If you’re new to the fleet management game, fleet tracking may seem like an enigma. But once you understand the basics of the technology and how it works, you’ll see just how useful it can be for helping your business become more productive and efficient.
In this article, we discuss the theory, practice, and key features of fleet tracking so you can implement it into your workflow for maximum results.
Table Of Contents
- The Different Levels Of Fleet Tracking
- How Does Fleet Tracking Work?
- Tips For Setting Up A Fleet Tracking System
- Tips For Effective Fleet Tracking
The Different Levels Of Fleet Tracking
Fleet Tracking For Small Businesses
At its most basic, fleet tracking is just what it sounds like: following the course or progress of your vehicles while they’re on the road.
With basic fleet tracking, managers of small fleets (or businesses just getting started) can see a near real-time view of the location of their vehicles — and, sometimes, even other data such as speed and direction of travel — without any input from the drivers.
If you run a smaller business, you can often get by with this level of fleet tracking, which involves a simpler setup.
You may want to consider incorporating a smart fuel card now, which can be a precursor to a full-fledged telematics solution because you can get certain data points, like MPG, without having to invest in tools that are too big for your team.
Fleet Tracking For Larger Operations
For large businesses or operations who require more software, hardware, and driver training and management, a complete tracking system with telematics is the best choice.
Telematics is a set of systems and add-ons that use the Global Positioning System (GPS) and onboard diagnostic (OBD) equipment to plot a vehicle’s movement on a computerized map. Once the components are installed, the telematics hardware processes more than just location.
It also collects and analyzes a vast array of information about the vehicle itself, including:
- Distance traveled
- Total mileage
- Trip time
- Idling time
- Harsh braking
- Rough driving
- Seat belt use
- Fuel consumption
- Engine data
- System faults
The onboard computer then transmits the data via a cellular network into fleet management software, where you can view and export reports, gather intelligence about your fleet, set performance and safety benchmarks for your drivers, and much more.
As we approach the end of the first quarter of the 21st century, fleet tracking has evolved even further beyond the simple act of gathering data about vehicle location, system operation, and driver behavior.
It has now become a full-fledged system of communication between fleet manager and equipment operator.
With the addition of optional integrations, such as dash cams, electronic logging, dispatching and route management, remote diagnostics, and weather alerts, fleet managers can provide real-time support for drivers no matter where the vehicle is located.
Such advanced capabilities make it easier for both managers and drivers to:
- Do their jobs correctly the first time
- Avoid delays
- Control costs
- Maintain compliance
- Focus on more important business issues
- Maximize vehicle activity
- Provide quality customer service and support
However you choose to implement fleet tracking, it can translate into a more streamlined, more productive workflow, whether your fleet vehicles travel across town or across the country.
How Does Fleet Tracking Work?
As we mentioned in the previous sections, fleet tracking relies heavily on a series of fundamental technologies, including:
- Wireless communication (i.e., cellular and Wi-Fi)
Here’s how these technologies coincide to make everything work.
This equipment records, stores, and transmits telemetry — or computer-based information — about the vehicle.
When the vehicle is on the road, the onboard monitoring equipment records location and, if installed, vehicle diagnostic information.
The system then transmits the data via a satellite (for basic GPS service) or cellular/Wi-Fi network to a central server.
The servers interpret the data and display updates in near real time when your business connects via a desktop or mobile app.
Tips For Setting Up A Fleet Tracking System
1) Make Sure It’s Easy To Use
Fleet tracking systems should be easy to use — for both drivers in the cab and administrators in the office.
If a driver can’t quickly find necessary information or access the tools they need to do their job, the technology won’t be worth their time and effort.
The same goes for the interface on the fleet manager’s side of things. An overly-complicated system can make your job even more difficult (the exact opposite of what you want from a fleet tracking system).
The software should have the option to provide all manner of highly technical data if you so choose, but it should also be flexible enough that non-tech-savvy team members can put it to use quickly and easily.
2) Sync It With Fleet Management Software
Regardless of the type of fleet management software you use in your office, fleet tracking systems should sync up and start providing data without a lot of extra effort on your part.
Today, many fleet software packages — be they the management side of things or the tracking side of things — have cloud components. These components can facilitate communication between the field units that supply the data and the in-house systems that interpret it.
As you continue to research fleet tracking, keep in mind that not all systems are created equal. Some only give access to a few basic variables, while others give access to every variable you could think of.
