Imagine getting the call from a crew member saying the truck they drove off the yard this morning is no longer sitting in the parking lot where they left it when they broke for lunch. It seems crazy that a large truck could disappear, even more so with branding, but it happens.
“We had a customer have a truck stolen, and, with the help of the ServSuite GPS system, the authorities were able to track it down to an abandoned barn in the middle of nowhere and recover the vehicle,” says Mike Triplett, sales manager for ServicePro, a Columbus, Ohio-based arbor-care software provider.
GPS technology has come a long way. Twenty years ago, it was a pioneering effort to help people understand what it did. Today, GPS is tangible. Many everyday devices utilize GPS.
How does GPS work?
According to GPS.gov, a site maintained by the National Coordination Office for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing, the Global Positioning System (GPS) is a network of satellites that help provide positioning, navigation and timing.
GPS is a U.S.-owned and -operated Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS). Two other well-known GNSS include Galileo, owned and operated by the European Union, and GLONASS, owned by the Russian Federation.
The GPS system consists of three segments:
• Space – a collection of 24 operational satellites orbiting Earth;
• Control – stations located worldwide that monitor and control the satellites; and
• User – the GPS-enabled equipment that receives signals from a satellite.
The U.S. Air Force develops, maintains and operates the space and control segments. Users are the GPS-enabled devices that are prevalent in everyday life. New cars often feature in-dash navigation systems. Mobile-phone apps utilize location-based data to provide recommendations for restaurants, events and more. Athletes and avid outdoor enthusiasts, such as runners, hunters and backcountry skiers, rely on GPS devices for tracking performance metrics and navigation and providing real-time location for safety and recovery.
By deploying a GPS telematics system for a tree care business, users can benefit from increased productivity, safety and profitability. “It helps tree care leadership, supervisors, dispatchers and office personnel better understand how their organization is running in real time with increased visibility, actionable insights and results,” says Ryan Driscoll, vice president of marketing for GPS Insight, based in Scottsdale, Arizona.
For application in tree care, understanding how the technology functions, justifying the ROI and selecting the right vendor are key for a successful deployment.
Is Big Brother watching?
A common concern for owners when introducing a GPS tracking system is how the crew will perceive the technology.
“The ‘Big Brother’ theory tends to be the biggest concern for businesses about whether or not to implement vehicle telematics in their operations. You may believe drivers think it will invade their privacy or believe it to be a sign of distrust from management,” says Driscoll. “It’s important to understand that the goal of vehicle telematics is not to get employees in trouble, invade their privacy or show distrust. The goal is to improve your business.”
Evaluating performance with GPS can provide a host of insights previously unknown, such as driver behavior like speeding and hard braking, vehicle usage, wear and tear and maintenance needs, in addition to the obvious – location.
Not only does a telematics solution help evaluate performance, it also helps invalidate, or substantiate, complaints from the community.
“When introducing a GPS solution, make it clear that it’s for the crew’s protection as well as the company’s,” says Tony Nicoletti, vice president of business development for DPL Telematics, a provider of GPS solutions based in Los Altos, California. “A complaint might come in about a truck speeding through a neighborhood. With our product, not only can you check to see if your truck was in that neighborhood, you also can verify the exact time it passed through as well as its speed.” If the crew is following safety guidelines, having access to the data produced by a GPS telematics system proves this, enabling the company to support the team should the complaint somehow escalate. If they were in fact speeding, it’s an opportunity to identify the team members who could use additional training and improvement.
Depending on the size of the fleet, a tree care company might consider GPS functionality as a component of another suite of services or seek out a solution specifically designed for fleet management.
“The benefits shift as a company scales up or down in size,” states Nicoletti. “Smaller businesses might not need a specific GPS solution to manage dispatching and accountability as much as a business with dozens or hundreds of trucks on the road. However, from a theft standpoint, it still can be very useful regardless of business size.” After all, equipment such as trailers, chippers and cranes is an expensive investment that requires varying levels of registration fees and insurance coverage.
“We find that trailers, chippers, skid steers and zero-turn mowers are the most commonly stolen assets in the country. People will sell them whole or for parts,” says Nicoletti. “We’ve also heard of people stealing equipment to debilitate a competitor, and during storm season, thieves will swipe equipment to use as a ‘free rental’ and ditch it when they’re done.”
An unfortunate coincidence that DPL Telematics has noticed is that, as police departments become stretched thin, especially in the second half of the year, their ability to assign resources to find stolen equipment is limited. As a result, a lost piece of equipment that cannot be tracked by GPS might never be recovered. While insurance should cover replacement of unrecovered equipment, insurance rates will certainly rise.
“Some insurance agencies even offer discounts on premiums for companies using a telematics solution, due to the theft-recovery ability and tracking of driver behavior,” remarks Triplett.
As business owners look to manage expenses and increase profits, deploying a fleet-management solution has shown to reduce costs, including lowering insurance premiums, as Triplett says, and getting ahead of costly maintenance by increasing safety and productivity of the fleet, tracking maintenance schedules and more.
One way these solutions help manage costs is by offering improved clarity with time sheets. Knowing when the crew arrives at and leaves a job site, when and where their breaks are, when they’re sitting in traffic and even how long it takes them to refuel is information that can be compiled using a telematics system. “One of our customers saved $100,000 per year in labor costs by using the data from our GPS tracking solution to help fix payroll discrepancies,” says Driscoll.
Echoing this sentiment, Donna Garner, chief marketing officer for Arborgold, a software company and 25-year TCIA Corporate Member based in Bloomington, Indiana, says, “Our GPS tracking for the crew’s start-and-stop activities uses the device’s location services to accurately stamp their location. This helps with employee time-sheet transparency.”
