On the Right Trak
From humble beginnings, David Winsper and his team have developed Autotrak into one of the country’s most proficient tracking and telematics operations
The story of Autotrak, formerly Automotive Control Systems (ACS) – one of South Africa’s oldest fleet management providers – is one of opportunity, dedication and triumph. Managing director David Winsper began the company in 1994 with every cent he could scrape together after his prior employer decided to close the division he helped build for six years. “I had built a decent division over that time. I took the voluntary redundancy package and left on the Friday. On the Monday I started ACS!” he relates.
Winsper was strategic in his endeavour; all the business intelligence he had assimilated over the years was taken over to the new business, leveraging his start up positively. This was to be a key indicator of Autotrak’s philosophy of constantly developing its own products. “Although active tracking wasn’t available in 1994, because cellphone networks had not yet gained real momentum, we were still supplying electronic systems and tachographs. Some of the systems developed then are still used today,” he says proudly.
But what has made the Autotrak product offering unique among the plethora of similar offerings on the market today? Winsper explains that because the company designs its own products it can be flexible in terms of customers’ needs. “We are home-grown people with our technology, we live and breathe our technology following a customer-centric approach.” he says. “And to that we are adding really good service and are setting up specialised departments to ensure that our customers have the right service.”
This meticulous service philosophy is where the company’s real focus is. “The ‘big guys’ talk about ‘churn’ – how many people fall off their books every month as opposed to how many new ones come on,” explains Winsper. “It’s usually thousands of people going back into the pool looking for tracking and fleet management systems. Last year, we picked up a customer with 2 000 vehicles from the opposition because of bad service. So for us it’s all about delivery of great service.” Winsper is proud of the fact that Autotrak has virtually zero churn, with 20 000 units currently active. “We really want to break that trend in the industry by having no churn,” he notes. This pioneer attitude is what instils a customer-centric focus at Autotrak.
Of course, this does not mean the company has taken to resting on its laurels with its hardware. On the contrary, Autotrak is on a huge product development drive, having significantly expanded its engineering activities in the last five years. “We’re upgrading our software all the time and that helps with customer retention,” says Winsper. On the horizon for customers are vehicle camera monitoring systems (due in September 2014) as well as development of a navigation tool (due in April 2014). A tyre monitoring device (for theft, pressure and temperature) will also be launched in the near future. Naturally, these are all being developed in-house.
Also developed in-house is the new fuel monitoring and fuel theft detection product, namely, Autofuel. Autofuel uses revolutionary, patented ultrasonic technology that constantly measures vehicle fuel tank levels. It is able to detect the slightest variances, including fuel fill ups and fuel thefts, in real time. Autofuel is so advanced it is also able to detect fuel dilution such as when water is added to the tank.
“Whereas our opposition is importing these systems and getting to market quickly using integration mechanisms that have certain restrictions, we’re developing our own proprietary systems. This allows our products to be more flexible in meeting market requirements,” says Winsper.
Autotrak has developed, initially for the bus industry, a duty cycle system into its software that allows operators to score their fleet on a timing success rate. This is done by running a vehicle on optimum routes and times and then matching, in 15-minute segments, all subsequent buses that run the same trips. The integration of duty cycle development was based on augmented demand by the bus industry. This system will be deployed to additional industries based on a segmentation analysis. “I believe we’re the first in the industry to offer a real-time duty cycle monitoring system,” Winsper notes.
Autotrak has acquired a host of notable clients including Imperial, Absa, Buscor, Olympic Bus, Great North Transport and the Smollan Group. “We received an email from Smollan earlier this year thanking us for our world-class service. It’s quite a feather in our cap and I was very pleased to receive it,” Winsper says beaming with pride. “We complete customer care surveys on a quarterly cycle to gauge our customer relations. I become very disappointed when we receive a customer complaint.”
Autotrak is augmenting its customer base both locally and abroad. This year the company opened a subsidiary in Mauritius. Winsper says Mauritius is an interesting niche market and the company hopes to have 4 000 vehicles from the little island on its books in two years. Over the next year Autotrak will look to expand its market share and open subsidiaries in East Africa. The big news, however, is its expansion into Europe. “We started the project a year ago and have a distributor in Amsterdam, who supplies six dealers,” Winsper explains. “But it’s early days, our five-year plan involves having a shareholding in Europe.”
Winsper also knows that, to expand on an international scale, the company’s IT infrastructure – the backbone of the company – needs to constantly be in top form. The company’s servers are hosted by MTN, which promises a 99,9 percent uptime and has also recently upgraded the systems to solid-state drives. This has allowed Autotrak to deliver real-time reports to its clients as there’s no bottleneck created by the servers. The Autotrak product range offers a bouquet of reporting and analytics systems designed for superior fleet management. The extensive reporting and analytics systems infrastructure available for customers is the catalyst for mitigating operational risk.
By leveraging “big data”, the Autotrak platform can help reduce fuel and vehicle maintenance costs, improve efficiencies within organisations, assist in meeting regulatory requirements, enhance driver safety and mitigate theft.
Of course, 20 years in the business allows one to realise the importance of developing a seasoned learning curve and effectively leveraging core competencies. Autotrak is the embodiment of a well-managed organisation creating value for all its stakeholders. “It’s been an absolutely brilliant adventure: every day I get out of bed and look forward to my day at work,” smiles Winsper. I really do love what we do.”