Case Studies

ISR FLEETTRACK

Interview: Experience with Vehicle Tracking
Blackman Plumbing describes how they rely on vehicle tracking and selected a new system

On The Right Track: Fleet Management Systems Now Do More Than Track Vehicle Movements
Reprinted from Field Force Automation, December 2001

It's every distribution center manager's nightmare: suddenly being unable to track any of the company's vehicles. Such was the situation that Stephen Davanzo found himself in two years ago at Bethpage, N.Y.-based Blackman Plumbing Supply.

For years, Blackman Plumbing had successfully used a proprietary fleet management system to aid in its delivery of more than 65,000 inventoried plumbing parts, HVAC supplies and upscale bathroom and kitchen fixtures to its residential and commercial customers. Late in 1999, its tracking system vendor went out of business, and Davanzo learned of the impending service stoppage just days before it occurred.

Davanzo and his colleagues immediately set to work to find a replacement system, and in May 2000 they purchased the ISR FleetTrack AVL system from Integrated Systems Research (ISR) of Englewood Cliffs, N.J.

Davanzo recently spoke with FFA contributing writer Stacey Bell about his company's extensive process in finding and implementing a fleet management system that would not only be reliable and track vehicles, but that would offer new levels of flexibility.

FFA:For years, Blackman Plumbing Supply had been using a proprietary tracking system to monitor its fleet. What happened to bring about the change?

SD:We had been pretty content with our proprietary system, but late in 1999 [the vendor] went out of business. We had no warning. I caught wind of the news about a week before they closed, and we were suddenly left without a fleet management system. We lost all of our hardware and all of the money we had invested in our system when that company closed down.

FFA:What were your first steps in looking for a replacement system?

SD:We set criteria for our new system. At that point, we knew we didn't want another proprietary system--we needed the reliability of a system that we would own outright. We didn't want to find ourselves in the same boat again.

We also needed a system that would allow us to track our trucks, help us give directions to our drivers and bring us to a new level of efficiency--being able to invoice and swipe credit cards and update our inventory directly from our vehicles. It took us about six or seven months to find a vendor that could do those things to the level we needed.

FFA:How did you go about finding vendors?

SD:We looked through trade magazines, attended seminars and did research. We then invited six or seven vendors to demonstrate their systems.

When CDPD systems first came out, they could only tell you where a truck was, and they gave you lots of raw data. But we needed a vendor whose system was much more flexible and customizable. We wanted to be able to gather specialized data and generate related reports. For example, in New York City, your business is taxed at a certain rate based on how much time you're in certain parts of the city. We needed to be able to print reports to verify exactly how much time our trucks were in certain zones.

Most programs let you track a vehicle's location in only set periods of time, with the lowest times being every five or 10 minutes. The ISR system is much more flexible; it lets you decide how often to track a truck. We could monitor a vehicle's location every 30 seconds if we wanted to and generate reports that show how long we stopped at a certain location.

The ISR system had a few other advantages, too. Like airplanes, the vehicles have a black box that stores information. So even if a truck drives out of range, its movements are still being recorded and can be accessed later. Data from the black box is transmitted to the base center every five minutes.

Vehicle data is transmitted through phone towers and the Internet, and the information is then delivered right to your PC and stored on your organization's hard drive. So even if your server is down, you can still access some data, and your data is more private--it can't be accessed by people hacking into a Web site.

FFA:How does the system work?

SD:The FleetTrack system uses a silent position monitor that communicates between the truck and the dispatcher through a CDPD wireless network. The system continuously records data about a truck's operation, including its speed and location. It can notify the dispatcher if a truck deviates from a planned route, leaves a specified zone or is standing still for longer than a specified period of time. By clicking a mouse, dispatchers can see every truck on the road superimposed against a map on the computer screen.

FFA:Describe the implementation process. How long did installation take? How did you decide which vehicles to retrofit first?

SD:We beta tested ISR's system, so we were able to customize the features to meet our company's needs. Since I head the distribution center, we first hooked up the distribution center and installed the equipment in four trucks. We tested the program for one month to iron out the bugs and make sure everything worked right. We then started installing the system at our biggest branches and worked our way down.

