March 2008 | Commentary | IT Matters

Location-Based Services Put Efficiency on the Map

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Enhanced productivity. Cost savings. Revenue increases. Improved customer relations.

These are among the most important - and most widely acknowledged - benefits of deploying location-based service (LBS) tools such as geographic positioning systems (GPS) and street-level routing (SLR).

Add one more benefit of emerging importance that will have significant impact over time: reduced emissions.

Corporations, rental agencies, and the federal government account for about nine million fleet vehicles, each running an average of 25,000 miles per year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

That's a lot of carbon monoxide and other harmful emissions being dumped into the atmosphere. At a time when global warming's devastating effects are universally feared and understood, many service corporations are struggling with how to reduce their individual impact on the environment and become more "green."

Minimizing travel is an effective strategy for companies with large vehicle fleets to reduce their environmental impact. Companies with 500 trucks on the road can create a dramatic change by eliminating superfluous travel time.

Effectively reducing travel when hundreds of service calls are scheduled daily has been a tedious, time-consuming task. Location-based services incorporating SLR and GPS can help companies track all their field technicians throughout the day using large GPS-enabled maps.

SLR can also ensure that technicians take the optimal route based on the shortest distance and travel time from job to job.

SLR gives dispatchers and managers the information to make smart scheduling decisions, removing guesswork so routes can be mapped efficiently - ensuring that technicians spend more time completing jobs and less time driving. This technology eliminates the inherent problems with linear distance or "as the crow flies" route planning.

Congested neighborhoods, slow-moving highways, one-way streets, and natural boundaries such as rivers and mountains all slow travel - despite the fact that two job sites may be close in linear distance.

SLR takes into account all these variables and suggests routes that require less driving time, which means less gas consumption and carbon monoxide emissions.

Automated Workforce Management

Knowing where your technicians are and how to direct them from job to job is an important first step in reducing travel and streamlining service delivery.

Modern service organizations recognize that GPS maps, SLR, and real-time communication devices such as mobile phones, handheld computers, laptops, and GPS units are not just about data transmission and map displays.

Rather, they enable organizations to act on data in real time and make smart resource allocation and job scheduling decisions.

While GPS and SLR alone enable companies to make sure technicians "drive the route right" based on pre-established directions, optimized scheduling ensures technicians "drive the right route" by deciding in real time what tasks to assign to which service technicians in what order throughout the day.

By connecting decision support and optimization algorithms to the real-time stream of field scheduling data—where engineers are, their current job status, and which schedule changes require immediate attention—organizations have a continually optimized schedule that improves field force productivity, strengthens customer relationships, and reduces fuel costs and emissions.

A system that dynamically adapts to changing field data will continue to make sure that drivers travel the shortest routes to jobs, whether scheduled or unscheduled.

Service organizations can also make on-the-fly adjustments to address unplanned delays with real-time traffic updates.

Incorporating into the algorithm updates such as traffic jams due to accidents, closed bridges, construction, and other delays enables the system to propose more practical routes or re-routes to minimize the impact on the schedule.

Taking a Detour

When the system is alerted to a delay, it compares that information with existing geographic information systems (GIS) maps to find the best alternative route around the problem.

The system can then automatically send that information to dispatchers or technicians in the field so they don't burn fuel while waiting in traffic or take circuitous routes that may add unnecessary mileage.

Corporate responsibility regarding the environment is no longer just a feel-good story. State and federal legislation mandating reduced emissions targets and alternative fuel pilot programs are being introduced and/or passed constantly.

Service organizations that must balance improved customer service and increased productivity with reduced fuel consumption and emissions can take a significant step by capitalizing on the inherent optimization capabilities in location-based services.

Doing so means the field force spends more time completing jobs and less time on the road, which is the ultimate goal of any service organization.

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