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Overview of GPS Fleet Tracking

What

You should definitely know where your vehicles are-for a variety of legal, logistical, and asset-protection reasons. A GPS (Global Positioning System) fleet tracking system employs satellite tracking to pinpoint vehicle location. Basically, a GPS receiver on the ground triangulates its longitude/latitude position by bouncing signals from at least three satellites.

GPS Fleet Tracking

How

Software can then interpret these coordinates-not only to locate the receiver, but to provide mapping directions as well as other information (such as weather and traffic conditions) related to those coordinates. More sophisticated systems provide a data link to observe and report vehicle and operator conditions. …More

There are three general types of GPS fleet tracking systems:

  1. Real-time. 24/7 moment-to-moment mapping of vehicle locations.
  2. Passive. End-of-the-day digests of vehicle travel, speed, heading, key on/off and door on/off times downloaded to a computer or data-center server.
  3. Hybrids. These incorporate features of both real-time and passive systems, typically allowing for real-time whenever a cellular network is available to transmit data to a server, and otherwise storing data to transmit until a network connection becomes available.

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GPS Fleet Tracking Software Features

Why

Passive systems are generally less expensive, but are really not that useful in situations where a vehicle is constantly on the road. However, small businesses that need to track vehicles that aren't operated for more than an hour or so a day may find these systems to be cost-effective solutions. In most other cases, a real-time or hybrid solution is most appropriate.

types of GPS fleet tracking software systems

Features

A GPS system comprises three basic components:

  1. A GPS tracking device that's installed in the vehicle. In addition to reporting geographic location, the tracking device can also record and transmit various conditions such as fuel consumption, engine temperature, altitude, tire pressure, key and door status, battery status, cumulative idling time, throttle time, and engine RPM. Another option is an emergency status indicator the operator can trigger to call for help. While the majority of systems employ a dedicated box installed in the vehicle, some newer systems adapt their geographic tracking technologies to common smartphone and tablet platforms that are assigned to the operator as opposed to the vehicle.
  2. A server that receives and securely stores data sent from the tracking.
  3. A user interface that provides a means for someone to view and analyze tracking information, and aggregate this data to generate reports.

Why You Need GPS Tracking

GPS tracking takes all the hassle out of required regulatory reporting. Instead of time-consuming, manually entered, and frequently inaccurate paper diaries reporting hours driven and time of arrival, all these details are now automatically recorded into a database that is highly accurate, easily accessible, and sortable into user-defined reports. Moreover, operators can concentrate on getting to their destinations safely and on time without having to bother with cumbersome paperwork.

GPS tracking systems are invaluable when you need to:

  • Improve logistics. Identify traffic bottlenecks in real time and reroute vehicles as needed. This not only ensures that delivery schedules are maintained, but saves on fuel costs and maintains compliance mandates that limit the number of hours drivers can be on the road per day/week/month. GPS systems capable of rerouting vehicles also automatically save time and money. You don't need a dispatcher to phone or radio a driver to convey instructions-the system does it automatically with clear instructions to the driver as to where to go to avoid traffic, bad weather, or other obstacles to getting to destinations on time.
  • Maintain constant communications. Cell phones don't work everywhere. A GPS system does, and can serve as a receiver to communicate with drivers even in remote locations, eliminating the need and expense of a separate radio system.
  • Protect assets. If a vehicle is stolen, the GPS box tracks where it's going and allows police to follow the tracking signals. The system can also work as an alarm device when the vehicle is unattended. In addition, the GPS system can trigger emergency vehicles to respond to an accident or a driver health issue.
  • Improve productivity. Industry estimates report that GPS-equipped vehicles can complete at least one extra stop per delivery per week due to improved routing information. Similarly, overtime is reduced when vehicles can make all scheduled stops within allotted schedules.
  • Improve efficiency and reduce costs. Tracking data not only allows for more efficient vehicle routing, but promotes improved driver behavior and vehicle performance. Drivers who know that speeds are monitored are much less likely to speed-which both increases fuel consumption and costs, and also escalates safety risks and potential violations that result in fines. Industry estimates suggest maintenance savings as high as 80% from reduced speeding, as well as a 10% reduction in overall fuel costs. Also, instant alerts to shut down engines eliminate unnecessary idling and fuel consumption. In addition, insurance companies typically provide discounts to fleets equipped with GPS tracking systems.
  • Eliminate unauthorized usage and reduce fraud. GPS systems compare expense reports of purchase transaction locations with actual tracking data of vehicle location, calculate MPG fuel consumption data to fuel expense accounts, and identify unauthorized use by mapping actual vehicle location in relation to planned routes. A common application called "geo-fencing" designates a geographic perimeter as a fence; an alert is sent whenever the vehicle goes beyond that fence.
  • Improve fleet life. Remote diagnostics provide early-warning detection of potential problems, maintenance alerts, and engine behavior. One example is tire pressure, which affects tire wear, driver safety, and fuel consumption. Accurate measurement of tire pressure means drivers know exactly when a tire issue needs correction, eliminating hit-or-miss manual tire-pressure readings that can easily be forgotten during a busy day. This not only improves vehicle life, but provides greater driver and cargo safety and more efficient mechanic scheduling/productivity.
  • Provide accurate invoicing. Automation of time-consuming recordkeeping reduces errors and customer disputes. Exact reporting of vehicle arrival dates and times on-premises provides documentation to address any invoicing disputes.
  • Improve safety. Anything that focuses driver attention on the road instead of looking at maps, fumbling with a cell phone, or thinking about which turn to take improves the safety of the driver, the vehicle, and the cargo. Some systems even take voice commands, so a driver could "ask" the system for directions or to connect with a dispatcher. Systems with voice-messaging capabilities reduce cell-phone usage and related costs, reduce driver distraction, and keep operators "legal" in areas where cell-phone use while driving is an offense subject to fines. A GPS unit combined with an interlock ignition device can provide breath monitoring to remotely ensure that a driver has not been drinking; a test that exceeds a preset blood-alcohol limit renders the vehicle inoperable.

