As a market segment, trucking fleet management has existed for more than three quarters of a century. In its early years, the methods would have seemed primitive to a present-day fleet manager: log books, mapping, dispatching, and fuel records would all have been recorded on paper, relying on the diligence and trustworthiness of drivers for its accuracy.
The intervening years would see many changes, especially as technology came into its own as a tool for fleet management. Computers made the process faster and more efficient, while the advent of the internet would expand the options and metrics available to fleet managers. The introduction of commercial GPS and the ability to couple smartphones and tablets to fleet management solutions not only marked the maturity of fleet management; it meant that the field was primed for explosive growth.
Truck Fleet Management
Several companies offer fleet management services to truckers and trucking companies. These generally fall into three categories. The first of these are companies that offer general GPS tracking, including Garmin and LiveView GPS; while their products and services are suited to trucking applications, they're equally likely to be found in cars, vans, and taxis.
The second category are companies that are dedicated to the trucking space, including Wheels Inc., Track Your Truck, NexTraq, McLeod, Element, and FleetMatics. The third category are companies that offer fleet management services incidental to their other products and services. These include Verizon, GE Capital, Merchants, and even Ryder, which incorporates fleet management alongside its truck rental and leasing business.
GPS Truck Tracking
Initially, truckers were limited to the same GPS hardware available to the consumer market, including such stalwarts as TomTom and Garmin. Dedicated fleet management hardware -- GPS navigation, tracking devices, EOBRs, and more -- would quickly become options. Even companies known for their consumer products would soon target commercial truckers.
Smart Devices: Apple's iPhone and iPad, as well as Android phones and tablets from major manufacturers like HTC, Samsung, Motorola, Kyocera and LG, revolutionized fleet management.
Tracking, navigation, and fleet management are no longer tethered to the cab or the office; drivers and fleet managers alike have access to vital data no matter where they are. For drivers, the ability to sign for packages, or to display manifests, logs and records all on a single device are a welcome change of pace.
That isn't to say that dedicated tracking hardware no longer has a place in fleet management. Examples include Track Your Truck's real-time active and passive cellular systems and satellite vehicle tracking, Trailer Tracking's trailer location and asset tracking devices, and a host of other options ranging from hard-wired to plug-and-play to hidden tracking devices.
Even Garmin, best known for bringing GPS to the masses, has gone all in on truck tracking. The Garmin dezl, designed specifically for trucks, is EOBR-compliant, supporting FMI and FMI_HOS, while the Garmin fleet 660 and Garmin fleet 670 (the Garmin fleet Series) are designed and built with truckers in mind, and include such perks as free map updates and traffic avoidance (lifetime), in addition to advanced navigation, active lane guidance, and Bluetooth sync.
As smartphones and tablets have taken hold in the marketplace, truckers have taken notice. There are scores of Android and iOS apps available for truckers for everything from speed trap avoidance (Trapster), expense management (Pageonce), fuel tracking (FuelLog Pro), weather, and locator apps for weigh stations, truck stops, Wi-Fi hotspots and lodging.
However, fleet managers have typically found dedicated fleet management apps -- some which work in tandem with a larger fleet management solution, others meant to stand alone -- to be most useful.
MyRig: MyRig combines scheduling, navigation, tracking, trip reporting, and document processing with load processing and inspection in a single, easy-to-use application.
Contigo GPS Fleet Tracker: Contigo allows managers to customize the tracking of a whole fleet or its individual vehicles by idle and stop time, speed, and more.
Fleetio: A cloud-based app, Fleetio provides real-time cost of operation data in tandem with dispatch, service, and mileage data, as well as custom fields (such as EZ Pass tag numbers).
FleetMatics Mobile: FleetMatics subscribers get incident reports and critical alerts along with other valuable metrics, in multiple languages.
MiX Fleet Mobile: This proprietary app excels by offering several telematics options and reports. Of particular interest is the ability to customize map views for managers and drivers.
GPS Insight's Android version provides the expected telematics functionality and data, while its iPhone version is expanded to include improved routing and POI navigation, alongside voice communication directly through Garmin GPS.
Fleet Management For Independent Trucking Contractors
While we have concentrated mostly on fleet management, we should note that individual truckers not affiliated with a larger company or fleet can still benefit from fleet management apps, even if you and your truck are the full extent of the "fleet." After all, these tools are scalable.
What allows a fleet of 500 trucks to save time and money by increasing operating efficiency can be scaled just as easily to a single 18-wheeler, service truck, reefer or towtruck. If you're operating on your own, you are already acutely aware of the effect of fuel costs, idle time, and inefficient routing on your small business. Using these apps and services can help you to cut costs and inefficiency without cutting corners.
NexTraq Improves Columbus Water Works' Productivity
What do you do when you have to cover a 250 square mile area that includes 230,000 residents and a major military base, using only 133 trucks? For Columbus Water Works, the answer was to contact NexTraq. The Georgia-based utility relied on NexTraq to outfit its vehicles with NexTraq systems.
While the utility has seen many benefits -- including greater efficiency on service calls, better situational awareness, and more efficient scheduling -- it estimates that its greatest savings has come about due to the automated maintenance alerts sent to the fleet managers. This has reduced both cost and downtime, providing a significant boost to overall fleet productivity.
FleetMatics Delivers Millions in Savings to Comcast
As the largest provider of cable, phone and internet in the United States, Comcast faces daily logistical and scheduling challenges. This is especially true when you factor in the company's 20,000 field techs and 24,000 vehicles. From service calls to installations and outages, it's vital for Comcast to have the right assets on site as quickly as possible, and to be able to route them from job to job efficiently.
Deploying a FleetMatics GPS system in their fleet enabled real-time tracking of all assets in the field, leading to better scheduling and routing as well as a significant fuel cost savings ($1 million month-over-month); it also halved idle times, maximizing work and profit from technicians in the field.
Once the province of wealthier companies with larger fleets, fleet management solutions are now within reach of much smaller fleets that might consist of a dozen vehicles or less. With fleets traveling longer distances, and with drivers being tasked with hauling perishable or sensitive cargo over ever-longer distances (often facing financial pressures from rising fuel and maintenance costs), fleet management tools have gone from a relative luxury to a vital necessity.