We currently have 34 trucks up, and we expect the rest of our fleet--another 20 or so trucks--to be online by the beginning of 2002. It takes just a few hours to install the equipment in the trucks. ISR goes directly to the site and does that, hooks up the antennas, installs the software in the PCs and then you're good to go.

FFA:How did the vehicle drivers react to the new system?

SD:It wasn't a dramatic difference since we had already a system in place. Plus, we didn't go to any lengths to conceal the system, which the system does make possible. The system can tell you how many times a vehicle door is opened; it can remotely turn off the vehicle's engine; and the antennas can be hidden. We didn't do any of those things.

We've instilled in our drivers that this tool is not being used to spy on them. It is being used to help them. If a driver sees he is approaching a traffic jam, the system can provide an alternate route. If a driver is new to a route, it provides directions. It also prevents overlapping of vehicle routes and provides the most efficient, direct route to a stop. It takes a lot of frustration out of their jobs.

Plus, it can protect them. Our trucks include our company name, Blackman Plumbing, and phone number on the sides of the vehicles. In one case, someone called in and complained that one of our drivers was speeding. We were able to check the vehicle's location and speed and determine that, in fact, the driver was driving within the stated speed limit.

FFA:What employee training took place?

SD:Our branch employees took about an hour to learn the new software. It's a very interactive, easy-to-use system--a point-and-click software package.

FFA:Did you encounter any difficulties in the implementation?

SD:One early problem that we had was that when a vehicle drove into a dead spot, where the system couldn't track the truck, the signal wouldn't reconnect when the vehicle came back into live areas. We were in the beta mode anyway, so we upgraded the software to reconnect after 30 seconds of downtime. Plus, our local server has added more towers since then so our dead spots have nearly been eliminated.

We also had some initial problems with black-box outages, but all of those problems were resolved with the software upgrade.

FFA:Have you seen any measurable benefits since implementing the new tracking system?

SD:We've been able to add more runs--about 5 percent more--while reducing the number of trucks we operate, since the system helps us better route our vehicles and avoid overlapping trucks. We used to ship out of 10 branches, but we've consolidated our deliveries to eight branches and improved our delivery efficiency.

The system is particularly helpful when there's a problem--a reason why a particular route won't work due to traffic and construction. Drivers call in, we verify where they are, then give them an alternate route which saves the company both time and money--both in the cost of fuel and in allowing us to make more runs.

It's also helped us tax-wise. As I mentioned, New York City taxes businesses based on how much time your vehicles are in certain zones. We've been able to prove our exact time and mileage in each township, which has reduced our tax bill.

FFA:Will you be installing additional features to the current implementation? If so, under what time frame?

SD:We are planning to start phase two by the end of the first quarter of 2002. At that point, we'll be processing payments while making deliveries. Drivers will be able to invoice and swipe credit cards directly from the vehicles, which will save us time and money administratively. Our branches and parts are also 100 percent bar coded, so we'll also be extending our inventory and tracking capability from the warehouse to the customer's doorstep.

FFA:Any advice for other companies seeking to implement a fleet management system?

SD:First make a list of your company's needs, then find a customizable package that is adaptable to your business. Stay away from proprietary systems. The GPS part of the system is easy to find; everyone offers that. It's much harder to find a flexible system that lets you generate usable, readable reports and allows you to store data in a box in the vehicle so that if there's a problem with the server, you're still able to gather and later access the data that is so critical to your business's operations.

DISCREET WIRELESS

Case Study 1: Coolray Air Conditioning

Background

Coolray Air Conditioning was founded by Ray Fossel in 1966 in Marietta, Georgia. Their first service vehicle was an old family wagon that was just big enough to carry a couple of people, some tools and basic supplies. Since then, the management team at Coolray has built the business into one of the most recognized and respected Heating and Cooling businesses in Atlanta.

Additionally, in 2004 Coolray purchased Mr. Plumber another leading brand name in the Atlanta area. Today Coolray provides award winning Heating, Cooling, Plumbing and Indoor Air Quality services to residential and commercial customers all over Atlanta and the surrounding communities.

