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Location Location Navigation
GPS is rapidly in the process of changing from a gimmick or gizmo to an integral feature in our lives – from the moment we leave our front doors in the morning, until we stagger home in the evening, from a day in which we have subtly (or not so) been guided to try new products, places and experiences, based on where we go.
While that might be daunting to some, these once clunky devices are rapidly transforming into an iPod cousin and creating enormous opportunities for Kiwi businesses to improve their customer service. GPS technology is facilitating new location-based services (LBS) for a techno-savvy market crying out for ‘apps’ that have the power to harness the knowledge of where people are and what their needs are, or might be, if prompted at the right time.
If you have ever searched in vain for help in a supermarket you’ll be pleased to hear that the prototypes of an IGA hi-tech ‘media cart’ will appear in Australian supermarkets from July this year, with New Zealand in line to follow suit. It’s a standard shopping trolley kitted-out with a GPS and small TV screen “to assist shoppers with their choices”. If you aren’t sure where the caviar is, a simple tick on a product list will show you where it is.
Depending on where you are in the store, your screen will display suggestions, special offers and inclusive recipes, or give you a ten second commercial on what you might have for dinner. Given that some 70 percent of decisions are apparently made at the ‘point-of-purchase’, this is very much a two-way street, insofar as product suppliers will pay the store for the opportunity to influence your selection of goods.
On a less intrusive basis, the dominant GPS supplier TomTom has joined forces with Accor, which claims to be the world’s largest hotel and tourism group, to ensure drivers can easily find a place to stay. All via the ‘Add to TomTom’ button on each hotel’s web page at accorhotels.com – a website with five million-plus visitors a month
You must assume this is the first of many linkages GPS and location-based providers will develop as they migrate their businesses into “improving the navigation experience for their customers”. Those are the words of Chris Kearney, TomTom marketing manager – Australia and New Zealand. “Accor is the latest partner to help us deliver relevant, timely and up-to-date content.”
Where is it headed?
The above gives you a good idea of where GPS and location-based services are headed to. And that view is the foundation of a recent start-up, Visfleet, under the chairmanship of Trade Me founder and developer, Sam Morgan. But you realise this Auckland-based company is somewhat different when you chat to Aisha Fenton, CTO, ex Datacom technology manager and a music graduate from Auckland University, amongst other qualifications.
“We believe that with GPS devices having become a commodity and Google Maps readily available, the iPhone and the pending Google Android are real game-changers. The emphasis and opportunity now is at the software and services end of the equation, to deliver productivity and efficiency gains to companies,” says Fenton.
He likens this opportunity to the arrival of the IBM-compatibles on what, until then, had been a static and controlled market. PDAs, mobiles and GPS devices are now blurring into one.
Visfleet encourage professional services operations “to obtain their hardware from Telecom or Vodafone and come to us for the software and support to provide them with exactly what they need”. Firmly in their sights are professional service providers: such as midwives, glaziers, loggers (they have signed a logging company with 80 phones) and so on – indeed any mobile workforce.
With only six months in the game, they are already averaging 15 sales appointments a week. Exports are likely from year-end. Mark the name Visfleet: they are likely to be the local company to watch – or link up with.   
Fleet management, of course, is already well-established and delivering solid returns on investment – improving customer service and satisfaction, in some cases for more than five years.
The Navman Wireless system helps clothing alterations company Rose’s Alterations ensure deliveries are done in the right order, at the right time. “We put Geofences (zones) around all our key clients and key retail areas so we see how much time a driver spends in any one place. It gives us a very good time trail,” says MD Richard Beechey.
In addition to the services they carry out at their retail shop, Rose’s also has more than 200 wholesale clients. They pick up clothing for alteration and repair from drycleaners, retail shops and clothing wholesalers around Auckland. There’s nothing like impressing a customer with a specific ETA, Beechey reckons. “The OnlineAVL is so accurate we can tell a customer that the van is travelling down Ponsonby Road at 40kph. They’re blown away by that kind of detail and the security it gives to valuable fashion, knowing it is being tracked at all times.”
Rose’s has two vans on the road conducting approximately 700 jobs per week. Half the work is scheduled and half is called by clients as needed. Previously, the team used pagers to send messages, but never knew when or whether messages were received. Beechey says they looked at mobile phones as an alternative, but realised they still wouldn’t be able to confirm the receipt of messages. Most significantly in the ROI stakes, the Navman system helped the company confirm they didn’t need a third van.
“We did have three when we installed the system. Because we could see how the vans travelled, we were able to change their routes; which enabled us to take one off the road,” explains Beechey.
Enhanced navigation
Now that you’ve got the potential of GPS and LBS sussed, let’s kick the tyres on the latest offerings for vehicles.
“The new TomTom GO range demonstrates why we are the leaders in portable navigation,” claims Chris Kearney. He says the the GO 750 and 950 offer increased map coverage (even Malta and Turkey have been added) with enhanced graphics; a new design and interface; an ‘active dock’, with a smooth locking mechanism and integrated power connector; an enhanced speaker to ensure clear voice instructions and improved hands-free calling.”
In addition, the planning menu has been redesigned to clearly demonstrate the benefits of using TomTom IQ Routes, clearly showing expected delays and offering alternatives – and an Eco Routes option, so drivers may select the most fuel-efficient route to help reduce their impact on the environment and their back pocket.
Plus the unique ‘Map Share’ technology allows users to make instant changes to the map and share these with others through TomTom HOME, its free desktop application. The GO 750 comes with the latest GeoSmart map pre-installed for door-to-door navigation throughout New Zealand.
Cellmate’s Jeremy Richards is optimistic on the future sales of his company’s “derived GPS” technology – the Pama automated driving-recorder. This is your vehicle’s ‘black box’, providing an automatic and continuous recording of each journey, storing dual video, audio, GPS and G-Sensor data to an SD card, even after the driver exits the vehicle.

