On-board global positioning satellite (GPS) systems can be very expensive to install in a delivery vehicle. Some industry experts estimate the cost at $1,000 per truck.
Multiply that by five-to-10 times or more for larger fleets and it becomes apparent why food companies are equipping their drivers with GPS-enabled cell phones.
These cell phones, sold by companies such as AT&T and Sprint, can cost as little as $30 per handset. Using this breed of cell phone is becoming an easy, economical inroad for many companies to avail themselves of basic GPS services as well as the software tools associated with them.
"There are two basic requirements for these cell phones," says Andrew Roszko, vice president of on demand solutions for Descartes Systems Group, Toronto, Canada. "First, we have to install an application that sits on the cell phone, which means it has to have enough memory to support that application. Second, you need a GPS chip."
These phones are recording a GPS point from a satellite and storing it. The software is telling it, at predetermined intervals, to transmit these GPS points.
"If you didn't have the phone technology, you could still record the data, but you wouldn't be able to transmit it somewhere so everyone can see it in real-time," says James Stevenson, vice president of Oklahoma City-based Appian Logistics.
"Once the cell phone captures that information from the satellite-and this is true for the truck- mounted as well as the handheld versions-it sends that over the cellular network to systems that are hosted by third parties," explains Laura Johnson, executive director of enterprise solutions for AT&T Wireless, Parsippany, NY.
The web sites these companies maintain contain software that pulls the data from cell phones, in addition to providing corresponding driver location maps. Dispatchers from distribution companies can then log on through their browser to the hosted web site, in order to get all the real-time GPS information they require.
For many smaller companies, employing a hosted solution, rather than maintaining their own server and IT department, can be a cost-effective, low-risk way to get up-and- running.
"In terms of installing a server and software, we take that burden off our customers," says Descartes' Roszko. "They just go to the web and see the application. That's the advantage of going with a software-as-a-service type model. We give them the ability to go on a month-to-month subscription for this service to use over the internet."
Monitoring Drivers And Trucks
The biggest use of GPS cell phones is to track drivers and their vehicles.
"Drivers don't necessarily tell the truth about where they are," explains Appian's Stevenson. "GPS is the audit to let companies know their exact positioning at any point during the day-you can see where the driver punched in and where the GPS system says he is. They should match up."
"One customer we work with," says AT&T's Johnson, "has drivers who refill vending machines and collect money from them. They also need to track where the driver goes, which these phones allow. If you have two buildings next to each other and the driver was routed to go into building 'A' and you see that he goes into building 'B' instead, this is a way to catch potential fraud."
Keeping track of where vehicles are is an important thing from a liability standpoint, especially for companies that are running large truck fleets.
"If there's an accident," says Butch Musselman, vice president of enterprise solutions for Sprint, Reston, VA, "they can go back and pulls the diagnostics off the vehicle and determine whether or not the vehicle was speeding."
He points to an example involving a large customer that was being sued by a woman who said one of their trucks had side-swiped her car. The company went back to the GPS records and confirmed none of their vehicles were ever near the woman's location. It won the case in court.