Multiple Drivers for Fleet Management

June 5, 2013
Carl Weinschenk Senior Editor It's nice when operators find something that drives down opex and increases profits sitting right in their garages. Proactive and advanced fleet management platforms do just about everything: They cut costs, improve driver sa...

By Carl Weinschenk Senior Editor

It's nice when operators find something that drives down opex and increases profits sitting right in their garages.

Proactive and advanced fleet management platforms do just about everything: They cut costs, improve driver safety, aid the environment and keep customers happy by improving on-time numbers and even shrinking service windows.

In a feature last week, I pointed to Comcast’s (NASDAQ:CMCSA) western division, which cut about 25% in fuel expenditures by using an advanced GPS technology and associated programs to gradually change how its fleet operates.

Fleet management is unique in that it has no downside. GE Capital Fleet Services last Wednesday released a survey of fleet managers' concerns. Though the release did not specify the industry or industries queried, the results are interesting and relevant. The key takeaway is that neither of the issues most closely associated with fleet management finished first on the list.

Both cost savings and workforce productivity weighed in as the top concern of 22% of respondents, who are responsible for fleets of 200 to 5,000 vehicles. The most important priority to 36% of respondents was driver safety. Last year, that was the top concern of 23%.

All three issues are important, of course. The point is that this is an area with multiple drivers. Indeed, there are at least four powerful reasons - driver safety, environmental responsibility, cost savings and worker productivity - to extend fleet management platforms. Another way of saying this is simpler and clearer: Highly automated fleet management is a no-brainer.

Comcast's success is not isolated. A Trimble case study of Cox Communications' use of its GeoManager Fleet Management platform suggests the same level of savings and same high ceiling of possibilities.

Keep in mind that this passage only describes one element of a comprehensive fleet management platform:

The first step in controlling idle time was configuring idling triggers in the control group of vehicles to alert those drivers to turn off their trucks when parked. A baseline group operated without the alerts. Vehicles with a trigger averaged engine idle time of 11 minutes per vehicle, per day. The baseline group, without an alert, reported an average idle time of 96 minutes per day. These results showed that reducing idle time for 5,000 vehicles - an 84% reduction - would mean huge fuel and cost savings.

Big Choice on Approach

Improved fleet management undoubtedly is a hugely important issue for cable operators. It is increasingly common that businesses must choose between purpose-built platforms from vendors such as SageQuest and Trimble, that do an extraordinary job the task at hand. On the other hand, there are ad hoc apps - often delivered to the employee's personal tablet or smartphone - that deliver much, but not all, of the same functionality. It can be confusing and require tradeoffs.

The ad hoc category has two advantages: The barrier to entry is very low, and the generic platforms can perform a tremendous amount of other functions. It is a horizontal as opposed to vertical approach. The purpose–built platforms are the diametric opposite: They are more expensive and do little except fleet management. That, however, they do exceptionally well.

Both are well worth considering. In other words, the low hanging fruit of convincing drivers to shut off the engine while they are in a home working can be achieved in a number of ways. It isn't a particularly technology-dependent issue: Find out who is letting their trucks run all day and stop them, either with a carrot or with a stick.

The fleet management-specific tools can weave together a number of features and functions into an integrated whole. Derek DiGiacomo, the director of information systems for the SCTE, said great amounts of energy can be saved if the operator wisely uses the telemetry that can be generated by a fleet management platform. For instance, he said, the timing of fuel changes and even air pressure - an important factor in sustaining high fuel mileage - can be optimized through savvy fleet management. It is far more likely that this function would be weaved together with other useful tools in a comprehensive package.

The important thing isn’t that operators choose one way or the other. It is that they do something. Cox and Comcast are going to approach fleet management, a discipline that is expanding rapidly as it partially merges with green energy initiatives. However, there are less systematic approaches that smaller operators can and should look into.

Carl Weinschenk is the Senior Editor of Broadband Technology Report. Contact him at [email protected].

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