Questions to Consider When Evaluating a GPS System

Equipment:

  1. Can the GPS device be upgraded, reprogrammed, and remotely tested?
  2. Where is it installed? Is it visible? Is it tamper-resistant?
  3. Has the vendor explained exactly how the system works?

Software:

  1. Does the software run on your PC or server or the vendor's? Is it Web-based or a client-based proprietary program that must be installed on your system?
  2. Are reports customizable? Can it produce the reports you want; and can the reports be sent to other computers, smartphones, tablets, or devices?
  3. Are upgrades included in the cost?
  4. Are there licensing restrictions on the number of users/devices/systems?
  5. What is the level of technical support? Do you have to pay for it?

Calculating Costs

Some questions to ask regarding costs include:

  1. Outright equipment purchase or lease?
  2. What are the installation/removal fees?
  3. Are costs of wireless service included?
  4. Are future upgrades covered; or are they separate, optional purchases?
  5. How long is the warranty, and is after-sale care included as part of the warranty? What is the cost, if any, of after-sale support?

Of course, the cost will depend on how many vehicles you have (multiply the device type by the number of vehicles), plus any monthly fees (again, times the number of vehicles), plus the sophistication of the management software you require. Roughly, you can expect to pay anywhere between $199 and $499 per GPS device. Monthly service fees per device can range from $30 to $70, depending on the level of support and the range of services. Installation fees average anywhere from $35 to $65 per device.

Should you purchase or lease? Leasing helps you avoid high start-up costs, but will wind up costing you more over the long term. Generally, the more vehicles in the fleet, the higher costs over time with a lease.

Automotive Fleet magazine reports that the ROI (return on investment) of GPS tracking systems surveyed "increased from $80-$150 per month per unit in 2008 to $185-$225 per month per unit in 2011."

Biggest Brother/Fleetblogs calculates the ROI as high as 734%, which holds true whether the solutions are high-end or low-end. Independent research by the Aberdeen Group calculated a 28% improvement in overall fleet utilization, a 23% reduction in vehicle maintenance costs, a 13% reduction in fuel costs, and over $1,000 in annual fuel savings per vehicle.

Purchasing Tips

According to Automotive Fleet magazine, fleets of 300 or more tend to adopt GPS tracking systems more frequently than smaller fleets. However, while smaller fleet owners may be reluctant to make the investment, the savings over time in terms of reduced maintenance, improved route efficiency, and higher driver safety will more than pay for themselves.

While many vendors provide all-in-one hardware plus software solution packages, a growing trend is to provide software that works on common smartphone/tablet platforms or retail GPS consumer devices. This could be an ideal approach for a small-to-medium business that doesn't have complex logistical routes and/or a large number of vehicles.

