Making Hay of Story Threads

In the Rumpelstiltskin fable by the Brothers Grimm, a young maiden makes a pact with a gnome to help her fulfill her father’s boast that she can spin hay into gold. It’s this bit of alchemy that reminded me of the many threads that can come together to make a good story.

More than Marketing Bumpf

The challenge in writing an ongoing blog about the same technology (as is the case at Webtech Wireless where I write), is to write about more than just the products and services the company offers. That gets stale really fast. I try to keep it alive by finding interesting threads that tell stories indirectly about the benefits of our goods and services. So, not a direct sell but value given in the vicinity of our goods and services.

For example, my May 23, 2013 blog post, “Fleet GPS: The Needle in the Haystack” brings several seemingly unrelated events together and tells them in a way that reflects favourably on Webtech Wireless’ offerings.

Here are the threads the provided an interesting story about Webtech Wireless’ GPS fleet tracking technology:

  • Recent tornadoes in Oklahoma galvanizing the media’s attention
  • Other severe weather in Oklahoma, drought. Did you know it’s been going on there for three years?
  • Due to drought, the price of hay is going up.
  • As the price of hay goes up, theft of hay bales is on the rise.
  • To counters this, ranchers and farmers are turning to technology in the form of GPS locators placed in hay bales to help track them.
  • A recent article lambastes the perception that Intelligent Communities are always urban. The writer says that rural areas stand to benefit from new technologies.
  • Oh, did you know that our wireless GPS locators are really good for tracking assets to prevent theft and help with recovery?
  • And by the way, several of our clients have been nominated for Intelligent Community awards (here, I rely on SEO to tie this thread in as we have several articles about Ville de Québec and other clients of ours that were nominated).

These stories by themselves don’t relate closely to our products, but put together into a narrative they spin a tale that, if not gold, is a step up from the usual marketing bumpf that plagues many blogs.

Read the article: “Fleet GPS: The Needle in the Haystack

Fleet GPS: The Needle in the Haystack

Fleet GPS: The Needle in the Haystack

While the world has looked on in horror as tornadoes ripped their way across Oklahoma, another type of severe weather—drought—is having a very different impact: Theft. Farmers and ranchers are finding that as the drought continues, hay prices are on the rise and with that, a rise in the theft of hay bales. This is serious business as without the hay, their cattle starve.

Although one part of the state received some rain last week, it appeared in the form of severe weather prompting Mark Svoboda of the National Drought Mitigation Center to say, “A drought really tests your coping capacity.” To protect their agricultural assets, many Oklahoman ranchers are proving they’re meeting the challenge by turning to technology. They’ve installed GPS Locators into their hay bales to help track them in the event of theft.

Putting a GPS locator into a hay bale safeguards it automatically against unauthorized movement. Should it go missing, it can be tracked in real-time (by sending alerts and providing real-time visibility). With this visibility, farmers and ranchers can work with local police to locate wayward assets and retrieve them.

Smart Rural Communities

Back in 1920, 34% of the US population lived and worked in rural areas, but by the end of the century only 2% of American workers made a living there. With the decrease of economic output resulting from decades of population loss, agricultural areas stand to benefit from tools that help businesses do more with fewer workers and tools that help them monitor their assets more effectively.

In describing Intelligent Communities (those that use broadband technologies such as DSL, cable, satellite and wireless to prosper) Robert Bell described the misperception that intelligent communities are only affluent, urban, chic neighborhoods in large cities. While decrying that perception, he looks at rural areas as among the chief benefactors of smart technology. And, in that respect the cattle ranchers of Oklahoma agree with him.

Asset Tracking

Like farmers and ranchers, fleet owners lose sleep not knowing where their assets are. From hay bales to heavy machinery, assets left in the field are at risk of theft. Implementing asset tracking solutions reduces risk, improves productivity, and ultimately saves operating costs.

Shannon Pratuch, PR & Marketing, Jupiter Hotel, Portland, Ore.

The article is so well-written, thoughtful and I cannot begin to tell you how much we appreciate your attention. For a locally owned and operated establishment like ours, people like you help make a difference.

