The trucking industry was one of the first commercial users of global positioning systems (GPS), originally developed by the U.S. Dept. of Defense for use by military and government personnel as a satellite-based navigation system. In those early days, the GPS unit had one job to do for fleets: track mobile assets, and it did that job very well indeed.

Today, fleets are passing data from vehicle-mounted and handheld GPS systems to departments throughout their organizations to help create business operations efficient enough to withstand even the toughest economic times. Refrigerated carriers are monitoring cargo temperatures; service fleets are managing remote workers; farmers are guiding harvesters in “precision agriculture”; hazmat and high-value cargo carriers are using geo-fencing to increase security; and fleets of all types are optimizing routes and monitoring driver behavior to improve safety and fuel efficiency. The integration of GPS with mobile computers and software management systems is creating some powerful business tools that are transforming trucking.

GPS FOR EVERYONE

“Every fleet's needs are different, but I can't imagine why someone would not want asset tracking today,” says Steve Zaborowski, sr. vp for XTRA Lease, a Berkshire Hathaway company (www.xtralease.com). “When you invest in a technology like GPS, of course, you have to also be willing to change your business processes to take advantage of all the information it provides. If you don't, it is not a very good investment.”

Fleets are definitely making the commitment to process redesign today and finding more innovative ways to incorporate GPS data into their daily workflow. “We introduced GPS-based trailer tracking back in September of 2000,” says Zaborowski. “It was a big step back then. Today, adoption and usage of GPS has increased four-fold and customers expect more integration with the tractor and back-office functions. They want to see information about their assets on data dashboards that convert data to easily read charts and graphs that enable them to manage by exception. Our partnership with Qualcomm, which was started in 2006, has helped us to deliver this level of visibility.” (www.qualcomm.com)

INTEGRATION ADDS VALUE

“The value of GPS technology can be significant when it is integrated with business processes in the field to improve efficiency and accountability,” observes Michael Forbes, managing director, Electric Compass (www.electriccompass.com), in his 2008 white paper, Mobile GPS Applications. “Mobile computing has made it possible to automate the management and documentation of activities in the field. GPS adds a location dimension to field activities and transactions that can translate to greater control, higher productivity and lower costs.”

“Integration is where our customers have seen the real value of GPS,” says Bill Ashburn, vp for Prophesy Transportation Solutions, an Accellos company (www.mile.com) that delivers GPS solutions over Nextel/Sprint GPS-enabled cellphones. “They don't just want to know where their vehicles are at any given time; they want to know how this information compares to where they are supposed to be. We call this ‘location-enabling’ your operation.

“Our TrackerDispatch system, for instance, pinpoints location, and then processes this information to report accurate departures, arrivals, missed appointments, planned and unplanned stops, out-of-route miles, mileage by state, detention time alerts and rolling ETAs for an entire fleet,” Ashburn adds. “This allows for-hire carriers, brokerages and private fleets to dispatch by exception, and it makes all the difference.”

TeleNav (www.telenav.com) also provides GPS-enabled mobile resource management services via cellphones and other handheld devices, such as AT&T's BlackBerry smartphones. The company focuses on using integrated GPS for managing remote workers to improve efficiency and customer service, with functions such as their Team Timecard, overtime controls and signature and image capture.

“The type of GPS system a company selects depends upon what they want to do — manage people, manage vehicles or both,” says company co-founder and sr. director of marketing, Sal Dhanani. “Our system enables companies to optimize mobile workforce operations through mobile GPS tracking and navigation, wireless timesheets, job dispatching and wireless forms — all using existing cellphones.”

GPS × TWO

Some TeleNav customers, like C.R. England, are even using more than one GPS system to better manage people and vehicles, notes Dhanani. Qualcomm user C.R. England recently added TeleNav to help improve customer service ratings, which are now at 99%, TeleNav reports. “Some companies may not realize how much a GPS tracking and navigation solution can benefit their customer service, business goals and the bottom line,” he says.

“The biggest success stories we are seeing are from people using fully integrated GPS systems,” says Prophesy's Ashburn. “That is where the true power of GPS is being realized.” (For a list of many GPS-enabled service providers, see the Buyer's Guide at www.fleetowner.com under Navigation/Tracking.)