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On the Right Track
Fleet Management Tools Improve Landscape Companies' Outlooks
By Mike Dahl, LC/DBM Editor

Using Fleetmatics, Case Snow Management in Boston can access a suite of driver and vehicle activity reports. Among the information provided is data that can alert the company to drivers who are speeding or demonstrating other risky behavior. Owner Jason Case says that with this knowledge, the issue can be corrected before it costs them money or causes an extreme safety issue.

Fleet-based businesses have long counted on technology - think CB radios - to improve their efficiency and increase their profits. This continues today with tracking technologies that can, among other things, save companies time, reduce fuel costs, cut excessive mileage and provide customers with proof-of-visits, as these three case studies prove.

Xora and Lawn Ranger
Lawn Ranger Outdoor Services, a landscape and snow and ice management company, oversees their fleet with StreetSmart by Xora.

According to the manufacturer, their solution is a suite of configurable cloud-based apps that benefit mobile businesses and their field employees by turning any mobile device into a productivity and data collection tool that integrates with back-office systems and other applications.

As one of the reported 16,000 organizations that have incorporated Xora products for fleet management, Lawn Ranger of Eden Prairie, Minn., made this choice to enable its 60 to 100 crews to operate more efficiently in the field.

Todd Dilley, the company's vice president, reports, "It has saved us a lot of time and paperwork, and got us the accuracy that customers demand. We use it to run all of our crews in both summer and winter."

Dilley says that every crewmember has an iPhone with the program on it. All the jobs for a given day, and the route directions for each job, are sent to these phones. When a crew gets to a job, they "punch in" and then go to work. When a job is done, a few questions regarding the job are answered by the crewmembers.

Lawn Ranger's services include grounds maintenance, snow and ice management, landscape design and installation, irrigation service and installation, tree and shrub care, weed, insect and pest control, fertilization, and holiday lighting.

The details of each job goes onto a spreadsheet that is used for job costing, billing and job status. And since the jobs are GPS tracked, customer disputes have been drastically reduced.

"We have the exact hours they were there," says Dilley. "We can tell the minute they arrived and the minute they left and what they did. There is no longer a question of whether we were there or not."

Based in Eden Prairie, Minn., and servicing the entire 13-county Twin Cities metro area with a staff of over 70 employees and a fleet of modern vehicles, Lawn Ranger uses Xora's StreetSmart to direct their crews in the field, accurately track their hours for billing purposes, and more.

Earthtech Landscape has provided professional grounds management services in Silicon Valley and the greater Bay Area for more than three decades. With field offices serving seven counties, they made use of Azuga G2(TM) technology to track where every rolling asset is located at any given time.

Integration with an in-vehicle GPS unit gives Case Snow Management a comprehensive view of what's happening in the field, from the time the drivers depart to the time they return at day's end. With more effective and efficient routing, Case reports that they were able to substantially reduce fuel costs.

The system also provides other benefits to the company. During a snow event, a crew might have to be sent back to a site two or three times. Management is now able to make real-time decisions based on how long the storm lasts and instantly inform the crews if and where they have to return.

The old billing method that Lawn Ranger used was to have each crew fill out a paper sheet on every single site they went to. During a snowstorm that could be up to 45 sites in a 20-hour shift. This led to crews logging wrong numbers or forgetting to fill out paperwork in real-time and then having to guess arrival and departure times later.

"We'd have stacks and stacks of paper," remembers Dilley. "We'd have literally five or six people working for two weeks before we'd be able to bill."

Lawn Ranger, which was ranked in the top 150 grounds management companies in the U.S. by Landscape Magazine and in the top 100 snow & ice management companies in the U.S. by Snow Magazine, is starting its third year working with the technology.

Azuga and Earthtech
Fleet management solution Azuga recently helped San Francisco-based landscape company, Earthtech Landscape, cut overtime, increase overall productivity, decrease fuel costs, and more.

With a large pool of experienced professionals, the landscape company wanted to know precisely where every rolling asset was located at every moment in time. They also wanted on-site crew verification, and reduced risk of road breakdowns.

Earthtech's fleet services a seven-county area with a wide range of landscape offerings including commercial landscape maintenance, landscape construction, irrigation & water management, tree care, pruning, and removal.

According to the manufacturer, each G2(TM) tracking unit installed under a vehicle's dashboard reads engine data every second and sends data to the cloud, giving fleet administrators real-time snapshots of location, entry and exit, vehicle health, fuel usage, carbon footprint and driver behavior.

