Stopping a high-speed truck thousands of kilometres away may sound like something out of a sci-fi movie – but technological advances enable fleet managers to do just this, without causing damage to the vehicle. JACO DE KLERK takes a look at new developments in fleet management

Fleet management has come a long way. Gone are the days of hand-written logs and drivers who wouldn’t be heard from between departure and return. It now covers vehicle financing, maintenance, telematics (tracking and diagnostics), speed- and fuel management, and the management of drivers.

Fleet management can reduce operational costs, improve customer service levels and enhance the safety and security of drivers, goods and the business itself. This has all been made possible by technological advances that are revolutionising the way things are done. However, the success of fleet management depends on choosing the right technology for your operation.

Vehicle tracking is one of the most important functions of fleet management. The ability to pinpoint the whereabouts of any or all vehicles using GPS technology is a boon for any fleet manager.

“It follows a very basic procedure,” says Brian Kally, managing director of Arrow Logistics. “Firstly, after the location of a vehicle is determined, its direction and speed are calculated. Additional tracking capabilities then transmit this information to the fleet management software – and that’s when the actual, real-time location of the vehicle becomes visible on a map.”

According to Gert Pretorius, managing director of MiX Telematics Commercial: “One can even track trailers through wireless devices linked to an onboard computer. Drivers may also use the system to sound an alarm if they consider themselves in danger.”

This enables a fleet manager to take steps and minimise any potential damage or delays that could result from unforeseen events. Kally explains: “The software can allow for functions such as driver or vehicle profiling, trip profiling, dispatch of help, and can also provide remote control features, such as remote vehicle disabling.”

Remote vehicle disabling (RVD) gives fleet managers the power to prevent a vehicle’s engine from starting – and can even stop a vehicle while it’s in operation. RVD allows an authorised person to gradually decelerate a vehicle by downshifting, limiting the throttle’s capabilities or applying the brakes. “Once a vehicle has been stopped, some systems will even lock the brakes or prevent the engine from being restarted within a certain period of time,” says Kally.

RVD can also incorporate a remote panic and emergency notification system. “This is especially useful during an emergency, such as a hijacking,” says Kally. “It allows the driver to send an emergency alert by pressing a panic button. This will alert the applicable personnel, who can then evaluate the situation, communicate with the driver and potentially disable the vehicle.”

Web-based driver profiles and vehicle reports are another useful tool. They provide immense information value, which can be used to make maintenance scheduling easier and highlight extraordinary circumstances, such as a sudden increase in fuel.

For fleet management to be efficient, it should facilitate swift communication and coordination between the driver on the road and those in the office. This is becoming ever more crucial, perhaps even essential, as vehicles and goods cross more and more borders.

One such product that facilitates effective communication is the Buddi VI Cellular Data vehicle management, tracking and recovery system (Buddi) from Celtrac. This system uses both GPS and GPRS (General Package Radio Service) to track and report a vehicle’s exact position, down to street level, every 60 seconds in real time.

What makes this system so efficient is its capacity to track multiple vehicles simultaneously – anywhere, at anytime, from any desktop computer or laptop, or via Travel Partner, Celtrac’s own vehicle management and mapping software. The Buddi system does all this through the use of standard Internet protocols, making it an ideal tool to easily manage fleets of any size from any location, provided one has Internet access.

The product also stores a vehicle’s trip history, which can be retrieved later and used by fleet managers to make informed decisions regarding their fleets and drivers. Celtrac’s Buddi system’s ability to provide live online vehicle monitoring every 60 seconds through accurate GPS satellite positioning can also be alternatively configured: it can be set to provide positional updates every one to five seconds if required – making it ideal for those operating in high-risk locations. It also comes with an optional remote disabling system and panic button, making it a truly all-in-one product.

Autotrak has several fleet management products that can help operators achieve better results from their fleets – including its web-based Alert+, Monitor+ and Supreme+ systems. These products are housed in a splash proof enclosure and have been designed to withstand voltage surges and reverse polarity situations.

Prominent features of the Autotrak systems include GPS, GPRS and SMS notifications (used to locate fleet vehicles and for drivers to send alert notifications). The products have an internal self-powered battery back-up, and run daily vehicle health checks automatically – storing the information electronically for 24 months, which is also the duration of the product warranties.

The systems shows the different operational areas of the fleet, and updates the positions of all vehicles every 30 seconds – simultaneously identifying waypoint areas, no-go areas, and areas where drivers should be on the lookout for potential hazards (such as hijacking hotspots).

