Field Technologies Magazine Features UniTek Global Services

A fleet management solution has helped UniTek Global Services reduce service fleet accidents and speeding by one-third.

Shift Your Fleet Management Focus To Driver Safety

By Brian Albright, Field Technologies magazine

A fleet management solution has helped UniTek Global Services reduce service fleet accidents and speeding by one-third.

Trucks may be the most expensive assets that a fleet operator has, but drivers are arguably the most valuable. For field service companies, inefficient dispatch and management of fleets and drivers can cause a variety of issues. First, the technicians driving the company’s vehicles are the “face” of the company to its clients. If those technicians aren’t dispatched efficiently, you can experience issues with customer satisfaction and lose credibility. And if your drivers aren’t operating company vehicles in a safe manner, then your company can incur hard-dollar costs (to replace trucks) along with a bevy of other issues.

UniTek Global Services has gone the extra mile to ensure the safety of its drivers and vehicles with a GPS fleet management solution that provides realtime alerts to technicians and managers if the vehicles aren’t being operated correctly. At the same time, the location data from the GPS solution has improved dispatch and routing efficiency so that the company is able to better serve its clients.

Headquartered in Blue Bell, PA, UniTek has nearly 100 facilities across North America and provides design, engineering, and maintenance services for a variety of telecom providers, municipalities, and more. UniTek is an expert at managing a highly skilled technical workforce on behalf of a diverse customer base. The company has three primary divisions that use the company’s new GPS solution: DirectSat USA, which provides service fulfillment for satellite television providers like DIRECTV; FTS USA, which provides engineering services, installation, maintenance, and other services for cable television providers like Comcast, Charter, and Time Warner; and Pinnacle Wireless, which provides wireless network construction and services for carriers, along with sophisticated systems integration and public safety/life safety solutions.

The Importance Of Efficiency And Safety For A Third-Party Service Provider
As a third-party service provider for many of its clients, UniTek not only has to meet its contractual obligations for the companies it works for, it also serves as a first point of contact for its clients’ end customers. As such, ensuring that the company’s roughly 2,200 technicians and 2,600 service trucks complete their scheduled service stops on time and in the safest possible manner is critical to its brand promise. With efficiency and safety as important as they are at UniTek, the company saw GPS fleet management as an opportunity to optimize its operations in both areas.

Of the two areas UniTek hoped GPS would impact, safety was at the core of the company’s decision to deploy its GPS fleet management solution. UniTek deployed its GPS solution in 2009, initially to improve driver safety and reduce accidents and speeding incidents. Prior to that point, the company did not have a GPS solution in place. “We wanted to move toward the utilization of GPS as a routing tool, but we were first focused on using the solution to better monitor driver behavior and be more consistent with our safety policies,” says Darrell Shalters, director of fleet/facilities at UniTek Global Services. “Safety is a core value of our company and comes first. The routing was a value-added benefit that’s still a work in progress for us. We’re light years ahead of where we were in 2009, but the safety functions are really the most valuable component right now.”

Primary Goal For GPS Deployment: Reducing Accidents
When the company began looking for a GPS solution, the primary goal was to reduce accidents. “We wanted the ability to predict the future, if you will, using driver scorecards to forecast potential infractions, then we could say, ‘This technician is probably at risk for a rear-end collision because of certain events on their scorecard,’” Shalters explains. “We use that scorecard to alert and issue driver safety training if need be when we see those thresholds broken. We also monitor excessive idling to reduce fuel consumption and lower our carbon footprint per unit.”

“We wanted to move toward the utilization of GPS as a routing tool, but we were first focused on using the solution to better monitor driver behavior and be more consistent with our safety policies.”Darrell Shalters, UniTek Global Services

According to Shalters, the company issued an RFP and evaluated several different GPS vendors. The president of DirectSat, the CFO, and the vice president of operations participated in the selection process. Ultimately, UniTek selected the Driver Safety and Fleet Management solutions, both part of the suite of field service solutions from Trimble Field Service Management, to manage its vehicle visibility. The Trimble Driver Safety and Fleet Management solutions provide real-time GPS vehicle tracking, and include an in-vehicle device that issues real-time alerts and feedback to drivers.

“We chose Trimble because from a long-term perspective, they had a more hard-wired solution that we felt comfortable with, and there would be less risk of tampering,” Shalters says. “The dashboard tool was also a huge benefit for safety. We felt they had the best long-term solution for our needs.”

Customer Experience Another Key Focus For Fleet Management
Beyond driver safety, customer service was also at the forefront of UniTek’s decision on which fleet management solution would best fit its needs. “During our evaluation process, we also considered how the solution would help us to set ourselves apart from our competitors,” Shalters says. “We wanted to measure the quality of service, performance against our on-time commitments, and the ability to get the right technician to the right job.”

The company piloted the Trimble GPS solution with vehicles at each of the three divisions. “We started with the DirectSat business because they have consistent routing data,” Shalters says. “The FTS and Pinnacle divisions were deployed after that.”

The full deployment began in 2009 and was completed in 2012 across all three businesses. Employees are trained on the solution by Trimble via WebEx sessions biannually.

The company’s trucks are equipped with the Trimble Driver Safety unit in the cab, which provides immediate alerts to drivers if they exceed operational thresholds such as speeding, harsh braking, excessive idling, and so on. Those same alerts are simultaneously sent to regional managers so they can be addressed in real time.

“With the solution in place, we’re able to better schedule the technicians and ensure every technician has a full, productive day.”

Darrell Shalters, UniTek Global Services

From Rugged Devices To Smartphones
Because UniTek delivers service for a variety of companies to their customers, the dispatch, routing, and work order management processes vary by division and by customer. DirectSat, for instance, receives work order information via its clients’ field service management solutions, sending out schedule updates in the evening and the morning for the technicians. Some clients send routes through other means (including by fax) that are then forwarded to the drivers.

