by Ron Rajecki, senior editor

You’ve got to love humans. Just a short 100 years ago, the horseless carriage was a novelty: smoky, noisy, unreliable, and ill-suited for the vast majority of the roads in the country.

Today, we have cars and vans that can whisk us along at easily more than a mile per minute, in smooth, air conditioned comfort — from coast-to-coast if we desire. Yet do humans marvel at the technological wonders that we’ve created? No, we curse them and rail at them. And, if you’re the owner or manager of an HVAC company, you fret about them. Keeping the service fleet running efficiently is a key element for any successful HVAC company — and it‘s always among the largest investments. Worrying about how to get the most out of that investment is an issue that’s always lurking in the back of any cost-conscious contractor’s mind.

Fortunately, several companies offer HVAC owners and managers assistance to take the stress out of managing this important resource. Here are some of the services that are available from some of the industry’s leading fleet/
personnel management services.

A recent survey of more than 200 HVAC contractors, conducted by Contracting Business magazine for Enterprise Fleet Services, found several specific areas of concern for HVAC contractors regarding their fleet vehicles, including:

  • Vehicle downtime is a major issue for more than three-quarters of the respondents
  • Eighty percent manage fleet operations part-time, with an employee who has additional responsibilities
  • Controlling vehicle maintenance and repair costs is one of the top three concerns of the majority of respondents
  • More than half say they keep their vehicles until they break down and have no formal cycling strategy for vehicle acquisition and disposal.

That’s why Enterprise Fleet Services specializes in managing fleets for companies with 15 to 125 vehicles, including cars, light duty trucks, service vehicles, and many diesel engine vehicles. Through 45 full-service offices nationwide, Enterprise’s program offerings include vehicle acquisition and maintenance management, fuel management, insurance programs, registration, reporting, and remarketing.

According to Enterprise, a key element of any fleet management program is knowing when to dispose of older vehicles, a process known as cycling. Cycling programs consider everything from future trends and the current used car market, to vehicle warranties, mileage, and the possible wear and tear that a business will inflict on a vehicle. Enterprise says its vehicle replacement cycling systems ensures vehicles are replaced at appropriate intervals to achieve optimum performance and the best resale value.

“Our specially trained remarketing professionals help business owners take the guesswork out of this process by performing a vehicle analysis that looks at each vehicle in the entire fleet, and how the company uses its vehicles,” says Steve Bloom, senior vice president of Enterprise Fleet Services. “From that analysis, the strongest time of the year to re-market or cycle can be determined for each vehicle.”

For more information about Enterprise Fleet Services, call 877/23-FLEET, or visit www.enterprise.com/fleets.

The Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) partnered with Enterprise fleet services in February. ACCA members receive discounted fleet pricing, and may be eligible for exclusive manufacturer vehicle incentives. For more information about ACCA, visit www.acca.org or call 703/575-4477.

@Road offers a suite of mobile resource management services. The latest is the @Road pathway, which provides a cost-effective means to verify routes, stops, and work schedules. This service is available to companies that use Nextel’s i58sr and i88s phones (by Motorola) with onboard global positioning system capabilities.

“The @Road pathway application and the proven GPS-capable Nextel phone gives small- and medium-sized businesses an entry-level solution that we believe will drive down costs and improve productivity through enhanced communication and management of their mobile workforces,” says Ernie Cormier, Nextel’s vice president of business solutions.

The @Road Pathway is a hosted service that combines wireless communications with access to mobile resource information via a secure @Road website. Features include:

  • Customer-configurable maps with pre- or user-defined landmarks
  • Recent location information of mobile resources from any Internet-connected PC
  • Mileage, time in transit, and start/stop reports
  • Stored location information for mobile workers who are outside a coverage area or on a phone call
  • Application hosting by @Road, which minimizes customer information technology investments.

Companies can subscribe to @Road Pathway service for one- or two-year terms. Activation requires an @Road service plan starting at $14.95 per month per subscriber, a one-time activation fee, the cost of a Nextel voice and Total Connect data plan, and a Nextel GPS-enabled phone.

For more information about @Road, call 877/4ATROAD, or e-mail sales@road-inc.com.

Industry giant Qualcomm has offered wireless mobile management solutions to more than 2,000 truck fleets and shipped more than 480,000 mobile communication systems worldwide since 1988.

Although it specializes in over-the-road tractor/trailer fleets, Qualcomm says 80% of its customers’ fleets have less than 100 trucks. The company’s OmniTracs helps small fleet customers by integrating vehicle, driver, and work status with back-office systems to help increase operations efficiency.

For more information, call Kelly Overton at 615/844-6244, or visit www.qualcomm.com/qwbs.

SuccessWare offers the SuccessWare21-Vettro Mobile Solution, which goes beyond location tracking and offers automation of virtually the entire service process.

The SuccessWare system is based around a Java-based Nextel phone with a touch screen. It allows a technician, through the touch screen on his or her phone, to receive jobs for the day, update job status in real time, access complete customer history information, and scan bar codes from a flat rate pricing book to generate invoices (which are then instantly entered into your company’s SuccessWare database).

A plug-in attachment even allows a technician to swipe a customer’s credit card at the completion of the job.

For more information about SuccessWare, contact Chris DiRe at 716/565-3500.

Teletrac offers the FleetDirector, an Internet-enabled system that locates and tracks the position of vehicles in real time. It’s scalable for fleets of five to 1,000 trucks, and can fully integrate with a company’s existing software applications, such as accounting. Teletrac says its FleetDirector is designed for daily use by fleet managers or dispatchers who need to know exactly where a driver is at all times, which enables them to quickly react to customers’ needs. It also serves as a warning if a driver’s route plan for the day begins to fall off schedule.

FleetDirector has been upgraded recently to run over General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) networks. According to Teletrac, the upgrade enables FleetDirector to provide more expansive geographic coverage for its vehicle location capabilities in North America, and higher bandwidth transmission.

Teletrac also recently introduced Prism, a GPRS location unit that current FleetDirector users can install in their vehicles to upgrade to the GPRS communication backbone. The Prism unit is now part of the FleetDirector system package, which includes hardware installed in the vehicle, and Internet-based software that runs over the main office computer.

Earlier this summer, Teletrac enhanced FleetDirector’s wireless text messaging capability. Dispatchers and drivers can now exchange text messages with instructions or questions through the driver’s message data terminal, which sits on the vehicle’s dashboard. This allows both parties to analyze and use critical data collected in the field, answer any questions or needs the driver or customer may have, or respond to new customer needs that may have arisen on the job site.

For more information on Teletrac, call 800/835-3872 or visit www.teletrac.net.

Xora delivers hosted, real-time employee, job, and location tracking through GPS (global positioning system)-enabled mobile phones. The company recently released a new version of its GPS TimeTrack hosted service, which Xora says helps businesses increase the productivity of a mobile workforce by tracking employees and hours worked, and accurately account for time and billing. Xora features Internet-based automated dispatch, wireless text alerts, and job scheduling.

The GPS TimeTrack service allows companies to capture start and stop times for shifts, jobs, work orders, and breaks, while monitoring the location and speed of mobile workers in real time.

“This is the future for small business,” says Debbie Carlson, office manager of Valley Heating and Air, Sacramento, CA. “GPS TimeTrack has become the single most important tool I use for keeping track of my mobile workers, their hours, and what they’re doing.”

For more information on Xora, call 650/314-6460, or visit www.xora.com.

Ron Rajecki is senior editor of Contracting Business. You can reach him at 216/931-9298 or rrajecki@penton.com.