Choosing the right vehicles for the right job and keeping suppliers under control is no longer enough in the war on rising costs.
Decision-makers need to know how vehicles are being treated while they are on the road by looking at where they are and what they are doing.
Vehicle tracking systems have been available to fleets for more than a decade, but recent advances in technology have made them more affordable.
They are now a valuable tool in keeping drivers and costs in check.
Technological improvements have meant the original telematics systems have been replaced by much faster versions, enabling fleets to operate more efficiently.
When introducing telematics systems a 1,000-strong fleet will have different priorities to a sub-10 fleet but telematics solutions can be tailored to meet different needs. Those running pool fleets also work under varying constraints.
Pool vehicles can change hands on a regular basis and therefore may need additional monitoring. Inova Solutions' AutoSecure system uses smart card technology to enable fleets to monitor these vehicles effectively.
The system includes a global positioning satellite (GPS) tracking facility with global system for mobile communications (GSM) and is fitted with a patented smart card which means only authorised users can drive the vehicle for an agreed time period and location area. The unit can be programmed remotely from a desktop.
A spokesman at AutoSecure said: 'The system cuts costs as it enables fleet managers to know the exact location of their vehicles and have movement reports to ensure better planning, all combined with driver information via the smart card.
'Company car fleets can better manage pool cars as users will have a smart card and movement details will be recorded to ensure authorised journeys and tight cost control.'
Daily rental firms could also benefit from a smart card system. 'It means car rental firms can reduce overrun, payment issues and theft of vehicles,' the spokesman said.
Fleet priorities have changed during the past decade and telematics is more about slashing fleet costs and improving operating efficiencies, rather than making drivers' journeys more convenient.
Jonathan Burr, chief technical officer at Itis Holdings, a provider of traffic information and vehicle security services, believes the key requirements of fleet managers are the ability to track vehicle movements, gaining the benefits of better vehicle security, control of drivers' hours and deliveries, gaining reports on mileage and fuel economy and monitoring vehicle maintenance.
He said: 'Fleet managers want telematics tools that work across their fleets. For this reason, telematics applications are more likely to be found as aftermarket solutions.
'The fleet manager is looking for applications that give him the opportunity to proactively monitor vehicles in his control without the need to wait for drivers to supply manually produced reports.
'The fleet wants and is now able to access core fleet data online, reducing administrative man hours.'
As technology continues to progress, fleets can expect even more refined systems. Jason Angelides, a director for global services at wireless products provider TruePosition, predicts the new technology we could see installed in fleets within the next 10 years.
He said: 'One of the technologies that holds great promise for the fleet tracking industry is called U-TDOA, or Uplink Time Difference of Arrival.
Instead of relying on satellites to calculate a location, U-TDOA uses receivers placed in wireless operator base stations to capture the signal emanating from the phone and triangulates the precise location of the mobile device.
'The accuracy of the system is close to that of GPS and because the receivers are located in close proximity to the signal, the technology is unaffected by physical obstructions, such as buildings, trees and houses. This is a big plus for fleets working in and around urban areas where satellites are often blocked, which can lead to blackout situations.'
Angelides claims such technology will cut fleet budgets as the need for installation is removed. The system works from the signal of a wireless phone so no additional components are required.
Taxi drivers get smart with new Xda ll system
A MAJOR London taxi firm recently introduced a wireless system across its cabs which enables the fleet to be tracked and drivers to receive jobs even when they are away from the cab.
The Xda ll system not only tracks the vehicles but also acts as an integrated pocket computer, personal organiser and mobile handset.
Laurence Alexander, products director at O2 UK, which supplied the system, said: 'The Xda 11 also provides cab drivers with access to real-time news and entertainment information so they will be able to keep passengers up to date as well.'
Xeta, the taxi firm which introduced the system, uses GPS technology to track the taxi fleet on an ongoing basis and the O2 system helps locate the closest taxi to a customer's address.
Geoff Kaley, managing director at Xeta, said: 'The resilience of the O2 network is unparalleled within the taxi industry and the move from fixed in-cab devices to the Xda 11 provides us with a service that has no geographical boundaries.'
The Xda 11 system also includes satellite navigation which assists cab drivers venturing out of London.