Keeping control: How apps can help with fleet management issues

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Commercial vehicle drivers of all nationalities heading across France towards the roll‐on/roll‐off ferry port at Calais are acutely aware that they may be inadvertently carrying a lot more than cargoes of vegetables from Spain or motor components from Germany.

Thousands of desperate refugees are fleeing to Europe from conflicts in war-torn Syria and Iraq. Also heading for Europe are economic migrants from Third World countries in sub‐Saharan Africa eager to carve out a better life for themselves than they have previously enjoyed.

Many of them want to get to the UK and are clandestinely boarding vans and trucks – even squeezing into cars and caravans – in order to do it.

 

Border security

By attempting to enter Britain illegally in this way they are risking injury, especially if they hang on to the underside of a truck or clamber onto the roof. If they get into the load area and the truck is carrying foodstuffs then the cargo may have to be written off, and commercial vehicle owners risk being fined heavily by the British courts if they are caught with illegal immigrants on board.

Drivers can now make use of an app that should help combat the problem.

Available from the Apple store and suitable for use on any iOS device running iOS 8 or above – an Android version is now under development – BF Intelligence allows drivers to report any sightings of migrants accessing a truck. A message is immediately passed to the owners alerting them that their vehicle’s security has been breached so that they in turn can warn their driver and instruct him to take appropriate action; alert the French police for example if the owners themselves have not already done so.

There is no reason why the app could not be used at other borders facing similar difficulties.

BF Intelligence is but one example of the impact that apps and mobile devices – smartphones and tablet computers, not to mention laptops – are having on the way fleets are run. That is especially the case when it comes to ensuring legal compliance, says Chevin Fleet Solutions.

 

Legal compliance

A van driver about to deliver 80 to 100 parcels in a day should carry out a alkaround safety check of his or her vehicle prior to departure, identifying any damage or potential safety defects which should either be attended to instantly or can be remedied later.

Up until recently this was a paperbased exercise for many fleets with the completed paperwork deposited in the company’s internal mail and winding up on the fleet manager’s desk a couple of days later. Use an app instead and the results can go straight to the manager as soon as the exercise is completed, says Chevin.

It can be accompanied by photographs of any damage if needs be.

To ensure the check is carried out, the manager can withhold the driver’s list of delivery points until he receives the required information.

 

Work management

Apps and mobile devices can benefit fleets in other ways, says Chevin senior vice president, Ron Katz. “On a van fleet a driver might use a mobile device to clock on and off, record interactions with customers during the day and even automatically calculate mileage,” he says. “So far as field sales people are concerned it is possible to use such a device to record hours worked, time spent travelling and costs incurred through company car use and measure all this against sales performance.

“It allows a very direct way of looking at the productivity of your employees on both an overall and an individual basis.”

Using virtually any kind of handheld device, Chevin's Fleet‐Wave Mobile app can be tailored to capture and transmit almost any type of data, says the company, including signatures and pictures while using barcodes or QR codes to help eliminate manual data entry. As a consequence it can for example be used to handle point‐of‐sale transactions – customers can sign for their goods electronically – doing away with clipboards, paper and pens.

With Tata Motors among its global OEM customers – it supplies its FleetMan telematics and fleet management packages to the Indian manufacturer – Microlise too offers a proof‐of‐delivery app under the SmartPOD banner, which works on Apple and Google devices.

 

Route planning and more

Using them to capture signatures on consumers’ doorsteps means that systems primarily installed to manage fleets are moving beyond their original function and proving even more useful to clients than originally expected.

“Ultimately software such as FleetWave can be used to deliver analytics and reports from any area of a business,” says Katz. “It’s just a matter of how far an organisation wants to take it.”

FleetWave Mobile has received an Innovation In Mobile Communications Award from Fleet World, sister publication to International Fleet World.

With bases in Dublin in the Republic of Ireland and Boston, Massachusetts, USA, Fleetmatics illustrated the potential power of apps as management tools with the launch of its REVEAL Field App earlier this year.

An enhancement to its REVEAL platform offered at no extra charge, it enables operators to send mobile workers the routes they need to follow. They can be used in conjunction with the satellite navigation software on their devices, which will generate turn‐by‐turn directions.

“The application also provides mobile employees with direct access to their performance metrics, allowing them to track their own progress and benchmark themselves against the rest of the team,” says a Fleetmatics spokesman. Using the location of both the device and the vehicle, it can assign the employee to the next suitable job.

