Four Steps to Fuel Savings for Your Field Workforce

By  David Levy, Market Manager, Tele Atlas — October 03, 2008

Fleet management systems integrated with digital maps of the road network have long been used by trucking, distribution and transportation companies to increase productivity and reduce costs.  These businesses, which rely on vehicles as a core part of their capabilities, are keenly aware of the operational benefits of digital map-based geographic analytics.  Since fuel costs are one of the highest expense costs for these firms, any practice which minimizes the use of fuel can make a significant contribution to the bottom line.

With the price of transportation fuel at record highs and experts predicting that they will stay at these levels for the foreseeable future, now is the time for the mobile enterprise to consider adopting software systems that will minimize the use of this expensive, as well as carbon-emitting, resource.

Whether for an outside sales force, field technicians or other mobile workers, vehicles (cars, vans, light trucks) are costly to purchase, maintain and operate.  Software systems with geographic applications are tools that can cost-effectively help mobile enterprise fleet managers in many ways.

The primary digital map applications for mobile enterprises facilitate four key processes that promote fuel savings:

  • tracking
  • route optimization
  • turn-by-turn navigation
  • congestion avoidance
Tracking: Location awareness of mobile assets using global positioning satellites (GPS) supports several valuable functions. Unauthorized use of a company vehicle can be reduced, including usage during off-hours (nights/weekends) or for non-business purposes.  Additionally, when integrated with the vehicle's on-board computers to monitor engine status, this technology can identify excessive idling, which wastes fuel and is in the process of being regulated in some states.  Adherence to a specified route is another fuelsaving tool which tracking can be applied to.

Route optimization: In a multi-stop environment, such as when a cable installer has to visit multiple customers in a day, designing a daily itinerary (from point A to B to C, etc.) that minimizes crisscrossing town can have a significant impact on the amount of fuel used in a given day.  By using complex algorithms to determine a logical sequence of stops, unnecessary driving can be eliminated.  In addition to minimizing windshield time, companies that adopt route optimization are often able to complete more work orders per day, increasing the return on this investment.

Turn-by-turn navigation:  Once an enterprise has done route optimization and knows the sequence of stops the mobile worker will make, the next step is to provide the driver with turn-by-turn directions to minimize out-of-route miles. Even if a driver is familiar with a locale, the most efficient route is not always obvious.  Navigation systems consider many factors when calculating directions, including one-ways streets, turn restrictions, road speed, etc.  Navigation devices can deliver text-to speech technology which provide voice prompts and, thus, are safe to use as they do not require drivers to take their eyes off the road.  Using GPS, dynamic directions can automatically re-calculate when the mobile worker goes off-route and re-direct the driver back on course.

Traffic avoidance: Next-generation navigation systems are incorporating historical and real-time traffic information to help reduce fuel costs associated with idling in traffic jams.  In today's sprawling, metropolitan areas, this can be a significant source of wasted fuel and time.  Using historical road speed data, rush hour smart routing can determine routes which are appropriate for the morning and afternoon busy periods -- when actual road speeds can vary significantly from posted speed limits.  Data is available based on the day of week and hour of the day for most streets in the U.S.  Since road congestion, accidents or construction can cause unanticipated delays in traffic flow, real-time data is another important component for fleet management systems.  Tangentially, customer satisfaction is improved by using traffic profiles to determine more accurate estimated arrival times.         

Each of these applications leveraging digital mapping and GPS technologies will provide incremental savings.  When taken as a whole, the mobile enterprise that implements a fleet management system with all of these functions can expect a significant returnoninvestment, with a payback often in less than one year. 

Of course, there are challenges and potential pitfalls when implementing any new system that's intended to improve operational efficiency, but solution providers in this field have mature applications.  Some solution providers target specific vertical industries while other are designed with flexibility to be customized to any industry workflow.  Available solutions offer comprehensive functionality, easy roll-outs, scalability and information security.  Some may be hosted on-site, though many solutions are hosted with a software-as-a-service business model.

It is important to recognize that fleet management solutions generally require hardware devices in the cab of the vehicle.  Many applications are designed to run on standard GPS-enabled cell phones that many mobile workers may already have.  Advanced systems may require more robust hardware such as mobile data terminals mounted on the dashboard of the vehicle or handheld computing devices which can be removed from the vehicle to collect data or communicate from the job-site.

The use of digital mapping applications in the transportation industry is widespread already.  Given today's economic environment, the mobile enterprise must adopt these tools to save fuel costs and increase the visibility and efficiency of mobile workers, which will ultimately serve to improve customer service.  These cost-effective solutions will allow the mobile enterprise to stand out from its competitors and improve profitability.

David Levy is Market Manager for TeleAtlas.


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