Telematics reduces costs and increases business for Toro

Despite the ridiculous, blind, lemminglike rush to lay off workers, there are, in this age of technology, better ways for companies to reduce costs. If you avoid layoffs until the economy makes an upswing, you'll still have your greatest asset -- your employees -- loyal and ready to work hard because you went that extra mile and thought of them first.

If Toro, the makers of lawn and garden equipment that uses as its core technology the ancient internal-combustion engine from Briggs and Stratton, can turn to high tech to solve problems, then think what your company can do.

This week's column, the first in a series on using technology to reduce costs without reducing the work force, will focus on telematics -- or as some call it, telemetry.

Qualcomm Wireless Business Solutions (www.qualcomm.com/qwbs), a division of Qualcomm, sells a telemetry product and service called OmniTRACS, which allows companies to increase the efficiency and operation of their fleets. The wireless system, which uses the Sprint PCS network for terrestrial and the Ku band for satellite networks, allows managers to communicate and manage the fleets as well as take data and integrate it into the back-office systems.

Point of information: The Ku band satellites are owned by General Electric and give users coverage anywhere in North America and 200 miles out to sea. Obviously, this service costs more but is more reliable in rural America -- if that description still makes any sense -- than terrestrial wireless service.

When Toro delivers equipment to its customers, the driver gets back into the truck after the delivery is made and either fills out a form or confirms that the order was delivered, and then the information is transmitted wirelessly back to Toro's ERP (enterprise resource planning) system so that accounts receivables, payables, and inventory can be updated.

"By not running empty miles or missing deliveries and pickups, Toro has told us they have increased their business by 20 percent while using 15 percent less [fleet] equipment," said Norman Ellis, Toro's senior director of business development at its Business Development division. You don't see Toro laying off people, do you?

Of course, Toro's iMow robotic mower may put a few high schoolers out of work (www.toro.com/home/mowers/imow).

Schneider National, a for-hire truckload carrier, is another OmniTRACS user with approximately 16,000 units rolling across the country. By allowing the company to be in constant communication with drivers and customers, customer satisfaction goes way up because drivers are able to alert customers of precise delivery times and late deliveries in real time.

Beyond reducing costs and increasing customer satisfaction, both of which affect the bottom line, better fleet management also decreases the possibility of missed sales opportunities. What if a customer refuses a delivery while simultaneously another customer is calling in an order for those very same products only to be told, "Sorry, we are out of stock"? If every action was updated in real time, that refused delivery could be turned into a sale.

BM Technologies, an equipment rental company in Frisco, Texas, uses a wireless fleet system with GPS (Global Positioning System) from InterTrak Tracking Services (www.trackmenow.com).

BM had a problem with drivers showing up late for deliveries, not returning to headquarters on time, and asking for a lot of overtime, according to Edward Muldowney, InterTrak president.

The company opted for the InterTrak system, sometimes referred to by Muldowney as a "tattletale system," and notified all the drivers that the trucks now would be tracked. The system allows the company to know where each truck is and, if not moving, how long it has been at a single location. BM's overtime rate was cut by 50 percent. Enough said.

InterTrak charges $850 per unit plus a per-unit fee of $5.95 per month for the service, which it manages as an ASP (application service provider) service.

Recovery of stolen heavy equipment is yet another use for telemetry. Everything from tractors to commercial generators often disappear from construction sites.

"One construction company steals from another," Muldowney said, but the real loser is the leasing company that owns the equipment.

The 7-inch by 5-inch by 0.5-inch device can be hidden on the equipment, and the GPS log of the equipment's movement and location is admissible evidence in a court of law, Muldowney said.

Finally, Roy Eder, vice president of business development at AT Road, in Fremont, Calif., tells us Pepsico Bottling and TakeOut Taxi use his company's wireless location-finding technology to reduce training time for drivers, fuel costs, and maintenance and to increase customer satisfaction. AT Road (www.road.com) charges about $400 per unit per vehicle and about $40 per month per device for the service.

If you have any examples of how technology, especially wireless, is being used to reduce costs or increase sales, send an e-mail to ephraim_schwartz@infoworld.com.

This story, "Telematics reduces costs and increases business for Toro" was originally published by InfoWorld.

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