TRACKING, MANAGING AND COMMUNICATING with employees is not only a challenge but a critical factor in running a successful business. As a result, more electrical contractors are using computers to identify and control maintenance expenses and to communicate more effectively with drivers on matters of safety and operating costs.
Fleet management has advanced to the point where companies have much greater control over costs. There are a variety of options for managing fleets to get the most benefit from their transportation expenditures. Many even elect to lease their cars and trucks.
For the electrical contractor, fleet management offers a way to save valuable time and significant capital. Contractors may map vehicle and driver locations as well as analyze vehicle and driver activity while communicating directly with vehicle operators.
“We provide solutions to manage mobile workers, including enterprise class customers, wireless carriers, telephone companies and electrical contractors,” said Joyce Tam, director of product management for @Road Inc., a provider of solutions designed to automate the management of mobile resources. “Fleet management solutions are ideal for anyone with technicians working in the field. It provides real-time data so you can manage locations and optimize your business.”
Three basic elements of fleet management—field force management, field service management and field asset management—help companies increase the efficiency of their mobile work force while decreasing operational costs. These fleet systems enable electrical contractors to track the location and condition of their vehicles in real time while ensuring their clients receive optimum customer service.
“One of the great things for electrical contractors who have to be on a specific job site and work for a larger firm, our solution gives more visibility and performance optimization,” Tam said. “Smaller companies can benefit too because if they have an employee with an issue of speeding, causing higher insurance costs, there is a way to track the employee to learn why this is happening. If an employee is also supposed to be working on three jobs but they are only completing one, it’s important for the employer to find out why this is also happening. Up until now, it has been difficult for people to know the specific whereabouts of someone in the field.”
Before purchasing fleet management programs, contractors invested extensive amounts of money and time on maintenance and repairs for vehicles. With the implementation of such systems, contractors save time because they do not have to constantly monitor and record maintenance and repair tickets for vehicles.
For contractors with small to mid-size fleets, the fleet management system also provides services ranging from vehicle acquisition, fuel management and insurance programs to registration, reporting and vehicle remarketing.
Installation is relatively simple. Small receiver/transmitters are installed in the vehicles, and government satellites are used to pinpoint the exact location of each vehicle. Fleet operators may also specify specific time intervals for each vehicle to “check in” using wireless technology.
From here, the contractor is able to see a vehicle’s direction, speed and condition as well as positive identification of each driver. As a result, the contractor can ensure clients are receiving installations on schedule. If a driver encounters a problem or an emergency customer demand is required, operators may reroute vehicles immediately.
The new Navman wireless fleet manager allows fleet managers to map vehicle and driver locations, analyze vehicle and driver activity, define driver territories, and communicate directly with vehicle operators. If multiple drivers are using the same vehicle, a personal identification number can be assigned to differentiate each.
As the cost of gas has become a large expenditure for companies, diagnostics play a major role in making sure operations run smoothly.
“Time is precious for electrical contractors,” said Chris Bradley, general manager, U.S. wireless business solutions for Navman. “The ability to add more jobs and more billable hours can make a big difference for them. The Navman fleet manager solution does exactly that through automated paper management. It allows for more efficient ways to get to jobs without looking for directions and no time spent being lost.”
So, what exactly does the fleet management future hold for electrical contractors?
“There are two main reasons why I think the adoption of this technology will grow for the electrical contractor’s industry,” said Bradley. “Profitability allows customers to be more cost-effective with their personnel and their vehicles with virtually no upfront investment. The best-run companies have started and will continue to adopt this type of technology. ... Also, the ability to know where your vehicles are and thus provide customers with much better estimates of contractor arrival times will greatly increase customer service within this industry.”
In addition, more and more electrical contractors are choosing to lease vehicles as a cost-effective way to put their employees on the road. They are able to manage company cars and trucks while analyzing the impact of the company transportation policies on customer service, marketing and other operations.
