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.

Exceeding Speeding Expectations

Sarah_Coach-CanadaWhen Coach Canada decided to really put its Webtech Wireless Quadrant solution to the test, it never expected the data on speeding to exceed expectations. Coach Canada prides itself in its commitment to providing safe and reliable scheduled and chartered bus services throughout Ontario and Quebec as well as service via third-party carriers to New York City and beyond.

Ensuring its passengers a safe ride is key to its success, so having visibility into individual bus speeding information is likewise important. “The number one benefit of Quadrant for us is the ability to verify speed”, says Sarah Pridie, Operations Clerk in charge of driver and fleet monitoring at Coach Canada.

Speeding is Serious Business

Speeding is one of the most prevalent factors contributing to traffic crashes. According to the National Center for Statistics and Analysis (NHTSA), “In the US, the annual economic cost to society of speeding-related crashes is $40.4 billion”. Furthermore, research by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that “when speed limits were raised by many states in 1996, travel speeds increased and motor vehicle fatalities went up significantly on Interstate highways in those states”.

Driver Behavior

For Coach Canada, safety assurance through speeding prevention is the best remedy it can offer. Coach Canada has undertaken a pro-active stance to ensure its drivers comply, first, with posted speed limits; and second, with company speed limits (sometimes its standards are more stringent than those enforced by highway authorities).

But rather than be authoritarian, pro-actively enforcing speed limits in real-time with its drivers is, if not welcomed, certainly respected. “We have had drivers thank us for enabling the MDT Speed Alert beep as an added safety measure for them and their passengers”, says Pridie who monitors driver behavior through Quadrant reports.

Key Quadrant Benefits for Coach Canada

  • MDT speeding alerts beep to indicate to drivers when they’re exceeding speed limits.
  • Two Quadrant reports provide the data Sarah needs to ensure Coach Canada’s drivers are driving safely:
    • Speeding Duration report – Uses Vsend configuration to capture length of time the vehicle traveled beyond a pre-defined speed.
    • Driver Performance report – shows data from all vehicles and highlights driving behavior issues such as hard breaking or sharp accelerations, indicators of potential dangerous behavior by drivers.

How does Sarah and Coach Canada know they’re getting ahead of speeding? According to Sarah, “Management treats it [speeding] seriously and so do drivers”. Then she adds matter of factly, “We’ve seen a 90.4 percent reduction in speeding after implementing these Quadrant Features in 2012”.

Measuring Safety and Efficiency

–By Chuck Lane, Solution Engineer, Webtech Wireless

Chuck Lane is a solution engineer with Webtech Wireless who lives in central Florida. He contributes blog posts focusing on technical solutions in the field. Below he describes one solution we’ve developed to help Tampa Electric improve its safety and efficiency of work crews.


Co-Location Report – Where Are Our Supervisors?

When we approached Tampa Electric in 2011 about the need for a GPS fleet tracking system, we found the words “safety” and “efficiency” were of utmost importance. Tampa Electric was interested in how the system would help them to operate more safely and increase overall efficiency of their vehicle fleet relating to customer service. As the two companies sorted through the business requirements and what possible Webtech Wireless features may be of interest to Tampa Electric, the issue of the need for a Co-Location report came up.

A Co-Location report shows how much time a supervisor spends supervising a service crew. Tampa Electric was convinced that a supervisor’s time should be spent in the field supervising work crews rather than in the office. Tampa Electric maintains that this will increase the safety of the crew as well as efficiency.

How does the Co-Location report improve safety and efficiency?

Safety – Much of the work Tampa Electric crews do is dangerous work. There is the persistent risk of workers getting injured or kill through falls from hydro poles or electrocution. Having the supervisor on site reduces these risks. Tampa Electric wanted to know where its supervisors were. As with GPS-based speeding data, behavior changes if people know they’re “being watched”. Visibility increases compliance.

Efficiency – Tampa Electric uses its fleet GPS tracking in a number of ways to improve efficiency. For example, knowing when vehicles enter and exit geofence areas ensures drivers and supervisors are working together towards a common goal.

