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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.

Click here to read about a tough tablet PC. 

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

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

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

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.