Discrete wireless is proud to be associated with the dedicated, hardworking men and women at Coolray Heating, Cooling and Plumbing.


'Initially our goal was to increase efficiency and productivity, but the GPS system recently enabled us to recover a stolen vehicle and equipment worth about $100,000. Our perspective has changed'
— Joel Powel, Operations Manager -Coolray Heating, Cooling and Plumbing

 

Challenge
With dozens of vehicles servicing hundreds of Heating, Cooling and Plumbing calls every day, Coolray needed a way to monitor the efficiency and productivity of their workforce. Atlanta has some of the worst traffic in the country. Moving vehicles around the city efficiently is a top priority for all service and distribution businesses.

Outcome
Mr. Plumber was already a Discrete Wireless customer when Coolray purchased them in May, 2004. The management team at Coolray had been researching GPS fleet managements solutions, and based on the positive recommendations of the Mr. Plumber team, Coolray adopted the Discrete Wireless solution for its HVAC vehicles as well.

'Today we have the GPS system on approximately 30 vehicles in our fleet,' said Joel Powel, Operations Manager for Coolray. 'We use the system to monitor the vehicle status, and driver productivity. Also, if we get an emergency call from a customer, we can immediately see where our vehicles are and quickly dispatch the best vehicle for the job. We are able to provide better service more customers.'

Coolray recently experienced another benefit of having a GPS vehicle tracking system. 'Monday morning we returned to the office and discovered one of our HVAC vehicles was missing,' said Powell. 'We immediately logged onto the Discrete Wireless system, located the vehicle, and contacted the police. We recovered the vehicle and all of the equipment within a few hours. The police were very impressed with us.' 'The replacement cost of the vehicle and the equipment was close to $100,000. So we have a whole new appreciation for our GPS system.'

For more information about Coolray, visit their website at www.coolray.com

Source: Discreet Wireless, 1-800-358-6178, www.discretewireless.com


Case Study 2: Herr Plumbing

Higher Fuel costs spur record demand for Discrete Wireless Fleet Management systems, Customers report up to 20% gas savings

Atlanta, GA — (Sept 28, 2005) — Atlanta-based Discrete Wireless, Inc., a leading provider of GPS Fleet Management Systems, today announced record quarterly sales of it's flagship Fleet Management Solution, MARCUS. Significant increased demand is heavily driven by spiraling fuel costs. More than 100 businesses selected the Company's solution in September 2005 alone, in addition to many existing customers who outfitted the remainder of their fleets.

'The tremendous spike in demand is driven by our prospects feeling compelled to make buying decisions now' said Doug Benson, Discrete Wireless Director of Marketing. 'Historically, reduced gas consumption has only been a partial driver for a ROI calculation. Mobile worker productivity gains and dispatch efficiency have been always been primary forces for a purchase.' Benson continued, 'We made the decision to include engine idle sensing at no additional cost to the customer this year, and it has paid off. Since the overall feature — cost basis of our system is an industry best ROI to start with, the increase in fuel costs makes selecting the Marcus system a practical business decision.'

Woodbridge VA, based F. H. Furr Plumbing and Heating have partially deployed the Discrete Wireless system across its fleet of service vehicles. The fuel cost differential between vehicles utilizing the GPS systems and the ones without a system is dramatic. F.H. Furr operations manager Greg Darr commented 'It's not even close. Vehicles that have the Discrete GPS system use at least 20% less fuel.'

Andrew Haraz, Regional Sales Director for Discrete Wireless, manages hundreds of accounts across the country. Haraz stated 'Fuel savings like this are not isolated. What we have learned is that the motivation for using company vehicles for personal use rises in concert with fuel costs.' Haraz continued 'Employee tampering with GPS systems also rises dramatically with the prices at the pump. We have found that our competitor's GPS phone products are not an appropriate solution for a business like our in-vehicle Marcus system.'

Source: Discreet Wireless, 1-800-358-6178, www.discretewireless.com

Metro Two-Way has been our hardware & service provider for over 7 years! They always go out of their way to perform service & installation on our equipment when it is convenient for us, and their response to our needs is second to none!

Jay Carven

Vice President, Services of Next Day Blinds 

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