April 7, 2010
It took just one irresponsible employee to bring Mark Iverson's 300-vehicle fleet into the 21st century.
Iverson, as maintenance director for California's Eastern Municipal Water District -- the state's third-largest, covering 550 square miles east of Los Angeles -- got the news one day in 2007 that an employee had brought home some construction vehicles for personal use and caused damage. Government lawyers conducted an investigation that led to the employee's firing. "The first thing they asked us was, 'Don't you have GPS in your equipment to track it?'"
They do now. "We started looking at all the different products out there. I probably had brochures from 25 different organizations," Iverson explains. Eventually he was contacted by Networkfleet which stood out for two reasons. Its equipment has a plug-and-play installation into standard vehicle OBD-II diagnostic ports, and it was already used by another California water district, which meant less red tape in the procurement process.
The system went live in March 2009. Now district administrators can track idle time, routing, service alerts, and speed of every vehicle -- including his own. "The data is collected at Networkfleet's data center, and we access it via the Internet. That was important to us because we didn't want any software that had to be kept up-to-date, compatibility issues, things like that," Iverson says. His 302 vehicles from 1996 and newer all have the Networkfleet devices. Other employees will get the devices too as older vehicles are phased out and new models brought in.
Data is collected in weekly reports that highlight anything beyond certain levels such as a vehicle idling too long or going too fast. It can also be used to protect employees against accident claims and hazardous driving complaints.
In addition, so far only three units were defective and only one malfunctioned in the field, Iverson says. Networkfleet's software could use more customization for its idle time monitoring and for speed limit thresholds, along with making its reporting tools more user-friendly, but the company is doing well at responding to the EMWD's feature requests, he says.
Iverson explains that every driver can see his or her own reports -- "The idea was to develop a little bit of trust and lessen their anxiety," and there's room for common-sense aspects such as a driver stopping for lunch -- but not using construction equipment for personal projects, as did the employee who inadvertently started EMWD's process. "More often than not, at much as employees feared the Big Brother aspect, it was almost the end of one year before we had our first disciplinary action from the GPS," he adds.
The water district has a variety of other metrics justifying its purchase. Before installing the monitors, there were 3.5 speed-related accidents per year, but none in the past 12 months. More than $2 million was saved by using less fuel and monitoring drivers' labor compared to excess time behind the wheel. The district also cut 300,000 lbs. of CO2 emissions.
But the most unexpected use of Networkfleet devices happened when Iverson sent a vehicle in for dealership repair. Networkfleet's software showed that all the dealer did was clear the check-engine light and say it's fixed. When Iverson complained, the dealer waited a few days, called back, and again said it's fixed -- but Networkfleet's software showed that the engine was never even started and the vehicle never moved.
Big Brother may be watching, but sometimes he's benevolent.