Mobile Phone vs. Vehicle GPS Tracking
Why Vehicle-based Tracking Is the Smarter Option for Business Fleets
GPS fleet tracking can deliver massive benefits to your business. But you need to choose your technology carefully — starting by understanding the differences between vehicle-installed GPS tracking and mobile trackers on your drivers’ smartphones.
In this post, we’ll dig into this issue by discussing:
- The General Benefits of Location-Based Tracking
- The Challenges and Limitations of Fleet Tracking via Mobile Phone
- 5 Types of Important Business Data a Vehicle-based Tracking System Will Give You — and Mobile Tracking Won’t
- Even More Reasons Vehicle GPS Tracking Is Superior to Phone Tracking
- The 1 Reason, All by Itself, You’ll Be Better with Vehicle-based GPS Trackers Than Apps on Your Employees’ Phones
General Benefits of Location-Based Tracking
If you run any type of vehicle-dependent small business — general contracting, landscaping, HVAC installation and repair, etc. — knowing where your vehicles and your field technicians are all times throughout the day, and being able to record and analyze this data, is an enormous advantage for your operations. Let’s briefly review just a few reasons.
It can improve your dispatchers’ efficiency.
When your dispatchers in the office can immediately locate all of your vehicles in the field, anytime, they can more quickly and efficiently find the right person for a new job order or to handle an emergency from an existing customer. Without knowing where all of your drivers are at any given moment, your dispatch team will just have to call around until they find someone close to the location of the new job.
It can also help with route optimization…
When you can review and analyze your drivers’ historical routes, and overlay them with traffic data, you can empower your operations team to guide your field techs to more efficient routes in the future.
… which can help lower your fuel costs…
Helping your dispatchers use your fleet’s route-based data (overlaid with historical and real-time traffic information) can help those dispatchers steer your drivers away from longer-than-necessary paths to job sites or spare them from getting stuck idling in traffic by taking an overly congested route. This can prevent your company from needlessly overpaying for fuel when a more fuel-efficient path is available.
… and improve your company’s reputation.
Giving your dispatch team the GPS data to guide your drivers to the fastest path to jobs can also help your company improve its punctuality record with customers — which can lead to a better reputation and more positive customer reviews.
It can even increase your company’s revenue.
Also, when your operations team knows the whereabouts of your service employees in the field, and can more efficiently guide the right workers to the right jobs, that will help your company complete jobs more quickly, and take on more customers — all of which can help you grow your revenue.
But to realize these benefits, you need to choose the right technology to monitor your fleet. Before you try to accomplish this by installing GPS apps on your employees’ phones, you need to consider the many drawbacks of that option.
The Limitations of Tracking Your Fleet Drivers via Their Mobile Phones
The fundamental drawback of trying to monitor and record data about your fleet by installing apps on your field employees’ mobile phones is that you’re not really obtaining any information about your vehicles themselves. In reality, all you’ll be tracking are the whereabouts of your drivers’ phones.
Let’s review just some of the reasons mobile phone tracking might not give your company the important information you’re looking for.
Your field service techs can disable tracking on their phone.
At any time, your employees have several options for stopping your team from tracking them. They can turn the phone off, turn off the specific tracking app you’ve installed on their device, or disable all of their phone’s location-based tracking services.
What if one of your drivers enters an area with spotty cell service (or none at all)?
Even if your drivers aren’t trying to keep your company from monitoring them in the field, you could still lose track of them if their jobs take them to areas with unreliable cell coverage. This could mean you lose not only real-time information on where they are, but also important data your company might need. For example, proof that a field tech was onsite at a job during a period on your invoice that a customer later disputes.
Your driver could just forget to take his phone to a job.
The phone-tracking option also leaves open the potential for another type of human error: a driver forgetting to take his phone to work. If the GPS tracking app is in a mobile phone — and not in the vehicle itself — your company will have no visibility into that driver’s whereabouts for that entire shift, and you’ll forever lose the historical route data that you might later need.
But surprisingly, here’s what industry research suggests is one of the biggest drawbacks of fleet tracking via drivers’ mobile phones… It can drain the battery on your field employees’ phones — costing you valuable GPS data and also lowering employee morale.
A 2018 report in The Verge cites data showing that GPS-dependent apps deplete your smartphone’s battery at a fast rate than most other types of services on your phone. For you as an employer, this can create two problems.
First, it means the very software you install to track your drivers’ whereabouts during the workday can kill the battery on the device where that app is installed. This can mean you lose mission-critical data for your business — data that could later help with route optimization, ensuring time card accuracy, and other business-building efforts.
