also an important issue for us. We have spent a lot of time focusing on factors such as driving styles and have even introduced a device for our tracking system that has an accelerometer which manages G-force changes and flags up hard braking, cornering and accelerating. All of those things have more of an impact on engine and tyre life than people realise.

What is the biggest challenge for a company looking to implement a Fleetmatics system?

The concern some have is they look at it with a ‘big brother’ mentality. The question is how can we get the driver to buy into the fact that this is actually a helpful tool, rather than a hindrance? Having features like the sat-nav and the mobile app out in the field helps the driver feel more comfortable and conveys that this is about helping them to become more efficient and making their day easier, rather than simply keeping tabs on them.

An important thing we’ve noticed is that the benefits are more often realised when a company clearly explains to its workers what its intent is, what will be measured and why to help nullify fears over scrutiny.

The reason the system needs to be a subscription service is because behaviour tends to naturalise itself back to its original state, unless you have policies and programmes surrounding it. By utilising the software consistently really helps to ensure the savings you originally see don’t slowly erode.

What is next for Fleetmatics’ in terms of future innovation?

There are two main focuses for 2013, Business Intelligence and mobility. There’s a lot more we can be doing with our mobile platforms and we have now had the chance to gather user-feedback to drive future improvements.

We will also be focusing inwards to some extent on the extensive infrastructure we have built, aggregating information from the billions of data points we have and using it to better inform our customers and the market, such as through advanced peer-to-peer comparisons and cross-face metrics.

By turning our global vehicle data into genuine customer awareness, we want to become the dominant source of information for the market, setting the standard and predicting trends for the fleet management and vehicle tracking industries across our different territories.

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