Choosing the right tracking technology for vehicle/asset management?

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In our earlier blog we had given an overall picture of the Global Positioning System (GPS) – its features and benefits employed in vehicle & fleet tracking management.  The question that comes up for many fleet managers is, ‘which of the many available tracking technologies can be employed to provide a better service?’

There is no ‘one-size-fits all’ solution. Until the specific requirements and business needs are not studied in detail, finding an appropriate technology is extremely difficult. Additionally, it could turn out to be a costly and time-consuming affair.

Here is an overview of some of the basic features of location devices employed for tracking vehicles, fleets or assets:

  • GPS is known for global coverage but often hindered by what is known as the line-of-sight issues, i.e. from high rise buildings.
  • RFID is very reliable for indoor locating situations or when it is feasible to have tag readers in close proximity. However, it has limited range and requires costly readers limiting its applicability to low-volume applications.
  • Real Time Location Systems (RTLS), is enabled by technologies such as location-enabled Wi-Fi/ Wi-Max. Excellent for very specific geographical areas such as campuses and office buildings. This however requires full-scale deployments for it to make an impact. This technology das been expensive till recently but is showing signs of a consistent drop in prices. It has growing adoption in manufacturing and enterprise segments; and areas such as sports, retail and Livestock management.
  • Tag-to-tag RTLS systems are not expensive and pretty accurate for specific uses like industrial and yard applications. Although employed indoors, they do not suit all indoor applications

The importance of defining clear requirements

Depending on the context, use cases, or operating environment, trying to integrate a device and enabling tracking and management services can be a very tricky affair. The context may be fleet tracking, navigation purposes, social networking, asset management, or mobile resource management.

For instance, inbound and outbound logistics in the global supply chain demand intricate scheduling and is known to impact business operations. In this context, an integration of two to three systems seems logical. For example, a mix of GPS mapping systems, which is, linked to the RFID systems to track the asset to the dealership. Thereafter, it is linked to the operational and financial systems. This has many  benefits. The various modes of tracking are suitably practical in the logistics chain, it provides visibility for inbound, outbound scheduling and helps to achieve operational excellence.

Using mobile phone as a tracker

Today with Smartphones being used by businesses to interact and deliver on the go services to customers, where speed and efficiency is of paramount importance, the need is to ‘go mobile’. The trend now is to run applications on cell phones to enable the mobile workforce. This bring down redundancy in the types of devices being used and enables faster deployment.

Trying to replace the hardware with new devices and integrating them with the legacy workflows and processes can prove to be a costly affair. Today, the mobile devices come equipped with Assisted-GPS, Wi-Fi or cellular locating technologies, which enable better location tracking. Thus, one single technology can be turned on to support location-specific fixes in one environment, and another technology can be used for changed condition (environment).

The mobile is thus seen as the most ubiquitous of all devices. Even though, GPS signal can be lost indoors, but a GPS-enabled cell phone can be located indoors via cell/wifi signal, resulting in precise tracking.

This works well with non-vehicle-centric applications (non moving). This can also bridge the outdoor to indoor location gap. The indoor tracking has so far been the domain of the RFID and RTLS systems. The mobile phones are now intruding on that duopoly.

Using vehicle installed devices

The most reliable tracking for moving assets (vehicles on road), is provided by vehicle-installed devices that connect to ECU (engine control unit) and are linked with GPS as well as Cellular data.

These devices provide reliable information. The vehicle information is paired with location info from GPS and transmitted real time over cellular network.

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The business system decision-maker needs to understand and articulate their business needs, be aware of the conditions under which they operate and be cognizant of their in-house technical skills. For out door operations, where the assets are moving, the vehicle installed devices are most suitable.

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