—Shannon Pratuch, PR & Marketing, Jupiter Hotel, Portland Ore.

Partnership Creates Possibilities

Partnership-Webtech-Wireless

At Webtech Wireless, we partner with a range of companies because it helps us focus on our key products and services while offering you a diverse range of solutions.  For example, we have partnered with four of North America most prominent mobility providers to ensure you have the widest area of cellular coverage and that includes cross-border (US and Canada) coverage.

We also have resellers and distributor partners that sell our products and services and specialize in solutions for commercial and government fleet markets. Our OEM (original equipment manufacturer) partners embed our hardware products within their products, and leverage the software services we provide to develop and sell a combined offering to their customers.

While we have many partners, this story focuses on profiling three of our partners who have recently provided important integrations:

In-Cab Navigation from ALK Technologies

We partnered with ALK Technologies to bring enhanced in-cab navigation and routing capabilities to our MDT 3100 and Quadrant Manager. ALK CoPilot is an industry-leading truck-specific GPS routing solution designed to provide reliable navigation on truck-legal roads while keeping drivers safe. Fully integrated into the MDT 3100, drivers can seamlessly switch between Hours of Service and navigation.

Fuel Card Integration from FleetCor

We partnered with FleetCor because its fleet card products provided fuel card integration with Quadrant Manager. FleetCor is one of the global leaders in fleet fuel cards and this integration made it easier for our customers to better manage their fleets. For example, data from FleetCor and Quadrant Manager can be used to easily discover discrepancies between the location of fuel purchases and the location of vehicles.

“FleetCor fuel cards provide visibility into when fuel purchases were made and Webtech Wireless provides the location of the vehicle at the time of purchase. It makes the information trail complete for the fleet manager”, says Andrew Paul, VP Commercial Sales.

Traffic Scorecard Reporting from Inrix

“Death, taxes and traffic are often called the three certainties of life”, according to Inrix and, with the ability to provide traffic data points numbering in the trillions, Inrix has shown that it can handle at least the traffic part of the equation. Inrix has carved out a niche for itself as one of the pre-eminent providers of traffic data. What that means our customers is that we can offer utilize that data to increase the profitability and safety of companies operating fleets on busy roads and highways. For example, Coach Canada uses Quadrant reports that rely on Inrix data to ensure its drivers are driving safely. In particular, they can now report on the length of time the vehicle traveled beyond a pre-defined speed and driving behavior issues such as hard breaking or sharp accelerations, indicators of potential dangerous behavior by drivers.

Coach Canada, a leading Canadian commercial bus line, has achieved a variety of internal targets to monitor vehicle speeds, recently announced it had reached and exceeded its safe speed initiative and credited its improvement in overall safety and performance to our Quadrant Manager solution in conjunction with real-time road speed  and posted speed limit data from INRIX®.

Our partnership with Inrix and its successful implementation with Coach Canada have produced some very positive data: “We’ve seen a 90.4 percent reduction in speeding after implementing these Quadrant Features in 2012”.

Partnership Matters

All our partners provide unique solutions that are part of the distinctive GPS fleet management solutions we provide. We’re always expanding the products we offer and our partnerships play a key role in making this possible. For more information on our partners, please email us at info@webtechwireless.com.

New HOS Rules Mean “Comply by July”

New_HOS_Regs

Federally regulated rules and driver monitoring raise the specter of Big Brother with anyone considering a monitoring solution, but while some blatantly flout the law and force their drivers to work long hours, others lose sleep at night worrying about the safety of their drivers and operations.

Changes in HOS rules are rarely popular. The National Private Truck Council is currently running a survey and posing the question, “With the new Hours of Service rules effective due to take place July 1, 2013, what is your fleet’s estimated loss of productivity?”, but with the increase in accidents attributed to fatigued drivers, it’s no wonder that the US DoT continues to update its regulations. Safety trumps all.

At Webtech Wireless, we anticipate changes to HOS rules and provide regular software and hardware updates well in advance of change deadlines to ensure our customers never experience downtime and business interruption.