All of the company’s drivers carry mobile computers. UniTek is phasing out the rugged mobile devices currently in use in favor of smartphones. DirectSat is issuing Samsung Galaxy phones to technicians, while FTS is deploying iPhones. UniTek is issuing OtterBox rugged cases with the smartphones to improve their durability.

For the DirectSat business, jobs are automatically scheduled through a third-party scheduling system. At the beginning of the day, the normal workload is already prerouted on the technician’s mobile device. For any emergency jobs or other ad hoc work orders, the dispatchers use the Trimble Fleet Management solution to determine where the closest technician is located so that they can be dispatched to that new job.

Fleet Management Improves Routing And Dispatch
The FTS and Pinnacle divisions use the GPS solution to guide dispatching as well. “We can follow up on technicians if they haven’t checked in as ‘en route’ or ‘on-site’ for a specific work order,” Shalters says. “We can use the GPS to validate upcoming time frames, so if we’re close to exceeding the response time we can check on them and see where they are relative to the job site.”

Over the past 14 months, UniTek has expanded its use of the GPS solution for routing and dispatching. Shalters says dispatchers can easily reroute technicians based on their skill sets and locations using the GPS solution. Prior to the GPS system, dispatchers would have had to make multiple phone calls to locate the tech closest to the job.

“With the solution in place, we’re able to better schedule the technicians and ensure every technician has a full, productive day,” Shalters says. “We can make sure all of our trucks are rolling. We can rotate the vehicles into service if there are spare units and also monitor weekly and daily mileage.”

The company can measure service trends and generate reports that show where the technicians are deployed each week. “We have consistent measuring tools that enable us to examine ways to enhance our business,” Shalters says.

Fleet Management Investment Leads To A 30 Percent Safety Improvement
While the routing/scheduling component of the solution is still in its nascent stages at UniTek, the company has maximized its use of the GPS solution’s safety features. “We use the safety monitoring component extensively,” Shalters says. “We use Trimble Driver Safety as a daily reporting tool, so we know in real time when the drivers have exceeded the posted speed limit, for example. They get an alert, as does the manager.”

UniTek is putting that data to use in more ways than just alerts, too. The driver safety data is also used for weekly safety meetings and is presented on monthly finance and operations (F&O) reports for senior management. “The managers get a full history of accident reports, workers’ comp claims, and they see a safety scorecard for each line of business,” Shalters says.

The safety elements of the fleet management solution have paid off in spades. According to Shalters, the number of auto incidents has been reduced by 30 percent across all three divisions since 2009.

GPS Reduces Idling By 20 Percent
The company has also reduced excessive idling, which has saved on fuel. According to Shalters, UniTek has reduced idling close to 20 percent since the solution was deployed.

Managers can also use the solution to calculate miles traveled per day versus the number of stops completed to help measure employee productivity. “We can see how long the technicians are spending at each stop, which helps us evaluate how the technicians are being dispatched and how long the work orders are taking to be completed,” Shalters says. “We have each stop geofenced so we can compare how long the stop takes and see who is falling way out of range.”

The visibility the solution provides has been a benefit in and of itself, Shalters says, since the company can leverage the location data and reports to measure how it is performing against customer expectations to improve routing and to ensure technicians are being utilized in the most efficient manner. “Just being able to view the trucks at any time of day within the GPS solution has been a huge benefit for us,” Shalters says.

“We’ve had significant reductions in accident events since we deployed the solution.”

Darrell Shalters, UniTek Global Services

Next Up: GPS And Timecard Integration
Next up, the company plans to integrate the GPS solution with a timecard system. That integration is being tested in UniTek’s Canadian division, Wirecomm Systems, Inc., later this year.

Still, Shalters says that driver and vehicle safety remains at the forefront of UniTek’s GPS initiative. “Enforcing our safety standards is our first priority, and the Driver Safety system is a key part of that,” he says. “We’ve had significant reductions in accident events since we deployed the solution, and we’ve got a great tool to measure our performance.

How Fleet Management Transforms Driver Safety

Fleet management solutions are often focused on visibility and efficiency, and they have a big impact on those areas. When UniTek Global Services deployed its GPS-based fleet management tool, though, it was focused on a different aspect of what fleet management can do — improve driver and vehicle safety. The company deployed the Fleet Management and Driver Safety solutions from Trimble Field Service Management to help reduce accidents, speeding, and harsh braking in its fleet.

Trimble’s Driver Safety solution is at the center of UniTek’s safety initiative. The solution uses GPS technology to deliver detailed reports on how drivers operate their vehicles. This allows the company to spot unsafe driving habits early and conduct targeted driver training and counseling to help minimize accidents.

The solution includes a truck-based mobile unit with a computer processor, GPS receiver, and wireless modem; Web-access data analysis and reporting tools; and a secure database. The system measures and calculates scores for a variety of driving behaviors and compares them to average measurements for the entire fleet. Managers can use these scorecards to address any problems before they result in an accident.

The in-vehicle display has been particularly valuable for UniTek. It sends audible and visual alerts to drivers when they operate the vehicles outside of company guidelines, using red, yellow, and green LEDs to indicate safety levels. Drivers are able to self-correct their behavior in real time.

“We can address an alert the same day based on the severity. For example, if they are going 25 miles per hour over the speed limit, that gets addressed immediately through a phone call to the driver,” says Darrell Shalters, director of fleet/facilities at UniTek Global Services.

The system measures accelerations exerted on a truck during turns, starts, and stops and can generate maps of harsh maneuver locations. It can also produce reports on fuel consumption, efficiency, and CO2 output. For more information on Driver Safety and Fleet Management, visit

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