GPS Fleet Tracking Solutions Introduction
Whether you manage two vehicles or dozens, keeping the costs of fuel and maintenance down is a primary concern for any corporate fleet owner. And how can you tell if your drivers are using your cars to run errands or go to lunch?
With GPS fleet tracking solutions, you can pinpoint exactly where your vehicles and field workers are at any time, learn how long it takes them to travel between job sites, and find out if they're using their time efficiently.
Most importantly, a GPS tracking system will begin saving you money the day you install it. We talk more about fleet tracking benefits on the next page, but industry-wide, businesses report a 15% fuel savings from use of a GPS tracking system. For many businesses that require a lot of driving, that 15% savings can recoup the costs of the system very quickly.
What is GPS fleet tracking?
Global positioning systems (or GPS) have become a familiar feature in commercial and personal vehicles, providing turn-by-turn directions and traffic information. This Buyer's Guide does not cover personal GPS navigation systems.
GPS fleet tracking solutions use the same satellite technology to pinpoint locations but they use it to track information about company vehicles. Fleet tracking systems either collect or transmit location, speed, and other data, storing it in a central location for later review or providing real-time updates as needed.
With a GPS fleet tracking solution in place, you can help improve productivity, accountability, and profitability. This BuyerZone GPS Fleet Tracking Buyer's Guide will help you learn:
- How GPS tracking can benefit your business
- What features you should look for
- How to compare different providers
- How much you can expect to pay
As you start to compare fleet tracking solutions, there are a number of benefits to be aware of. Though not all are necessarily standard with each platform, you should ensure that you get as many of the benefits mentioned below to realize the greatest financial return. Get started here.
Fleet Tracking Benefits
The primary reason to install fleet tracking software in your vehicles is as simple as it gets: it helps your business save money. There are several ways that these systems can cut operating costs - and they provide a few other benefits that can help your bottom line in less-direct ways.
As mentioned in the introduction, the most significant and consistent cost savings come from reduced fuel costs - 15% on average - and the main reason for that is accountability. Because drivers know that their location and stop times are recorded, they're less likely to engage in all kinds of behaviors that cost you money.
Fleet tracking can help you by:
- Eliminating unauthorized usage. Without a tracking system in place, even the most responsible employees may sometimes find it easier to use a company car for a personal errand or allow an unauthorized driver to use the vehicle "just this once." It may not be malicious behavior, but it costs you money every time.
- Reducing idling. Workers who may be tempted to leave a truck on to keep the A/C running while on a service call will think twice when they know that information will be recorded.
- Boosting productivity. One of BuyerZone's partners reports that installation of a tracking system results in 42 minutes of additional productivity per employee every day. This comes from a reduction in wasted time between jobs, improved routing and dispatching, and less office time spent tracking down vehicles. Your results will vary - but it's easy to see that eliminating long lunches and detours can boost productivity.
- Improving billing. Instead of relying on employees to report how long each job or stop takes, you can time them exactly. You may find that you're able to bill more for jobs that were underreported or improve scheduling because the average stop isn't as long as you thought.
- Real-time dispatching. If your drivers are out in the field reacting to customer calls during the day, the ability to see exactly where all your crews are lets you reduce travel time and maximize your efficiency. In addition to cost savings, this can mean happier customers.
- Reduced paperwork. Filling out and filing log sheets isn't a great use of anyone's time. Tracking systems eliminate this work entirely.
- Tracking driving behaviors. In addition to location and times, most systems will also report vehicle speeds, and some can track aggressive acceleration or braking as well. If any of your drivers are speeding or driving recklessly, that's important information.
- Theft recovery. It's not the primary objective of fleet tracking systems, but being able to use your system like a super-powered LoJack recovery device can provide extra insurance if any of your cars or trucks ever go missing.
For almost any business with company vehicles to track, this purchase decision is a simple matter of "you can't measure what you can't see." Even if you have only one vehicle to track, you'll see some benefits - and they quickly snowball into significant savings as the size of your fleet increases.
GPS fleet tracking solutions vary slightly from seller to seller. But there are two main types to be aware of, as well as three unique physical components that provide varying degrees of tamper resistance. Your next step is to examine the types, in terms of monthly cost, and decide the best installation for your trucks.