 

Smartphones offer cost-savings…

Employing a smartphone rather than a specially designed piece of onboard hardware helps keep down costs, says Telogis.

That has certainly been the experience of Door‐to‐Door Organics of Lafayette, Colorado, USA and which operates in a growing number of states.

As its name suggests, it delivers farmfresh organic produce to customers’ doors every week. Judicious use of smartphones employing Telogis WorkPlan along with Telogis route planning software has helped it handle thousands more customers while minimising the number of routes it has had to add.

“Our existing software couldn’t keep up with the demands of our business,” says director of operations, Peter Tighe.

“Now we can see how our drivers are progressing in real time and respond to challenges quickly.”

Among other activities Telogis powers is Ford Telematics, the Big Blue Oval’s cloud‐based fleet management system, which is available globally.

…But bring security issues One potential difficulty with relying on mobile devices is the risk that they will be lost or stolen and that the information they contain will fall into the wrong hands.

“So far as SmartPOD is concerned, the data is encrypted and not stored on the phone and if the driver does not use the phone and app for a while then he will be locked out until he puts in his name and password,” says Microlise executive director, product strategy, Matt Hague.

Just as drivers can use apps, managers can employ smartphones, tablets and laptops to manage their fleets when they are away from the office thereby increasing their productivity.

Teletrac’s Fleet Director enables them to use a portable device to keep track of where their vehicles are and to receive alerts if for example drivers speed or if a vehicle is moved without authorisation. “Fleet management has historically been an office job, but managers are no longer restricted to their desks,” observes Shazia Haq, Garden Grove, California, USA-based senior creative editor at Teletrac. “Mobility has allowed their work off‐site to be just as effective and perhaps easier.”

 

Consumer expectations

Making full use of such mobile devices is becoming increasingly vital, she adds because customers are using them too.

“Mobility culture has created a new consumer who expects faster and more accurate service,” she observes.

It is a view shared by Brian Tobin, financial accountant/director at Avis Fleet Services Ireland. Part of the Dublin‐based Denis Mahony Group, it is the Avis licensee and has held the licence since 1991.

“Customers want to be able to access information about their own vehicles, account, contract and so on at a time and place convenient to them.”

Avis Fleet Services uses Bynx’s bynxFLEET fleet management software and is introducing bynxNET, a sister product. It will enable the firm to provide web portals and online access for clients, drivers and other stakeholders.

Awareness and acceptability of mobile technology as a management tool varies from fleet to fleet and from market to market, says Hague.

“Managers are not necessarily asking for it but when you show it to them then their typical reaction is that it’s a really good idea,” he remarks.

 

Fleet performance

Microlise has for some time been marketing an app for senior transport industry executives which will give them a snapshot of the performance of their commercial vehicle fleet. It will tell them for example how many deliveries have been made on time so far that day.

It is now going further with an app that can tell fleet managers about the on‐the‐road behaviour of each of their drivers – speeding, excessive idling and so on – and gives the fleet the opportunity to run training campaigns.

The drivers can be allowed to access data on their performance with an eye to encouraging them to improve it. What Microlise is talking about here is gamification – the process by which systems, services and activities are made more enjoyable and motivating – something which it will be stressing more heavily in the coming months. “It could mean, say, offering a driver who has taken the message on board and really improved his performance over the past few weeks a voucher for use in one of the high street coffee chains,” says Microlise’s Matt Hague.

 

Route optimisation to emergency services

In New Zealand, Smartrak offers its cloud‐based Fleet Management System (FMS) and GPS tracking software which fleet managers can use on iPhone and Android smartphones and tablets as well as on PCs and Macs. The package it markets addresses everything from route optimisation to emergency alerts and it can also offer lone worker alarms and a variety of driver identification tools.

FMS users include Tasman Insulation New Zealand. Part of the Fletcher Building Group of companies, it supplies building under‐lays and foils as well as insulation to the construction industry.

It opted for FMS because it realised that it could operate more efficiently if it could always see whereabouts its vehicles and mobile staff were and thus improve the level of customer service provided by its nationwide sales team. Sales reports can now be generated quickly it says, staff spend less time filling in paperwork and as a consequence can devote more time to looking after the company’s clients.

“The effectiveness of what Smartrak has to offer was demonstrated recently when a staff member needed immediate medical help,” says Tasman head of business systems, Elena Wong. “We were able to pinpoint his location within seconds.”

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