BlackBerry Connection > Business Edition > GPS Finds Itself at the Center of Field Service Efficiencies

GPS Bringing Cost and Time Savings to Field Service

Bringing GPS technology to a deployment of the BlackBerry® solution is an increasingly popular move among companies who want greater cost savings and new levels of productivity in field service. Fueling this are a growing number of third party applications that integrate with enterprise systems like payroll and dispatching, rapid advancements in GPS accuracy and coverage, and an increasing number of proven deployments in virtually every industry.

A study conducted by research firm Aberdeen Group showed location-based technology contributing to time savings that result in at least one additional work order per day (per employee) because of its ability to eliminate non-productive 'windshield time', defined as time spent driving in a vehicle rather than delivering service on a customer's site.

Benefits of Adding Location Intelligence to Field Service*:

  • 13.2% savings on fuel
  • 12.8% savings on maintenance costs
  • 13.4% savings on overtime
  • 27.4% increase on fleet utilization
  • 26.1% increase on workforce utilization
  • 19.2% decrease on miles traveled
  • 23.8% decrease on service response times

*Aberdeen Group study: The Impact of Location on Field Based Service (December 2007)

GPS Mapping Saves Time Cuts Fuel Costs

Time savings come as a result of minimizing likelihood of getting lost, by providing field force workers with turn-by-turn navigation. Reduced windshield time can also help to curb rising fuel costs by minimizing wasted travel.

Improved Dispatch and Routing

GPS may enable greater efficiency in dispatching operations. Safelite AutoGlass deployed BlackBerry smartphones to their field technicians complete with a custom-designed Mobile Resource Management application. The application features GPS tracking on each work order and sends longitude and latitude information from each technician's BlackBerry smartphone to the home office. If a technician can't find a customer location, a GPS link in the work order will provide a detailed map and directions.

"Because of GPS tracking, we can monitor and track our technicians during the day to ensure we're using our resources in the best ways possible," says Rod Ghani, Safelight's Vice President of IT. "We've found a technician's overall productivity has improved by 7% because of this approach." With a field force of 2,000 technicians, daily productivity gains of 7% have a big impact on the bottom line.

Team Transport, a 45-fleet trucking company in Texas, also overhauled their dispatch process with GPS tracking at its heart. The company equipped their drivers with BlackBerry smartphones equipped with Comet Tracker, a GPS location tracking application from ActSoft.

Greater Speed, Accuracy and Fewer Errors

The Comet Tracker application relays GPS information from BlackBerry smartphones to dispatcher computers in the office. Integration with Team Transport's desktop dispatching software allows dispatchers to look up, track and dispatch drivers with minimal effort. When Comet Tracker indicates that a driver is five minutes away from a drop off, Compcare virtually automatically triggers the next dispatch.

Jennifer Michna, VP Finance at Team Transport is pleased with the switch to GPS-based services. "It's cutting down on a lot of errors," she says. "The driver can key in a container number rather than having to try to communicate that through speaking. The Comet Tracker program shows when a driver picks up a container, needs to report on a container, and tracks their time on the road. Now there's no ambiguity because of the GPS."

Not Just for Transportation

GPS technology on BlackBerry smartphones is delivering benefits in virtually every industry, not just transportation.

Today's GPS solutions are vastly different from traditional automated vehicle location (AVL) systems, which often consist of GPS-enabled hardware that is physically installed in vehicles and, therefore, track only the vehicle. By integrating GPS technology with the BlackBerry smartphone, it's possible for companies to achieve a higher degree of visibility into employee location and mobile transactions, whether employees are inside or outside a vehicle.

Companies in virtually every industry are now seeing how GPS technology in such a small form factor can deliver benefits. For example, construction companies are using BlackBerry® smartphones equipped with a GPS application and Bluetooth® barcode scanners to accurately clock employee timesheets at construction sites.

Michaela Wright, ActSoft's Marketing Coordinator, points out the importance of this integration. "The value of GPS technology is maximized when it integrates with payroll or other enterprise systems," she says, "and that high level integration is what most companies are looking for today because it enables so many workflow efficiencies."

Integration Enables Enhanced Transparency and Service Level Reporting

Mobilizing an enterprise service order tracking system is what prompted The City of Mobile, Alabama to deploy BlackBerry smartphones to its mobile service crews. Historically, the crews were diligent in completing service orders throughout the City in a timely manner, but they lacked the means to log job completion details in virtual realtime. This introduced a delay in updating the City's records, giving the impression that work was completed later than it actually was.

The City solved the problem by giving service crews BlackBerry smartphones equipped with Freeance Mobile, a solution that combines geographic information system (GIS) maps with enterprise database forms on smartphones. Now crew workers use the Freeance Mobile application to log job completion details into a custom-built form on their BlackBerry smartphones, which in turn virtually automatically updates the City's internal service order system with details of the completed work.

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Easy-to-Use Applications and Fast Implementation

Matthew Reddington, President of TDC Group, Inc. (makers of Freeance Mobile) offers his explanation for the surging interest in mobile GPS applications. "More organizations want to place technology in the hands of users who may not be power users of software and smartphones, so they're looking for easy-to-use solutions," he says. "GPS/GIS solutions fit this requirement by virtually automatically geostamping and time-coding transactions, so workers have less information to search for and enter, and can quickly get back to performing their job."

"The ability to create and deploy customized integrated applications quickly is also getting a lot of attention," says Redding. In the City of Mobile, the Freeance Mobile solution was deployed within 30 days, which included custom integration with the City's service order system.

ROI

"Attainable ROI within a short time frame is a key capability of most GPS-based field force solutions," says ActSoft's Michaela Wright from ActSoft. Wright points out that while deployment specifics vary with each customer, it's common to see payback periods as short as three-to-six months for Comet Tracker and other ActSoft applications.

TDC's Reddington adds, "There are substantial cost advantages to be gained by deploying BlackBerry smartphones versus laptops, which clearly adds to the appeal and makes the potential ROI that much greater."

Getting Started

Matthew Reddington, President of TDC Group, Inc. (makers of Freeance Mobile) offers his advice for companies considering adding GPS solution to deployment of the BlackBerry® solution:

1. Start with a pilot project

"Freeance Mobile deployments typically start with a pilot project of 5 to 20 users," says Reddington. "This puts the technology right into the hands of an initial user group in the field, so we can collect valuable feedback and actually start to measure real benefits over a period of several weeks or months."

2. Look for visible benefits early

Redding outlines the visible benefits that his customers typically experience early in the pilot stage:

  • Time savings. Workers don't have to come back to the office to get the information they need.
  • Costs savings. Fewer trips to the office and less likelihood of getting lost translate directly to lower fleet fuel costs.
  • Increased productivity and profitability. With less total time spent driving, field service workers have more time to see more customers.
  • Improved data accuracy and reporting capabilities. As data is entered, it is correlated with the location and time and date stamps, allowing organizations to show a history of work over time by location.
3. Gauge User Acceptance

User acceptance levels in pilot groups is often a reliable indicator of enterprise-wide adoption rates.

More information, access to white papers and partners:

Visit blackberry.com/go/fieldservice »

BlackBerry Alliance Members and Solutions mentioned in this article:

ActSoft – Comet Tracker »
TDC Group – Freeance Mobile »

Case Studies:

Safelite AutoGlass »
Team Transport »

Smartphones and Trade up savings:

GPS-enabled BlackBerry smartphones »

BlackBerry Trade Up program »

GPS Bringing Cost and Time Savings to Field Service

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