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6 Minute Read

Is GPS Fleet Tracking the Same as Last Mile Visibility?

Knowledge is power. Especially when it comes to fleet management. If you can’t track your delivery fleet, it’s almost impossible to carry out efficient last mile deliveries—to say nothing of ensuring great service to your customers.

gps fleet trackingMost distributors and other last mile operators already know this, which is why there’s such a demand for GPS fleet tracking in the last mile. But is GPS tracking really the same as visibility?

As you might have guessed from the title of this article, our perspective is that it’s not. It’s absolutely an important part of keeping tabs on your fleet and ensuring cost-effective—and successful—deliveries. But it doesn’t amount to meaningful visibility on its own. 

So, the question is: How do you turn GPS fleet tracking into real delivery visibility that you can leverage into smarter deliveries? In other words, what information do you need, and when and where do you need it, in order to translate GPS coordinates into actionable data?

What Is GPS Fleet Tracking?

GPS fleet tracking can mean different things to different people, but generally speaking we’re talking about leveraging a telematics device of some kind to capture the geographical locations of all the trucks in your fleet in real time or near-real time. 

But where does that location data go, and what do you do with it? Most telematics solutions will offer some kind of interface that enables you to see the locations of your trucks on a map. Typically, there will also be data gathered about things like harsh braking, speeding, or exiting geofences. From the perspective of ensuring your fleet health and reducing asset theft, this is hugely important.

At the same time, there’s a limit to how much this information helps you when it comes to ensuring effective last mile deliveries. Just because you can see the location of a truck, that doesn’t mean you know its status. You don’t know which job it’s going to, which jobs the driver has already completed, whether the driver is running on time for their next delivery, etc. 

This means that you can’t easily spot exceptions in real time. The result is that your tracking capabilities don’t translate into more effective exception management; if a driver is going to miss a delivery window to their next stop, or a customer refuses delivery and needs to schedule a new time with a couch that fits or a different brand of tomato sauce, you won’t know about it until the driver or the customer calls to let you know. 

rc willey case study

How Last Mile Delivery Visibility Impacts Delivery Success

Exception management—exactly like we discussed above—is critical to successful last mile deliveries. Even if 90% of your deliveries are going right, that still leaves 10% where your driver’s going to need some extra help to keep the customer happy. 

This is where real last mile delivery visibility makes a huge difference. GPS tracking is an important part of this equation. Here’s how it might integrate into a process in a way that provides real visibility:

  • When the driver leaves the warehouse in the morning, they signal in their mobile app that they’re starting their route. This route shows up in your dashboard as being in progress.
  • For each delivery on the route, the driver indicates that they’re going to the job. This information is combined with real-time GPS coordinates to generate ETA updates as they drive. 
  • If ETAs are starting to slip out of the time windows promised to customers, your team gets an alert so they can take appropriate action. 
  • As the delivery run continues, you can leverage live status and location information to find the optimal way to resolve exceptions that arise.
  • If customers reach out about their orders, you can cross-reference the location of the truck to give them up-to-the-minute information. 

This is a somewhat simplified flow, but it should hopefully get the idea across: GPS coordinates add a level of invaluable context that help you get a real overview of your deliveries as they’re unfolding. With that added context, you can substantially improve the service that you offer to your customers. 

Best Practices for Improving Delivery Visibility and Fleet Tracking

Okay, let’s say you’re trying to leverage GPS fleet tracking into smarter, more agile last mile delivery operations. What are the most important guidelines for making that happen? How do you make sure you’re getting the most out of the data you’re collecting over the course of the last mile delivery journey? 

Here are a few best practices:

Centralize your data

You might be using a telematics solution and a last mile software platform in order to gather all the data you need throughout your delivery operations. But you certainly don’t want to be flipping back and forth between multiple different solutions when you’re trying to manage deliveries in real time. 

That’s why it’s so important to find an effective way to centralize the data you’re pulling in from these different sources. You want to be able to get to the heart of every truck, route, and delivery from a single dashboard. This way, you can be truly agile when it comes to managing exceptions and ensuring efficient delivery execution. 

Leverage AI and ML

This might sound like we’re throwing in a buzzword to add some excitement to this topic—but when we talk about AI we’re talking about something very specific. ChatGPT and Bard aren’t at a point where they’re going to be able to help you very much when it comes to managing your fleet or getting the most out of your delivery capacity. But predictive AI and machine learning techniques that have been in use in the supply chain for years have the potential to offer a big impact. 

What do we have in mind specifically? One of the best current use cases for this kind of technology in logistics is in predicting delivery ETAs. A lot goes into these kinds of calculations—everything from learned service times for different kinds of jobs to historical traffic and weather patterns. But when you’ve got the right data, AI can turn that information into scary-accurate predictions for things like delivery ETAs. 

Pay attention to UX and ease-of-use

For all the technological and operational bells and whistles we’ve been discussing, fleet management really comes down to people. It’s fleet managers, customer support staff, dispatchers, drivers, and other team members who determine whether you have a healthy fleet with great capacity utilization. 

Needless to say, it’s crucial to keep the needs of those people in mind when you’re adopting software and refining your processes. When the information that, say, a dispatcher needs to do their job isn’t easy to find, their job gets harder. By the same token, if they can’t figure out how to quickly update a route plan or reach out to a customer, it bogs down the whole process. 

That’s why focusing on UX and ease-of-use is so crucial. It’s easy to think of things like that as nice-to-haves, but in point of fact they’re huge contributors to efficient processes and effective fleet management. At the end of the day, that can go a long way towards helping turn GPS fleet tracking into improved visibility, better deliveries, and more cost effective last mile operations. 

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