"It helps save money from day one," says Stephen James, operations manager at Earthtech Landscape. One of the ways this solution accomplishes that is by reducing overtime. Companies are able to identify specific crews that are spending unnecessary and unauthorized time away from customer sites. Earthtech states that it cut unnecessary overtime within days and that on average, overtime is down by two hours per week per crewmember.

Fuel-wasting activities such as idling are monitored through system alerts and can be addressed in real time. Earthtech is also reporting a noticeable reduction in fuel use. The manufacturer's founder, Ananth Rani, who earlier formed Xora, lists other valuable information that the system tracks including engine malfunctions. The units monitor speed, mileage, temperature, oil pressure, and diagnostic trouble codes.

Every crewmember of Lawn Ranger Outdoor Services has an iPhone with the fleet management app, which turns the mobile device into a productivity and data collection tool. All the jobs for a given day, and the route directions for each job, are sent to these phones.

The under-the-dashboard tracking units show Earthtech management, on their desktops, information that reportedly reduces the risk of road breakdowns and resulting schedule disruptions; eliminates unnecessary crew overtime; monitors driver behavior such as speeding and hard braking to improve safety and reduce fuel-wasting habits; and monitors "proof-of-service" in real time.

Case says they selected fleet management technology for their 23-vehicle workforce to also reduce idling time, which helps decrease the company's carbon footprint. And they were able to eliminate manual timesheets.

"On some of the codes, you need to fix it right away, otherwise you may have a breakdown in a few days," he says. "For a landscape business with 15 trucks, one truck down can significantly impact your operations."

According to Rani, one of their customers delayed purchasing new trucks because they decided they could keep their existing trucks in better shape and run them longer with the information they get from the vehicle. He adds that information such as hard breaking and sudden acceleration is also significant.

"If you study driver behavior over a period of time - number of speeding incidents, the amount of time spent over the speed limit, duration of speeding, hard braking, extreme braking and panic braking - they make good indicators of poor driving habits and bad mileage efficiency, but more importantly they are indicators of a crash. So we use this to help our customers reward their best performing drivers."

Other benefits Rani cites are the ability to get more stops in, and therefore more jobs done, during a day, and having a "hands-free time card and job timing mechanism."

One new feature that Rani is excited about is "drive safe," which locks down the calling and texting functions of the driver's cell phone once the vehicle is in motion.

Fleetmatics and Case Snow Management
Based in Boston, Case Snow Management is one of the leading snow removal companies, having been rated number 15 of the top 100 snow contractors in North America by Snow Magazine. The company's owner, Jason Case, selected Fleetmatics to help make his 23-vehicle fleet more efficient through the communication of vital information. Case has a unique perspective into the importance of communicating while on the road, having won, along with his girlfriend Amy Diaz, the 23rd version of CBS' "The Amazing Race".

Since snow management vehicles can be in constant motion, night and day, and in cold and dangerous conditions, Case considers the cost savings and safety enhancements that fleet tracking can bring as particularly important to his business.

"To succeed in a race around the world, effective communication is a must," Case says. "During our experience, we had to learn to communicate and work together to cross the finish line on top."

As for his business, he says that he is constantly looking to reduce costs, increase productivity and improve customer service, while minimizing the company's carbon footprint.

Case adds, "Fleet-based small businesses, including those in the snow removal field, face the unique challenge of finding ways to maximize the productivity of a remote workforce while keeping overhead costs low."

He feels that it is essential to his company's sustainability to have a staff that is working hard, delivering the best service possible and staying safe while doing so. "And like any fleet-based business, we're always looking for ways to get more done without having to add costly resources," states Case. "We chose this company because their solutions sync well with our key challenges, the product was easy to deploy, and it's cost effective while still offering a robust set of features."

He says that they were able to install the software without difficulty and saw return on investment almost immediately.

"We've been able to identify employees who clocked out improperly," says Case, "and found that one of our trucks had idled for 18 hours in one week, and it wasn't even snow season."

Also, the driver and vehicle activity reports alert Case to employees who are speeding or demonstrating other risky behavior. With this knowledge, the issues can be corrected before becoming costly; not just in dollars but also to people's well being.

He advises that fleet management technology is a smart investment for any sized business that relies on vehicles to get jobs done.

"The technology goes far beyond simply locating vehicles on a map," Case declares. "With better routing and dispatching, we have the ability to get our drivers to each job site following the safest, most direct route."

This, he says, also leads to reduced fuel costs and lessened potential for accidents, as well as better arrival estimates, which in turn can enable the company to schedule more jobs per day without adding work hours.

"That makes for satisfied customers, happy employees and an enhanced bottom line," Case concludes.

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October 17, 2019, 9:16 am PDT

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