“Pama PCViewer software enables you to customise settings and output files. It’s a powerful tool for many applications including taxi surveillance, law enforcement, fleet risk management and accident reconstruction,” explains Richards.
“The recorder is your ‘third eye’ observer. It provides irrefutable evidence of any incident that occurs inside or outside the car, van or bus. It features an onboard digital recorder with GPS mapping and G-sensor detection, recorded to an SD card for re-enactment and archiving.
“Viewer software enables viewing on your PC with options for 1/5, 1/2, x1 and x5 speed. Video and audio data can be put out in AVI and JPEG formats. The GPS data provides route reconstruction, utilising Google Maps with graphical readout of speed, direction and G-force,” Richards says.
Lumley Insurance, on the receiving end for vehicular accidents, is a firm believer in the Pama system. They believe more widespread use of in-vehicle cameras could save the New Zealand trucking industry between $40 and 50 million annually in reduced accidents and lower insurance premiums alone.
Lumley promotes the use of the in-vehicle camera technology by the transport operators which it insures. The head of Lumley’s commercial motor division, Ian Taylor, says that there is not a transport company, fleet operator or owner-driver who wouldn’t achieve savings in their business. Based on hard figures from customers, the savings range between 30 and 90 percent of the annual repair bill.
“Unfortunately we still get some pushback from transport operators over the cost of the system and drivers who have ‘big brother’ concerns. But what we know from others who have successfully used the system, is the ROI is both measurable and significant, and driver concerns are without foundation.
“For one or two companies, the in-vehicle cameras have been the difference between getting insurance or not. We had one company facing a $100,000 excess on its policy, and installing cameras was the prudent way of getting the costs down.
“Properly used, the cameras can result in immediate improvements in driver skills, attitude and reduced risk. The tangible rewards are fewer incidents requiring vehicle repairs and reduced premiums.”
Essential business tool
New Zealand, and even Australia, has been relatively slow, compared to the US, Europe and Japan, in both adopting and adapting GPS, but according to TomTom’s Kearney that has changed in the last ten or so months and they are seeing a surge on both fronts.
“The word is out that this is no longer a nice to have – it’s an essential and affordable business tool that pays for itself from safer driving, through time and fuel saved, to better vehicle management and plain peace of mind. The facts are indisputable.
“Our challenge as suppliers is now matching product and service to real need, rather than selling the concept.”
Suddenly, it seems, everyone could be getting in the game. Even if you are Telecom and don’t have a device, team up with Navman and start offering Locate+ – most successfully with one of New Zealand’s favourite companies, the Automobile Association. There they integrated Locate+ into their specialised systems, making it even easier for the AA to manage call-outs efficiently, saving them money and time.
“We’re also working on developments that will give smaller businesses an affordable Locate+ solution,” says Telecom spokesperson, Julia Bell. “Previously it has only really been suitable for corporates or larger businesses because it had a high ROI. But we are committed to making it available and affordable even for single person operations. It’s all part of our SME focus through our Telecom Business Hubs.
“We want to help SMEs manage their costs (petrol in particular) and time better, and provide superior customer service,” Bell says.
If you’re still not a believer and think this has all been a bit too fluffy for your hard-nosed, tightly-run business, reflect on the experience of another Telecom success story: Absolute Air Conditioning.
Within a few weeks of installing Locate+, owner-manager Malcolm Miller discovered some of his staff were ‘double-dipping’ and working for other companies while employed by him. By tracking their movements he put paid to it virtually overnight.
“I’d invested $1000 and immediately got back $10,000: the best return I’ve ever had,” says Miller, who believes the fact that Locate+ removes the log book chore from his drivers makes it a worthwhile investment anyway.
Kevin Kevany is an Auckland-based freelance writer. Email
kevwrite@xtra.co.nz

 

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