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There are a range of in-cab solutions on the market which aim to assist a client to manage the performance of their service. From simple telematics to on-board, real time cameras the list of available functionality can be mind boggling. The key when adopting such technology is to fully understand the business requirements of the service in question, and identifying which in-cab technology provides the greatest return on investment.
Simple vehicle tracking has been a popular approach in the past, and for many organisations this is the starting point for on-board technologies. Vehicle tracking salesman would often talk about ‘performance’ as part of their sales pitch but, apart from a live view or archived GPS track of a vehicle path, this is not a very effective way of measuring or managing performance. The fact that a vehicle was driven down a certain road doesn’t necessarily mean the service was executed. Vehicle tracking in its simplest form records vehicle locations only and can be mainly used by clients to fight dubious insurance claims and as a theft alert system (when geofences are created which alerts users that a vehicle has moved across a specific map boundary, i.e., a depot). Some insurance companies offer minimal reductions in insurance premiums if certain vehicle tracking functionality is fitted onto vehicles.
Vehicle and Driver Performance
More recently technology focusses on direct inputs recorded by on-board technology known as “telematics” that can record vehicle ‘events’. These events can range from bin lifts on a waste collection vehicle through to temperature on a refrigerated lorry. In recent years there has been a greater focus on driver behaviour – harsh braking, excessive revving and idling, etc. Much of this data can be viewed in real time by the depot though most is used historically to improve driver behaviour in an attempt to reduce fuel and remain compliant with road laws. Just like vehicle tracking, telematics has very little to do with the actual execution of the service…. Just how the person and vehicle got to the location rather than what was said and done at the location!
Beyond the Basics – Service Performance
The most important factors when providing location based services can be split into two: (A) efficient route planning and route optimisation and (B) the management of the daily performance. When trying to focus on the big question “how is my service performing”, clients need to hone down the technology to gather inputs on the point in time when the service is actually delivered. So for waste collection, the point at which the bin is pulled from the roadside to the bin lift, for mail delivery the point at which the delivery is made, for meter reading the point at which the meter is read, for street cleansing the point at which the brushes are lowered by the vehicle. For each of these examples the point at which the service requirement is executed is different and therefore the Service Performance Technology is different.
For meter reading there is little point in vehicle tracking the van when the handheld unit can log the exact location at the precise point a meter is read. The same is true of floral, milk, parcel and mail delivery. With handheld units, users can log a lot more than just service execution but collect signatures, survey responses, photographs, etc. Creating a track of serviced points rather than a track of movement between service locations can be more important, and telling,
Vehicle Based Service Provision
For street sweepers why track the entire route when the service only starts and stops when the brushed are down? With telematics the brushed ‘up/down’ can be easily monitored together with the exact location. In the waste collection sector, unless each bin has an RFID tag fitted, there is no 100% guaranteed method for associating a bin with a household: The best that can be achieved is an approximation based on clever combination of GPS and mapping to conduct a proximity calculation.
Very few companies provide a fully integrated mobile service performance management system, that include features of telematics, vehicle tracking and handheld functionality. And almost non include optimised routes as part of the mobile solution. It possible however for optimised routes to be exported direct to in cab and handheld technology (that includes vehicles Sat-Navs). More enhanced in cab & handheld units can also enable users to report on the service execution (“bin not presented”, “client not at home”, “recycling bin contaminated”– “street blocked – no service provided”) and also service completion (job complete, street complete, etc.) when following an optimised route.
It is one thing to collect service data in the field, but another issue entirely when collating this data to be used in service management. Dependent on the nature of the service clients have to decide whether the data must be communication in near real time, or is the value only in reviewing this data as a trend over time? As a general rule of thumb, solutions that manage data that must be viewed in near real time are more expensive as the communication cost is higher as is the processing speed required in the ‘back office’ system.
Typically, for large organisations, the data collection activity may involve different types of hardware that may require a combination of technologies, i.e., iOS, Windows, Android. Also there may already exist a CRM system so an integration of technologies is required, perhaps via APIs. Then there is the reporting issue – how best to present all this incoming data, in a format that users can interpret simply to make decisions.
There are a range of in-cab solutions on the market which aim to assist a client to manage the performance of their service, and choosing the correct one is far more complicated that it first seems. The key is to fully understand the business requirements of the service in question, identifying at which point in the process the service execution occurs with the client, and why and how this is monitored.
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