Technology can help achieve these aims, but it can mean investing a lot of cash in the interim without any concrete guarantee of return.
Vehicle tracking providers insist they can reduce costs and improve efficiency for fleets.
However, agreeing to install a system is the simple part – choosing which one to use is a more complex process.
For example, fleets can choose between systems that track the vehicle, or track the driver’s mobile phone (see below).
Several systems are available to fleets. Some use a black box which fits inside the vehicle and uses GSM technology to transmit the vehicle’s position back to the fleet manager’s PC in the office, while others track a driver’s mobile phone. To use this kind of system, the driver’s mobile phone number is entered on to an online site and their position can then be seen by the fleet manager on an on-screen map.
Other mobile phone systems can be linked to the in-vehicle satellite navigation system. The vehicle is tracked and viewed by both the driver and the fleet manager.
New locations and impending jobs can then be allocated to the driver.
Liza Stagoll, sales and marketing executive at telematics provider Mapaphone.com, which allows fleets to track a mobile phone (see below), says firms should look at the optional extras provided by telematics companies.
She said: ‘All companies offering mobile phone tracking services obtain their data from the same four mobile phone operators, so the accuracy and reliability of the service you receive will not vary from one company to the next.
‘However, it is important to examine the extra tools and functionality offered via the platform that provides the mobile tracking service.’
The basic points a fleet manager should consider when deciding on a tracking system should include:
Stagoll said: ‘A map is the fastest way to get a sense of the area and to see whether someone is where they are supposed to be. It is therefore important to look for a supplier which offers good, clear maps and if possible maps that contain plenty of landmarks.’
Points of interest such as restaurants, pubs, car parks, petrol stations, cinemas and hotels should be included to help locate drivers. Maps should also be updated regularly to ensure an accurate position is given.
Some systems allow drivers to save locations and addresses in a personal address book. This can store and map customer addresses as well as help drivers find their way from one customer to another.
Stagoll said: ‘It is important that the platform delivering the mobile phone location service is quick and simple to use as well as secure.’
Some systems have interactive sections providing a step-by-step guide to how the various tools work.
Back-up support from providers at the end of a telephone can also help if problems occur.
‘If there are any problems or issues with the service, a good support team is essential to ensure that it is resolved as soon as possible to ensure minimum disruption to your operations,’ Stagoll said.
She believes a dedicated customer services team to answer queries during office hours and prompt email support are essential.
Additional business tools can set one system aside from the rest.
Some offer additional tracking functions such as locating stolen vehicles or avoiding congested areas.
Reports can be compiled from the tracking system data which can be used to improve fleet efficiency.
Savings of up to 10% on insurance premiums can be made after introducing a tracking service. One fleet claims to have saved £13,000 in wages, fuel and insurance costs since introducing tracking.
Stagoll said: ‘Fleets should check if the tracking service they are thinking of using offers anything in addition to the location of a mobile phone or vehicle.’
Other functions include address matching which enables contact details from Microsoft Outlook to be transferred to the system.
Stagoll said: ‘Fleets can set up groups and distribute key information to sales teams or customers. Each member of a pre-arranged group would have their own personal account, meaning business locations, news and events can be shared and mapped in a secure environment.’
But it’s not enough to have an effective mapping system – if the price is not right many fleet executives will reject it.
Charging methods vary. Some charge per use, while others charge a set fee. Prices range from £1 per day to £35 per month, per vehicle.
Fleet decision makers should shop around to find a telematics provider which is cost effective and comprehensive.