By Ryan Driscoll
Global positioning system (GPS) fleet tracking technology provides utility fleet managers with greatly improved insight to their crews. This tool allows management to become more efficient on a day-to-day basis and allows the company to take control of fleet-related expenses. The benefits utility fleet managers consistently experience far outweigh the cost of outfitting a fleet with a GPS tracking solution.
Most GPS tracking companies can integrate with a variety of software vendors that utility fleets work with. This capability is crucial for streamlining operations and effectively keeping business uncomplicated. Examples of these integrations include National Information Solutions Cooperative (NISC), Partner Software, Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI), Garmin, enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, customer relationship management (CRM) and many other technologies.
Jeff Tacket, vice president of Engineering and Operations at Buckeye Rural Electric Cooperative, said: "GPS Insight can work well with other vendors. They are open to integrations and work well with Partner Software, our outage management software. This allows Buckeye to view its vehicles on the same maps it views power lines on, simplifying dispatch."
Cut Fuel Costs
Fuel is one of the largest costs for utility fleets. Most people believe prices will continue to rise, so why not control how the fuel is being used? Fleet tracking allows fleet managers to significantly reduce fuel costs in many ways. Utility fleets consistently see a rapid and substantial return on investment (ROI) from the GPS Insight fleet tracking solution in fuel savings.
Fleet managers and dispatchers can deploy resources more efficiently with a GPS tracking solution. Having 24/7 GPS information allows dispatchers to send the closest truck or crew to the next job's location, an outage or another truck's location. This is primarily done from the dashboard interface and sent to the driver's Garmin device, which supplies audible turn-by-turn directions.
"The most value for East Central Energy," said Systems Control Manager Phil Beaupre, "has been creating greater clarity during outages by knowing the exact locations of our crews."
Fuel is also reduced by cutting unnecessary mileage. Buckeye Rural Electric Cooperative quickly started addressing mileage issues, which led to a quick ROI. It was able to cut unnecessary miles driven-from 432,000 miles to 396,000 miles, an 8 percent drop, in the first year.
"In one instance, we had a guy going about 30 miles out of his way to go to his favorite hangout to get a cup of coffee," Tackett said. "By asking employees to find a closer location to get coffee, making sure others weren't taking the long way home from outages, and just being able to dispatch calls more efficiently, the cooperative saved more than $12,000 in fuel-a 100 percent ROI."
Improve Customer Satisfaction
Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) technology also provides the ability to increase customer service quality. When a customer wants to know when a technician will arrive, dispatchers can easily check the real-time map and give an accurate answer on the estimated arrival time.
Quick outage or emergency response also increases customer satisfaction. In the customer's or member's eyes, the utility company appears to care more about them and demonstrates the urgency of the situation.
"We have improved our response times, which has therefore improved our customer service," Beaupre said.
Benefits for Field Technicians
GPS tracking is negatively viewed by most employees and field technicians. This is mostly because that they have not been informed of the benefits the technology provides them.
First and most importantly, GPS tracking keeps technicians safe. Headquarters always knows their current location, which helps technicians avoid getting lost in the field. GPS tracking also helps recover stolen vehicles.
Two-way messaging through Garmin portable navigation devices (PNDs) deters distracted driving. Employees are safer because they aren't answering their cell phone while driving or distracted while in the middle of a high-risk job. Instead of talking on the phone or text messaging, the Garmin PND's large touch screen is mounted on the dash and does not immediately display the message sent.
Remote panic switch options are available in case of emergencies. If a technician is stuck in a boom or there is a fire, the technician can press the switch and immediately notify headquarters there is a problem and to call for help.
Dispatchers keep employees safe knowing if or when other crews are working in the area when they re-energize a line-preventing technicians from being injured and even death.
This technology can also vindicate employees from false accusations. Examples could include technicians that supposedly tore up a lawn or were speeding down the highway. Utilities often get complaints about "one of your white trucks," which likely was not one of their white trucks. GPS Insight can prove a technician was not in the area or never went over the speed limit. Using the software, it is able to create a landmark around where the problem exits and then find out what trucks were in the area during the time in question, if any.
GPS tracking can minimize or eliminate the time employees spend filling out timesheets, taking the guesswork out of how many hours were worked. Reports generated by the GPS solution will show time worked each day, broken down by job location.
Keep Trucks on the Road
Technicians can't work if their trucks are in the shop. GPS tracking software keeps trucks on the road with regular maintenance reminders sent to the technicians and shop personnel so they know when scheduled maintenance is due. Better scheduling equals less downtime and more hours worked. GPS also frees the techs from reporting mileage readings-a small task, perhaps, but something else that distracts them from their job.
Besides being developed for vehicle location, GPS tracking software cuts costs and saves companies money. When companies save money, it translates to job security for employees.
"Although the decision to implement GPS tracking was initially questioned by both employees and members, being a cooperative, we needed to justify the expense. It was easy to show them the benefits far outweighed the cost," Phil Beaupre said.
About the author: Ryan Driscoll has served as marketing manager for GPS Insight since January 2009. His background is in marketing, and he is a graduate of Arizona State University, where he received a BS degree in Marketing.