Contractors are often required to travel to jobsites in different and remote areas, so it is important that business processes continue to run smoothly, despite employees being in the field. At the basic level, telematics provide managers with a clear view into operations, including where employees and assets are located and where they are headed. Features such as job scheduling, route optimization and dispatching all provide detailed information that assists in planning out the itinerary for the day, utilizing the most efficient routes.
A comprehensive telematics solution should offer intuitive job scheduling features, allowing managers to create and assign jobs within the software. In addition, a job scheduling module should provide detailed information regarding the status of a job — whether it is in progress, complete or on the employee’s itinerary. Job scheduling should tie in seamlessly with dispatching and route optimization, which enables managers to send efficient routes to vehicles on the road. With these optimized routes, companies are able to fit in more stops in the workday, increasing productivity and efficiency. A telematics solution will also provide updated routes to help employees avoid traffic, roadwork or other congestion. These routes are provided via voice-guided, turn-by-turn directions, eliminating the need for employees to utilize cell phones or other handheld devices while operating a vehicle.
As an added benefit of the optimized routes, utility contractors will experience fuel savings. Gas prices are a constantly fluctuating but necessary cost in the utility industry, which can make it difficult to manage expenses properly. At the core, route optimization and dispatching features reduce overall fuel usage. If a driver’s route is planned out in the shortest and most efficient way possible, the vehicle uses less fuel compared to a non-optimized route. From a dispatching standpoint, managers are able to view which available employee is closest to a job and assign it to them within the system. This ensures unnecessary travel is eliminated, thus saving on fuel usage and costs.
In addition, fuel reports provided by a GPS fleet tracking solution are helpful to identify any behaviors that are burning more fuel than they should. These reports allow management to pinpoint idling drivers and identify vehicles that are not operating at an efficient level, allowing contractors to eliminate wasteful practices. Contractors can also integrate the company’s fuel card program into the telematics solution, which incorporates gas card data, fuel card transactions and maintenance purchase information. Having this information in one centralized location allows contractors to view and better understand the fleet’s fuel spend and utilization. Spending limits can be set up and field employees can be directed to visit gas and service stations within the vendor’s network.
Utility lines are often located underground or in remote areas, so employees typically need to navigate to sites using coordinates rather than a physical address. Telematics solutions offer GIS mapping technology within the solutions. Having these internal Web Map Service (WMS)- based map layers overlaid on existing maps helps utilities easily locate fiber-optic cables and other jobsites. Employees can be sent directly to accurate coordinates instead of relying on traditional road maps.
Due to heavy reliance on vehicles and equipment, asset maintenance is crucial for keeping operations running smoothly. Routine maintenance helps to prevent breakdowns and avoid expensive repair costs, and a telematics system can assist a utility to practice a proactive maintenance strategy. Automated maintenance scheduling provides an instant notification when it is time for upkeep and repairs, ensuring preventative maintenance is occurring consistently and on schedule. Maintenance logs and reports offer details regarding services performed and the overall fleet status, helping to prolong vehicle life and reduce wear-and-tear. Well-maintained vehicles are more reliable, so employees are confident and safe when traveling to jobs. In addition, proactively maintaining assets reduces the chance that there will be costly repairs in the future, which costs a utility both time and money while the asset is unavailable for use.
In addition to proactively maintaining assets, utilities can use power take off (PTO) sensors along with alerts and reports to not only monitor vehicle usage and activity, but also any extension of that vehicle used in the working process. Management can receive instant notification when drivers engage the PTO mechanism, such as when a crane is in use. Reports detail the time, location and duration of PTO usage in addition to standard vehicle data, which helps management validate jobs.
Unfortunately, like any industry with company assets, theft is a major concern for contractors. However, a telematics solution can also help minimize the risk and effects of theft. GPS fleet tracking solutions provide 24/7 access to vehicle and asset location data, allowing managers to always be updated as to the whereabouts of assets. Contractors can set up geofences, or virtual perimeters, around locations that will trigger an alert if an asset leaves the designated area. This instantly notifies management of any unauthorized use, increasing the chances of locating and recovering stolen assets.
Utility companies can use telematics to reduce fuel costs, increase operational efficiency and improve asset maintenance and management. Businesses that implement fleet tracking can save up to 20 percent in both fuel costs and labor costs and achieve ROI in as little as one month. Moving past the basic track-and-trace features, contractors can utilize telematics as a comprehensive fleet management solution.
Wyn Partington is the Vice President of Marketing at NexTraq.