Be sure to choose the option that gives you the information to run your fleet better, but also has the potential to grow — and provide more data — as your business does.
3) Set Up Your Team With The Right Access Level
The best fleet tracking software will also include different levels of access — often called user restrictions — so you have the ability to control who on your team can access, view, and enter the information you collect.
Similarly, you may choose to provide your dispatcher with access to all the tools the driver has, but restrict things just a bit so that they don’t get bogged down in some of the other analytical tools and sensitive data that you, as fleet manager, might use.
4) Enable Real-Time Communication
We mentioned earlier how modern systems can function as a communication tool and a fleet tracking tool at the same time.
Take advantage of this by choosing software that allows for real-time communication between you and your drivers.
With such an option enabled, you can send notifications about updated route information, appointments, maintenance issues, and other necessary items without distracting the driver from the task at hand — navigating safely to their destination.
Similarly, some fleet tracking software allows drivers to respond to your notifications via direct message, SMS, or phone call.
All of this back-and-forth keeps drivers in the loop so they can be as efficient and productive as possible.
5) Take Advantage Of Geo-Fencing
Geofencing is a unique feature of modern fleet tracking that allows you to create a virtual geographic boundary (a geofence) around a certain area.
If one of your fleet vehicles crosses that boundary (either entering or exiting), the software will notify you and even remind the driver that they’ve taken the vehicle “out of bounds.”
For example, if your fleet operates on a specific north/south route (e.g., Interstate 75), you can set a geofence around that corridor. If a driver takes a vehicle outside the marked area, you’ll both receive a message indicating that they’re outside their defined path of travel.
Similarly, you could set up a geofence to keep vehicles out of a certain area rather than in a certain area.
The ability to set boundaries around where your vehicles should and shouldn’t go can help you bring order to the chaos and keep drivers on the best routes to maximize fuel consumption and minimize equipment wear and tear.
6) Choose A System That Supports Unlimited Users
The right fleet tracking system will support unlimited users without costing an arm and a leg. If the software or hardware you choose charges on a per-user basis, the expense will quickly start to add up.
For a single fleet vehicle, you may need to provide access to multiple drivers, not to mention mechanics, support staff, and management.
When it comes to hardware, paying per asset rather than per user can help you save money that can be better spent in other areas of your business.
Finally, choosing a software solution that allows for unlimited users can help make the most of your hard-earned funds, reduce communication bottlenecks, and give your entire team access to the data they need to do their jobs right the first time.
Tips For Effective Fleet Tracking
1) Educate Your Team
At first look, your drivers, mechanics, and other team members may feel that fleet tracking is an invasion of their privacy. Without reassurance from you, they may even start to feel that you don’t trust them to do their jobs correctly.
This potential for misunderstanding can lead to problems if you don’t head it off at the pass.
You can do that by educating your team on a variety of subjects, including:
- How fleet tracking works
- Why your business needs fleet tracking
- What data you’ll be collecting
- How to operate the hardware and software
- How to use the technology to make their jobs easier
Once everyone is on the same page, they’ll be more accepting of the new technology.
2) Integrate Telematics With Your Fuel Card
As we mentioned earlier, telematics has changed the fleet tracking game for the better. But when you integrate telematics with your fuel card, you get even more benefits, including:
- Real-time, simplified fuel tracking and reporting
- More control over fuel expenses
- Integration with comprehensive management platforms
- Improved driver behavior
- Better fuel efficiency
That’s the power of fuel cards and telematics.
3) Focus On Preventative Maintenance Programs
Preventative maintenance is the practice of monitoring the condition of a vehicle and making necessary repairs before an issue spreads to other systems and, inevitably, becomes more expensive.
No two vehicles operate and wear exactly the same. They’re subjected to different drivers, different loads, different road conditions, and different miles (just to name a few).
It’s no surprise, then, that van A may run a bit hotter than van B, that you may need to replace the brakes on van C more often than on van D, and that you may need to change the oil in van E after every trip, while van F can go for three months before a change.
The data from a comprehensive fleet tracking program may help reveal these issues so you can create a custom maintenance program for each vehicle on the road.
Without the insights that telematics can provide, your vehicles may be much more vulnerable to the unforeseen breakdowns, emergency maintenance, and costly repairs that come with daily use.
Take the time to analyze the data for each vehicle in your fleet and use it to build a unique preventative maintenance program that keeps them on the road and in service longer.
