October 2006 | Commentary | IT Matters

Wireless Capabilities: A Must-Have for Fleet Operators

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Wireless technology has become a mainstay for today's distribution, wholesale, and retail fleet operators—especially in the area of last-mile delivery. The ability to communicate information in real time is key to controlling costs and maintaining efficient operations on the road.

Wireless technology's features and options, as well as its service and hardware costs, continue to improve. A range of affordable devices—from cell phones to web-enabled mobile computers—now make real-time communications on the road viable for operators of all sizes.

A Powerful Business Tool

Today's devices not only facilitate voice communications with field service personnel and dispatch, many now provide a broad base of field data- capture features including electronic signature capture and bar-code scanning. When combined with web-based, on-demand logistics services, wireless technology can become an incredibly powerful business tool.

Wireless technology has evolved significantly in recent years. Historically, fleet operators could purchase proprietary technology that entailed installing hardware devices in vehicles and capturing data in the field, which was then uploaded in batches.

Routing and tracking applications did not operate in real time, which meant plans could be outdated as soon as a truck broke down, a delivery was delayed, or a new order or pickup was inserted into the schedule.

The ability to capture data from the field in real time, however, provides visibility across the entire delivery operation, and greatly enhances the decision-making process.

With real-time visibility, fleet operators can improve service through:

  • Immediate processing of order update information for end customers and customer service representatives.
  • Greater accuracy in estimated time of arrival to the end customer.
  • Improved field exception management and field inventory tracking.
  • Empowerment or control through always knowing the location of drivers.

Overall, real-time visibility offers predictability and empowers dispatchers, customer service representatives, and even executive management to provide immediate information and feedback to drivers and/or end customers. Real-time visibility allows managers to monitor all driver activity—from stops, departures, and breaks, to timecards and mileage—as well as onboard inventory.

The flexibility of wireless communications means operators can gain greater control over their fleet, regardless of whether it is managed in-house, or contracted through third-party suppliers.

Operators can also enjoy significant cost savings through reduced driver hours, activity accountability, increased stops paid per hour, reduced data entry costs, and fewer call-ins.

Countless wireless devices for fleet operators are available on the market, offering varying levels of functionality. Application requirements, functionality, and network compatibility drive the decision process.

Companies in the market for wireless devices also must consider supporting technology and applications. A web-based or on-demand logistics management solution can often provide the fastest time to value.

An on-demand logistics management solution leverages the power of the Internet to cost-effectively deliver rich logistics functionality through a subscription-based model. It is an affordable alternative for companies that require a full-featured logistics application, yet want to eliminate the costs of purchasing, integrating, maintaining, and supporting installed hardware and software.

Pay as You Play

An on-demand logistics management solution allows users to pay for the service only as they use it, can be scaled up or down to meet changing needs, and does not require an up-front capital cost investment.

With this type of solution, organizations can easily and affordably gain visibility into their entire delivery process—from sequencing routes for optimal efficiency and tracking drivers in real time, to analyzing and applying historical data to boost operational performance.

In addition, a subscription-based model can provide the flexibility to meet seasonal supply chain needs.

An on-demand logistics management solution can be deployed within days, and typically provides all operational support including hardware infrastructure, software, security, systems integration, Internet costs, and technical support staff.

These solutions also can interact directly with wireless devices and can be integrated with existing technology infrastructure to provide easy access for multiple authorized users throughout the supply chain.

On-demand logistics management solutions are not just about technology. They also manage a business process by combining comprehensive logistics capabilities with a variety of business process applications that can be customized to address users' specific requirements.

As fleet operators are pressed to improve service while reducing costs to maintain their competitive edge, technology advancements are in step with supporting this need. Combining wireless communications with web-based logistics solutions is one way operators can keep pace with the growing demand for efficiency—without the time, cost, and effort of proprietary fleet management solutions.

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