Sept. 8 2021 10:25 AM

Build a more efficient workflow for your crews through telematics.

Precision always matters in the green industry. That’s especially true this year, as about 90% of contractors expect to see growth despite a challenging 2020, according to Irrigation & Green Industry’s 2021 Green Industry Outlook survey. Respondents noted an increasing labor shortage as the number one barrier to expansion and growth. In a time when business owners are forced to do more with less, GPS and telematics create efficiencies directly connected to quality control, managing expenses and supporting work crews.

Quality control is key to keeping customers happy. However, what sometimes gets overlooked is the role equipment plays in contributing to customer satisfaction. Trucks, trailers, power tools, mowers, backhoes and skid steers are more than tools of the trade. They represent a significant investment for business owners. Every minute they are out of commission impacts a company’s bottom line, whether it’s because they need repair or they’re missing.

Telematics and GPS tracking help landscapers keep a close eye on a wide range of key metrics for equipment of all sizes.

Here’s a look at how GPS and telematics can benefit your company.

Where are you?

There are few things more frustrating than not knowing where someone is when you’re expecting them. GPS tracking helps managers and crew leaders increase communication efficiency with their team and clients. If an unexpected problem arises, field employees can provide quick updates to dispatchers or clients.

In addition to supporting top-notch customer service through improved communication, GPS tracking provides valuable data for planning daily or weekly routes. Long before computers and GPS units, UPS decided to eliminate nearly all left-hand

turns. As it turns out, by optimizing its route the company claims to have saved millions of gallons of gas, wasted less time and cut back on emissions. Today’s technology solutions offer that information in real-time making it easier than ever to use.

“The real-time maps, routing and tracking can lead to improved efficiency and productivity because the owner or manager optimizes route density,” says Scott May, chief marketing officer for GPS Trackit, Roswell, Georgia.

Implementing telematics also streamlines mileage reporting. Employees don’t have to remember receipts for gas station fill-ups or record distances from one job to another.

Imagine being able to build a geofence around your garage or work site to protect your assets. You can be alerted when vehicles or assets leave that area (i.e., if a piece of heavy equipment is stolen). Contractors can also optimize their routes and be alerted as their team members arrive on-site or how close they are to identified landmarks.

A geofence drops a series of GPS points in a given location to create a virtual fence line. These areas are created by inputting the geographic coordinates or selecting points from a map. The size and the shape of the geofence are customizable for the company’s needs. Some may use it to define the boundaries on a specific job site. Others place landmarks on routes and create alerts to notify them if a driver is in an area that is not included in their assigned area.

“Use a geofence or landmark features to better utilize time on job sites,” May says. With a cloud-based platform, contractors have the flexibility to create thousands of custom-shaped and named geofences to always know where their assets are located. Users can receive GPS-based tracking alerts by text or email, as well as off-hour monitoring and automatically delivered activity reports.

Lost and found

Stolen or vandalized equipment is a growing problem for all construction trades. And it is becoming an even bigger concern as it has increased amid the pandemic. Last year, Tony Nicoletti, director of sales and business development at DPL America, Los Altos, California, had a Texas client report having 30 skid steers stolen. Others have been losing stump grinders, compressors and power tools.

“It is out of control right now. Equipment, trucks and trailers are targets,” Nicoletti says.

The good news for his clients: All of the above-mentioned were recovered through telematics.

Being the victim of theft can be costly, and as good as recovery is, prevention is even better. Depending on the telematics solution chosen, you can take steps that prevent theft. Once installed, the device can be set to prevent the piece of equipment from starting. It’s also possible to assign ID tags or badges for employees so that a piece of equipment won’t start if they are not assigned to the equipment.

“It keeps people off machines they are not certified to drive and keeps people from stealing equipment,” Nicoletti says. “This is really powerful because it ties into the liability side especially from the standpoint of getting in it, joy riding and smashing it up. If they can’t start it, safety problems go away.”

Thwarting theft attempts is only one preventive benefit of using GPS and telematics. Solution providers offer varying options for collecting data through engine diagnostics, trouble code monitoring and tire pressure monitoring to track and develop a history for each vehicle, explains May. Finding issues and making repairs before they turn into faults means equipment is less likely to break down out on the job.

Myth-busting

At one time it was true that GPS and telematics products were expensive and more difficult to use. First-generation technology always has kinks that must be worked out. With the increase of technology in all sectors of life, software and hardware advances have made the excuse of difficulty obsolete.

“It’s as easy as plugging in a device under the dash and using an easy-to-use reporting system accessible through a desktop or laptop as well as a mobile app,” May says.

Businesses not only can access a full GPS fleet management solution for a low monthly fee per vehicle, but users can see a positive return on their investment quickly. Today, the price is much more affordable, depending on the solution, ranging in hundreds of dollars rather than thousands.

“Initially, it was rather expensive because it had to be hardwired in to use it,” says Nicoletti. “Today, they are smaller, faster and more affordable. You can get something that fits in your pocket and runs on battery.”

It’s important to know what your goal is in using GPS and telematics in your business. There are a wide range of options and features that vary based on the product. For example, some strictly offer fleet management technology, which is only for vehicles. Others provide tracking and management for landscaping equipment as well, including data such as hours of service, geofences and runtime.

Getting buy-in

Change is not always easy or welcome, especially when a new process feels like micromanagement. It is important to get buy-in from members of the team so that they will use it without it negatively impacting morale. From a best practice standpoint, arranging a demonstration or trial period invites employees in the office and in the field to get involved with the process and experience the benefits of its use.

“What they’ll find is that it improves communication across crews and managers, along with other team members,” May says. “It’s also a great way to recognize and reward crews’ productivity and efficiency.”

To employees in the field, it can feel like the implementation of GPS and telematics is like having Big Brother watching over their shoulder. No one likes to feel micromanaged. Helping employees understand how the software can be to their benefit can be helpful.

“If someone calls in to report a truck driving 60 mph in a school zone, or that a cone fell off the trailer and damaged a car, the system gives you a look at what happened,” Nicoletti says. “If they are good drivers and good employees it can also confirm the complaint was invalid. In a situation where the police are called, the data collected can provide critical information through recorded footage.”

Fleet management and telematics solutions offer a big-picture look at the processes within your business. The level of details collected can even boil down to fuel consumption and inspection results that provide important information about how your drivers and vehicles are being utilized.

There is a wide range of solutions available so it is best to take time to research the right fit for your business.

Depending on the provider, the data that is collected can be incorporated into other software systems you’re using to operationalize processes, including accounting, that dramatically improves the efficiency of collecting and analyzing data. Not all systems are compatible, so it is important to do your homework.

“Before signing up for a service make sure you can integrate it with the systems you already use,” Nicoletti says.

The author is a freelance writer in Mechanicsville, New York, and can be reached at ktnavarra@gmail.com.

Drive safely

Roads are congested. Drivers have more distractions than ever from phone calls, texts and emails. Distracted drivers have an increased risk for crashing — up to 23 times more for text messaging alone — than when staying focused on the road ahead, according to a Driver Distraction in Commercial Vehicle Operations analysis by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

In the best-case scenario, accidents are minor with only damage to vehicles. In extreme cases, severe injuries to workers and others on the road is the result. Not only can they be emotionally draining, but crashes can also have significant financial impacts on insurance claims.

Telematics systems can provide a 360-degree real-time view of the road the driver, such as

• full view of the road, driver and cabin.

• real-time in-cab audible alerts with automated driver coaching.

• real-time driver monitoring alerts for distracted driving, drowsiness, smoking, seatbelt sensing, smoking and cell phone use.

• triggers tuned to sense for harsh driving conditions.