Points to consider in selecting an AVL system

Automatic vehicle location (AVL) archiving systems bring a variety of benefits to companies that operate trucking fleets. Businesses with other types of vehicles like buses, couriers, ambulances and many others benefit as well. AVL or “GPS” systems are among the most cost-effective, service and compliance enhancing investments companies can make. To derive maximum value from an AVL system it is advisable

Automatic vehicle location (AVL) archiving systems bring a variety of benefits to companies that operate trucking fleets. Businesses with other types of vehicles like buses, couriers, ambulances and many others benefit as well. AVL or “GPS” systems are among the most cost-effective, service and compliance enhancing investments companies can make.

To derive maximum value from an AVL system it is advisable to identify the vendor with the best overall combination of leading-edge technology, price and fleet management expertise. While it may seem obvious, the ultimate purchase decision should be based not on price alone but value delivered.

If it is determined that two vendors offer similar capabilities that deliver approximately the same value, emphasis can then shift to price making for an easier purchase decision.

Executives with responsibility for purchasing an AVL system should be confident they are selecting the vendor most capable of solving their particular needs. However functionality and cost vary considerably one vendor to another. An automated DOT driver logbook is a good example of functionality offered by relatively few vendors.

Know which questions to ask and how precisely your company will benefit. Involve the right departments in the evaluation process. Besides executive management, appropriate personnel representing financial control, operations and safety and information technology should participate in the selection process.

A determination needs to be made whether passive or real-time tracking makes sense for your company. A sensible approach for many first-time AVL buyers is to install a passive system that can be inexpensively upgraded to a real-time system. If a passive system is purchased without a convertibility feature, the investment will be lost if the decision to go real-time is made.

GATCO Technologies is one of a few companies with a passive system that can be upgraded to real-time (they also provide an automated DOT driver logbook). Qualcomm’s system has a DOT driver logbook too.

What key benefits do real-time interactive AVL systems bring?

Today, demanding customers almost expect to know where their carriers’ vehicles are throughout the course of delivery. Savvy fleet operators exploit real-timing tracking by granting their customers access to the delivery status of their vehicles. This unburdens fleet personnel from having to track down the status of vehicles in transit so the morale and productivity of fleet operators is improved and customers are placated.

Some companies like to monitor the mechanical performance and security of their vehicles in transit. Emergency alerts indicate malfunctioning refrigeration units, lock tampering and other applications that vary by operation. A comprehensive AVL system includes panic button functionality for 911 emergencies.

An interactive system is necessary for fleets that utilize dynamic optimization-based vehicle routing and scheduling systems for managing complex trucking operations. Sophisticated decision support tools of this kind optimize assignment of vehicles and outstanding orders in real time taking into account vehicle locations, committed orders, vehicle availability, outstanding order time windows and historical demand profiles in regions of delivery.

AVL systems that are capable of reporting the status of multiple vehicles simultaneously reduce the cost of picking up inbound freight (backhauling). These systems disclose the closest available truck to the vendor from whom goods need to be transported.

Real-time systems can be very affordable if purchased from companies with leading-edge proprietary technologies. For example, GATCO Technologies has lowered the cost of real-time reporting dramatically. They invented and patented a method of transmitting short bursts of data from moving vehicles without expensive cellular connection charges.

AVL systems benefit purchasers in a variety of other ways. Key areas are these:

Development of "smart routes" Routes will evolve that get the same work done with fewer trucks and drivers when a good planning tool is combined with a good GPS product. Most AVL vendors can tell you exactly where your resources are at any time. But by itself, this information does not provide the means for improving the operation. However when actual performance is compared against a plan, fleet operators are provided a “road map” for improvement. GATCO Technologies an AVL provider, teamed up with Paradox Software Company, Inc. a logistics planning software vendor to provide solutions for continuous improvement of logistics systems. Companies using this combined technology can expect to reduce the resources they need to transport goods significantly.

