In a field where many of the biggest names are no more than twenty years old, it's easy to forget that modern fleet management actually has its roots in the 1930's, when some companies began to apply a data-driven approach to fleet operation.
As technology matured, forward-looking fleet management companies would incorporate early IBM computers, and would later find new ways to embrace the nascent promise of the internet and emerging GPS technology in order to drive their businesses forward.
How Do Fleet Management Navigation Apps Work?
Earlier fleet management solutions relied on GPS devices in vehicles, some of which could operate in tandem with EOBRs and E-logging devices. These would, in turn, either record data that could be transferred later, or send data back to a central point for collection, monitoring, and analysis.
This allowed fleet managers to learn more about their fleet's performance than ever before, but were limited by budgetary constraints (solutions tended to be expensive early on), selection (a small number of devices that would run on a similarly restrictive set of platforms), and location (they typically relied on a desktop setup, which meant the fleet manager would be tethered to a work station).
Some applications act as part of a suite of devices and fleet management software, allowing driver information to be sent to the fleet manager while the fleet manager, in turn, is able to use the application for communication, dispatch, and other functions. Stand-alone apps typically use a smart device's GPS function in the same way an in-vehicle GPS would be used, sending and receiving information via a satellite link. Mobile applications have three advantages:
- Cost: They're typically inexpensive to set up, with some of the applications being offered for free as part of a larger fleet management plan.
- Selection: Literally dozens of companies offer fleet management apps, some intended to work in tandem with GPS units and backoffice software, while others are capable of being entirely self-contained on the user's mobile phone
- Portability: Real-time updates that can be shared among other smart devices mean that fleet managers can track their fleets and collect critical data from the road, their shop floor, or the golf course
Types of Apps
The types of applications available vary in their functionality from limited (applications that offer navigation or tracking but very little else) to nearly limitless. Applications in the latter category offer a wide array of data points and options, and some can be customized to deliver only what's needed when it's needed.
|Common App Functions|
|1.||Location tracking and navigation|
|4.||Scheduling and timesheets|
|5.||Critical event reporting and alerts|
|6.||Arrivals, drop-offs and departures|
|7.||Dispatching and routing|
|10.||Form and document functionality (bills of lading, inspection reports)|
Apps running on the Android operating system (OS) are more common owing to Android's reliance on the Open Source standard, giving Droid users a slight edge in terms of app availability. However, users of devices running Apple's iOS are not left out in cold.
It's also worth noting that while Android maintains a slight edge in terms of quantity, most applications are available for both operating systems. As of this writing, the small number of Windows phone and tablet users is reflected by the scant number of available fleet tracking applications for those platforms, though many apps are tethered to a Windows PC backoffice.
Apps will run on most current Android and iOS-driven smartphones and tablets. If you're supplying the phones to your drivers, it's a simple matter of installing the best tracking app on their phones and turning them loose. If, on the other hand, your drivers are using their own phones, it's typically best to find a solution that works on both operating systems so that all employees are using the same application.
Many companies offer apps as part of an end-to-end solution that encompasses a larger device and software ecosystem. Some, like TomTom/LoJack, Garmin and Verizon, branched from consumer technology into the fleet management space, while other larger companies like Fleetmatics, NexTraq and Track Your Truck have designed their solutions strictly for fleet management.
The other major market segment belongs to companies that place a more concerted emphasis on mobile devices, or that make more limited use of GPS navigation and tracking devices. They are centered more or less exclusively on mobile applications that make heavy use of the mobile device's capabilities rather than viewing those devices as yet another link in a chain. Companies taking this approach include TSO Fleet Pro, GPS Insight, Teletrac Navman, Contigo, and GPSTrackit.
Top Fleet Tracking Apps
There are dozens of fleet management applications available for Android and iOS. The features and functionality you need most will depend on the nature of your business. However, we’ve highlighted some of the most popular apps on the market today.
FleetMatics Mobile: This requires a FleetMatics GPS account, but if you are a FleetMatics subscriber (and you may well be -- the company is quickly becoming a leader in the field), this app is practically a given. Fleet managers can receive critical alerts and incident reports from anywhere that has mobile reception, and can dispatch assistance in the event of a breakdown or an emergency. Support is available in both Android and iOS, with support for multiple languages.
Contigo GPS Fleet Tracker: This application allows customizable real-time fleet tracking; your fleet can be tracked as a whole, or you can monitor its component vehicles by speed, stop duration, and idle time.
MyCarTracks is a very popular Android application that requires no GPS or other peripherals. Drivers' mobile phones are sufficient to track assets and drivers, and the application has logged tens of thousands of downloads. Since the application relies on cloud storage, fleet monitoring can be done from nearly anywhere, and the app's open API allows for a significant degree of customization.
MiX Fleet Mobile is MiX Telematics’ proprietary app, available for iOS and Android; like FleetMatics' app, MiX's application works best in conjunction with a subscription to the full service, but it does an above-average job of leveraging a full suite of telematics options and reports. There are multiple map views, in addition to full reporting on the entire fleet and its individual vehicles.
GPS Insight likewise works in conjunction with the GPS Insight suite. While the Android version provides standard telematics data and functionality, the iPhone version boasts a greatly expanded feature set that includes voice communication via Garmin GPS, and expanded navigation that includes routing and Point of Interest functionality.
As of the writing of this article, GPS Insight is also the only app we have covered which is also compatible with the Apple Watch. Whilst the Apple Watch displays a much more condensed version of the display, key information like maps and directions are clearly visible on the Apple Watch screen.
Benefits to the Business
|Some Benefits Include:|
|1.||Low pricing: Apps range from free to low cost, with some applications' pricing on a tiered structure depending on the number of users|
|2.||Hardware Optional: Businesses can find a significant cost savings by bypassing dedicated GPS units|
|3.||Locate/View Vehicle Status: Know when your vehicles are in motion, idling, or making scheduled stops, while also routing them to avoid construction and traffic|
|4.||Navigation: Getting your drivers to their next stop on or ahead of schedule keeps them, and your customers, happy|
|5.||Pinpoint closest vehicles: If vehicles need to be re-routed on the fly to cover emergency calls, you have the tools to get the right assets on the job right away|
|6.||Fuel Management: Track fuel consumption and spending to control costs|
|7.||Save Time and Money: More efficient scheduling and routing, real-time situational awareness, and the ability to address small issues before they become big problems doesn’t just keep your business running smoothly, it helps you to keep expenses in line|
Benefits to the Driver
Using fleet tracking apps benefits your drivers as much as it benefits your business. Tracking apps help you to better maintain your trucks, keep a lid on rising fuel costs, educate your drivers on best practices that keep them safer and more productive, and they save the company money. Being able to do more at less cost means job security, and for many companies, it's meant being able to give raises or bonuses to their drivers, further reinforcing good habits.
Some fleets -- from large municipal or corporate fleets comprised of hundreds of vehicles, to small fleets that may only have from two to ten vehicles -- find benefit in taking a more technology-intensive approach to fleet management that involves GPS units, backoffice software, dedicated asset trackers, and all manner of other gadgetry.
Others find that they benefit more from an approach that's decidedly more minimalist -- their drivers' existing mobile devices, and a carefully chosen app. If you aren't sure which category best fits your business, a bit of research is in order.