We Were Ready Then

Last December, we released an update of our MDT 3100 In-Cab solution to offer HOS Oil Well Waiting capability for fleets in the Oil and Gas sector. With Oil Well Waiting, drivers could track time waiting at a well site without it counting against their HOS time limit. This capability ensured fleets could remain competitive while complying with FMCSA HOS regulations. At the time, our Quadrant VP of Products and Services, Ernie Chatham said “This feature is designed with drivers in mind. It’s easy to use and the interface and workflow are simple, allowing for quick training, simple implementation, and immediate cost savings.”

We’re Ready Now

We’ve started letting affected customers know about the new changes to HOS rules for fleets operating in the US, so if you haven’t heard from us directly, you soon will. Here’s an overview from the US Department of Transportation.

30-Minute Mandatory Break – Starting in July, drivers of a CMV operating in the US cannot drive if more than eight hours have passed since the driver’s last off-duty or sleeper break of 30 minutes or more.  When a driver reaches the eighth hour into the work shift, before continuing the driver must take a 30-minute break.

Restart Rules – A 34-hour restart is a “valid” restart only if the driver ensures that the period includes two back-to-back nighttime rest periods from 1:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. The restart rules restrict how often a restart can be used. If a driver restarts more often than what’s allowed by US rules, the driver must indicate on the log which restart will be the one that’s being used as the valid restart.

For more information, see the US Department of Transportation web site.

Technical Support

If you have any questions about how the new HOS rules might affect you, please contact our technical support specialists:

support@webtechwireless.com Phone +1 (604) 419 8163

Toll Free (US/Canada) +1 (866) 945 4568

Hours of Operation:

Monday – Friday 6:00 am – 5:00 PM PT

Saturday 8:00 am – 4:30 PM PT

Don’t Gamble on Distracted Driving

By Joel Waithman

WEW-Booth

Walt Fischer and Nigel Maund man the new Webtech Wireless booth at NAFA 2013.

 

Last week, along with Nigel Maund, Walt Fischer and others from Webtech Wireless, I attended NAFA in Atlantic City, New Jersey. I’m sure it’s a fun place in the summer, but in April there wasn’t much to distract me from the trade show (except perhaps a visit to the roulette table).

While at the conference, I attended an excellent presentation called, “Breakthrough Technologies and Future Trends for Fleet Telematics”, which described how telematics is going to impact fleet management in the next few years. The format of the presentation was a panel of four telematics specialists (responsible for huge fleets such as ARI) and a moderator. They fielded about ten questions and spent about ten minutes answering each question, except for one: The big question on everyone’s mind was distracted driving. This topic consumed a whole hour of the presentation time with many people from both commercial and government fleets weighing in on different points. Questions included, “How can we solve it?”, “Are we invading the privacy of the driver?”, and “What applications are available?”

So, gambling may be a fine distraction in Atlantic City, but no one’s gambling on distracted driving. One commenter compared cell phone use while driving to gun ownership. After all, a vehicle is potentially as lethal to operate, so some form of regulation is needed to ensure people use it properly. But is it the responsibility of governments to enforce? Some government operators suggested that unions might resist (unless required to comply by government regulations) while others embraced the idea (particularly commercial operators who shoulder a great deal of responsibility regardless of whether cell phones are used for private or company purposes). Everyone was aware of the Coca-Cola settlement of last year that set a precedent across the board for companies to monitor their drivers’ cell phone habits more closely.

On a lighter note, this year AT&T set up a demo car on the trade show floor equipped to demonstrate the risks of distracted driving. To try it, we put on special goggles that simulated a driver’s view and then we were given a cell phone to type on while driving. The demo could measure our level of distraction using graphs that measured speed fluctuations as we texted. People who tried the simulation were surprised by how distracted they became.

Joel Waithman

Joel Waithman, Channel Partner Manager - Webtech Wireless

These experiences reminded me how critical our Webtech Wireless MDTs with hands-free voice are to preventing distracted driving. Even our auditory alert warnings (such as on the Accelerometer) to warn of excess speed, braking, and other erratic driving behavior ensure safety by keeping drivers focused on driving rather than texting. There are many ways to be distracted nowadays, but it’s in no one’s interest to gamble on road safety.