Overcoming Challenges

A number of issues needed to be overcome in order to get the report to work properly. The situation where a vehicle is parked on or near a parking lot boundary (night time off duty area) had to be compensated for due to the fact that GPS “jump” readings sometimes occur. The fact that the lead and supervisor vehicles could move at any time creating the need for the creation of new geofence boundaries and calculations was also a concern that must be accommodated.

Several design sessions were held and Tampa Electric input was captured. A rollout of GPS/AVL units to the Tampa Electric fleet was started with the expectation that the Co-Location report would be available in the near future. A report release was made available several months later. The design and functioning of the report went through several changes, particularly overcoming the challenge of parking lot boundaries mentioned above as well as remedying GPS data, which required some trial and error adjustments. When these were addressed by Webtech Wireless engineers, the new report was released.

At this point it is probably good to point out how the report works and some of the challenges that had to be overcome in order to get the report to produce good information:

How it works…

A worksite is defined by the location of a “lead vehicle”. The lead vehicle must be stopped (ignition off or idle) for more than five minutes before a worksite is created (configurable). Worksites extend a configurable radius from the lead vehicle (default: 200 feet).

Special Geofences can be created to ensure that the lead vehicles do not create worksites when parked in company depots or other common locations. The worksite is a dynamic landmark, meaning it does not appear on the map, is not visible in Landmark reports, and is deleted when the lead vehicle moves on.

Co-Location Admin

The Report…

The report is grouped by supervisor vehicle. For each supervisor, the information is grouped by lead vehicle and by day. Information includes time range, lead truck location by address, total time in range of lead vehicle, number of visits, and percentage of time in range of lead vehicle.

Co-Location Vehicle Name
Daily totals for each supervisor are easy to view!
Co-Location Daily totals

Measuring Success

Although there were challenges, Tampa Electric stood by the solution as report modifications were made to produce a report that was reliable and could be distributed to Tampa Electric supervisors with confidence of accurate results.

Currently, Tampa Electric is using this report and distributing among supervisors for review. The original goals of increased safety and efficiency have been met. The Tampa Electric supervisors are aware that their actual time in contact with their work crews is now being measured.

An Ounce of GPS Prevention

CalVans

For CalVans (California Vanpool Authority), success is not measured by how it makes the news, but from its successful avoidance. While the Media may feast on stories of accidents and negligence, CalVans relaxes in the knowledge that “No news is good news”.

Originally established in 2001 with just one van, CalVans was since grown to more than 200 vanpools designed for the unique needs of commuters, students, and farm workers. By providing a cost-effective and convenient alternative to commuter driving, while meeting the needs of the State’s environmental and transportation needs, CalVans is a vital part in a growing community transportation network.

Using Webtech Wireless’ GPS/AVL tracking is part of what makes CalVans a no-news success story, because it helps prevent accidents, theft, and other bad news from filling the papers:

  • Drivers, passengers, and all users of the road are safer because drivers are alerted in real-time when they speed, and speeding reports help CalVans monitor its drivers.
  • Through theft prevention and driver authentication, insurance premiums are kept low.
  • By providing an alternative to California’s notorious highway gridlock while helping to reduce C02 emissions, CalVans qualifies for State grants and other funding.
  • Fleet vehicles last longer because the Webtech Wireless Maintenance Portal enables CalVans to pro-actively monitor engine status and schedule van maintenance.

Navigating the Digital Oil Field

Digital-Oil-Field

With supplies of easy oil running low, oil and gas companies are increasingly turning to technology to help them get the most out of the extraction process.  Around the world, energy companies are advancing the limits of digital oil field technology, a recently coined term to describe this emerging segment of the industry.

The “digital oil field” describes computer technology deployed to automate oil and gas extraction, and it’s given a lot of attention for good reason. The digital oil field is worth a lot of money. According to Booz & Company, a leading global management consulting firm, “digital oil field technologies could increase the net present value of oil and gas assets by 25%”. The global digital oil field market is estimated to be worth $18.7 billion and is forecast to reach $33.3 billion by 2022.

