GPS Helps Solution Providers Navigate Rough EconomyBy Pedro Pereira | Print
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More than a navigational tool, GPS also helps customers cut operational and staff costs, while boosting productivity and their green credentials.
Solution providers trying to find their way through today's rough economy might want to give GPS technology a shot.
Either embedded into automobile dashboards or as portable devices, GPS screens have become a commonplace tool for drivers who once relied on maps and their sense of direction to get to their destination. Becoming even more ubiquitous, GPS navigation is starting to show up also as a mobile phone feature, with technology from vendors such as TeleNav.
"We're still in the early stages of this," says Sal Dhanani, a co-founder of TeleNav, which sells its service through phone carriers such as AT&T, Sprint and Verizon. "There's a huge market ahead."
GPS combines a handful of elements that couldn't be better timed for an economic downturn. The technology cuts fuel, maintenance and staffing costs, helps users go green by reducing their use of paper and fuel, and improves productivity and customer service.
As such, GPS offers an attractive service opportunity for IT solution providers.
Distributor Tech Data sells GPS systems to its solution providers, who market them to end-user customers as part of service packages to run their businesses more efficiently and cost-effectively.
One Tech Data solution provider, for instance, installed GPS for a non-profit organization that relies on the technology for navigation and tracking when working in remote areas out of reach of Wi-Fi and cell service. Another solution provider customized a system for cable technicians servicing out-of-sight service towers with instructions to find the elusive towers. Instructions might include something like, "The tower is located in the bell tower of this church. There's a door around back. If locked, call Father Joe."
Tech Data sells the Pharos, Tom Tom, Becker and Garmin lines, which offer packages that include ruggedized units, extended warranties and free software updates, says Wendy Linsky, Tech Data vice president of peripherals product marketing. Solution providers have the ability to customize maps and add features for their customers' specific needs, she says.
Linsky believes GPS services, which also help advance ecologically minded companies' efforts to go green, are going to become more common for solution providers as more of them get wise to how the technology can help their end-user customers.
"There's a lot more runway ahead as we continue to educate the solution providers," she says.
Sumair Dutta, strategic service management research analyst at Aberdeen, says end users are seeing a host of benefits from GPS technology. The obvious one, of course, is to save fuel by cutting travel time through better-planned routes.
Aberdeen found through a recent survey of companies that rely on auto fleets or mobile workers to deliver services that they save an average of 13.2 percent on fuel and 12.8 percent on maintenance after adopting GPS technology
Vehicle fleet utilization improved by 27.4 percent and workforce utilization, by 26.1 percent, according to the study. That means companies are able to better manage their driver's and service technician's schedules.
Because companies have the ability to track their drivers, dispatchers can make sure drivers are taking the best routes. Managers also spot time-wasting trends and habits that they can work to change, says Dutta.
Ultimately, says Dutta, in addition to cutting expenses, companies also improve customer service through the use of GPS. Think about the cable company giving you a one- or two-hour time window for repairs, rather than the four- or five-hour windows that cause so much frustration with customers.
Aberdeen found that as many as 84 percent of companies using GPS have on-time arrivals when their technicians go to customer sites, and they see a 16 percent improvement in service profitability.
TeleNav's Dhanani says that GPS navigation empowers companies to improve the way they do business in multiple ways. While it's easy to see how plotting the fastest route to a destination is beneficial, he points out that dispatchers also are able to make decision on the fly that would be more difficult without GPS.
Say a heating company gets a call for an emergency repair. With GPS, the dispatcher locates the driver closest to the location with the broken equipment, contacts the driver and sends him or her the relevant instructions, Dhanani says.
The TeleNav technology allows dispatchers to get rid of the pens and paper they traditionally would use to keep track of everything, and also makes it possible to work at home. The tracking features also make employees on the clock to be more accurate punching in and out.
More than 9,000 organizations use TeleNav, and that includes the service provider Satellites Unlimited, which recently equipped 240 employees with TeleNav technology. The deployment resulted in employees cutting 30 minutes to an hour out of their driving per day, which the company estimates as a decrease of 43,000 to 87,000 yearly.
Dhanani says the company sells its service only through phone carriers, which charge about $10 monthly for it, but he is exploring launching a channel program for solution providers. The company has had an interest in working with solution providers for a while, but hasn't yet worked out the details, he says.