In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, contractors, business owners, and construction managers still need to manage their fleets, but may not want to go to the office daily and risk possible exposure to themselves or others.
Fortunately, by combining real-time GPS vehicle-tracking data received via smartphone, tablet or PC with business communications such as email, text, and today's ubiquitous video conferencing, they can socially distance while dynamically managing fleets, work crews and logistics without missing a beat.
In fact, compared to traditional techniques like meeting face-to-face and shuffling paperwork, the advanced technology now available actually improves control and allows immediate response and adjustment to the inevitable emergencies and changing demands that occur throughout the day.
“With an advanced, real-time GPS vehicle tracking system, essentially all employees can socially distance. To avoid potential viral transmission from other employees and vehicles, they can leave from their homes in their typical company vehicle and go directly to the job site without returning to the office, except to retrieve any needed supplies,” says Ben VanAvery, director of sales and marketing at Advanced Tracking Technologies Inc. (ATTI), a Houston, Texas-based designer and manufacturer of GPS tracking products.
Such a GPS tracking system can facilitate social distancing and virtually eliminate the need for routine personal interaction, while ensuring that drivers and work crews stay on task.
“We use GPS tracking to know where our equipment is so we can quickly get it to the next jobsite,” says Robert Hanneman, business development/fleet manager at Chelsea, Okla.,-based K&D Construction Services. “We use it when we schedule which jobs need which pieces of equipment to ensure that everybody gets what they need and nothing extra.”
K&D Construction is a specialty foundation contractor serving the utilities market in a six-state area with a full suite of construction foundation services. With so much work spread over a large area, Hanneman appreciates that he can use the one system to track all of his construction fleet vehicles. “I did not want to look at multiple systems to see different things, with one set of trackers for the trucks and another for the skid steers and mini excavators.”
But real-time vehicle tracking adds a dimension to Hanneman's managing ability that is somewhat rare. Vision from ATTI transmits updates every 10 seconds, tracking precisely where vehicles are the moment the construction fleet manager or dispatcher needs to know. Most other GPS tracking devices update locations every few minutes, so Vision adds to location data the vehicle speed and idle time that make it easier to tell if something is amiss. This data is transmitted via satellite and cellular networks 24/7. And Vision software can reference speed limits by location nationwide.
Via a PC or smartphone app approved by ATTI, Hanneman can display the real-time location of his entire fleet on a map, and zoom in on any specific vehicle. At a glance, he can see if a vehicle is moving (displays green) or stopped (displays red). If he touches a vehicle icon, the app will display where the vehicle has been, where it stopped, and how long it has idled. All this helps with on-the-fly coordination.
“By zooming in or out on the map, we can see everything,” says Hanneman. “We can look where the different crews are and see what equipment they have with them in case we need to reallocate equipment to other places, depending on the job tasks.
“We have multiple crews working in multiple states, so being able to track where our vehicle fleet is in real-time 24/7 is a real advantage. It also helps if we need to respond quickly to a need for emergency construction, such as for repair after a storm.”
Dispatches can be made throughout the day and sent directly to the driver’s phone to tell the work crew the next job site address. Once they complete the job, it is recorded in the system, so the dispatcher, owner or fleet manager can stay apprised. In that way, it can serve as a remote time sheet.
To instill greater self-monitoring and efficiency during the pandemic, construction managers can also configure the system to automatically send real-time text or email alerts to individual drivers, groups, or the entire fleet if factors such as traffic congestion, travel route, vehicle speed, starts, stops, or idling pose a concern or deviate from policy.
To enhance efficiency and safety
Because the GPS system is automated, travel reports can be generated that analyze vital historical data, such as on-time pick-ups or drop-offs, can also be emailed without anyone having to open software. The reports can be customized as needed to include as much detail as needed, such as how many stops, how long per location, top speed, mileage, idle times of the day and more measures of job performance. Identifying and implementing more efficient routing and performance, in turn, enables individual drivers and the construction fleet as a whole to accomplish more in less time.
When construction business owners and fleet managers are busy dealing with the logistical impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, such a system can also help individual drivers to drive more safely and take greater responsibility for their own conduct without the need to micro manage. A maximum vehicle speed, of say no more than 8 mph over the posted limit can be set and drivers informed of this. The system will then track their vehicle speed and compare this with the speed limit in its national data base, with exceptions automatically emailed to the driver and fleet manager in a report, if desired.
Real-time GPS tracking can also increase driver accountability by making them less inclined to take unauthorized excursions, such as for personal errands, when not on a job. This can help to minimize unnecessary vehicle mileage, fuel use, and wear and tear. On the plus side, GPS tracking can also be used to recognize and reward consistent on-time arrival, rapid response to any emergencies, etc.
For construction professionals, the bottom line is that today’s advanced GPS tracking systems can help to keep everyone as socially distanced from each other as possible, while improving vehicle and crew productivity.