NAFA Drives Business by Telling Great Stories

Atlantic-City

Business intelligence tools are designed to retrieve, analyze and report data, and anyone trying to manage a business these days knows this: Data is everywhere. But how do you make sense of it all? On a vast scale, Google’s ability to handle large data sets in an efficiently has contributed $54 billion to the U.S. economy in 2009. Handling data effectively is big business.

At Webtech Wireless, we measure success by how your business implements our telematics solutions. Telematics is data. Data is information. Information allows you to gathering stories about how well your fleet is performing, and knowing how to use these stories is key to running your business better.

What Is NAFA’s Institute & Expo?

Another intelligent way to make sense of a lot of data is to attend a trade show and that’s what we’re doing­­—this time we’ll be at the NAFA Institute & Expo Show Management running April 23 to 26 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Billed as a “Created BY Fleet Managers FOR Fleet Managers” event,

NAFA’s annual Institute & Expo is known as “the largest event of the fleet management industry”. It’s a great opportunity to network with thousands of fleet professionals and take part in cutting-edge training and education.

We recommend:

We’ve culled through their extensive list of seminars to recommend a few must-see seminars. As well, we found a link so you can easily download a schedule of the entire event (at bottom). If you’re planning on attending 2013 NAFA Institute & Expo, make sure you come see us at booth 728.

TUESDAY, APRIL 23

10:30 am “Thinking Ahead: Using Remarketing Trends to Forecast the Future”

TUESDAY, APRIL 23

1:00 pm “Breakthrough Technologies and Future Trends for Fleet Telematics”

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 24

10:30 am “Make Better Decisions through the Power of Technology”

THURSDAY, APRIL 25

3:30 pm “Safety 101 – Using Insurance, Driver Training and Crash Analysis to Manage Fleet Risks”

FRIDAY, APRIL 26

9:30 am “Getting to the Top: How Fleet Managers Can Gain Access to Executive-Level Decision Makers”

Download the 2013 NAFA Institute & Expos schedule

 

 

Avoiding a Bridge Too Low

ABridgeTooLow

Known as the “truck-decapitator”, a bridge in Durham, North Carolina found wider fame last fall when it was featured in an Atlantic Cities article on aging infrastructure. An accompanying video, ­“The Toughest Bridge in the World”, featured a montage of ill-fated trucks (set to music from the film Rocky) getting peeled like sardine cans as they career under the century-old railway bridge. To make matters worse, wilting commentary from amused readers specifically targeted the hapless truckers. There were also some helpful suggestions, but none thought to propose a GPS navigation system that could route truckers away from these kinds of dangerous roads.

Bridging the Knowledge Gap

Many small and independent trucking companies, in a misguided attempt to put cost savings ahead of other concerns, purchase off-the-shelf GPS navigation systems that don’t provide enough detail for truckers to avoid these disasters. They’re buying consumer GPS navigation systems designed primarily for cars where there is little concern about height clearances and other routing conditions needed by commercial truckers.

The situation is serious enough that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is now distributing visor cards to truck drivers warning them that consumer-oriented GPS navigation devices pose life-threatening risks to truck drivers. FMCSA also faulted trucking operators with ineffective driver training and therefore advised operators to get their drivers trained on industry-standard commercial grade GPS navigation systems.

Truck-Specific GPS Navigation

In a complementary article in Overdrive (March 11, 2013), U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer stated that trucks using inappropriate GPS systems, which don’t support routing around “low bridges, hazmat routes and other information relevant to truckers”, are the chief cause of bridge strikes.

