How can fleet managers put new technologies to work to streamline their operations and slash fuel costs?  Todd Ewing, director of product marketing at Fleetmatics —  the Boston-based company that offers GPS fleet tracking technology — shares his insights with SmartVan.

With so many new fleet management technologies to choose from, how can you know which one is right?

The best way is to integrate what exists already, which is a challenge because a lot of emerging technologies are available for customers. It’s hard, in many cases, for customers to understand the boundaries between software packages. For example, we’re a SaaS company that does GPS-based vehicle tracking. When we get leads, some people think we do work-order management or dispatching. It’s often difficult for customers to see the line between those because they have needs across software boundaries.

Integration is a key consideration. Seeing vehicles’ locations in the context of work orders, and comparing the objective GPS information to the information coming out of a work order management system, for example, is very helpful. If planning out for hundreds or thousands of work orders, objective foundational data is needed to determine how long that work takes. For industries such as field service where work orders are somewhat standardized by type, it’s important to leverage objective information as the foundation.

What’s your advice to fleet or operations managers who aren’t using GPS tracking or other technologies?

The best advice I’d give somebody is to definitely get a system in place. But as you’re installing it, prioritize the issues you want to solve. There’s a lot of information in these systems, and it can be a fire hose. You could sit in front of your computer all day and say, “Wow, you should really slow down,” or “Why were you idling?” That’s where the system can turn negative.

People who manage a fleet system well focus on one item at a time. They might focus on idle time, for example, and really develop coaching and positive incentives around that and then move onto something else the next quarter. The people who do this well have a plan to effect the most change.

How important is it for customers to not only focus on specific goals, but to integrate with other systems?

The best solution for customers is to identify the experts and integrate them so they get a best-in-class system. We’ll get to the point over the next few years where there will be so much relevant data, and if it’s siloed, it will be really ineffective. That’s why the trend toward integration will become more and more obvious. People will see these data points in different systems and realize they need to be married for it all to make sense. The choices are either to buy best-in-class systems in each area and integrate them, or accept a system that is good at one thing and tries to do another. That doesn’t work well.

It’s tough for customers because there is technology coming at them from all angles right now. A mistake that I’ve seen made is that people try to put out a monster project to turn everything around. It slows everything down, and you end up not doing anything. Indecision or delay is a big enemy.

These systems need to work together, which is why people need to make vendor selections around integration capability and flexibility. Start where you can identify revenue and cost most easily — even if the system isn’t perfect. I could dream up an amazing back office where everything’s perfect, but it’ll be four years before we get there, and we’ll lose a lot of money in the process. Take it one step at a time and accept that it will be incremental.