Improved driver performance. Experience shows that once drivers know they are being monitored, their driving habits change for the better. Improvements are realized through reductions in speed and costly engine idling, elimination of unauthorized routes and stops as well as less time spent at authorized stops.

Compliance. Staying in compliance with regulators is a tedious, labor-intensive, costly proposition for many companies. For example, fleet operators whose vehicles travel in multiple states must keep track of those miles so the right fuel tax can be paid. At the same time, keeping in compliance with drivers’ hours of service regulations is a top priority. AVL systems that provide automated and tamper- proof DOT driver logbooks and allocate miles by state without driver participation virtually pay for themselves just in these areas alone.

Incentive pay programs. Reduced to its simplest terms, incentive pay rewards the driver for performing the job as quickly and safely as possible. Actual trip data generated by the AVL system can be used to develop drive and stop standards to develop an incentive pay plan for drivers.

Defending drivers involved in accidents. Incontrovertible trip data protects drivers who may be wrongly assigned blame in accidents. For example, a driver accused of running a stop sign and causing an accident can prove he was stopped at that very stop sign.

Defending against fraudulent claims. Some companies are targets of fraudulent claims against their vehicles. Trip data can be reconstructed showing a vehicle’s exact location at any time so this can be used to successfully repudiate the “eye witness” testimony of unscrupulous criminals.

Reduced liability insurance. Monitoring and reducing driver speed reduces accident probability. Insurance companies look favorably at companies that control their drivers’ speed and some offer reductions in liability premiums.

Fuel and maintenance savings. Monitoring and controlling vehicle speed and engine idling reduces fuel consumed and engine wear extending engine life. The longevity of vehicle components like gearboxes, axles, and break liners is extended as well through reduced wear.

Financial analysis and reporting. Actual operational data produced by an AVL system can be soundly integrated with financial data for accurate profit and loss reporting and transportation ratemaking.

A few considerations in selecting the most suitable vendor are these:

Decide what functionality is most important to your business and identify which vendors’ systems are best capable of delivering this. Many lower-priced systems provide vehicle location but do not automatically report miles by state and do not have DOT driver log capability. Negotiate with vendors who understand the intricacies of fleet operations. Ideally, the vendor should have persons on staff who have successfully managed fleet operations themselves.

Develop a list of questions:

What distinguishes the vendor’s technology? Does the vendor hold patents? How will drivers like the system? How much driver interaction is required? Is voice communications needed and does the vendor provide this? Can the system be upgraded from passive to interactive? How is the quality of the maps and how fast do they load? How fast does the system execute reports? Does reporting capability exist that compares actual with planned data? What kind of training and customer support is accessible? What maintenance support (hardware and software) is offered?

Develop a vendor “short” list

Just because a vendor’s name is well known does not necessarily mean their product (or price) is best for your company. Take into account the total cost of the system: hardware, software licensing, installation, maintenance, upgrades and communications charges. It is not uncommon that vendors sell hardware relatively inexpensively but charge expensive (and recurring) messaging or reporting charges for their systems. It is unwise however, to purchase a system of this kind based on price alone. The ultimate purchase decision should be based on value delivered.

Once a “short” list of vendors is identified, there can be no substitute for testing the vendor’s system on your fleet in your environment. Calculate a return on investment analysis. A system that provides the right functionality should rapidly pay for itself in well under a year.

In the ideal relationship, fleet operators and AVL vendors function as partners. Find a provider that is committed to working with you. The vendor should be willing to customize its reports specific to your business and make modifications to its system if necessary. Finding the best AVL vendor is not easy. A better understanding of what you need and asking the right questions makes it easier.

Companies that operate vehicles face enormous pressure to control their costs, comply with governmental regulators and to continually enhance the future performance of their fleet. AVL technology helps in so many ways it should not be overlooked.

Thomas A. McKenna is president of Navesink Logistics Inc.

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