Digital oil field technology aids a wide array of Oil and Gas activities from exploration, surveying, development, and well completion to data integration of seismic imaging, drilling, process completion, reservoir modeling, and production optimization. This information is then fed to data centers in real-time, allowing experts in the industry to optimize production and minimize downtime.

While not generally included within the description of digital oil field technologies, telematics operates on the same principle—making better business decisions because you have the data to show where your vehicles are and what your drivers are doing in real-time. For example, with an automated tool for tracking vehicle whereabouts, IFTA fuel-tax information is gathered automatically and therefore accurately and these accuracies save you substantial revenue from higher taxes. Also, you don’t miss out on additional savings if you operate in jurisdictions in which offer off-road usage earns fuel-tax credits.

Operationally, you can maximize your resources as we have proven by doubling efficiency at
Troyer Ventures. And as data accumulates over time, your ability to budget and forecast improves exponentially because you have accurate and historical data at your fingertips.

Finding the Right Fleet GPS for a Livable City

Port Metro Vancouver
Images courtesy of Port Metro Vancouver

Vancouver has always prided itself as a livable city. Year after year, Vancouver tops the list as “world’s most livable city”. One unintended result—stemming from its freeway wars of the 1960s and 70s that put a finish to highway construction—was that the city’s residential streets would find themselves hosting long queues of Port container and long-haul truck traffic.

While Port Metro Vancouver does not operate container trucking companies or container trucks of its own, with 149 privately-owned trucking companies sending over 2,000 trucks to the Port, it has found itself at the diplomatic center of a delicate balance between trucking and city politics.

Last year after Port Metro Vancouver closed its receiving entrance on Clark Drive (a designated truck route), residents quickly noticed a huge increase in container truck traffic on Nanaimo Street (a primarily residential street). With complaints flooding in from constituents, City Hall put pressure on Port Metro Vancouver to do something to reduce this congestion.

In a special pilot program, Port Metro Vancouver equipped 300 container trucks with GPS tracking devices to send information to Port authorities about what routes Port-bound trucks were using. In a recent interview with The Vancouver Sun, Port Metro Vancouver CEO Robin Silvester described the pilot program  as having “already brought results”.

As with CP Rail (another customer of the Port), it vastly improved turnaround time at the Port. “It’s really looking at having a minimal number of trucks in the Lower Mainland,” Sylvester said, adding the Port hopes to reduce the number of trucks leaving without cargo by 30 to 40 per cent. “That would be fantastic. We’re building the tools to move toward that goal.” Based on the improvements in efficiency, the Port is looking to outfit all licensed trucks to its facilities with a GPS solution soon. The program is voluntary and free to licensed trucks serving the Port facilities.

Port Metro VancouverWhile the City of Vancouver is always keen to retain its “most livable city” designation, it also has big incentives to see trucks and commercial vehicles move efficiently.  With over $200-million worth of cargo moving through the port each day, the City must balance the needs of trucks and commercial vehicles positively with the overall health of the city.

The City enforces truck route regulations based on public complaints and safety inspections, but now Port Metro Vancouver can be pro-active. “The GPS (units) will create a system where we’re more pro-active rather than waiting until a community raises a concern”, Silvester said.

Business Intelligence from Intelligent Communities

Business Intelligence from Intelligent Communities

You need to have some forbearance for municipalities that raced to keep up with demand for web-based communication systems suitable to desktop computers only to watch their constituents abandon fixed computers in favor of mobile devices, particularly smartphones. While the trend toward increased mobile device usage by constituents is only speeding up, the core theme (beyond the flip flops in technology) continues to be toward citizen-driven real-time communications.

