Managing a fleet of vehicles can prove a major drain on the resources for smaller businesses. But improvements in GPS and mobile internet technologies, as well as advanced fleet management systems, are opening the doors for companies of all sizes to easily track vehicle fleets of all sizes, monitoring performance, position and a host of other metrics in real time.
In this article I want to look at choosing the right fleet management system and how these relatively cheap systems can significantly improve your operating costs, drive efficiency and massively improve driver safety and awareness.
(Image Courtesy: Abhishek Gupta)
What is a fleet management system?
On board telematics and vehicle tracking systems have come a long way. As well as mileage and fuel use these systems are now able to collect a huge amount of data on driver behaviour This includes:
- Fuel consumption and MPG
- Throttle position
- Idle time
- Speeding, hard acceleration or over revving
- Predictive maintenance
Combined with GPS and mobile broadband these systems are now able to transmit this information back to a central fleet management system in real time. This allows fleet managers to work proactively, evaluating route efficiency, warning customers if deliveries are going to be late and diagnosing and fixing vehicle problems before they lead to breakdowns.
What’s right for your business?
Of course there’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to managing fleets. You need to consider your objectives and choose a solution that’s right for your business.
For example, are your budgets out of control? Do you want to go green and reduce your energy use? Is your business expanding rapidly? In addition to these considerations, you need to think about how much installing a system will cost you and whether you’re going to get an effective return on your investment.
You need to compare offerings from different suppliers, in particular look at those supplying businesses in similar fields to your own. Logistics companies, for example, will have very different fleet management needs to businesses with mobile service engineers. Delivery companies need to track progress, change routes at short notice and be able to contact drivers accordingly.
Of course, you need to be aware that with a telematics system you’re not just tracking vehicles, you’re tracking your staff as well. This means that there are privacy issues relating to the use of fleet management data and you need to obtain consent from system users via their contract. It’s important to note that there are positives here, the system can help to provide hard evidence following accidents and negate tickets gathered using cloned registrations.
As a small business you might feel that sophisticated vehicle tracking is something that’s only useful for big fleets and is a luxury that you can’t afford. But there are some significant benefits to be gained from installing a fleet management system.
- Fuel efficiency – By being able to see in real-time how much fuel your vehicles are using, you’re able to address bad habits including over revving, long idling periods, hard acceleration and speeding. You can also spot developing technical problems when a vehicle begins using more fuel.
- Maintenance – Telematics systems can collect a wide range of information about vehicle usage. Much of this data relates to the engine, allowing you to spot developing problems before they lead to breakdowns. You can also schedule routine maintenance based upon actual vehicle usage rather than time intervals.
- Regulatory compliance – For goods vehicles, tachographs have been compulsory since the 1980s but the old paper disc type has long since been superseded by digital tachographs (mandatory since 2006). Because tracking systems can gather this information and collate it in a central location, creating compliance reports is far easier and the information doesn’t have to be individually collected from each vehicle.
- Safety and insurance – Because systems record driver behaviour, companies using telematics fleet management are able to be proactive in eradicating bad driving habits. Ultimately this leads to fewer accidents and to lower insurance costs, in addition to a reduction in wear and tear. The information can also be used to defend your drivers should they be wrongly accused of traffic offences or of being somewhere they weren’t. All of this can help to build and maintain your reputation for corporate responsibility
- Operational oversight – Effective use of fleet management in the long term provides a wealth of data which can be used to build an effective overview of your operations. This can be used to develop more effective working practices and improve your overall efficiency.
Advances in technology have seen fleet management systems become far more effective in recent years. As vehicle technology continues to change with advances in autonomous operation and hybrid powertrains, more and more data will become available. For smaller organisations, the question is increasingly whether you can afford not to adopt a telematics-based fleet management system.
About the Author: Clive Winward is the founder of iTracking, which he set up in 2008. Based in Bradley Stoke in Bristol, Clive is an expert on vehicle tracking systems and has a large customer base across the West Country and South Wales, with in excess of 6000 tracking units fitted using the TomTom WEBFLEET system. You can connect with them on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.