It’s 4:59 p.m. — Do You Know Where Your Delivery Van Is?

It’s Tuesday at 4:58 p.m., and your three delivery vans have been on the road all day taking care of tasks ranging from picking up wheelchairs in need of repair to delivering hospital beds.

 At 4:59 p.m., your customer service desk gets a frantic call from a long-time client of yours. His power chair has inexplicably come to a halt. He’s tried all the troubleshooting tricks you’ve taught him, but the chair won’t move. He’s desperate because he and his family are going out of town in the morning. Can you send someone quick?

This customer lives on the far edge of town. Which driver should you send? Which driver will answer his cell phone so late in the day, particularly if he suspects you may be sending him out of his way? How much extra time and fuel will it cost if you inadvertently send the driver who happens to be the farthest away at the moment?

 Efficiently scheduling and routing delivery and service calls — and then efficiently adjusting for emergencies — is a key factor in running a cost-effective service department. One possible solution: using global positioning systems (GPS) to track delivery routes and vehicle locations throughout the day. The goal is to streamline driving routines, to avoid repeated trips and “doubling back” into the same areas and to make informed decisions about which delivery techs to send on calls based on current locations and future destinations.

On-Board Communications (www.on-board.com) seeks to be one of those solutions. The system, says On-Board Communications’ Bob Wagner, is “very simple. We intentionally don’t have a whole bunch of bells and whistles because we wanted to keep the price point low enough to let the masses into the technology.”

 Wagner says the On-Board GPS system called Fleet Traks “tells where vehicles are on a real-time basis; gives mapping functionality; and gives reporting based on all that data.” In other words, On-Board enables your customer service department (or whomever you choose) to see at a glance where all your delivery vehicles are, every five minutes in real time.

“When you know where folks are on a real-time basis, then you can manage the events,” Wagner points out.

 He should know; as a Pittsburgh-based DME supplier himself, Wagner says, “We’ve got a contract with a hospital; we’re up there a couple of times a week working on their equipment. That’s what we use to bill from: when that truck gets there and when it leaves.”

The On-Board system, which can hold a year’s worth of data and can produce histories of individual vehicles, can therefore be a great documentation tool, Wagner says: “Now you’ve got a documented record that will tell you when the driver actually got there and when he left, so you can be sure that you’re not overbilling or underbilling your customer.”

Wagner says the system has also improved his drivers’ productivity: “This is where the rubber really hits the road and you can start getting productivity from your drivers, when you can see the route that they did and see if the routes that you took really made sense.” You can also use Fleet Traks’ data to determine how long each service call lasts.

“Maybe it takes Bob an average of an hour and a half to service a fleet of scooters, but you see it takes John two and a half hours to service those scooters,” Wagner points out. That’s information that a service manager can use to investigate why John is taking so much longer at the same task. Or as Wagner says, “It works both ways: Maybe Bob isn’t doing a good enough job.”

Fleet Traks also keeps track of mileage and corresponding vehicle service requirements to help service departments manage vehicle maintenance. And to get back to the original question — which driver to send on a particular service call — a GPS system such as Fleet Traks could help by indicating where each driver is in real time.

“If you’ve got somebody you’ve got to service quickly, and you’re able to put the right asset on the event rather than the first driver who chooses to answer his cell phone — then a whole bunch of things start to happen,” Wagner says. “You run less miles because you’re going to put the driver that’s closest to it on the event rather than running somebody from the other side of town over to the event, and paying payroll and fuel costs. It really starts to compound.”

This article originally appeared in the October 2007 issue of Mobility Management.

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at lwatanabe@1105media.com.

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