Fleet management systems based on tracking vehicles and trading wireless messages with their drivers have proved to be one of the industry's most important productivity tools, boosting vehicle utilization rates while simultaneously offering improved customer service options.
But what about fleet applications that require drivers to spend significant amounts of time away from their trucks and the onboard wireless hardware? Knowing where the truck is parked isn't much help if you need remote access to the driver, and while a mobile phone offers voice communications, it falls far short when what you need is a way to automate basic job-related information.
While field service, local delivery and other similar fleets found only limited and often expensive options for their particular applications, the recent development of two complementary technologies for hand-held mobile phones is now quickly extending the productivity benefits of wireless fleet management to just those types of operations.
The first enabling technology is the addition of GPS tracking to the phones, which allows them to acquire and transmit precise location information. The second is a compact Java-based operating system that allows hand-held phones to run applications uploaded wirelessly over the communications network to individual handsets.
Motorola, with hardened GPS/Java handsets like the i55sr, and Nextel, which supports both technologies with its wireless network, now offer a relatively low-cost platform with just the right characteristics for driver-centric fleet applications. And software providers have responded by developing a range of fleet management systems to take best advantage of the new hardware and technology.
Some are new mobile phone versions of well-established onboard systems, while others are completely new applications. The following descriptions include both types, offering a good sample of mobile phone fleet management systems developed for a variety of specific vertical markets.
You'll find information on basic features, intended fleet applications and relative costs. It's far from comprehensive, though, since the marketplace for these phone-based fleet management systems is moving fast, with new systems being introduced on a monthly basis.
The one common denominator that should be noted is that all the systems described currently operate on the Nextel wireless network and Motorola phones, although all could also migrate to other networks and portable hardware if or when it became widely available.
SYSTEM: GeoManager Pocket Edition, @Pathway
FLEET APPLICATIONS: Local distribution, field service, waste management, construction
GeoManager Pocket Edition is a mobile phone-based version of GeoManager, @Road's full-featured vehicle-based fleet management system. @Pathway is a new, simpler phone-based system designed for entry-level applications.
Both automate capture and processing of data in the field, allowing fleets to move away from paper and pen or voice mail systems, says J.D. Fay, VP of corporate affairs. They also free users from the cost and headaches of maintaining a wireless IT structure since @Road hosts the actual fleet management applications which users access with a web browser and Internet connection. The Java phone applications upload to the handsets over the wireless network and are launched automatically when the phones are turned on.
Both GeoManager Pocket Edition and @Pathway display real-time location for each mobile unit on a map that can be customized by the user to show specific landmarks, such as customer locations or work-sites.
@Pathway users are limited to 100 landmarks, and GeoManager offers no limits to customer-defined landmarks. Both systems also provide mileage, time-in-transit and stop/ start reports for each unit that can be viewed online with a browser and downloaded in simple formats for export to other software applications. All location information is stored on the phones when they roam outside of wireless coverage areas.
The company has also announced a new time-stamp feature for both systems, allowing drivers to record work and job status information with a one-button command. Timesheet and job status reports can be accessed online and exported to other applications.
Additional functions for GeoManager Pocket Edition include two-way text messaging that allows fleets to design simple fill-in forms for drivers. Data collected by the forms can be automatically exported to back office systems for billing, inventory and other applications.
The high-end system also offers vehicle maintenance management and scheduling based on location information and real-time mileage reports, eliminating the need for daily vehicle mileage checks and improving maintenance planning.
Monthly fees for GeoManager Pocket Edition run between $40 and $45.95 per unit: @Pathway is $14.95/mo. per unit. Appropriate data plans for the Nextel wireless service start at approximately $15, according to @Road.
FLEET APPLICATIONS: Field service
WorkTrack uses GPS-verified location and time information to collect timesheet and job data based on specific work rules and billing practices for various vertical field service markets. Its initial focus is on electrical, plumbing and HVAC field service providers; construction and other work groups organized around a group foreman will be its next targets.
“Each vertical has somewhat different needs based on its own work rules or practices,” says Joyce Kim, vp-marketing. “Our system is flexible enough to adapt to an employer's current usage model or business, so we can give them the same job codes and other data they're currently using.”
Like all Java-based phone applications, WorkTrack is downloaded to each unit over the air. Simple one-button commands allow workers to enter job and work status, which is stamped with GPS location and time information. If a phone is out of coverage, the data is stored until it detects a network signal.