Keep in mind that cellular-based systems are most effective in urban areas. Satellite systems are preferred when a vehicle travels out of cellular network ranges. There are also hybrid systems with both options.

Here are a few general tips to consider when selecting a GPS tracking system that will best fit your needs.

  • How are you going to use it?

    What kind of environmental conditions does your fleet operate under? For example, do you need water-resistant cases for the devices? How frequently do you need reports? (The number and frequency of reports help you determine both hardware and software needs.)

  • Are you getting a charge out of it (what type of battery)?

    You want a long battery life. Most external battery packs operate for weeks at a time. Options for extending battery life include extended-life batteries (which also carry extended costs, but may still be less expensive than repeatedly replacing cheaper batteries) or technologically more sophisticated batteries that "go to sleep" when not in use.

  • What is your budget?

    Keeping in mind that a GPS fleet tracking system can pay for itself with improved cost efficiency, be aware that a fully integrated system can cost several thousand dollars. When you're spending that kind of money, look for a reputable dealer that can provide you with extended-service agreements and warranties, as well as on-site and telephone technical support.

There are numerous vendors to choose from in this industry, as well as solutions for vehicle fleets of all sizes. The checklist below can help you keep track of what different vendors offer.

Comparison Checklist

Some of the key factors you should take into consideration when comparing vendors are listed below.

Print Checklist

( Show Text Version )

  1. Product Features
    • Adapter for 24-volt vehicles
    • After-care support (free/maintenance contract)
    • Antennas (internal/external)
    • Automated alerts
    • Customizable reporting
    • Data export
    • Email
    • Geo-fencing
    • Internal battery option
    • Internet connectivity
    • Low-battery notification
    • Nationwide satellite/cellular coverage
    • Proprietary software
    • Remote door lock/unlock
    • Starter disable
    • Upgradeable
    • Virtual odometer mileage
    • Voice activation
    • Water-resistant
    • Web-based software
  2. Mapping Features
    • Create driver directions
    • Change map icons/locations
    • Display all vehicles on single map
    • Display GPS signal strength
    • Display current location, heading, speed
    • Dispatch closest vehicle
    • Download historical data to Excel
    • Export data to Google Earth
    • Find nearest equipment
    • Multi-point routing
    • Set alerts
    • Set boundaries
    • Set up landmarks
    • View historical travel patterns
  3. Pricing
    • Purchase/lease
    • On-site maintenance
    • Monthly fees

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GPS Fleet Tracking Software Purchaser Checklist

Glossary of Terms

  • Ephemeris (Ephemeris Error): Predicted changes in satellite orbit used by the GPS device to lock on to new satellite triangulations. Typically there are errors in these predictions that are removed by differential corrections.
  • Geo-fencing: Designates a geographic perimeter in which a vehicle should operate; an alert is issued if the vehicle travels beyond the borders of a geo-fence.
  • Geographic Information System (GIS): Combines positional GPS data with other descriptive mapping information to form a layered map displaying other data relational to vehicle location-e.g., landmarks, weather patterns.
  • Global Positioning System (GPS): Refers to a series of navigational satellites that make it possible to precisely pinpoint the latitude and longitude of a receiver.
  • GPS Fleet Tracking System: A network of devices that make it possible to locate vehicles precisely using satellites, and gather information about those vehicles that can be used to analyze their movements.
  • Assisted GPS: A way to improve lock time (see below) by triangulating position in relation to historical data and cell-tower locations.
  • Lock: The time needed for a GPS receiver on the ground to receive information from up to three satellites to compute its geographical location. This can take time, particularly in moving vehicles. There are three approaches to handling lock "start":
  • Hot Start: The GPS device "remembers" its last location and attempts to lock into the same satellites to calculate a new position based upon previous information. This is the quickest approach, but only if there hasn't been much distance traveled since the last reading.
  • Warm Start: The GPS device "remembers" its last location, but resets with new satellite readings. This takes a little longer but is more accurate.
  • Cold Start: A fresh recalculation. Previous information is deleted and current position is recalculated. Takes the longest.
  • Multipath: Interference signals from multiple transmissions-minimized by low-on-the-horizon satellites.
  • Satellite Constellation: The group of satellites, usually three or more, employed to determine geographic position.
  • Static Positioning: The process of averaging multiple GPS positions taken successively over time with a stationary antenna to increase accuracy.

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