Types of GPS Fleet Tracking Solutions
You'll find two main types of GPS fleet tracking solutions available: real-time and passive (or historical) systems. The primary difference is that a passive system records a vehicle's activities then uploads the data to a central computer when the vehicle returns to your location, while real-time systems use a combination of cell phone and GPS technologies to report the vehicle's status every few minutes or even more frequently.
This system uses a data logger in the vehicle that tracks where each vehicle goes. When the vehicle returns to your location, you either physically retrieve the device and plug it into a PC or let a short-distance wireless connection do the job for you. If you plan to review the data only when there's a problem or to audit your drivers occasionally, this can be a good choice.
The primary advantage of passive systems is cost: unlike real-time systems, they don't require payment of an ongoing monthly fee. The devices often store data for up to six months so you don't need to download the information every day.
This option is best when you need to know your drivers' exact whereabouts while they're out. Updates are sent to a central computer on a regular basis - anywhere from every 10 seconds to every five minutes. If you intend to use your system for dispatching vehicles on the fly, real-time systems are the only way to go.
You will have to pay a monthly fee for real-time tracking, but the fees are generally around $30 per month per vehicle. But for many buyers, the ability to check on their vehicles at any time more than makes up for the additional cost.
The actual tracking devices that are installed in your vehicles will be one of three basic types:
- Clips-ons. The simplest passive systems are clip-on or magnetic devices that run on batteries. These are often the easiest way to get started, and for spot checks, they're easy to move from one vehicle to another. On the negative side, changing batteries can be a pain, the devices are easy to disable or remove, and they're generally not available for real-time systems.
- Plug-ins. Some real-time systems use hardware that plugs into the vehicle's existing on-board diagnostic computer and electrical power. These systems are also easy to install and less expensive than hardwired devices. But like passive magnetic sensors, they're still easily disabled or damaged, either intentionally or unintentionally - a spilled cup of coffee might be all it takes.
- Hardwired. Under-dash systems are the most tamperproof and permanent. You'll pay a little more for installation, but these devices are hidden away from would-be vandals and permanently connected to the vehicle's electrical supply.
Another physical component to consider is the antenna. Some systems require a rooftop antenna, which can be easily damaged or removed, while others have a built-in antenna that prevents abuse. And if you already outfit your vehicles with GPS navigation systems, you'll want a tracking system that works with them.
Get the most out of your GPS fleet tracking solution by focusing on one central concern – usability. Your next step will be to figure out which features are most important to you.
Features to Look for in a Fleet Tracking System
Before you shop for a GPS tracking solution, there are many important details to consider about your purchase:
- How many vehicles do you plan to monitor?
- What details do you want to track?
- Which is more important to you: frequent tracking updates or total daily activity?
- How large a tracking area do you need to cover?
- Who will run and monitor the system?
- Do you need remote access to fleet tracking data?
- Will you be dispatching or rerouting your vehicles on the fly?
Knowing your exact needs will give you a leg up as you begin to compare multiple sources. For example, if you will be doing live dispatching, you'll absolutely need a real-time system. Knowing other details will be valuable as sellers start to ask you questions about your requirements.
Basic characteristics to evaluate
Once you've narrowed down your choices to those systems that meet all your basic requirements, the single most important aspect to consider is how easy the system is to use. If you (and your staff) aren't comfortable running reports, updating information, and getting the information you need, you'll never get the full benefits of the system.
Of course, "ease of use" is somewhat subjective, so it helps to have specific attributes in mind. Does the main screen or dashboard give you a good overview of the current status? Is adding new vehicles or operators simple and understandable? Can you easily get and/or edit the reports you want?
One caution here: be careful of flashy systems that don't have the real functionality or ease of use you need. Some systems may look extremely polished - but when you really start using them, you'll find they're lacking important features or are slow and cumbersome to use.
Two other basic characteristics to evaluate are:
- Reporting frequency. How often is the information collected? You may find systems that take snapshots of vehicle status as often as every 10 seconds, or as infrequently as every five minutes. The more frequently information is gathered, the more detailed the resulting reports are.
