Daniel Morin resented GPS tracking when he worked for a lawn care company. “They tracked us every second of every day and if we went 37 miles per hour on a 35-mile-per-hour street, we were getting written up for it,” he recalls. That kind of micromanagement did not build trust, he says.
Today, the owner of All Green Pest Control in Indian Orchard, Mass., has mixed feelings about installing the technology in service trucks. “If I trust my people, I don’t think I should have to babysit them,” he says. At the same time, he sees value in monitoring vehicles as his fleet grows.
Technicians embrace GPS tracking when they see it backs them up, such as proving they were in fact at a property or nowhere near the scene of an accident. Tracy Rice of Rice Pest Control had an employee accused by an eyewitness of hitting a police car in a parking lot, but the technology proved the two vehicles were never in the lot at the same time.
“That one incident changed the whole outlook on the system,” recalls Rice.
Billy Blasingame, Blasingame Pest Management, says his team welcomes GPS tracking.
“We’ve had more instances where it’s really supported what a technician has said or done versus the opposite where we ended up terminating somebody as a result of it,” he says.
Typically, GPS tracking technology is available as a plug-and-play or hardwired device. Plug-and-play devices, which attach to a wiring harness under the dashboard, are easy to self-install and can be moved between vehicles. The data they collect, however, may be limited. And, their lag time may take longer to show vehicle location, said Billy Blasingame, owner of Blasingame Pest Management. His company employs both hardwired and plug-in systems.
Plug-in GPS devices generally are more affordable, but they’re also easily disabled by drivers. “They’re always knocking them out,” says Patrick Wyman, Epcon Lane Pest Control, Akron, Ohio, who has seven service vehicles with plug-in GPS tracking devices. In his service vans, the devices plug in right between the driver’s legs so it’s easy for them to hit the units with their knees. To prevent this, Wyman is considering having GPS tracking hardwired into the vans.
To install hardwired GPS tracking systems, vehicles must be taken out of service. It is a more secure installation, but neither can it be switched easily between vehicles. Hardwired systems generally cost more but they also offer greater options for recording and monitoring vehicle data.
Some GPS tracking systems integrate with routing/mapping and work-order software and have smartphone apps, which let managers get alerts and access data while in the field. Rice eventually would like to upgrade to a system that links front and rear vehicle cameras with GPS tracking. “We’re dedicated to using the technology,” he says.
PMPs typically pay monthly or annually for GPS tracking service. Even with the economic uncertainty posed by COVID-19, Rice won’t cut this service to reduce expenses. “It’s too much of an investment in vehicles not to have some kind of a backup system in place to help you out.”
Even companies with just a few vehicles on the road can gain from using telematics, says Billy Blasingame, owner of Blasingame Pest Management in Locust Grove, Ga. He has four trucks equipped with GPS tracking, which helps him improve routing efficiency. And when an emergency or new-customer call comes in, he can reroute the closest technician, providing faster service.
“You could argue that GPS is more critical because we don’t have the room for margins of error like you do if you’ve got bunches of folks out there servicing accounts,” he says.
The technology reduces liability, regardless of company fleet size, which is why more companies are using it, says Tracy Rice, Rice Pest Control. “The ones that aren’t probably are looking for trouble at some point,” he says.