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High-tech fleets

How technology can help you improve efficiency, cut costs, and increase revenues    

By Robyn A. Friedman

Still using paper and pencil to keep track of your fleet? How about a telephone?

If you’re not using technology to manage your fleet operations, then Paul Norse has a message for you: You could be making more money.

“The technology now for fleets is amazing,” said Norse, vice president of Jacksonville-based Security Center USA, a security solutions provider. “We put money back in your pocket through cost savings and time savings. And we’ve got the return-on-investment calculations to prove it.”

Fleet technology solutions, such as vehicle tracking systems, are no secret to large organizations. But as prices come down, smaller businesses with fleets, such as plumbing and electrical contractors, pest control companies, and courier services, are now adopting this technology, which can help them operate more efficiently, reduce costs, improve safety, save time—and ultimately increase revenues.

“By using technology to track the location of vehicles, companies can monitor the efficiency of a particular route or determine at any given time if one driver is closer to a customer than another—both saving time and money, which is good for the business owner and the customer,” said Cathy Hagan, area director of the Small Business Development Center in Jacksonville.

Hagan said that companies with large fleets or those with a lot of contract drivers probably get more out of their investment in technology than do smaller firms. But companies with small fleets can start with a simple GPS system to help drivers find their destinations faster—and even that measure can help save time and money.

Tracking your fleet

Norse is a distributor of technology manufactured by C3 Location Systems called the “Great Communicator,” although there are similar systems available from distributors across the country.

Here’s how it works: A small “black box” is installed underneath the dashboard and hardwired to the power supply of the vehicle. The box acts as a transponder, providing vehicle status updates and reports via satellite and cellular signals. Anyone who has access to the Internet can log onto a secure website to pinpoint the location of the vehicle, see if the ignition is on or off, the speed of the vehicle, where it’s been—and much more.

The Great Communicator can locate, track, and recover vehicles; monitor vehicle diagnostics and let you know when the oil needs to be changed; and notify an administrator if the vehicle has been in an accident, is speeding, leaves a certain pre-defined geographic boundary, or is stolen. It’s kind of like an OnStar system on steroids.

What can it do for you?

Here’s what fleet technology can do for your business:

•Reduce costs. The ability to track vehicles allows you to create more efficient routes for drivers. It also enables dispatchers to send the closest driver to emergency calls or track when the vehicle is idling. That reduces fuel expenses.

“A lot of workers will sit in a parking lot at Publix and eat lunch while the air conditioning is running and the vehicle is idling,” said Norse. “With an idling alert, you can designate a particular time—if the vehicle is sitting still and running for five or 10 minutes, for example—and you’ll receive an e-mail and text alert.”

Norse said that his own company, which has a fleet of eight vehicles, has saved $600 to $800 a month in fuel costs since installing this technology. Using the system to help monitor vehicle diagnostics and ensure that vehicles get oil changes and other preventive maintenance on a regular basis can also help reduce overall operational costs.

•Save time. Technology can save time not only for a business operating a fleet, but also for its customers. That can help improve the competitive position of a company and increase customer loyalty. Harold Boyett knows this firsthand. Boyett, president of Jacksonville-based Blue Streak Couriers, spent 20 years working for UPS before purchasing the company.

“UPS went through a major technological transformation over that two-decade period, so I had the luxury of seeing firsthand how technology can be leveraged to improve efficiencies and to drive costs out of the equation,” he said.

Boyett uses Xcelerator Dispatch Software in his business, a Windows-based software solution designed for the courier, messenger, logistics, and warehousing industries. Drivers use handheld devices that do barcode scanning, capture customer signatures, and allow dispatchers to track them in real time.

It’s an integrated solution, allowing customers to request package pickup online, and streamlines the entire life cycle of a particular package, from pickup to delivery to paying the driver, invoicing the customer and receiving payment. It also allows customers to track their packages.

Boyett said that the software costs him “a couple of thousand dollars a month,” but saves him many times that in operational efficiencies—such as allowing him to operate with fewer order-entry employees.

•Increase revenues. Norse’s customers purchase his technology on a 36-month term for $50 per month per vehicle after putting $100 down and paying a one-time activation fee of $49. But most recoup that cost by cutting idle time, reducing overtime expenses, and eliminating downtime. That translates into more streamlined operations.

“Unfortunately, employees in the field aren’t heavily supervised, so you get a lot of downtime, playing around and time in between calls that we have been able to eliminate,” he said. “We can usually increase calls by a minimum of one or two per week. The revenue you’re generating from those calls is more money in your pocket.”

Larry Teague & Sons Plumbing in Jacksonville, a customer of Norse’s, has shaved time off its routes since installing the technology in its nine Ford vans, said Melanie Darlington, the company’s office manager.

“We work on every side of town, even in St. Augustine, so when we get calls in during the day, we can distribute that work more efficiently,” she said. “That saves us time, money, and gas.” Darlington also verifies drivers’ timesheets using the technology, helping her manage payroll better.

Norse said that lately, his product has been purchased by not only business operations, but by consumers.

“Surprisingly enough, a lot of husbands want to make sure their wives are safe—or make sure their teen is abiding by speed limits,” he said. “But it’s really suited for fleet operators—painting companies, electrical companies, plumbing companies, you name it. If you have a fleet, you need it.”

Robyn A. Friedman is a contributing editor to Advantage. She can be reached at RAFWriter@att.net.


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