With accounts not growing, vending operators are taking a closer look at ways to operate more efficiently. And while implementing technology to improve efficiency usually adds costs before saving any, some technologies are proving their usefulness. Case in point is satellite-based fleet monitoring, known as Global Positioning Systems, or GPS.
As with any new technology, operators face a task educating themselves about how the technology works and how different systems on the market compare. Because GPS is still fairly new in vending, operators must sift through a lot of information before they can determine how much to invest and what the payoff will be.
Satellites beam down signals
GPS fleet management systems utilize a network of satellites that transmit radio signals to ground-based receivers. GPS technology, combined with analysis and mapping software, can provide an operator with up-to-date information on vehicle activity, including graphic annotation of key events such as service stops, excessive speed, variations from the route and more.
GPS systems have proven particularly useful in facilitating service dispatch operations, thereby enhancing customer service in a more efficient manner.
Technology costs fall
GPS systems have been available for fleet management for several years, but as with many technologies, the costs have fallen in recent years. A random survey of vending and OCS operators revealed that many are using this technology to improve operating efficiencies and employee accountability.
There are two main types of GPS systems: "active" (or "real time") and "passive." In an active system, data is transmitted via cellular telemetry to the main office or to an Internet website where the subscribing company can view its fleet activity in real time. In a passive system, the data is stored for retrieval and uploaded to the principal fleet computer when the vehicle returns. Many GPS providers offer both systems, and combination options.
There is also a two-way tracking system that uses low-orbit satellites that allows communication between drivers and managers. This works in areas where cellular networks are not established. This is the most expensive option.
Rising fuel costs drive interest
Vending and OCS operators have taken more interest in GPS systems in light of skyrocketing fuel costs. Fuel savings are achieved in three distinct ways: 1) By making sure unauthorized use of the vehicle isnt occurring, 2) By allowing more efficient routing, and 3) By allowing managers to know how fast a vehicle is moving; excessive speed wastes fuel.
Vending and OCS operators have found use for these systems for all their main vehicle functions; delivery, service and supervisory. Most use it for service and supervisory vehicles versus delivery trucks. This is because there is less management oversight of service and supervisory vehicles than route delivery trucks.
"We can dispatch our service techs; tell them you are here and I need you to be there, rather than the service tech telling us where he is. We tell him where he is," noted Alan Plaisted, president of Southern Refreshment Services Inc., based in Atlanta, Ga. The company monitors service techs in real time and the supervisors after the fact.
Real-time data useful for service trucks
Plaisted finds it worth the extra cost of knowing in real time where his service vehicles are. There is never any question where a vehicle is at any time.
The biggest benefit has been improved routing efficiencies. The system creates reports that summarize every trucks mileage by any time interval chosen.
Plaisted doesnt plan on installing GPS receivers on his route trucks unless there is a problem with a particular driver.