- Data storage. There are two aspects to this. First, you have to know how much data a unit can store. For passive tracking, that tells you how often it needs to be plugged into a PC to download data, and for active systems, it serves as a buffer to store data if the vehicle is out of cell coverage. You'll also want to know how far back your data will be stored. Some systems may keep all your tracking data indefinitely, while others store only the last 30 to 90 days' worth of data.
- Web access. Online access to your data is key if you want to check on your vehicles while you're out of the office or if you want multiple locations to be able to access the same tracking data. Be sure to look for providers with multiple data centers for maximum reliability and security of web-based systems.
Additional features to consider
Beyond the basics of tracking location, time, and speed, there are plenty of extra features available in GPS tracking software that you should consider during your search. They probably won't make or break your purchase decision, but you should decide which would be most helpful to your situation:
- Tracking braking, acceleration, and/or idling
- Remote disabling of the starter for theft prevention
- The ability to monitor PTO equipment such as pumps, cranes, or other vehicle add-ons
- Routing services to optimize deliveries or service calls
- Automated e-mail or text message alerts that provide notification whenever there's a potential problem
- Customization: if you want specific features that aren't standard, some systems can be customized to meet your exact needs - for a price
- Some tracking software can be easily integrated with maintenance management software; on the other hand, if you don't use maintenance software, some fleet tracking systems can provide scheduled maintenance reminders
- The ability to send and receive messages, orders, or customer information to and from your vehicles while they're in the field
- Over-the-air programming capabilities so there's no need to bring vehicles in to update their software
Comparing Fleet Tracking Sellers
In addition to comparing the features of the software and hardware, you should also evaluate the source you're buying from. Fleet tracking is likely to be part of your operations for many years, so it's important that you choose a seller you can work with easily, one that will support you with updates and technical support over time.
Fleet tracking system sellers tell us that many buyers don't shop as carefully as they should. While the investment per vehicle isn't huge, you should still take the time to run a thoughtful, deliberate evaluation of three options:
- Professionalism. First, being comfortable with the companyyou're doing business with is important. Look for companies that communicate skillfully and honestly, that treat you with respect, and that have a track record of success in the industry. The best companies will help walk you through the process of choosing and buying a system without giving you the high-pressure sales pitch.
- Control. Ask how much control the company has over the system they're selling. Are they just a software publisher, using some other company's hardware? Or are they the manufacturer as well? Working directly with a manufacturer sometimes gives you more customization options and ensures that the software and hardware will always work well together. Most companies will give you access to an online demo, and you should definitely take advantage of that to try the software. In rare cases, you may be able to get a sample tracking device as well, but don't count on it.
- Post-sale services. Customer support and training is often a differentiator between sellers. Even if the system is easy to use, it's often helpful to have training for your staff so you can immediately use the application to its fullest. On the other hand, you don't necessarily need a company that has local techs: while training and telephone or online support is important, tracking devices are extremely dependable, so they don't tend to need physical repairs. You'll find both local and national companies with significant experience and the ability to solve your tracking problems.
Though not a major purchase, GPS fleet tracking installation costs can add up for a large fleet. Actual prices will vary depending on the seller and your location.
Pricing Fleet Tracking Systems
Considering the fuel and productivity savings they bring, fleet tracking systems are relatively inexpensive. Of course, for larger fleets, the costs are proportionately higher, but so are the potential savings.
Pricing is similar for both passive systems and real-time systems. The key difference is that almost the entire cost of passive GPS comes in the initial purchase. You'll pay only for occasional software or map updates if you keep using the system. Real-time GPS systems, on the other hand, spread their total costs over time.
For both types of systems, you can expect to pay between $200 and $600 per vehicle for the hardware and installation. Alternatively, some real-time systems offer the hardware for free, as long as you sign a multiyear contract for monitoring services.
The cost differences are primarily based on the manufacturer and the features of the system you choose. They generally don't reflect accuracy or basic reliability. You'll pay more for systems that also include a navigation GPS for the driver or that use RF transmission for two-way communication. Some heavy-duty trucks may require slightly different hardware for an additional cost.
You won't need to worry about warranties. While the hardware components typically come with a one-year warranty, they're like smoke detectors: they tend to just work.
For real-time tracking, costs can range from $15 to $50 but aremost commonly between $25 and $35 per vehicle per month.