FMCSA Recommends

Michael Scott, Software Engineer at Webtech Wireless says, “We have chosen to integrate our MDT 3100s with a truck-specific GPS navigation solution that supports the kind of truck routing the FMCSA wants truck drivers to use”. He’s referring with our partnership with ALK Technologies to enhance our Quadrant® In-Cab solution by adding ALK CoPilot® In-Cab navigation.  Michael went on to point out that while we meet all the requirements the FMCSA recommended for “safe use of GPS navigation systems”, drivers still need to be alert to road signage. “No GPS navigation system absolves drivers from responsibility on safe routes”.

By selecting a GPS navigation system intended for use by professional truck and bus drivers, ensuring drivers are properly trained in its use, and remaining alert to changing conditions, you can expect to navigate safely to your destination.

Mississauga Brings Winter Smarts to APWA

City of Mississauga plows
Images courtesy of City of Mississauga

Today marks the first day of spring and, with winter storms still ravaging the continent, most North Americans want to put winter firmly behind them. But for some, winter endures in relatively balmy Charlotte, North Carolina, host city to this year’s American Public Works Association (APWA) Snow Show. On April 7, more than 1,500 “snowfighters” will descend on Charlotte for four days of networking, technical tours, and educational programs. For those attending, one highlight not to miss is hearing Bob Levesque’s success story from the City of Mississauga’s Works Operations department. I phoned Bob to get a sneak preview into the issues he’ll be describing in Charlotte.

Risk Mitigation is Foresight

City of Mississauga sidewalk plow
Bob shows me a picture of a sidewalk plow. It looks like an ordinary urban winter scene in Ontario—a plow, a parked car, a small brick fence by a neighbour’s front yard. Bob sees much more than I do. “If the plow operator isn’t careful”, Bob points out, “he or she could shred the side of the car at the curb”. Then he points out that the neighbour’s decorative brick fence is encroaching on City property and that there are other unknown hazards hidden in the snow.

There are other types of liability too. In the days before Works Operations had implemented their InterFleet GPS/AVL solution (2010), it was very difficult to prove that the department had plowed a street to standard in the event of a complaint or a law suit. “Now we have hard data,” Levesque says, underscoring a certain level of shared responsibility between the City and its residents to take care in winter conditions. “Citizens have to dress appropriately for winter conditions, and we have to provide due diligence in keeping a minimum standard for cleared roads and sidewalks.”

He cites another time when he received a call from the police department about a particularly icy hill. Bob was able to respond immediately by dispatching a salter truck to the hill, thereby preventing a car pile up. With several more examples, Bob convinced me that the best use of a GPS/AVL winter maintenance solution is foresight—knowing what’s going on in real-time allows Operations to make better and quicker decisions about situations before they escalate.

“Our goal is to catch a missed street and dispatch a plow there even before it gets back to the yard.”
­—Bob Levesque, Operations, City of Mississauga

Faster than a Speeding…Snow Plow?

Everyone wants his or her street plowed first and fast, and that puts a lot of pressure on Public Works departments. It comes as something of a surprise then that one of complaints plow operators get is speeding snow plows! Bob attributes this to an optical illusion created by a truck with its plow blade down, “It may be going only 25 mph, but it appears to be going much faster”.  He also describes that the salt controller is attached to the speedometer, so a genuinely speeding snow plow would leave an erratic trail of salt in its wake (perhaps the source of citizen complaints?). Nonetheless with GPS/AVL, the department has speeding covered too as InterFleet can provide reports showing vehicle speeds along routes.

Winter Light Up

Before next winter, Bob plans to take advantage of InterFleet’s Winter Light Up program to ensure that fleet and drivers are ready to go for next year. “Getting prepared ahead of time is going to help in the long run”, says Levesque. Aside from the usual readiness preparations needed after a long hot summer—plows ready, drivers retrained, contractors engaged, and so on—there are sometimes unexpected surprises. “Last year we had a plow reporting in from somewhere in Europe”, Bob says adding that older vehicles are sometimes sold at auctions over the summer months and this one had apparently gone overseas with its Locator still installed. I’m just thinking, “now that, I want to see on a map—with breadcrumbs”.

Come Down to Charlotte for the Snow

City of Mississauga - Bob LevesqueIf you’re attending the APWA Snow Show in Charlotte, make sure you catch Bob Levesque’s presentation, Reducing Liability and Improving Winter Operations Using a GPS/AVL Solution.

