Tracking to keep truckingBy Stephen Hurcom, Global Director Location Based Services, MapInfo (June 27, 2003)
MapInfo’s Stephen Hurcom provides an overview of what technology now exists for SME logistics companies to effectively track their resources and freight
Every fleet administrator has been there - one of the firm’s most important clients is screaming on the phone looking for his/her vital delivery, which hasn’t arrived yet. While some fleet managers have avoided this situation by investing in pricey Global Positioning System (GPS) technology for tracking all kinds of vehicles and their contents, other Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SME) have found the cost of this kind of location-enabled solution too prohibitive. That is until now.
A new type of tracking system for fleet managers is just around the corner and to avail of this, all you need is an ordinary GSM mobile phone, computer and Internet connection. Sound too good to be true? Well it isn’t. With this type of solution, fleet managers won’t have the huge capital or operational expenditure traditionally associated with GPS because this system works by tracking the location of mobile phones, something that every driver already possesses.
The argument for fleet managers to invest in tracking systems has always been sound. Information is the lifeblood of any company but especially for distribution organisations. With large numbers of vehicles moving around the UK, Europe or even globally, the value of knowing where these vehicles (and their all important contents) are at any one time, together with the expected time of arrival at their destinations, is enormous. Currently some logistic and road haulage firms incur financial penalties for late deliveries, so the idea for investing in some type of technically enabled tracking has always been good.
But despite this sound thinking, this solution has never really been an option for the SME fleet managers. GPS requires a receiver and transmitter. The transmitter is a black-box type device, which has to be physically located within the vehicle. It sends the location data wirelessly to the receiver, which is held at the firm’s base and a special kind of software will then translate this location data into visually appealing maps. The price as well as the hassle associated with GPS is considerable and this investment has traditionally only been justified for logistic companies with over a hundred vehicles.
However a new era of fleet management software is possible. Mobile software developers can now access the x y co-ordinates of all the mobile phones in the UK and many parts of Western Europe, provided that the phone customer has given his permission for his phone to be identified. This x y co-ordinate is vital for detecting the location of the phone and as a direct result, the user. What this means for fleet managers is that mobile software developers such as Cyantel (www.cyantel.com), which has a global partnership with MapInfo, are developing solutions specific for the logistics industry which are built on location technology from MapInfo.
Not only are these systems easy to use, they are also easy to set up. Companies, such as MapInfo, are able to offer these services via an Application Service Provider (ASP) model. Here the fleet manager will sign up to an online service and then point their web browser at the appropriate URL (website) to access a fully functional fleet tracking and management service. Once up and running, the fleet manager can activate a ‘poll for position’, a technique which returns location information on each driver. This kind of service is secure, easy-to-understand and provides SMEs with a very low cost of entry, as there will be no investment in new equipment or products.
By adopting fleet management solutions, there are a multitude of benefits for fleet managers. For the first time, the tracking and pinpointing of assets using simple but highly fucntional maps becomes affordable. Precise and accurate data will indicate estimated delivery times and will also reveal the availability of drivers, therefore allowing new jobs to be allocated more quickly. An opportunity also exists to police assets, ensuring that during working hours vehicles are always where they should be!
In addition to simple tracking functionality, fleet managers can also provide their drivers with routing directions and traffic reports using the mobile phone or PDA as the display tool. Although it would require more investment in technical infrastructure, the opportunity will also exist for customers to actually track their deliveries, making the supply chain visible and transparent. This is a move that has its own benefits for Customer Relationship Management (CRM) practices.
Both of these methods operate using Cell-ID technology, which works by identifying the area that the mobile phone is being used in. Mobile networks are denser in urban areas so mobile phones can be located within a few hundred metres of their actual location. In rural areas where the density is less, the location accuracy will be less but will still be fit for purpose. While this admittedly, isn’t as accurate as GPS, it does allow fleet managers to answer that immortal customer question of ‘When will my delivery be made?’. Cell-ID technology is available today but in the future, the ability to exactly pin-point the location of assets will be enhanced via upgrades to the operator’s core network.
Before investing in this type of solution, however, it is vital that fleet managers consider the infrastructure on which they are built. MapInfo’s partner Cyantel utilises its MapInfo miAware platform as the foundation upon which it builds its fleet management solution. It is essential that this type of solution is built on a scalable, robust, carrier-grade platform technology, as it is this middleware which executes and translates the search for the x y co-ordinates of mobile phones. Currently MapInfo miAware has been adopted by Siemens and Vodafone to provide geo- information functionality such as mapping, routing and geo-coding for a variety of location-based services that they are both currently developing.
Over the coming months, fleet managers will see more promotion surrounding systems that work by tracking the x y co-ordinates of mobile phones. For logistics firms of all sizes, being able to effectively track resources and deliveries has become vital. In these tougher economic times, anything that is cost effective and can guarantee increased customer satisfaction, has to be considered.
About the Author
Stephen Hurcom is Global Director Location Based Services, MapInfo (www.mapinfo.co.uk). For further information, you can email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call: +44 (1753) 848 200
MapInfo Corporation is a global software company that integrates software, data and services to help customers realise greater value from location-based information and drive more insightful decisions. MapInfo solutions are available in 20 languages through a network of strategic partners and distribution channels in 60 countries.
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