GPS tracking, fleet optimization move to the forefront of contractors’ minds
In the world of HVACR, the focus is often directed toward the equipment in the field, such as a/c units, furnaces, boilers, air handlers, and condensing units. However, fleet management is an essential part of the business that cannot be overlooked or forgotten. Properly managing a fleet of vehicles can make or break a contracting business, and there is a lot more to it than buying a couple of vans and calling it a day. GPS tracking, fleet optimization techniques, fuel efficiency, and other factors have risen in prominence in recent years in a concerted effort to help contractors get their technicians from point A to point B in the smartest, most cost-effective method possible.
Ryan Driscoll, marketing director, GPS Insight, said the technology behind fleet management has changed immensely in recent years.
“The technology was primarily focused on tracking vehicles and now is so much more,” he said. “Rather than tracking vehicles, fleet management tracks driver behavior. Reports can be run based on the driver, rather than the vehicle, to understand where a technician was, how many jobs a tech completed, how the vehicle was driven, etc. This is primarily driven by the increase in demand for safety-related technologies.”
Increasing demand for GPS tracking in particular has been clear across all industries. In 2022, the global vehicle telematics market is expected to be sized at around $103 billion, up from $28 billion in 2014, per Statista. The market has grown steadily in recent years with customers coming to expect functionality and reliability from fleet management software.
“One of the things to note is that fleet management has become almost routine, and it is a must have,” said Paul Washicko, senior vice president and general manager of CalAmp’s SaaS business. “People have recognized that this is a critical part of their operations,” he said. “Five years ago they were reluctant to rely on these systems, but now it has become a normal part of the operation. The reliability is more critical than it ever has been because it is now ingrained in their processes.”
Washicko added that he has also seen demand from customers rise in regards to security, and that is why CalAmp has moved its newer applications and platforms to the cloud.
“There is an increasing emphasis on security, which is one of the reasons we went to the cloud,” he said. “This allows us to offer levels of security, which no one was really thinking about five years ago. When we saw those requirements from the customers, it wasn’t necessarily that they were demanding we move to the cloud, it was just that the system be reliable, scalable, and also secure. That drove us to move our applications and our platform into the cloud.”
For GPS Insight, the evolution of fleet management has meant developing driver-focused data to gather real insights into driver behavior.
“It is much more insightful and easier to take action when you know the ‘who’ rather than the ‘what,’” said Driscoll. “We have also developed a driver app. This app allows drivers to sign in to the vehicle so that management or dispatch knows who is driving it, to perform pre- and post-trip inspections of their vehicles for maintenance reasons, send routes for each job, allow for seamless communication, and more. The app eliminates a lot of traditional paperwork and keeps it all organized within GPS Insight.”
GPS Insight has also created driver scorecards. These scorecards are used to rank drivers based on customizable driver behavior events. The scores can be posted on the board in the office to create a friendly competition among technicians and are primarily used to coach drivers on safer driving habits. These driver behavior metrics include speeding, hard braking, rapid acceleration, drive time, long stops, etc.
CalAmp’s telematics suite takes applications for different markets and puts them together in a single suite.
“The reason why that matters is because HVAC has a lot of unpowered assets that contractors may want to track,” said Washicko. “There may be, in some cases, powered assets like generators where they do want to monitor run times, but there are certainly unpowered assets they want to be able to track. We have Bluetooth tags that can be read by the embedded hardware in the vehicle. The tracking hardware in the vehicle then reads the Bluetooth tags, which are on the unpowered assets.
“You are able to track and tag those unpowered assets,” he continued. “It was possible before with radio frequency identification (RFID), but that was really cumbersome and expensive. What we have been able to do with Bluetooth tags is make that affordable. That allows contractors and service organizations to affordably track things.”
Evolution does not reach a certain point and then come to a halt. The advances detailed in fleet management from manufacturers, such as cloud-based services and driver scorecards, reflect how quickly this segment of the HVAC market has developed and improved, but manufacturers also realize they must constantly stay abreast of what they can do to continue innovating in the near future.
“Our customers are everything, and GPS Insight interviews customers on a regular basis to keep their ears on the market demands,” said Driscoll. “We also attend many trade shows and conferences to follow trends and shifts in the market.
“[The next thing I see coming to the market] is integration,” he added. “Business owners and fleet managers are going to expect everything to integrate so that they can aggregate all the data for their company into one software interface. We understand that and have many partnerships in place with key technologies in the HVAC space with more to come.”
Washicko said one of the reasons CalAmp stays ahead of what is happening in the market is because it sells hardware to different companies across the industry and is able to see trends and where the market pull is coming from, which allows the company to tailor solutions based on that.
“For example, we are seeing rising interest in mobile routers,” he said. “These have been around for quite a while, but we are seeing a new uptick in them, which is a general reflection of the market. They can become hotspots for service fleets. Then they can connect tablets, which gives contractors and technicians a way to consolidate their data plans and manage the telecommunications cost along with fleet management.”