Testing Technology: The Key to Top-Quality Fleet Management Solutions

 

WEW-QA_Time-Machine As a pioneer in automated GPS location-based technology at Webtech Wireless we design our own hardware and software solutions. This provides us with the necessary control to build and deliver the solutions our customers rely on. In order to ensure our products are secure, reliable, and robust enough to outlast diverse road conditions and meet industry standards for heavy-duty vehicle applications, the key to our success, (we have delivered hundreds of thousands of Locators that process millions of transactions a day), comes down to one thing—TESTING.

We hire the best network operations and engineers available in the industry and it’s on their shoulders to ensure our GPS fleet tracking solutions keep working around the clock every day of the year. I dropped into our testing area to find out more about why it is that Webtech Wireless is indeed an end-to-end solution for fleet GPS tracking.

Quality Assurance Means Testing, Testing, Testing

Sarkis Teghararian, Manager of Hardware Engineering provided me with an excellent overview of the facility while Kevin Lockwood, Hardware Engineer, continued testing Locators in the background, occasionally adding valuable commentary to my questions.

 

WEW-QA_Kevin-Sarkis

As we entered the work area Sarkis explained, “We develop and test all our products and increasingly we test third-party products as well. Depending on the needs, complexity, and phase of the project, testing is done either in-house or outsourced to other testing labs” Testing equipment is arranged in a series of stations, each dominated by some device I would later learn has a specific testing role to play. Before I could learn more about all these cool testing stations (and about the intriguing command module-like chamber in the corner), I first needed a quick lesson in quality assurance.

A Quality Assurance Primer

Depending on the needs, there are different types of testing. For example, derivative testing verifies only changes to a product, pre-qualification testing ensures a prototype will stand up to its design specifications, and regression testing validates new features including their impact on pre-existing components (i.e., it tests that new features don’t compromise the old ones).

In addition, I needed to know that there are two distinct phases of testing:

  • Development testing to validate new designs
  • Manufacturing testing to validate that manufactured units are built according to specifications

Testing for an End-to-end Solution

When testing gets to the manufacturing QA phase (ensuring manufactured quality) it’s tested differently. With the design already verified, testing becomes more granular, “but” insists Kevin peering up for one of the WT 5130 Locators, “each and every unit is tested”. Because each unit must be tested individually, testing is to a large extent automated. “Some components are manufactured in China”, continues Kevin, “and some locally, so we test to ensure all are manufacturers are building according to specifications.”

A key component of Webtech Wireless’ offerings is end-to-end solutions, but what does that mean for quality assurance? The answer is system testing. Units aren’t just tested by themselves, but also as they relate to a custom-designed solution for a specific client. So, a Locator that’s tested for compliance with manufacturing specifications is also tested with Webtech Wireless software and then again with an EOBR (electronic onboard recorder) such as the MDT 3100 to ensure they work in concert.

Enter the Time Machine

WEW-QA_Enter-the-Time-Machine

Sarkis refers to it wryly as the “Time Machine”, but it’s no joke—on closer inspection, I see that it is in fact branded officially as the GTEM ETS Time Machine. Before my imagination can run too wild, Sarkis brings me back patiently explaining that this machine tests the long-term effects of radiation from GPS and cellular transmissions. During the design phase, for example, a new Locator is placed into the time machine, which tests that its design is solid. The machine is able to speed up the exposure rates and thus reduces both the time it takes to test, and also the cost of testing. Among other criteria, the Locator is tested against its radio frequency rates, how well its circuitry responds, and how well it is able to communicate wirelessly with the base station.

Future Proofing

Quality Assurance is about “continuous improvement”, asserts Sarkis who cites the development of a new audio/acoustic booth to the roster as well as empirical testing to increase the precision of testing. In the future, we also plan to increase the testing of third-party integrations and products. All of this so that we can deliver the incredible reliability that our customers expect of us in a GPS/AVL solution that customers trust to make decisions with every minute of every day.