Not so long ago delivery drivers had to reference paper maps if the location of their delivery was in question. GPS and on-board navigation were the stuff of science fiction. Dispatching software existed only in the brain of the experienced dispatcher, and optimizing delivery routes happened by scrutinizing a map pinned up on the wall. Today, computer software automates many of these processes and the sophistication of technology continues to grow, improving transportation efficiency and cutting costs. Many rental management software providers offer asset tracking as part of their suite of services or can provide integration with third-party asset-management solutions.

With fuel prices on the perpetual incline, efficiently managing a rental business' delivery and service fleet is more important than ever. Time, money and human resources are on the line. Dispatchers can't just worry about getting the equipment to the customer on time anymore; they must also consider mapping the shortest, most efficient route to use the least amount of fuel — a job that often requires careful geographic planning of multiple deliveries at once.

“Asset management technology continues to get smaller and more affordable,” says Jason Albus, systems engineer for Point-of-Rental Systems, which offers a centralized dispatching module to track drivers, and delivery and service trucks.

The Point-of-Rental Dispatch Center with GPS Integration was designed to provide the necessary tools to give the delivery driver access to computer-aided routing, GPS vehicle tracking, in-cab directions and stop details, and arrival and departure updates that allow for proactive route adjustments and customer notifications.

“This module directly integrates with our asset tracking module and can provide location on equipment that has no tracking device based on the last delivery/service,” Albus says. “This gives our customer the flexibility to choose either module or the combined system.”

Point-of-Rental's solution enables rental counter personnel to monitor and track the status of equipment deliveries in real time so they are able to inform a customer if a delivery is delayed or even early, ensuring that a customer has someone onsite to accept the delivery. “What makes the Dispatch Center with GPS different from other dispatching software is the full integration into the rental software and two-way communication with the trucks,” explains Albus. “Our software transmits contact and jobsite information directly to the truck, tracks the progress of each vehicle and records arrival and departure times along with estimated time to the next stop. This allows managers to take action when a stop will be late.”

In addition to tracking the delivery of equipment, the software tracks data on the drivers themselves, allowing management to hold them accountable for their whereabouts throughout the day. If a driver is noted to spend time in non-authorized locations, management can set an alert to be notified when the driver enters that location. It also allows rental managers to determine how often each driver is on time for a delivery and how accurate the company's onsite time estimates are.

Another benefit of the POR Dispatch Center with GPS Integration software is that it helps dispatchers quickly locate the nearest truck when equipment is called off rent or service is needed on a jobsite.

While not every rental company is utilizing fleet management and dispatching software to track equipment deliveries and pickups, the technology has evolved to the point where the size and cost have diminished to a level that makes them a consideration even for small one- or two-location rental businesses.

“Only two of our customers actually use real-time GPS tracking to keep an eye on exactly where their drivers are throughout the day,” says Paul Chapdelaine, president and founder of RMI Corp. “I suspect that this will change dramatically over the next couple of years now that our cell phones are capable of delivering similar tracking information that we used to have to use someone like Qualcomm for in the past. I understand that tracking a mobile phone may not be as good as pinging a transponder that is physically attached to a delivery vehicle, but from a cost/benefit point of view it delivers 90-plus percent of the benefit for approximately 3 percent of the cost.”

Integration and collaboration

While most rental management software providers make integration with third-party software a big priority, others work directly with outside software providers to offer a proven solution. Genisys Software, for instance, worked in cooperation with DPL America to integrate its software to DPL's GPS tracking devices. The collaboration allowed Genisys to provide its rental company customers the functionality DPL had already created.

“We have a built-in dispatching module in our standard package that allows the rental business to track as many trucks and drivers as they have, as well as scheduling the reservations, rental contracts, sales orders and work order deliveries and/or pickups for each date,” says Ray Bonestroo, president Genisys Software. “We have incorporated many suggestions from customers and now have three different versions of our dispatch screen that they can pick from at any time to better suit their particular business.”

According to inspHire vice president Olly Williamson, there has been an increase in requests from rental businesses for integration of telematics and GPS tracking solutions. “As companies get busier, they want to streamline the manual processes in collating this data,” Williamson says. “Depending on customer needs, inspHire does manage transportation within the software, and we also integrate with other third-party systems to bring important telematics information into the software. Due to the flexibility required by many of our customers, the integration facility has allowed them to adopt a best-of-breed approach with the best rental software coupled with the best transportation software.”

Earlier this year, Solutions by Computer also announced a partnership with DPL America to offer integration with its enhanced telemetry and GPS tracking functionality.

For over-the-road fleet, DPL America offers the SkyHawk Vehicle Tracking System, designed to provide real-time visibility of a business' delivery and service fleet. Designed using the same technology as its TITAN Equipment Monitoring System, which tracks off-road equipment and records telematics data, the SkyHawk system automatically produces location updates every 10 minutes and maintains an infinite archive of the company's route history. Rental company owners and managers can access this data at any time, tracking a single vehicle or the entire fleet.

The up-to-the-minute location updates result in more efficient dispatching with less wasted driver time. A dispatcher can significantly reduce the number of costly, empty loads by rerouting drivers to where they are needed in real time. In addition, the SkyHawk system tracks idle time and speed, giving rental managers insight into two additional issues that can have a costly impact on the rental business' bottom line.

With the cost of these asset-management technologies continuing to decline and the growing convenience in ways to access the data collected, rental businesses can mine existing rental management software and business technology for new ways to cut delivery and transportation costs. The additional benefits include more efficient delivery routing and pickup, better driver accountability and improved customer satisfaction.