eFleet Management System

Virtualize your fleet

October 12, 2009 — Organizations managing and running fleets usually operate on razor thin margins. Profits are heavily dependent on optimization methodologies. The recession has further depleted the purses of fleet companies, resulting in reduced scale of operations, lower profits and inconsistencies and inefficiencies in processes.

Visibility is the key to fleet optimization and can be achieved by a robust fleet management system. Health and safety of mobile resources has become even more important to maximize "availability" of resources and keep the total cost of ownership (TCO) of mobile assets as low as possible. Some of the key challenges that fleet operators are grappling with today include:

  • Visibility into locations of mobile assets
  • Optimal dispatch of ad hoc jobs or orders to vehicles in real time
  • Real-time tracking of jobs and forecasting fulfillment
  • Fleet optimization to control spiraling fleet running costs
    • High levels of fleet empty runs — 24 percent of total runs are usually empty
    • Low fleet utilization — 33 percent of vehicle lifetime is spent in runs
  • Managing health, maintenance and safety of mobile resources

A comprehensive fleet management system is one that addresses these major challenges and at the same time, requires as little manual interference as possible.

A challenge that usually arises at this step is in the selection of the right vendor to provide a complete integrated solution consisting of both hardware and software. Often customers have to reach out to multiple service providers for the various hardware and software components of the solution as there are very few vendors who offer the complete integrated solution as a package. In such cases, companies would need to deal with multiple parties for component integration problems, data inconsistencies and later on, service related problems.

The Solution

A holistic e-fleet management system is a Web-based fleet management system that can "virtualize your fleet." It is an end- to end solution comprising both hardware and software for fleet owners and operators to possess a virtual remote-control visibility and security blanket in real-time over mobile resources.

The solution can be conceptualized with the following elements in mind:

Hardware

Mobile Data Terminals (MDTs) installed on vehicles serving as communication interfaces and also as application interfaces between users and drivers.

Software

Web portal: a PC based central application console with connectivity to the MDTs on the vehicles and used by Logistic Officers to obtain global views and job allocations to the fleet.

Application software for the PDAs used to capture the signature of the customer and report job completion.

Integration with your company's ERP back office system

Hardware

The hardware aspect of the solution involves the design and development of mobile data terminals that are installed in vehicles. This can be manufactured as per specifications with the following features:

  • Product customization to meet SAE1113 and SAE1455, ISO standards, CISPR standards
  • User interface customization: language settings for different countries
  • Communication media customization to either 3G-GSM or CDMA

The MDTs have been conceptualized to support state of the art features such as:
  • Tracking the real time position of the vehicle
  • Accepting/rejecting/confirming completion of assigned jobs
  • Transmitting load data from cargo hold to the ERP
  • Monitoring vehicle parameters and relaying fleet telemetry data to the ERP
  • Two-way voice and data communication

The MDT products are installed with high-end processors and equipped with application software that would communicate with the backend ERP via wireless LAN, 3G GSM, GPS and Bluetooth technologies. Load cells are installed in all vehicles for accurate assessment of cargo loads for revenue invoicing to the customer. A PDA-based signature capture system is also developed to capture customer signatures and report job-completion instantly.

Other hardware features and interfaces include onboard memory, power management, enclosure made of polycarbonate material, wired communication, wireless communication (3G-GSM/WiFi/GPS/Bluetooth), external memory and audio interface. Any of these interfaces can be used for peripheral connectivity such as printers, card readers and camera.

Software

The software consists of a Web-based portal that functions as the central console for logistics officers to operate their fleet from. This central console enables tracking, monitoring, controlling and communication with on-the-move vehicles and drivers in real-time.

Some of the key features and modules include the following.

Automatic/Manual Job Dispatch and Real-time Tracking

This module enables dispatches of jobs/orders to vehicles, preferably by bundling, with the objective of maximizing capacity utilization and reducing empty runs. The tool includes a system performed automatic rules-based job-dispatch module along with a manual job-dispatch module for exceptions when the system is to be overridden. The "manual job dispatch" function enables a logistics officer or other personnel to manually assign a job/order to a vehicle while obtaining help from the system about specific situational status of any vehicle that is out on the field. The "automatic job dispatch" function, on the other hand, is completely system performed and the job/order is dispatched to the most appropriate vehicle while considering combinations of the various optimization parameters.

The "job tracking" feature allows for the tracking of a job/order using multiple parameters such as order id, release id, customer name/id, vehicle id and period. Enabling tracking through these multiple parameters provides a facility to implement layers of data abstraction across the organization as per the user requirements. Information displayed is customized and displayed as per the access rules/rights of users.