4) Work On Improving Driver Behavior
Another useful way you can harness the power of fleet tracking is to use the data you gather to improve driver behavior.
As we mentioned earlier, telematics can record a lot of information. Some of that information can give you a unique view into driver behavior that you can then use to improve their good habits and reduce their bad habits.
For example, comparing the telematics data from a single vehicle over the course of two separate runs reveals that driver A has the habit of accelerating quickly, braking hard, and taking corners a bit too fast for the weight of the cargo they’re carrying.
Driver B, on the other hand, has the habit of accelerating at a more reasonable rate, braking more consistently over long distances, and taking corners at a safer speed for the load they’re carrying — behaviors that are better for the overall (and long-term) condition of the vehicle.
Armed with the fleet tracking data, you can take steps to eliminate negative habits (some of which they may not even be aware they have) and encourage good driving behaviors throughout your fleet.
5) Use Fleet Tracking Data To Examine Vehicle Use
Every business wants to get the most value for the money from the assets they have in service. Fleet tracking can help.
One way to do this is to examine the data you have to see if you’re using each vehicle to its full potential. If you’re not, it may be better for the business if you reduce the total number of vehicles on the road.
For example, your business may have five vehicles in service but only use three for the bulk of the work. The other two vehicles sometimes go days, or even weeks, between uses.
Thing is, you’re still paying the costs associated with their operation and upkeep. That’s a drain on your bottom line.
Could your business still operate at its current standards if you sold off the two less-used vehicles and focused on the three primary vehicles?
Data from fleet tracking may be able to help you answer that question and discover ways to use the vehicles you do have to their fullest potential.
6) Perform A Cost Analysis
In an earlier section, we discussed how to use fleet tracking data to examine vehicle use and get the most out of your assets.
The cost analysis calculations take that examination a step further. The two most basic components of cost analysis are Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and Vehicle Cost Per Mile (VCPM).
Gathering individual vehicle data for a week, a month, a quarter, or a year, and calculating the TCO and VCPM variables for those time periods, can help your business improve the overall operation of the entire fleet.
Here’s how to conduct both parts of the cost analysis.
Total Cost Of Ownership (TCO)
You can calculate Total Cost Of Ownership (TCO) with the following formula:
Total Cost Of Ownership = Fixed Vehicle Costs + Variable Vehicle Costs
The variable vehicle costs such as fuel, tolls, and maintenance for Work Truck A amount to another $1000.
Plug those numbers into the equation, and you get the following TCO for Work Truck A:
Total Cost Of Ownership = $1,000 + $1,000
Total Cost Of Ownership = $2,000
As you gather your data, keep an eye on the time period you want to track.
With the information your fleet tracking brings in, it’s incredibly easy to mix fixed vehicle costs for one period of time (e.g., one month) with the variable vehicle costs for another period of time (e.g., three months).
That can skew your cost analysis significantly and give you the wrong impression of what’s going on in your fleet.
Be sure your numbers all apply to the same time period.
Vehicle Cost Per Mile
Once you’ve calculated the Total Cost Of Ownership (TCO), you can figure the Vehicle Cost Per Mile (VCPM) with the following formula:
Vehicle Cost Per Mile = Total Cost Of Ownership / Total Miles Driven
Continuing with the example from the previous section, fleet tracking reveals that Work Truck A traveled a total of 2,000 miles in the month in question.
Plug that number into the equation along with the TCO you figured earlier, and you get:
Vehicle Cost Per Mile = $2,000 / 2,000 miles
Vehicle Cost Per Mile = $1 per mile
With the TCO and VCPM in hand, you can then focus on coming up with ways to improve fleet operations across the board.
One of the simplest ways to do that is to get control of each vehicle’s variable costs.
While you may be able to reduce fixed costs by shopping for a better lease or lower insurance premiums, it’s often easier to start by decreasing the amount you pay for fuel and rerouting vehicles to avoid tolls.
Those cost-cutting measures may be able to help you lower variable costs in such a way that they have a significant impact on your cost analysis.
Fleet Tracking And Cost Management
Fleet tracking provides a wealth of insight into how each vehicle operates and how they all contribute to the success of the whole.
But you’ll need to do more than just track your vehicles and gather data. You’ll need to control driver expenses while they’re on the road.
Coast can help with controls and visibility that work for your business through a fleet card and expense management platform that empower you with real-time information related to your fleet.
For more information on how Coast can help you control fleet costs and streamline your fleet management program, visit CoastPay.com today.