The management application for WorkTrack is hosted by Aligo and accessed through a browser and Internet connection. It offers a dashboard view of workers' locations and status, and can be used to add, remove or reschedule jobs for individual workers. Fleets can choose to generate time, job and location reports from the hosted application or export data to automate billing and payroll functions.
The monthly cost for WorkTrack is $15 per worker plus Nextel charges for wireless data service.
SYSTEM: Enterprise Transportation Solution Set
DEVELOPER: Enterprise Information Solutions
FLEET APPLICATIONS: P&D for TL, LTL, private fleets
Actually an optional component in a complete fleet management system, EIS' mobile phone-based module is designed to integrate with other mobile computing platforms and a complete suite of back-office applications.
For example, one fleet uses onboard computers for company-owned tractors and provides GPS/Java handsets for its contracted carriers. “Dispatch and other back-end applications don't see any difference between the two [platforms],” says Marc Mitchell, transportation practice director.
The EIS system is somewhat different than other mobile phone services. It is not a web-based application, but rather a true client/server application running on a fleet's own server in most cases, and is intended for what the company calls “heavy-duty transactional systems,” or in layman's terms, applications like P&D that require a good deal of data and computing power.
Since the mobile Java operating environment is relatively limited, the EIS approach allows the phone to function as a “rich client,” sending data back to a server to handle chores like determining rates or assessorial charges. As a rich client and not simply a dumb terminal, the phone can also store entered data and collected GPS locations when it is beyond network coverage areas.
For-hire P&D fleets with 100 or more trucks generally host the entire enterprise management system themselves, but EIS also offers hosted service for smaller fleets.
Since most fleets purchase the mobile-phone component as part of the overall system, there are no monthly fees beyond the cost of Nextel service. Mitchell points out that EIS's enterprise solution can run on an open system, significantly reducing licensing costs for operating systems, databases and web server applications.
www.eissolutions.com/trans por tation
SYSTEM: etrace 4.0
FLEET APPLICATIONS: Distribution, retail delivery, P&D, field service
Released in March, the newest version of etrace is organized into three levels or packages to allow fleets to start with basic mobile phone services and add functions at a later date, according to Scott Hull, vp-marketing. “All three are what we call high-level mobile workforce management solutions that help workers do their jobs, not just track their vehicles,” he says.
The basic level, etrace: worksight, provides real-time location and work-status information on web-based maps. It allows a fleet to set individual work zones or geofences for automating on-duty status or worksheets, and tracking authorized and unauthorized stops within that zone. It also provides drivers with GPS-enabled driving directions and supports two-way messaging.
Dispatch functions are added with etrace: workflow. It can handle job scheduling and can be configured for specific fleet requirements. It's also supports mobile printers for producing service receipts at customer sights. Most importantly, this module adds integration for billing, work order and other backend enterprise systems.
The most advanced level, etrace:worksmart, uses the audio abilities of the smart GPS/Java mobile phone to add interactive voice response. Both voice and keyed data input can be processed by backend applications to generate invoices, credit-card authorizations and other point-of-sale documents that can be printed for customers with a mobile printer.
All three packages are hosted by Gearworks and accessed through a browser and Internet connection. The basic package is $14.95/mo. per user, plus $12.99/mo. for Nextel data service. Adding the dispatch level raises the monthly Gearworks fee to $39; the fee for using all three levels is $59/mo. Nextel monthly charges for the mid- and top-level packages is $22.99, according to Gearworks.
FLEET APPLICATIONS: Field service, P&D, high-value delivery service
Offered in basic, plus and premium levels, TeleNavTrack emphasizes the GPS capabilities of the new smart phones, according to Sal Dhanani, sr. director of marketing. All three can also operate on RIM Blackberry networks or with non-Java phones using Nextel's WAP data service. Televigation hosts the services, which are accessed with a web browser and Internet connection.
The basic level provides employee tracking in real-time and electronic timesheet functions for automating payroll. It can be integrated with many existing dispatch systems and exports data in MS Excel format for billing or payroll functions.
The plus level adds dispatching and job time tracking to the basic functions. Drivers send preformatted responses over their phones, which are also time and location stamped. Both location and job status are then displayed on the system's Web-based map, giving dispatchers and managers a quick view of their entire field workforce.
