In constant communication
Although vehicle tracking technology has been around for a quite a while, it has changed significantly over the last few years. These advancements have allowed the technology to become both an indispensable risk and fleet management tool. GG VAN ROOYEN looks at how the latest technology assists operators in managing their fleets.
When Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) technology first appeared on the scene more than a decade ago, the primitive nature of the technology meant that its potential in terms of vehicle tracking was rather limited.
THE EVOLUTION OF TECHNOLOGY
“GSM-based tracking originally started with the use of SMS technology around 1996. The problem was that the technology was still very expensive – often prohibitively so – and only allowed one to transfer relatively small bundles of data at a time. For this reason, vehicle recovery was mainly carried out using radio frequency beacon-type technology,” says Dave Winsper, managing director of Automotive Control Systems (ACS).
As the technology progressed and developed, however, it became much more useful within the field of vehicle tracking and recovery.
“As GSM network technology evolved and the general packet radio system (GPRS) for GSM came into being, the amount of data that could be transferred quickly and cheaply increased drastically,” states Winsper. “And because of this, a modern fleet management system that is linked through GPRS allows for seamless transfer of a very large amount of information both to and from a vehicle. Data being recorded on a vehicle can be obtained and analysed, while information can also be sent to the vehicle at any time.
“This allows the operator to monitor a vehicle’s movements at all times. If a vehicle deviates from its route or comes to a stop in an area where it shouldn’t, an alarm is instantly raised.”
MANAGING RISK EFFECTIVELY
Access to all relevant trip information not only allows a fleet manager to notice instantly when a vehicle is hijacked, but also gives him or her the ability to monitor the behaviour of drivers. By looking at the recorded data, the fleet manager is able to see if a driver speeds, revs the engine too high, accelerates and brakes too harshly or abuses the vehicle in any way. This information can then be used to train drivers, and in cases where disciplinary action is necessary, be used as evidence during hearings.
“The ability to accurately measure and score every aspect of a driver’s behaviour is undoubtedly one of the biggest benefits of a fleet management system,” asserts Winsper. “Not only does it provide a transport operator with the best possible driver training aid, it is also an excellent tool for disciplining drivers. If properly used, a fleet management system can be used to provide evidence that an employee was driving recklessly, needlessly wasting time or even stealing fuel, things that would otherwise be very difficult to prove.”
Being able to see if a driver is stealing fuel, for example, is very useful and can result in a considerable reduction in operating costs. Plagued by fuel theft, passenger bus operator, Buscor, implemented ACS’s system that allows a fleet manager to monitor a vehicle’s fuel levels during a trip.
“High fuel costs, combined with the constant problem of fuel theft, prompted the company to install a fleet management system,” says Leon Grobbelaar, research and development engineer for Buscor. “In the eight months that the system has been in use, there has been an average reduction of 12% in fuel consumption on the vehicles equipped with the system.”
If fuel theft occurs, a report is generated that shows exactly when and where this occurred. The report shows how much fuel the vehicle had in its tank when it started its trip, the exact time and place that the theft occurred and the amount of fuel that was left in the vehicle at the end of the trip.
While being able to monitor vehicles while they are on the road offers fleet managers an excellent opportunity to better manage the risks inherent to freight transport, this is by no means the only use for modern tracking technology.
The latest fleet management systems also allow managers to instantly and effortlessly send information to vehicles, which makes managing fleets in real time much easier.
Systems on offer from companies like DigiCore and MiX Telematics make use of Mobile Resource Management (MRM) modules that – by interfacing with external third-party solutions, such as Garmin GPS navigation systems, gives managers far more power over their fleets.
By making use of this technology, text messages can be sent quickly and cheaply between the office and the driver, job messages – including addresses – can be forwarded to a driver’s navigation system, job destinations can be sent from the office to the vehicle and, finally, job information, such as estimated time of arrival, can be updated in real time, which can greatly improve customer service.
“Through this technology, instructions and new destinations can immediately be sent to a driver. All the information regarding the location is instantly sent to the vehicle’s on-board navigation system,” explains Deon du Rand, chief technology officer of the DigiCore Group. “This makes it ideal for an environment where vehicles have to be dispatched quickly.”
When a new job suddenly comes up, fleet managers have the ability to find the vehicle that is closest to the destination and best equipped to perform the tasks needed, and can then redirect that unit to the necessary location simply by transferring job information directly to the driver’s GPS navigation system.
By using a fleet management system correctly, vehicle tracking technology can offer tremendous benefits. Not only can it assist fleet owners in reducing risks such as vehicle hijacking, fuel theft and reckless driving; it can also aid in managing fleets effectively by enabling managers to communicate instantly with drivers.
But fleet managers will only experience these benefits if they have the correct approach to this technology.
“A fleet management system allows you to carefully measure and manage fleet operations, but you have to take ownership of the system and use it smartly,” says Winsper. “Attitude and commitment are very important when implementing these systems. Obtaining commitment from management is very important in optimising the savings potential of this technology.”
The latest fleet management systems give operators access to a wealth of pertinent information. But if that information isn’t put to good use, the technology becomes useless.