Equipment Spotlight
Fleet Management Software
by Donna Currie

 


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October 2004
-View the list of manufacturers at the bottom of the page

Fleet management used to mean drawing lines in the dirt with a pointed stick to attempt to find water for your horses. Years later, a radio-dispatched fleet was the height of high-tech. Today, computers and GPS systems are a normal function of fleet management.

Software packages exist today that can do almost anything you want, from tracking trucks to managing vehicle maintenance to sending real-time photos by satellite. Other features may include voice recording, fuel reporting, customized maps for driver routing, and in-truck printouts.

It’s a big improvement over the days when drivers needed to carry change for pay phones and dispatchers tracked everything manually. Mike Williams at Integrated Systems Research Corp (ISR) said, “We’ve taken the pen and paper and automated that, so there’s no paper.”

Making the job easier isn’t the primary function of the software, however. As Williams pointed out, trucks make up a large portion of a business’s expense, and keeping track of that expense can save money. Sophisticated software is one way of “making sure the equipment is doing what it is supposed to do,” Williams said.

ISR’s FleetTrack system includes a black box in each truck that records the truck’s movement, its speed, where the truck stopped, when it stopped and how long it was stopped. It can also be wired to record any mechanical data the customer needs, including when doors are opened or closed, when truck arms are raised or lowered, or when a tailgate is opened or closed.

The black box can be set to store more information that it sends, and the stored data can be accessed later. For example, a customer may only need data updates every 15 minutes so the truck’s position can be tracked, but in case of an accident or a dispute, the box could do a graphical playback of the truck’s every movement.

Communication is handled via a terminal in the truck that tells the driver when he has a new assignment. As soon as the driver acknowledges that he has received the assignment, confirmation is sent back to the dispatcher.

Pat Fahey, CEO of Pacifica Systems, said that Accu-Trax Office software works with Windows XP compatible touch-screen computers installed the trucks. These computers are “hardened,” which means they are built for use the rough and/or dirty environment typical in many trucks.

A GPS in every truck sends updated data every 15 seconds, and future plans include real-time data as well. A camera mounted on the truck is integrated into the system so that photos can be sent wirelessly to the office. These photos can be automatically inserted into a customer’s account information. This single feature can save thousands of dollars, Fahey explained, since having photos “explains why a customer may be charged extra” when there is a problem at the customer site.

Tami Fahey, office administrator at Pacifica added that while Accu-Trax is popular with many waste management companies, the software can be tweaked to accommodate customer needs. “We’re willing to work with anybody,” she said.

Jason Kretzer, sales manager at Axon Development Corporation, explained that Axon has been in the fleet management business for 23 years, and they have “an extremely diverse customer base.”

Kretzer said, “We designed our software so that we can easily modify it for our customers’ needs.” The software is real-time and fully integrated and communications flow both ways. There is no need to post information at the end of the day after trucks report in, since the data is immediately available to everyone.

For communication, Axon software can be used with any satellite company’s devices. Many customers already use Qualcomm for communication, and adding Axon’s software is seamless.

Joel Smith at Clear Computing, Inc. described their Total Activity Control (TAC) software as an operational system. Not only does it track the fleet, but it also manages the data from beginning to end so it “makes sure it flows through the invoicing process so you get your money.”

Smith said that about 60% of a trucking business’s expense is in the truck, so “if you can squeeze 10% more out of the vehicle, it affects the bottom line.” In the past, the data you used was whatever the driver turned in at the end of the run.

Now, software can estimate a “run rate” which is how long the run should take based on route, road conditions, and other variables. If runs are taking significantly longer than expected, it’s something to look into. Smith said, “Your direct labor costs go down because both you and the driver know how long it’s supposed to take.”

Alex Bell, controller for Trux Route Management Systems, Inc. described their Haul-It software as billing and routing software with “handy tools that make it simple.” Haul-It lets you enter customer information and services, and it bills the customer and records payment when it arrives. The software integrates with other vendors’ devices in trucks, and can download that data for use within Haul-it.

Map-it is routing and mapping software that works with Haul-It to let the dispatcher visualize the data on a grid or a map, making dispatching decisions more efficient. Bell said, “Our system helps you run the business.”

John Leeds, vice president of Carolina Software explained that WasteWORKS software is designed primarily to handle activity across scale facilities, but that it also has a container billing feature for managing roll-off container use.

A new add-on module for WasteWORKS will help track containers so you know “where you put it, who has it, what day of the week you’re going to pick it up,” Leeds said. The add-on will be available to existing customers as well as in new versions of the software. A future consideration is integration with a hand-held PDA-like device that drivers will use to enter data, receive instruction, and report back to the office.

Fleet Logistics, Inc. considers themselves a consulting firm that customizes their proprietary hardware and software to suit the customer. Randy Giddings, director of marketing, said, “We are flexible and adaptive to our customers’ needs. We don’t have a cookie cutter approach.”

Giddings explained that a black box in each vehicle is used to audit and verify routes, and can be customized to get whatever data the customer wants. Data can be exported to maps, charted graphically, replayed on a computer, or exported to other programs like Excel.

Customers might use the data to compare expected and actual routes, or to help train new drivers by showing them routes the experienced drivers use. In a municipal recycling program, data can identify participation in the program by neighborhood based on the stops the truck makes.

Ron Turley Associates looks at fleet management from a different perspective with their RTA Fleet Management software. Rather than monitoring fleet movement, they monitor the health of the fleet. Larry Turley explained that it’s shop-based software for the “maintenance side of fleet management.”

“How are you running your fleet?” he asked, referring to the maintenance and safety aspects. With proper preventive maintenance, the trucks run more efficiently, with less downtime, while detailed maintenance records verify that the trucks are safe to be on the road.

The software runs on almost every computer platform, and can manage small fleets or those with 20,000 units, creating work orders, managing the mechanics, and ordering and tracking parts. While the software can create purchase orders and receive parts, it won’t cut a check to vendors. It does, however, interface with accounting packages so the appropriate departments can pay bills and monitor fleet expenses.

The software options available for managing a fleet are diverse, so there’s sure to be a package that’s just right for your business. Many of the companies featured here have demo software available, making your search a little easier.


Manufacturers
Company Name
Contact Person
Phone Number
Axon Development Corporation Jason Kretzer 800-567-8385
Carolina Software John Leeds 910-799-6767
Clear Computing, Inc. Joel Smith 888-332-5327
Integrated Systems Research Mike Williams 410-536-9989
Fleet Logistics Randy Giddings 800-350-7051
Pacifica Systems Tami Fahey 541-471-9538
TRUX Route Management Systems, Inc. Alex Bell 866-879-8789
Ron Turley Associates Larry Turley 800-279-0579

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