GPS is widely used in fleet management. And many systems now feature "active" GPS, which uses wireless networks to track assets in real time. Active GPS devices leave a "breadcrumb" trail of position markers that the system plots on a map, enabling companies to view vehicle and asset movement as it happens from a web browser. Many systems also offer an array of reports and alerts highlighting suspicious or prohibited activity. Some systems are even integrating two-way messaging into their packages, making it easy for drivers and dispatchers to share important information.
But asset management isn't the only area where GPS is making waves. Soon, it will play an equally important role in tracking labor.
Are you still using handwritten timecards to track time and attendance? Before you know it, they'll go the way of the typewriter, replaced by portable electronic timekeeping systems with integrated GPS.
These systems can tell you not only when your workers clocked in and out, but also exactly where. Your foreman can transmit those attendance and location records over the Internet from his phone or PDA to the office. There, you'll have a bird's-eye view of all your employee and jobsite information - either in the form of easy-to-read reports or overlaid on a regional map.
This isn't some lofty vision of the future. GPS-enhanced time and attendance systems are being widely used today.
"We're just four weeks into it, but it's already making a huge difference in the way I run my business," says Paul Mitchell, owner of Paul Mitchell Logging in Tupper Lake, N.Y.
Mitchell is using PocketClock/GPS from Exaktime, Inc. to track the location and attendance of his crews. This software runs on a Windows Mobile PDA, transforming it into a portable time clock that records the exact location of his workers when they clock in and out.
"With PocketClock/GPS, I can run things from the home office knowing that my guys are where they're supposed to be," he says.
Of course, the only thing that's free about GPS is the incoming signal. To actually do something useful with that signal requires hardware, software and, in many cases, a subscription fee. Most asset tracking packages start at about $500 per asset. Time and location tracking systems like PocketClock/GPS will run you $700 per device. So clearly, cost is a factor when considering which assets and/or work crews to monitor with GPS.
One more thing: GPS is typically accurate to within about 50 feet. So if you're looking for pinpoint accuracy, you may want to ratchet down your expectations to about a stone's throw. On the plus side, the latest advances in signal calculation will whittle the error margin down to about 7 feet in the not-too-distant future.
Terry Porter is impressed with these advances - and not just because they promise to reduce his "windshield time." He recognizes that in managing their businesses remotely, business owners are actually bridging the gap between themselves and their employees and assets. From a central location, they'll soon be able to:
- Receive real-time updates from each jobsite
- Address problems as they occur
- Know who's at each site any time of the day
- Reallocate labor as needed throughout the day
And Porter is ready to jump onboard. "These technologies will save me more than just a trip to my jobsites," he says. "They'll save my company time and money by giving me a better handle on all aspects of the business."
For eight years, Scott Prewett has been the Chief Technology Officer for Exaktime, Inc., designing time and attendance systems for use by the construction trades. He consults businesses regarding labor and payroll compliance and speaks regularly on emerging technologies, candidate interviewing, managing/motivating the construction workforce and strategies for reducing workers' compensation premiums.