“We offer special programs for electrical contractors because we can lease virtually any vehicle for any term requested,” said Dennis Cavagnaro, director of marketing for Merchants Leasing, New Hampshire. “Ford and Chevy vans are most popular with contractors and we can set up leases with whatever they want for mileage each year. Contractors seem to look at vans and pickup trucks.
“It makes perfect sense for contractors to look at fleet management leasing. If a contractor leases a vehicle, they aren’t tying up money in a car that will depreciate rather quickly. It doesn’t make sense for people to own company vehicles because when it breaks, the owner is responsible for fixing it. With fleet management leases, the contractor would hire a company to have a maintenance contract, insurance and even roadside assistance.”
Increased efficiency enables projects to be completed within regular workday hours, resulting in overtime savings pay. A more efficient and controllable fleet also equals fewer maintenance problems and less vehicle downtime.
“Servicom is our management piece that puts work order and job information into the palm of an electrical contractor’s hands, helping them be more productive,” said Stephen Rossi, manager of marketing communications, Aligo. “It automates paperwork and provides wireless, two way communication of work order and billing information between the field and the office.”
Electrical contractors can now eliminate inflated payroll costs and overtime by providing actual up-to-the-minute start and stop times of your technician’s workday and activities during the day—all validated with GPS location information. In addition, contractors may dispatch the closest field technician to a job for maximum efficiency and productivity.
“The Worktrack is GPS enabled and used by technicians in the field to track the location of an employee throughout the day,” Rossi said. “It is provided as a time-card solution. Payroll and accounting can be run off of it. In terms of employee and GPS tracking, this is a growing trend because the technology is getting better. These solutions are beneficial for electrical contractors as they help to dispatch and schedule people in terms of location. They can pull up a fleet on a map without a paper process and connect to a job and get information, costs, a timesheet or anything like that, prompted by mobile devices.”
To find out if fleet management solutions are right for you, start by conducting a survey of all equipment, including the age of a truck, associated maintenance costs and operator’s productivity. It is also important to note when each unit requires replacement and when its productivity is at its greatest. As a result, fleet management and GPS tracking products can help to reduce insurance costs, maintenance costs and overtime expenses, while improving driver performance and safety. EC
SPEED is a freelance writer based in Weymouth, Mass. She can be reached at 617.529.2676 or email@example.com.
FOR THE ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR with a large inventory of tools, tool acquisition, maintenance and management can be costly and time consuming. Hilti Inc. has come up with a cost-effective solution. Contractors may benefit from a new tool fleet and decreased downtime without putting down a substantial amount of upfront capital.
“Customers expect to receive the latest innovation with a product edge, but the trend now is to manage it. That has been the missing link,” said Nick Townsend, tool fleet management director for Hilti. “It used to be labor intensive, but now we are looking to help out the customer. Fleet management will become an industry standard over the next few years. The old way to buy tools had no ongoing support, but that is a thing of the past. Support alone could be 30 to 40 percent more expensive in terms of fleet management.”
Rather than having a contractor spend $10,000 or $20,000, most of the products are paid on account so if the tools are needed upfront, the contractor is now on a contract varying from 12 to 48 months. The cost of the tool is essentially spread out over the contract and monthly invoices cover the service contract.
“There are a number of benefits to fleet management,” Townsend said. “We are able to offer the entire product line of tools under this system, so the customer can get every one. Our top clients include building construction companies as well as mechanical and electrical contractors.”
All-inclusive programs such as these include tool purchases, repairs and replacement. The annual service, regular maintenance and shipping are also covered.
“The fleet management industry is transforming and has been over the past few years,” Townsend said. “Customers will no longer be purchasing tools because they are realizing the benefit is in usage, not ownership. It allows them to invest in other aspects of their business while also always knowing the budget. There are no repair costs involved either because everything is covered under the program. Customers are now beginning to realize the cost savings, which will soon set an industry standard.”