Fleets that have a high-value time component and that must quickly locate non-standard route locations get turn-by-turn directions with TeleNavTrack's premium service. If a specific address is tagged to a dispatch, the driver's phone will provide spoken directions based on real-time GPS locations. Companies delivering construction equipment rentals that carry high per-hour charges or technicians installing home or business equipment are good examples of applications for the premium direction service, according to Dhanani.
Cost for the basic service is $9.99/mo. per unit, plus $9.99 for Nextel data communications. The plus level is $12.99/mo. with similar Nextel charges. The premium level is $21.99/mo. with Nextel data service rising to approximately $20, according to Televigation.
DEVELOPER: UPS Logistics Technologies
FLEET APPLICATIONS: Local distribution, retail delivery, LTL, P&D
Dispatch and delivery tracking are the strengths of MobileCast, which was created to add smart mobile-phone capabilities to the company's Roadnet route planning system. Using MobileCast allows dispatchers to change dynamically change the optimized, preplanned routes created by Roadnet, says UPS Logistics Technologies spokesperson Aaron Lee. “But it can also be used with anyone's route planning tool or even in LTL operations where there are no planned routes,” he says.
Integration with preplanned routing, however, is the system's unique feature since it lets food, beverage and other local delivery fleets compare real-time locations with the plans, allowing them to react to changes and disruptions quickly.
Originally written for hand-held computers, the GPS/Java phone version for the Nextel network is the system's latest iteration, and it can be used in mixed fleet applications that include high-powered onboard and handheld computers communicating over a variety of other wireless networks.
Since Roadnet uses a fleet's own relational databases to set up its routes, MobileCast is an installed application running on the fleet's own servers, not a web-based hosted application like most of the other GPS/Java phone systems. Pricing is flexible and options range from outright purchase to per-vehicle charges, says Lee.
SYSTEM: Vettro Fleet Optimization
FLEET APPLICATIONS: P&D, local distribution, TL
Dispatch messages with detailed customer information can be broadcast to an entire fleet or sent to a single phone with the Fleet Optimization system. Drivers simply update the data with changes, which are also time and location stamped when sent back to dispatch. “An optional bar code reader can be used to enter pickup data, and a mobile printer can be used to print receipts for customers,” says Vettro president and CEO Joe Rymsza. Credit card readers for the smart phones are also available.
With location tracking and mapping like other GPS/Java phone-based systems, Vettro's strength is integration with a fleet's backend systems. All Fleet Optimization messages are XML based. “If a fleet wants to scan inventory on and off a truck, or integrate with billing and invoicing systems, we've published the XML APIs for our system,” says Rymsza.
Vettro has also just released a GPS Mapping Console that includes Microsoft MapPoint geodata. The new module provides interactive maps that can be searched by a variety of criteria and supports geofencing for automated alerts when drivers enter or leave predetermined areas. It can also generate turn-by-turn directions that can be forwarded to the handsets.
The handset Java applications can be loaded, upgraded and even shut down over the wireless network. The mobile portion of the system can also be run on RIM Blackberry handheld devices and wireless PDAs operating on a variety of wireless networks.
On the fleet side, it's an installed system running on the fleet's own server rather than a web-based hosted application. “We see that most customers have greater needs than those that can be served by a simple ASP (application service provider),” says Rymsza.
As an installed application, prices vary, but the average is $55/mo. per vehicle, according to Vettro. Nextel wireless charges are additional.
SYSTEM: Xora GPS TimeTrack
FLEET APPLICATIONS: local distribution, retail delivery, field service, construction
Ease of deployment is the standout feature of Xora GPS TimeTrack, according to company president and CEO Sanjay Shirole. Since it's a web-based hosted application, fleets only need a browser and Internet connection in addition to the Motorola GPS/Java phones to get up and running. They can sign up for the service online at Xora's web site.
The system offers job status and employee tracking with data displayed on a map; maps can be customized with landmarks indicating customer or work sites. GPS location and time stamping allows verified tracking for deliveries, as well as automated timesheet functions. Its dispatch feature allows fleets to identify the closest employee to a job and then push the order information out to their handset. Messages can also be broadcast to defined groups or the entire fleet.
As a hosted system, updates for the phone applications can be automatically installed over the wireless network, and Xora maintains the data center hardware and software. There is a $24.99 set up fee per phone, and a monthly per unit charge of $11.99. Nextel wireless service fees are additional.