Fleet tracking systems have evolved far beyond simple GPS. Advancements in telematics, satellite mapping, two-way communications and integrations into back office systems offer fleets many new, exciting opportunities to help streamline their businesses, manage costs, boost productivity, and drive more revenue and profitability.
Today’s fleet tracking marketplace is also rich with options. Fleets have many more vendors to consider and a greater number of features to choose among, making their decision both easier (more choices) and harder (more choices!).
So how has the industry advanced over the last two decades? In this post, we take a look back at the maturing of the fleet tracking space and the critical technology enablers that made these advancements possible.
The early days: Where are my vehicles?
When the concept of vehicle tracking first emerged in the late 1990s, the sole purpose was centered on vehicle tracking. Fleets were entranced by the notion of using GPS technology to identify and track the whereabouts of their vehicles, but the vehicle tracking system, installed within the vehicle, was hardware centric and clunky, involving lots of wiring and manual intervention. Terminals in the cab served as a data collection point and were paired with software installed on a PC. Data collected from individual vehicles was stored on a server, and then retrieved for use by the fleet, with customers paying a monthly fee to access the satellite data. Solutions at this time were also quite expensive and so available only to the largest and wealthiest of fleets.
By the early 2000s advancements in the Internet made it possible for vendors of vehicle tracking systems to introduce a web interface allowing for browser-based access to satellite generated data. However, the lack of broadband capability made updates of maps very slow, with refreshes taking up to half a day and vehicle positions on the map were updated only every 30 minutes.
Reaching the mid-point: Two-way communication
By the mid 2000s satellite capabilities had evolved sufficiently to improve GPS performance, which in turn greatly improved performance of vehicle tracking solutions, making them more robust and much faster. Hand in hand, advancements in telecommunications now made two-way communication possible between drivers in vehicles and dispatch. Paired with more robust GPS, fleets were now able to move beyond simply knowing vehicle location to managing those drivers more efficiently when en route.
Mature & comprehensive: Fleet tracking takes the driver’s seat
Today’s fleet tracking solutions have been able to further capitalize on technology advancements. With the advent of software as a service (SAAS), fleet tracking solutions can be deployed more efficiently. Customers can be up and running in less time, with minimal to no IT support, and software can be progressively updated so users are always accessing the most recent features. So, how do these solutions really work?
In terms of vehicle tracking, vehicle positions are updated in mere seconds, so there no longer is a delay in informing dispatch of a driver’s position. This means dispatch is never out of step with drivers on the road, and also improves customer communications and experience. Dispatch is able to inform customers of a driver’s status and estimated time of arrival with high degree of accuracy. This has influenced many companies to upgrade from old school operations of pen & paper to new school telematics technology & software in order to improve productivity & efficiency, just like our customer Global Waste Service Inc. Having accurate knowledge of a driver’s location also allows fleets to realize greater efficiencies, by adding in additional route stops.
Fleet management technologies have also evolved well beyond GPS-based vehicle tracking through the addition of advanced telematics, integrations and voice-guided communications directed at the driver. Telematics capabilities help provide larger fleets with the sophisticated ability to enhance driver safety, lower fuel consumption and C02 emissions, and improve service levels. This insight can help realize significant cost savings for fleets. It is shown, for instance, that 30% of the total cost of ownership of a vehicle (fuel, maintenance, insurance) can be influenced by the way the car is driven. 
In recent years, fleet tracking vendors have also partnered to dramatically improve the connection between fleet tracking solutions and the other systems running the business. Integration of fleet tracking solutions into dispatch technologies and other back office systems such as inventory management, customer relationship management, billing and invoicing and so on, also allow fleets to create seamless connections between the driver, vehicle and key business processes helping to drive revenue, reduce manual intervention and achieve new efficiencies.
Finally, where in the past fleet tracking vendors have focused on providing information to owner/operators and dispatch (where are my drivers? how is my fleet performing?), the combined power of telematics, two-way communication and GPS now allow for a much more driver-centric approach. For instance, fleet tracking solutions can not only offer drivers turn by turn instructions so they can identify the most expedient route to their destination, a fleet tracking system can also offer drivers direct feedback on their driving behaviors, offering them real-time advice, alerting them to speed limits, harsh steering or braking, idling times and fuel consumption. This information can help translate to more responsible driving, improved management of vehicle assets, and ultimately helps lower overall fleet costs.
 Athlon Car Lease, total cost of ownership average values, February 2011; Consumerreports.org, what that car really costs to own, August 2012