A second challenge the battery problem creates is that can damage employee morale. A survey of US employees by TSheets (a QuickBooks company) found that the #1 concern employees have about employers using their mobile devices to track them is battery drain. This can both make it more difficult to gain staff acceptance of your new tracking solution… and make your employees feel more negatively about their jobs and your company overall.
What does this mean for your company?
Now that you know some of the limitations of fleet tracking via apps on your drivers’ phones, you can see why this technology requires a lot of things to go right. Your drivers always need to be within areas that have strong cell signals, they need to keep have their phones with them at all times, with your tracking app turned on, and they can’t allow the battery to die — even though that tracking app might itself be the greatest drain on their phone’s battery.
Worse, even under these ideal circumstances, you’re still not going to be gathering almost any of the valuable business data that you’re hoping to obtain with a GPS tracking solution in the first place.
Remember, a GPS tracking app installed on your field employees’ phones will tell you only where those phones are. It will have nothing of value to tell your fleet managers or the rest of your operations team about what’s happening with your vehicles, heavy machinery, and other assets.
Which leads us to the key question your team needs to ask before choosing on a GPS tracking technology:
What data do you want to track?
The question is, aren’t you interesting in gathering more information than your drivers’ locations? Aren’t you also interested in business intelligence about your assets’ health and performance, and opportunities for improved efficiency?
If so, let’s now look at what other valuable data you can monitor, record, and learn from if you choose a vehicle-installed GPS tracking solution.
5 Types of Important Business Data a Vehicle-based GPS Tracking System Will Give You — and Mobile Tracking Won’t
1. Driver behavior.
Let’s say your drivers treat your company trucks not like their own vehicles, but more like rental cars. They brake too hard. They corner too aggressively. And when they’re stopped at a red light, maybe sometimes they look over and challenge the driver in the next lane to a race.
None of these behaviors are good for the long-term health or ROI of your vehicles. But with the right vehicle-installed GPS tracker, you’ll learn they’re happening, so you can do something about it.
With a phone-based tracking app, on the other hand, you’ll never know — until you get the repair bill or, worse, your driver brings you the ticket from the police.
On the flip side, you can also catch your drivers behaving well, treating your vehicles with respect and care. You can even create incentives — bonuses, awards and company recognition, etc. — to encourage more careful driving habits. Often just knowing that you can see how they’re handling your vehicles will persuade employees to handle them more responsibly.
2. Excessive idling.
Again, imagine you’re tracking your field employees via an app you’ve installed on their smartphones, instead of using a vehicle-installed tracker. You pull up your account and see that one of your drivers is at the job site where he’s scheduled. So far, so good. But here are some important questions: Is your truck’s engine turned on or off? If it’s on, how long has it been on? Does your field employee have a good reason for letting your engine idle, or not?
The risks of excessive idling can go far beyond the obvious problem of wasting fuel, although that’s definitely a legitimate concern. This practice can also hasten the end of your vehicle’s warranty, if that warranty is partly based on engine hours. It can also create undue wear and tear on your engine, and it can even lead to fines in some municipal areas that are cracking down on commercial vehicle idling.
And again, you’ll never know if your employees are idling your engines too long if you’re monitoring only their smartphones and not your vehicles themselves.
3. Maintenance milestones.
With the right vehicle-based GPS tracking system, you can set alerts and reminders for your team to schedule your vehicles for regular inspections and maintenance work.
You can set your vehicle-installed trackers to generate these auto-notifications based on time period (say, every four months) or according to a mileage milestone (say, every 3,500 miles).
In fact, with the right GPS tracking solution, you can even integrate your service with a maintenance scheduling app, so when a vehicle hits a “time for checkup” milestone, your app automatically sets up an appointment for you.
This will reduce the amount of time your fleet-operations team would otherwise need to spend manually inspecting your trucks’ odometers and tracking a maintenance calendar. And over time, it will help you increase the average ROI of your fleet trucks.
And, of course, you can’t automate any of this vehicle-maintenance tracking if your GPS service is actually monitoring only your drivers’ phones.
4. Equipment hours.
The right fleet tracking company will offer physical trackers not only for your vehicles but also for your fixed assets — large machinery such as generators or compressors, as well as trailers and containers.
Asset trackers can be valuable for your business because they let you collect data on the number of engine hours that your machinery — say, a generator or a wood chopper — has racked up at a job site.
