Up to Speed

Mobile workforce management solutions can help minimize fleet travel time and 

fuel costs. 

By Steven Smith

While the interconnectivity of people, goods and services – powered by increased mobility – has ushered transportation and logistics into the 21st century, there remains the need to operationalize the new, readily available data. With more than 15 million commercial vehicles on the road today, and improved adherence to customer commitment, the increased use of operational data yields a number of benefits including reduced fuel costs, minimized travel time and improved compliance with safety mandates.

Managers of commercial fleets are acutely aware that reducing fuel consumption involves strategies such as regular vehicle service, training drivers to avoid fuel-wasting behaviors and so forth. In recent years, many commercial fleets have begun embracing mobile workforce management solutions (MWFM) to achieve better visibility of workforce location and increase responsiveness to urgent customer calls and more. The result has been a 20 percent reduction in travel time that improves the bottom line while also leading to improved customer satisfaction, better resource utilization and responsiveness to changes in priorities.

Let’s discuss how fleets can effectively manage their resources and personnel, whether it’s a utility, communications, or home services fleet focused on end consumers or oilfield services, construction, or capital equipment operation with an asset centric mindset.

Burning Less Gas

For years, fleet managers have been tuned into the benefits of ensuring vehicle engines are properly serviced with tires replaced/pressurized to deliver efficiencies. Studies conducted by the United States Department of Energy noted that doing something as simple as replacing an air filter can improve gas mileage by as much as 10 percent, not to mention extend engine life. Also neglected is an area that has high potential in reducing fuel consumption, as well as maintaining a fleet’s reputation: driver training. Similar studies have proven that aggressive driving (speeding, rapid acceleration and braking) can decrease gas mileage by 33 percent at highway speeds and by 5 percent on local streets.

Fleet managers have been quick to pick up on these potential benefits, and the result is an increase in monitoring over the years with regards to route planning, vehicle health and fuel consumption. Monitoring helps derive only so much benefit, as the tools are limited to reward for good historic behavior or punishment for bad. In the past drivers would be given a task —whether it be delivering 16 palettes of goods to a supermarket in a neighboring state, or driving 20 minutes to fix a blown electrical transformer — where the drivers themselves were responsible for deciding which route was the most efficient. The limited awareness that fostered this reactive approach couldn’t consider other data that would deliver additional benefits to the business. Road conditions, precise driver location and status, assessment of travel route based on typical traffic conditions at the time needed, or the ability to leverage current travel conditions to decide on who should travel what route were simply not available or, due to processing and time constraints, not accessible. Today’s modern MWFM solutions provide managers with unprecedented access to all these (and other) details with the ability to operationalize them and ensure that each and every resource is being utilized in accordance with the desired business strategy.

Using Data

Reducing fuel cost and wear and tear on a fleet can include these additional details and thus produce more precise and immediate benefits. However, like many problems in the mobile workforce management world it’s not isolated and demands a balance between all the other factors influencing the fleet. In addition, this balance must be redefined on a continual basis as MWFM problems are subject to an ongoing shift in the factors that influence what should be done, when, by whom, with what and where.

The key to attaining ever increasing benefits is access to the data and ability to quickly process and appropriately operationalize. Using individualized details on the atomic level (individual users, jobs, vehicles, personnel etc.), a state of the art MWFM system can identify the right resources to support what activity. This includes assessment to batch process routes considering individual roadways and their travel speeds (something that has been around for quite some time), as well as facilities to interactively assess current traffic patterns to shift the assignment near the current time. With additional input from the vehicle, and driver behavior added to all other considerations about the job needs, a more complete picture can be assessed well in advance as well as supporting better decisions when inevitable problems arise (e.g. broken down vehicles, last minute cancellations and impending weather conditions). This helps increase the level of precision throughout the entire process.

One technology created by fleet management software provider GreenRoad helps feed MWFM solutions with the details, even going providing interactive tools to institute critical changes. Through cognitive analytics, its technology uses data to identify poor quality roads and routes, before logging this information and relaying it to both fleet managers and drivers in real-time. Empowered by these alerts, drivers are able to proactively avoid certain areas while managers can ensure that certain inefficient routes are avoided in the future. Geofencing can be augmented with such details to aid future decisions by blocking off unacceptable routes and/or initiating notifications to the driver to alert them to now know things to avoid. Overall, this capability reduces the number of accidents and helps keep track of driver behavior and vehicle performance while enhancing the data available to MWFM systems to increase the precision to support quick and accurate decisions.

Changing the Rules

As mobile workforce management solutions come to increasingly define the future of fleet management, they will continue to have major impacts on a variety of factors affecting the bottom line. As discussed, the enhanced connectivity of the world through mobility has created a unique communications link between a truck’s mileage and its owner; between the status of a delivery or maintenance request and the customer; between a driver and the adverse road conditions up ahead. These and many other inputs are now available for real-time consideration when applying the intended business strategy to strive toward its goals.

The unprecedented intuitiveness that such technology offers has completely changed the ways fleets are able to manage their own resources, from equipment to personnel. The tried and true lessons that early drivers lived by still apply — there is no denying that cleaning an air filter and keeping constant tabs on tire pressure are going to improve fuel efficiency and reduce costs. But now all of this information can be monitored in real-time, catalogued and reported to relevant parties. Quite simply, this increased access to reliable information optimizes fleet performance: it ensures that all fleet vehicles are reducing their fuel consumption as much as possible and that all drivers are taking the safest, most efficient routes while the business goals are being addressed. It opens the range of potential business benefits, allowing previously inaccessible details to be used to deliver incremental benefits. This unprecedented transparency is changing the game, providing another set of tools to access these previously inaccessible benefits.

All in all, when you embark on a journey toward saving fuel and travel costs, the opportunity is in fact much broader in the range of potential improvements. With the mobile workforce management solutions of today, the problem is not an isolated one. It is addressable in the broader context of your entire fleet strategy. Reduce travel, save fuel, while also increasing resource utilization, customer satisfaction, regulatory commitment – that’s the overall promise of today’s mobile workforce management solutions.

Steven Smith is vice president, strategic industries, at ClickSoftware. For more information, visit www.clicksoftware.com.