Guest Column | September 4, 2014

The Many Flavors Of GPS Tracking: Which Is Right For Your Customer?

By Michael Forbes, Managing Director/Founder, Electric Compass

GPS Tracking Software

SaaS-based GPS tracking services offer VARs and MSPs tasty new recurring revenue opportunities, but what is the current state of the art?

GPS tracking solutions provide VARs and MSPs with an attractive source of recurring monthly revenue, but if you haven’t taken a look at tracking systems lately you’ll find a lot has changed in terms of features, flexibility, and pricing.

Back in “the day,” which is really just a few years ago, there was only one “flavor” of GPS tracking: you put a tracking device in a vehicle and every so often it sent out a “ping” telling a system where it was. Dispatchers could see the vehicle on a map and run some reports. But today, GPS tracking capabilities are available in a wide variety of “flavors” for just about any device a worker would use in the field. Smartphone, tablet, mobile computer, personal tracking device, asset tracker, and the traditional automatic vehicle location (AVL) devices — can all be tracked using GPS. And they all offer VARs and MSPs an opportunity to sell a valuable incremental service to their customers.

The Basics

All GPS tracking platforms offer a basic set of features:

  • Configurable reporting frequency — how often the device sends out a “here I am” ping including location, speed, direction of travel, and other information
  • Ability to see real-time vehicle locations on an online map with multiple viewing options
  • Alerting capabilities for incidents like speeding, entering or leaving an area (geofencing), excessive idle, unsafe driving, and more
  • “Breadcrumb” history reporting offering reports that show travel, stops, alerts and more

The best reporting systems allow configurable reports that can be customized to the customer’s requirements and other features like report subscriptions for automated delivery of reports by email. Reporting is perhaps the most important feature as it allows businesses to focus on the issues that are important to them and do it in an effective and efficient way. There is no need to stare at “dots on a map” all day to get the benefits of GPS tracking.

The Benefits

For customers that have mobile workers, GPS offers proven benefits including measurable fuel savings, productivity increases, and safety improvements. It’s an easy pitch to customers: add one more task per worker per month and the system pays for itself; add two tasks and you’re making money as a result of GPS tracking. Everything else is gravy.

The Devices

It used to be that you had to make the choice of tracking the “man or the van” as most system only tracked vehicles or computers but not both. Now many GPS tracking systems can support any device type on the same platform so device type choice becomes an operational decision based on the worker’s role. Devices fall into two broad categories:

AVL GPS Tracking Devices. This is the traditional method of tracking vehicles. These devices include a GPS receiver and mobile data radio. They are installed in the vehicle, either hardwired or by plugging into the diagnostic (ODB-II) port.

Advantages

  • These devices are generally more reliable and provide greater GPS accuracy than mobile device-based options— typical GPS accuracy is in the 2-meter range for high-quality tracking devices.
  • Advanced devices include accelerometers that allow the device to report on hard braking, harsh cornering and other unsafe driver behavior.
  • They have the ability to tie into sensors including door sensors, temperature probes, fuel level, and more.
  • They can be used for stolen vehicle recovery.
  • They are difficult for workers to “defeat” to avoid being tracked.

Disadvantages

  • Tracking requires a dedicated device, but the cost for these devices has dropped in the past few years to the point where cost to deploy them is negligible versus the benefit.
  • They cannot interface with mobile apps running on a mobile device.
  • They track the vehicle, not the worker, so when the worker is out of the vehicle his or her whereabouts are not tracked.

Mobile Device Tracking Apps. These apps are available for smartphones, tablets, and mobile computers and can offer the benefits of field visibility on mobile devices used by workers.

Advantages

  • Apps leverage the customer’s investment in mobile devices — using smartphones, tablets, or mobile computers for any task, GPS tracking can be a very attractive addition that can increase the total ROI of the solution.
  • They allow workers to be tracked in vehicles or out as they conduct tasks in the field.
  • They can interact with other apps to support geographic verification of transactions or work locations.

Disadvantages

  • GPS tends to be less accurate due to the nature of smartphone GPS. This doesn’t mean the system isn’t showing accurate vehicle locations, but the official measure of the location is rated to a lower location accuracy.
  • It’s easier for the user to “defeat” the system by turning off the device or putting the device inside a heavy metal toolbox. There are ways around this including alerts to the dispatcher when devices aren’t reporting.
  • Regarding BYOD issues, there aren’t necessarily disadvantages, but tracking a worker on a device they own can present permission issues that must be addressed.
  • They track the worker, not the vehicle, which can be an issue for high value vehicles or those carrying extensive inventory.
  • There are limited integration capabilities for vehicle systems and sensors.

The Revenue

Perhaps the sweetest thing about any flavor of GPS tacking is that it allows VARs and MSPs to expand their base of recurring revenue services. In all cases, tracking services provide monthly Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) revenue. AVL devices can also offer the opportunity for hardware sales revenue and mobile devices may produce “activation fee” revenue for new deployments.

To sum up, GPS tracking is an attractive offering for VARs and MSPs to add to their portfolio of services for its operational value to customers and for the ability to create an incremental recurring service revenue stream.