This can help simplify your billing as well as make it more accurate and verifiable. It can also help you track the health and maintenance needs of your powered equipment just as you do for your vehicles themselves.
5. Regulatory data
If your company’s fleet is regulated under the International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA), your business has a small but real chance each year of being hit with an IFTA audit, even if you’ve never given any tax agency any trouble.
Even more troubling, IFTA regulators demand businesses record and archive an extraordinary amount of record detail for every trip, taken by every vehicle in your fleet, on any given day of the quarter or year in question. That means your company will need to maintain, for example:
- Detailed mileage and state-travel records on every truck in your fleet
- Aggregate mileage, state-travel and fuel-tax data on your entire fleet
- Aggregate mileage, state-travel and fuel-tax data on any sub-fleets in your fleet
- Time- or location-based mileage or tax reports for any requested time period
- Accurate measurement conversions (from miles to kilometers, from gallons to liters) for the time your drivers have spent in Canada, which is also part of IFTA.
As if we even need to say it, you won’t be able to collect much of this data with only a tracking app on your drivers’ phones. But with the right GPS solution installed in your vehicles themselves, you can automictically capture, organize, and archive it all. You can even easily have it turned into an IFTA-ready report if the auditors come knocking.
And these aren’t the only ways that vehicle-based GPS tracking is the better option than tracking via drivers’ phones. Here are a couple of others to think about…
More Reasons Vehicle GPS Tracking Is Superior to Phone Tracking
Reduced auto-insurance premiums.
When you install GPS trackers in your vehicles, you’re signaling to your insurance carrier that you take seriously the very things they care about: driver safety, how your drivers actually treat your vehicles, and protecting your fleet against theft. (We’ll discuss that last one more in the next section.)
This is why many of the commercial auto insurers offer major incentives to businesses that equip their vehicles (and not their drivers’ phones) with GPS tracking — often 15% or more reductions on their premiums.
More efficient use of fixed assets.
The business benefits of monitoring your other assets in the field — trailers, containers, machinery — can be significant. We’ve already discussed the ability to track engine hours or time-on-site to help with your billing. But there are additional benefits.
One of our customers, biosolids management company Merrell Bros., regularly parks its trailers at sites in its major customers’ citrus groves and farms — and that land often has no road signs or street addresses and doesn’t show any detail on Google Maps.
“Getting our drivers to the right spot used to mean one of our employees had to talk a driver step by step through a grove, saying things like, ‘Drive passed three ditches, then turn right, and you’ll see a tree stump. Go left…’” says co-owner Blake Merrell, who also oversees the company’s Florida fleet management operations.
“But now we’ve set up stationary, solar-powered GPS trackers at these sites, so our drivers can just pull up the app and head straight there — without needing any guidance from us. That has saved us so many hours of our team’s time.”
The 1 Reason, All by Itself, You’ll Be Better with Vehicle-based GPS Trackers Than Apps on Your Employees’ Phones
Finally, let’s imagine the nightmare scenario: a thief steals one of your fleet trucks from a job site.
If your GPS tracking service is just an app on your employee’s phone, your only hope will be that the employee left the phone in the truck — and that the thief doesn’t spot it and throw it out the window. Otherwise, you’ve got no way of helping police track down your stolen vehicle.
Worse, you’ll probably also have expensive equipment and machinery in that vehicle, which the odds say you’re going to lose as well. When the National Insurance Crime Bureau conducted a nationwide study of stolen company equipment (generators, mowers, garden tractors, etc.) they found only 21% was ever recovered.
We’ve heard these nightmare stories from our own customers. One company, LeadingEdge Plumbing & Rooter in Southern California, had one of their vehicles stolen — with $40,000 worth of tools and equipment onboard. Because they didn’t have a GPS tracker installed, they couldn’t tell police where the vehicle went when it was taken. That meant recovery took much longer. And when they finally did locate the truck, all of the company’s equipment was gone.
Then they signed up for ClearPathGPS and outfitted all of their trucks with GPS units. Incredibly, another one of their trucks was taken not long after. This time, though, the when company called the cops, they were able to tell them exactly where the truck was headed in real-time — because they were watching it on their ClearPathGPS app. Less than an hour after stealing their truck, the thief was in custody, and LeadingEdge was returning to their headquarters with both their vehicle and the $100,000 worth of equipment it was carrying.
And this single benefit — the theft-protection capability of vehicle-installed GPS tracking — should be all you need to convince you that it makes more sense to track your fleet’s vehicles than your field employees’ iPhones.