“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.”
—Stephen Hawking

Municipalities are now embracing new technologies (such as smartphone apps) not just to keep up with their constituents, but as a means to making their services readily available and scalable to people’s diverse needs. For example, municipalities must respond to a pro-active population that takes for granted the ability to see details about snow plow route completion, traffic congestion, parking restrictions and emergency situation alerts. Constituents want to live in intelligent communities. But what makes a community intelligent?

Citizen-Centered Services

Martin Duggan, vice president of market strategy at IBM, recently described in The Atlantic how public-sector departments must depart from the old service-delivery models and become more collaborative with their constituents. He stresses that “Today there is a shift toward citizen-centered services…” which in effect is saying communication has left push mode (government) and entered pull mode (citizen) as never before.

In Drawing Intelligence from Data, I described how business owners are becoming overwhelmed with the amount of data that’s now being collected—93% of CEOs believe they are losing opportunities from a lack of tools to handle this data. While constituents demand information at ever-increasing rates—and in real-time—organizations and businesses must make sense of it all.

One of our customers, Ville de Québec, sought to make sense of it all by tying the data it gathered from its snow plows using Webtech Wireless’ InterFleet solution to how it communicated with its constituents. It had large amounts of information it could use to inform constituents via an interactive web map and provide real-time locations of the city’s snow plows. For this, and other intelligent initiatives, Ville de Québec was nominated as an intelligent community.

What’s next for communities with data on their hands? Could past seasons of weather data be layered to forecast upcoming budgets for salt requirements on city roads? What are municipalities doing to become intelligent communities with business intelligence?

Know Where You Stand

While Webtech Wireless’ Customer Care supports two main communication tracks (email and a Customer Care website), it’s the latter track that is winning over our customers. The reason? The Customer Care website is designed expressly with the customer in mind.

“From the point of view of the Technical Support Team, it doesn’t matter if customers email or use the Customer Care website”, says Andrew Hwang, Technical Support Lead, “because we have our own internal process that ensures we track customers however they contact us. But to our customers, the Customer Care website gives them much more visibility into the status of their technical requests than sending us an email.”

And that’s the beauty of the Customer Care website. Customers have extensive visibility, or as Andrew puts it, “they know where they stand”.

Having a single place for communication is ideal for trucking fleets that may not have extensive enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems to integrate internal and external information across their organization. In plain language, that means it is better than relying on email, and as everybody knows, email gets lost, is tied to individual users, and if not continuously culled, becomes overwhelming.

Customer Care Portal Ticket

Customers who have technical issues can log in, create a new ticket, search and view the status of tickets (even for tickets submitted by other employees at the same company), view the history of closed tickets, and even attach documents (such as PDF and Excel files) to tickets.

Just as Webtech Wireless excels at providing visibility to fleet management—from finding trucks on the road to business intelligence drawn from data gathered by GPS fleet tracking—customers can expect the same level of visibility when getting technical support.

If you’re not already signed up with the Customer Care Website, what’s stopping you? Visit http://www.webtechwireless.com/en/contact/ and sign up today!

Moving: The Cat’s Meow

When you help me downsize my house, a hungry kitten gets fed.

 

That’s right, I’m aligning with the BC SPCA (Vancouver) to ensure the contents of my house are sold and I can move to a smaller living space. In the process, I’m donating a portion of the sale proceeds to the SPCA.

 

There’s a showing at my house this Sunday afternoon (Dec. 9) from 2 to 5 pm.
See what’s for sale.

 

What’s in it for me? I get to share in the spirit of Christmas.

Moving: When a raven is like a writing desk

Moving house is always mad, mad, and more mad. And this move is the maddest of all. This is the big downsize move in which I turn a three-story house into a one-bedroom condo.

Downsizing

To that end, I have a vast number of things to divest myself of (ranging from appliances and antiques to curios and gardening tools). With Christmas just around the corner, I’d like to view this more as an opportunity to make some important changes in my life in a way that benefits others. So, instead of a personal liquidation sale, it’s my way to lighten my load—a bourgeois potlatch, so to speak. Some items I’m selling, some I’m asking you to donate to a local charity, and some I’m giving away.