Ways to Get More From Fleet-Management Software Learn the five ways this tool can increase efficiency and customer satisfaction.

By Jennifer Goforth Gregory

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Indianapolis Fruit truck drivers used to leave their trucks running while they unloaded their produce shipments at grocery stores and warehouses. That is, until the company installed fleet management software two years ago to reduce inefficiencies. Thanks to the software, the company discovered that excessive truck idling contributed to an excessive fuel bill. After requiring drivers to turn off their trucks when making a delivery and monitoring driver compliance, the Indianapolis-based company reduced idling by 75 percent and saved 6 percent annually in fuel costs.

Fleet management software is a technology that allows companies to gain visibility into their fleet, using technologies such as GPS and telematics, to measure metrics such as idling times, routes driven and arrivals and departures. But to get the most out of the tool, companies must integrate its use and data into everyday business processes. Says Phillip Russo, executive director of NAFA Fleet Management Association, "fleets that choose to optimize the use of such technology can make better decisions on the data they have."

To get more out of your fleet management software, here are five tips that can help make a difference in your bottom line:

1. Use all of the features available to increase productivity. As your business needs evolve, be sure to strateglically review all features in the tool at least twice a year to maximize your investment in the software, says John Kiraly, client informations systems manager at ARI, a fleet management company. Work with your provider to learn about updates and to better match the tool to your needs.

Observing staff and drivers using the software can reveal if staffers need refreshers on helpful features, such as automated email distribution lists so there's no need to manually copy and paste addresses, says Kiraly. Features such as graphing and charting are commonly overlooked and can instantly help you and your staff review metrics such as costs and even vehicle service trends.

2. Never stop training staffers. Kiraly recommends that companies continually educate drivers and managers on the fleet management software's capabilities to make sure it is being used to its fullest potential, and used for both strategic decision making and tactical operations. Many fleet management software companies offer training options, such as online video modules on topics such as safety, navigation and reporting techniques. Schedule refreshers for staff, at least annually. Be sure to include software training as part of new hire training as well. Explain how data collected by the software inform how your business is run and can help save the company time, money and hassle. Educating your team on how the software's data inform your company's policies can help ensure buy-in.

3. Reduce travel delays by broadcasting alerts to drivers. Some fleet tracking software systems allow companies to send broadcast messages directly to the GPS unit in the driver's truck. Earlier this year, Indianapolis Fruit managers learned that roads had flooded in Illinois after monitoring the Illinois Department of Transportation web site, says Jay Blackburn, the firm's manager of logistics. The managers sent broadcast messages through its fleet-tracking software alerting drivers in that area of bridge closures. This prevented at least two hours of delays each day in several routes over the two weeks of flooding without requiring staffers to call each driver. The rerouting made it possible for some drivers to make it home each night, reducing the need for layover pay and expenses.

4. Find the quickest routes. Certain kinds of fleet management software can help a company optimize its routes and logistics, which can help determine more efficient routes, considering mileage and traffic conditions. You'll likely uncover surprising inefficiencies that can help you prevent drivers from backtracking or driving out of their way unnecessarily. Russo says some large national shippers design routes so that their drivers make as few left hand turns as possible, to save on fuel waiting and help prevent accidents. Make sure to review your routes on an ongoing basis to take account of construction changes such as roundabouts, stop lights or additional traffic lanes.

5. Better manage delays and resources. By monitoring your fleet, you can more easily switch gears when problems occur. Indianapolis Fruit monitors the location of all trucks using its fleet management software. If a truck is running behind schedule, the company can more quickly adjust routes, shift drivers or call customers to reschedule deliveries. Quick thinking and communication helps customers, says Blackburn, who might otherwise staff up for a truck that doesn't arrive.

Jennifer Goforth Gregory has over 18 years professional writing experience and specializes in writing about small businesses. Her work has been published MSN Money, FOX Business and the Intuit Small Business Blog and American Express OPEN Forum.

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