Mission: Fleet management
There are a variety of vendors in the market that offer different technologies, including battery-operated units, hard-wired solutions and plug-in devices. With connectivity to desktop and mobile apps, users have flexibility to access data about their fleet from the road or the office.
When considering a fleet-management solution, understanding which GNSS a telematics system utilizes can be helpful. For businesses that operate in urban environments, a system that connects to multiple GNSS will offer improved connectivity, because tall buildings and tunnels can affect a device’s ability to ping satellites. For example, DPL Telematics’ solutions utilize both GPS and GLONASS, resulting in twice as many satellites. If their devices lose connection, they will “store it forward” by collecting a history and uploading the stored data once back in coverage.
Similarly, ServSuite offers connectivity to multiple global carriers, and will match customers up with the best option for their area. “If the signal happens to be weak, the device will store the data until it reconnects and then push that data to the software,” says Triplett.
Another function designed with fleet management in mind includes cameras. GPS Insight offers Driveri, an in-cab, smart-camera solution. It automatically captures and analyzes every minute on the road and uses AI, or artificial intelligence, to review, analyze and report on what’s happening on the road by delivering video clips and driver-coaching metrics.
“Driveri makes your job easier using artificial intelligence to actively evaluate and tell you who’s at fault when incidents occur,” says Driscoll. “Our solution enables you to set your fleet-safety goals and track progress over time. Managers and drivers are both accountable with signed coaching reports.”
Some systems are designed solely with GPS, relying on data triangulated by satellites to provide data on movement; however, some utilize accelerometers to detect vehicle movement. “Using accelerometers, we can detect impact and send an alert. If a driver gets knocked out in an accident, the alert would send to dispatch or the owner with the location of the incident,” says Nicoletti. “We also used accelerometers as a tilting sensor. This allows you to set a threshold so that safety operations or supervisors can know when equipment, such as a crane, is set up at a potentially dangerous angle and can take action to reduce that risk. This same tilt detection also works for vehicle rollovers.”
Combining business and fleet management
Fleet-management solutions are designed to zero in on safety and efficiency, and offer clear benefits for any company. However, there are software solutions on the market that combine business and fleet management. ServicePro’s ServSuite software is an all-in-one business-
management solution that includes a robust GPS/fleet-management tracking system. It provides complete analytical details of job completion, driver-behavioral events, safety, real-time alerts via SMS and dispatch scheduling.
“ServSuite provides everything you need under one platform, including a GPS tracking system. The benefit to this is one login for one platform, which saves you time and money, creating less busy work and eliminating duplicate data entry,” says Triplett.
Similarly, Arborgold is a business-management software that primarily supports customer management, i.e., proposal, bid and estimate creation, as well as job scheduling via a web-based platform that utilizes desktop and mobile applications to offer an at-a-glance view of operations. It also includes mobile updates and tracking.
“The majority of prospects find us based on our industry reputation for estimating, scheduling and job-management features,” says Garner. “However, as they investigate our product, a large percentage realize that Arborgold’s GPS tracking feature offers an advantage over the competition when it comes to reducing direct costs, improving client relationships and achieving overall better operational performance.”
Consider the business’s needs
Whether looking for an all-in-one business solution that includes fleet management or fleet management alone, it’s important to consider a few key things.
Evaluating the vendor’s portfolio will help clarify their expertise in the industry. Everyone has to start somewhere, but consider vendors with an established portfolio of solutions and a history of working with green-industry companies. Their understanding of the equipment and the environments it can be used in is important. After all, any devices that are mounted externally are subject to sunlight, weather, mud and more.
Is equipment and vehicle-maintenance tracking a feature? If so, does it allow for manual storage and purchase information and set reminders to schedule service? If the device plugs into the vehicle’s computer, will it trigger an alert when service is needed?
Does the business require the ability to transfer GPS devices between trucks? For those tree care companies that transition to snow removal or other services in winter months, this could be a handy flexibility to have.
Ask about how to access their customer-service team. Is it via web chat or email, or can a live person be contacted by phone? Do they keep business hours, or are they available 24/7/365? This could be key in areas where storm cleanup is common.
Consider pricing structure. Some vendors offer two- or three-year contracts, whereas others charge for the GPS device and a monthly fee only when the device is active. Is reporting included in the price? If it isn’t, get clarity on the additional cost. Further, do they provide onboarding support to understand the reporting?
A trial run is essential, whether it’s a free trial or a money-back guarantee. Thirty days is likely sufficient to get an idea of the user interface and the data that comes from it. From maps to charts, which visual aids will be the most helpful? Understand the alerting options – when something happens, will alerts come by email, text message or a push notification from an app? Can multiple people receive alerts, or is one user the main contact?
In addition to regular system maintenance, how often are the vendors making updates to the functionality? With the complication of a widespread health crisis this year, many vendors are proactively incorporating customer feedback to expand existing features and develop new ones to help owners and other team members access real-time data about their business anytime, anywhere.
The GPS telematics available on the market today are varied – no two solutions are the same. With continued advances in technology, these business- and fleet-management solutions are becoming more robust, while also becoming more accessible and affordable. Businesses of any size will find fleet-management solutions useful for improved safety, reduced costs and increased efficiency.
Emily W. Duane is a freelance writer specializing in business and marketing topics for the outdoor trades and recreation industries. Her background is in non-profit trade associations, corporate retail and professional services firms. She is currently based in Denver.