With urgent deliveries to dozens of job sites around the area and your customers depending on you for the timely completion of their projects, your fleet cannot afford to be on the sidelines. Vehicle maintenance and time management software are important for ensuring the satisfaction of your customers' needs.

Fleet management and vehicle maintenance

Important areas of consideration when choosing a fleet-management or vehicle-maintenance software package are idle workers, missed deadlines and unscheduled overtime.

“Vehicle unavailability is about 4 percent of a business's operating budget,” said Harry Siddall, national director of operations for First Vehicle Services of First Group America.

Fleet management and vehicle-maintenance software provide electrical contractors with the opportunity to better manage assets, labor resources, materials, other direct costs and work order processes.

“By allowing the electrical contractor to better monitor, track and manage their equipment, vehicle-maintenance software provides maximum vehicle utilization with minimum downtime at a reduced cost,” Siddall said.

A good vehicle-maintenance package helps prevent service failures and ensures that assets are generating revenue and operating at peak efficiency.

“Software gives the contractor a better understanding of how its assets are being used through the information generated in the programs' reporting functions,” said Bill Wessels, marketing director for Collective Data, North Liberty, Iowa.

If the vehicles are being maintained properly through scheduled and tracked preventative maintenance, the need for expensive emergency repairs and their associated costs is reduced. The most important features of whatever program is chosen include the ability to track and schedule preventative maintenance, generate reports to help determine costs, calculate the vehicle's useful life, determine when it has outlived its cost-effective use, and develop multiyear fleet-rotation reports.

“The software should be able to adapt to the market and allow the user to formulate more accurate vehicle and equipment budgeting,” said Siddall.

In addition, software should be easy to use, flexible and adaptable to the unique needs of each user situation.

“Look for a provider that offers the ability to expand in scope and technology at your pace and that provides an easy transition from your current system,” said Wessels.

Use of global positioning system (GPS) software further increases a contractor's control of its fleet and allows it to also manage employees' time efficiently. GPS-based fleet management software allows the contractor to know where each vehicle is in real time, how long the vehicle is at each location, what route the vehicle took and how fast it went.

“GPS solutions provide contractors with accountability, productivity, efficiency and increased levels of customer service and profitability,” said Eron Eiler, president of GPS Fleet Solutions, Tampa, Fla. “GPS tracking permits more productive dispatching and allows the contractor to more efficiently address issues such as tracking after-hours emergency service work.”

An efficiently managed schedule allows contractors to provide customers with an accurate estimate of when the service call will be made. GPS tracking is useful for eliminating unauthorized vehicle use after hours, tracking the time spent on the job more accurately and can serve as a timecard. Operational costs are not incurred when the vehicle is not in use. Wages are not being paid to employees who are not actually at the job site or en route to an authorized assignment.

“A contractor that uses GPS tracking software may even get reduced rates from the insurance company if it can demonstrate, through the reports generated by the system, that vehicles are being driven at legal speeds and that the vehicle is being used only for legitimate purposes,” said Eiler.

When choosing a system, contractors look for a program that provides frequent automatic updates, offers Web-based solutions for remote access, generates automated reports and provides e-mail alerts for vehicles that are used outside company- established parameters.

Time management

According to Scott Prewett, vice president and chief technology officer for Exaktime Inc., Woodland Hills, Calif., the American Payroll Association said making the transition from a manual to automated payroll system could reduce payroll costs by about 9 percent.

“Payroll is mostly overstated by employee rounding [off], and if a contractor can save just 10 minutes per day for one employee, that's 42 hours per year, multiplied by the number of employees,” he said.

This is not necessarily an integrity issue, but unintentional errors are caused by employees relying on memory when using a manual system. Employees who use automated time management software to record their time and costs are able to monitor and reduce those costs, accurately manage time sheets and projects by reducing errors and providing more reliable information, create precise budgetary projections for future projects, automate client project notifications and staff reporting, and track billable/nonbillable time and expenses.

“Today's highly competitive business environment demands that managers run their organizations and projects faster and smarter, with reduced costs. Through better time tracking and project costing, electrical contractors can reduce costs and measure job profitability more efficiently, thereby delivering results straight to the bottom line,” said Martin Johnson, vice president of marketing for DOVICO Software, Moncton, New Brunswick.

Low-tech timekeeping methods, such as paper time sheets, can be cumbersome and inefficient. Time-management software speeds up the timekeeping process, is more accurate and reduces multiple entries into the system and the number of errors, said Mike Fullerton, customer support for Cyber-Matrix Corp. Inc., Calgary, Alberta.

“Time-management software programs are more convenient for the employee. Time spent on each project can be entered into a PDA or laptop and downloaded from the field directly into the company's main computer system,” Fullerton said.

Another important aspect of any solution is that it be easily implemented and readily used by the organization.

“A system that is not used because it is too hard is a waste of money,” Johnson said.

A good system will allow the contractor to control the data intelligently and will alert users to situations such as possible over-budget runs, missing time sheets or possible data-entry errors.

Most companies hesitate to purchase an automated time-management system because they do not realize that the return on the investment is typically less than two months.

“The contractor often anticipates employee resistance and the misperception that an automated time management system means employees are not trusted, rather than employees realizing that the company is just trying to employ a method of streamlining payroll and job costing,” Prewett said. EC

BREMER, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributes frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. She can be reached at 410.394.6966 or darbremer@comcast.net.