All three of Autotrak’s products can alert drivers and fleet operators of the speed limit in an area, while the Monitor+ and Supreme+ packages will also indicate if a driver is exceeding this limit and sound an alert should a vehicle steer off a designated route, make an unscheduled stop, be involved in an accident or drive during unauthorised times, such as after curfews (Alert+ will indicate such activity on the system, but won’t sound an alert).

Autotrak optional extras include a remote panic button and real-time hijacking warning through the Autoremote. The products also provide driver identification keys and monitor vehicles across borders, with Monitor+ and Supreme+ providing free vehicle recovery within South Africa.

Autotrak products also indicate which driver is driving which vehicle, and automatically send reports via e-mail to keep fleet operators fully informed. An overview of the activities of all vehicles is stored for up to 10 days.

The magic of telematics
Fleet management products can also provide vehicle telematics; tracking the vehicle but also providing diagnostics. “Telematics has the potential to fundamentally change the way fleets are managed,” says MiX Telematics’ Pretorius. “Commercial telematics solutions have proven themselves as tools for doing just that.”

In addition to providing improved security through the tracking of vehicles, telematics can substantially reduce accident rates, improve fuel economy, bring carbon monoxide emissions down and reduce maintenance costs.

“We have customers in over 110 countries that are saving up to 15 percent on operational costs as a result of the transport and logistics fleet management solutions they use,” says Pretorius. “This makes a significant impact on their bottom line.”

It’s common knowledge that fuel consumption, and thus fuel expenditure, is heavily influenced by the way vehicles are driven. But as Pretorius says: “If you’re in the office and your drivers are out on the road, how are you going to influence their behaviour?”

A possible solution is for fleet managers to give their drivers timely feedback on their performance, then reward them for any improvement. MiX Telematics’ in-cab display and onboard computer enable fleet operators to do just this.

The onboard computer connects to a vehicle’s control systems, captures detailed information about the vehicle and how it is being driven, and transmits this information to various secure data centres. “The computer and in-cab display work together to actively notify drivers – using a buzzer and light – whenever they are over-revving, idling excessively, braking and accelerating harshly, or speeding,” says Pretorius. “And these are key factors that influence fuel economy.”

This phenomenal functionality allows drivers to correct their behaviour and improve their fuel efficiency immediately. Pretorius says it’s almost like having a driver trainer in the cab all the time.

Autotrak Supreme+ can disable or control a vehicle from another location, and can even indicate when this might be necessary. It monitors a vehicle’s oil pressure and coolant level, as well as its fuel management. It provides information about fill ups and usage in real time – and can thus identify fuel theft, again in real time. Any authorised person at “command central” can then stop the vehicle or take other measures.

Although advanced technologies are at the core of fleet management solutions, Pretorius says their true value lies in how they help fleet operators to use the technology. He believes that a strong partnership with customers is the best strategy for making fleet management as efficient and cost-effective as possible. “A thorough understanding of the customer’s business at implementation phase allows for a solid footing moving forward.”

With this thorough understanding, fleet management solutions can be easily integrated and made to communicate with the transport operator’s other systems, such as those driving order management, finance, routing and scheduling. Shipment and task information can then be sent to and from drivers with one simple click, saving the operator time as well as money.

Just think of the advantages. As Pretorius says, if there is any delay in the estimated time of arrival, the customer service team can be notified immediately.

Immediate invoicing
Integrated systems also allow transport operators to invoice their customers immediately, and manage service contracts more effectively – with proof of delivery provided electronically and the status of deliveries automatically updated on the operator’s back-office systems.

“These solutions help fleet operators to communicate with their drivers cost effectively and safely, improving the timeliness of deliveries and optimising fleet utilisation,” says Pretorius. “By reducing the number of disputes and queries, and speeding up cash collections, they improve on the quality of the overall service delivered by the operator.

This advanced reporting and analysis of driver and vehicle performance, vehicle utilisation and job status – together with the ability to access and integrate data on multiple services – makes it easy for the operator to notice trends and identify issues requiring attention.
“The information and targeted feedback provided by these systems gives fleet managers the insight to better manage their drivers, their vehicles, and the jobs they undertake – increasing the efficiency of the entire operation,” says Pretorius. “It all boils down to the value gained from using the solution that’s right for the business. Knowing which solution is the right one, and how to get the most out of it, is where the true value of the service comes in.”