The clear benefits of this module are improved capacity utilization through bundling, improved vehicle utilization through reduced empty runs and reduced fleet operating costs through continuous moves of fleet. Other benefits also include real-time cost analysis depiction and reduction in the number of job-dispatch staff to a minimal.

Vehicle Telematics

This module involves two different functionalities: Vehicle monitoring and location tracking.

Vehicle monitoring is enabled through GPS technology that monitors parameters of a moving vehicle and transmits it back to base in real-time. Details such as vehicle parameters and engine parameters are relayed back to the base in real-time allowing for the monitoring of actuals against standards. This feature provides situational insight into the performance and condition of vehicular components and also the cargo-hold parameters such as container temperature, load, etc.

Location tracking is also a functionality enabled through GPS technology that allows for the tracking of a vehicle in real-time through the visual display on a map as shown below.

All details of the job/order are displayed alongside the map revealing the exact latitude and longitude of the vehicle and the comparison of the planned route and the actual route taken.

Over-the-Air Security

Over-the-air (OTA) Security is one the most recent developments and is enabled using GIS/GPS technology and automotive engineering expertise. This functionality enables the control of any vehicle from the base location by a logistics officer. Certain functionalities that are implemented are "vehicle speed control," for controlling the speed of a vehicle remotely in cases of driver exceeding speed limits/restrictions; "cargo security," for securing or releasing the cargo hold after loading or at a client location to unload; "freeze," for forcibly preventing a vehicle from moving by locking the vehicle's brakes or by killing its engine in cases of theft or hijack.

Geo Fencing

Geo-fencing is an interesting feature that allows for the physical demarcation of boundaries and restricted zones through the corresponding virtual drawing of boundaries on maps. This feature can be used to prevent a particular vehicle or all vehicles from entering a designated region surrounded by a boundary on the map. This feature can be used in another way to control vehicles so that they move only by a certain route. The technology used is GPS but can be also done with RFID technology. Thus, a vehicle may be prevented from entering the city area during particular times of the day, or a driver may be forced to follow a certain route that avoids tolls by virtually demarcating restricted zones on the maps that act as physical boundaries for vehicles and drivers in reality.

Predictive Maintenance

The feature provides predictability into parts failure based on the data captured about each monitored vehicle component through vehicle telematics while a vehicle is mobile. The functionality provided enables optimized scheduling, monitoring and management of all repair/maintenance related activities on components and helps reduce TCO of mobile assets and maximizes availability of components and, thus, vehicles and other mobile assets. Predictive maintenance also helps reduce costs through the efficient consideration of warranty periods for components repair and replacement, helps maintain an optimal inventory level of spare parts, reduces maintenance costs on mobile assets, and extends life-cycle of components.

Two-way Communication

This is a feature that is integrated across a few of the above described functionalities. It provides functionality for two-way real-time communication between base and the Logistics Control Center and the drivers of the fleet that is out on the field. Commands and messages can be sent by logistics personnel to drivers in vehicles which are received either as voice or text. If it is received as text, it is then converted to voice using text-to-voice software. Similarly drivers can communicate with the Logistics center by voice, which is transmitted as voice signals as well as converted to text by an on-board voice-to-text convertor and relayed back to base as text.

Benefits

The potential benefits of deploying a holistic e-fleet management system include:

  • Control spiraling fleet running costs and maximize fleet utilization through multiple optimization techniques such as bundling, continuous moves and cross-docking.
  • Track any vehicle in real time and pinpoint the location of a vehicle on a map.
  • Obtain real-time data feeds on performance of vehicular components, driving patterns and cargo-hold parameters.
  • Automate the dispatch of jobs to fleet using algorithms that take into consideration dynamic parameters from the environment.
  • Respond to ad hoc customer requests/orders.
  • Provide customers with visibility into real-time order-fulfillment status and forecast information of delivery timelines.
  • Reduce the TCO of mobile assets by proactively tracking asset performance and maintenance.
  • Maximize vehicle/resource availability and safety


About the Author: Veena Sriram heads vertical solutions for the travel, transportation and logistics vertical at HCL, a global IT services company. With over 15 years of industry experience, Sriram's expertise spans across retail, manufacturing, supply chain and logistics. She has a professional background in costing and finance and specializes in Oracle applications, including Oracle Transportation Management. She has been with HCL for over seven years. More information on HCL at www.hcltech.com.

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