Despite communication contributing a comparatively small portion to a fleet’s overall costs, Zubair Munshi, managing director of Fleetcall, maintains that it can have a knock-on effect on other elements of the total cost equation , increasing efficiency and productivity. This is, however, dependent on the type of technology selected.
Efficient transport is an essential part of any country’s production and distribution process, with increased transport efficiency contributing directly towards containing or even reducing the overall cost of production.
In South Africa, the road freight industry is a crucial cog in the collective supply chain management process. With the industry already extremely competitive, fleet managers are under pressure to drive economies of scale in their operations, especially with fuel price increases, the proposed carbon tax and toll tariffs looming on the horizon.
Completed in 2008, the most recent CSIR State of Logistics Survey for South Africa notes that the local road freight market totals an incredible 1 337 million tons of traffic per annum. This figure includes over 250 000 registered commercial vehicles, 50 000 of which are heavy freight vehicles owned by an approximate 3 000 different companies.
“If one considers that these figures reflect the state of play three years ago and that the logistics industry has become even more competitive since, one soon realises the value that technology can add to fleet management , arguably making it more science than art,’ says Munshi.
By increasing visibility and control, technology has given fleet operators and managers a tangible means of improving the efficiency and productivity of their fleets on a vehicle-by-vehicle basis.
In evaluating the effectiveness of the latest technology on the market and its role in fleet management it is, however, important for operators to examine its potential to impact on other aspects of the total cost equation before implementation.
“This is especially true when it comes to communication technology where the type of technology in place can determine an operator’s ability to influence seemingly unrelated areas like health and safety as well as fuel efficiency,’ says Munshi, adding that from a fleet management perspective, communication technology has taken on a completely new role over the past decade.”It is no longer simply about creating the ability to “check-in’ en route. Thanks to the development of cellphone, GSM, GPS and GPRS technology, vehicles in a fleet can now be monitored and communicated with as never before, while providing key data in the process.’
Using a sophisticated tracking device located in a vehicle’s cab, operators can determine the exact location of the truck; obtain statistics relating to speed, braking and fuel efficiency; as well as be alerted if the driver is in distress. These statistics provide a priceless source of cost-cutting information, especially when coupled with the correct communications technology.
For many fleet operators, cellphone technology has provided an effective means of using the data collected by vehicle tracking devices. When something like a route deviation is flagged by the system, for example, an operator is arguably able to call the driver in question and investigate the cause of it.
Munshi warns though that the challenge in relying solely on cellphone technology is the fact that numerous external factors still have considerable impact on the ability to communicate directly with one’s fleet. “Network strength, signal availability and battery life, for example, can prevent an operator from getting in touch with a driver at a critical moment.’
As such, while cellphones have improved the ability to communicate, they have in no way ensured that communication is always able to take place. This is because of the fact that they cannot guarantee users the benefits of a virtual private network, operating within a national grid.
Ironically, a more mature technology , radio trunking , currently offers an alternative that meets this need and according to Munshi, is consequently driving economies of scale in the fleet management space.
“Involving the automatic and dynamic allocation of a small number of radio channels to a large number of radio users, ‘˜radio trunking’ is a communication technique that makes communication with one’s fleet not only easier but a lot more effective and cost-efficient,’ he says.
Unlike traditional radio communication systems where different users operate on separate radio frequencies or channels, radio trunking controls and guides users.