Architectural Windows and Doors was a small business with big business problems. The custom manufacturer delivered windows and doors to customers throughout Queensland and needed a way to keep track of its delivery vehicles.
Five years ago operations manager James Anderson installed a NavMan GPS unit into the company van and could track the location of the van from his computer at work.
NavMan included free mapping software for Windows PCs that showed precisely where the van was located, whether the engine was running and could replay the van’s route for the whole workday.
NavMan charged a monthly lease of $100 for each unit. The tracking software worked well but the GPS unit was difficult to switch to other vans.
“The problem with a hardwired solution is that it ended up in just one vehicle. If you switched vehicles it was a laborious task. It was never on the right vehicle at the right time,” Anderson said.
Another problem was that the GPS unit tracked the location of the vehicle but not the employees who sometimes had to visit remote locations. Anderson was concerned about the company’s duty of care under employment laws which required management to know where staff were.
Anderson saw a cloud app called Google Maps Coordinate which tracked the location of staff through an app on their smartphone. Google Maps Coordinate used the same interface as the free consumer app Google Maps.
“When I saw it was going to be something on the handset of course it made sense. Google Maps is a brilliant product which everyone with a smartphone has used,” Anderson said.
All Architectural Windows’ staff already had smartphones so there were no extra hardware costs. And at $20 per user per month, Anderson could track the location of all five staff for the same price as the NavMan.
The company was able to do more than track employees, Anderson said. The dispatcher in the office could add customer information such as contact phone numbers, type of job, materials or tools required, as well as the address.
“We’re not sending contact numbers and names in emails and all that. [Staff in the field] can have everything that we have in the office here,” Anderson said.
Google Maps Coordinate also made staff more accountable for their time. Instead of filling in timesheets, Architectural Windows could look up the hours worked and any overtime. “We have the ability to go back and check should there be a question over where someone was or if someone is out and about on wages,” Anderson said.
“People know that they’re accountable for their time so they’re more aware as well.”
Moving from a one-way tracking solution to a two-way, real-time communication platform meant the dispatcher could ask staff to pick up a tool or collect a check.
Anderson hasn’t calculated savings or productivity gains, but since moving to Google Maps Coordinate the company has moved three staff to customer-facing roles.
“We’ve got more people out and about, so it’s a shift of resources,” Anderson said.
The company began doing its own installs rather than subcontracting the work to give customers one point of contact for its services. Google Maps Coordinate has helped manage scheduling staff.
“We’re a lot more organised. We can see in our schedule where we can fit in other tasks. We can route people pretty quickly to where they need to be,” Anderson said.
Anderson said he also found the maps in Google Maps to be more up to date than the GPS. The company was often installing doors and windows in new streets and suburbs that hadn’t been added to the GPS’s maps.
“We were constantly finding stuff that wasn’t up to date. GPS head units never had those streets. New developments, new estates, sometimes whole suburbs would be outdated,” Anderson said.
Architectural Windows used to have five standalone GPS units in their vehicles which the project manager would have to update the maps manually. “They were still good to have sitting in the vehicle but they’ve become inoperable over the past couple of years and we haven’t needed to replace them,” Anderson said.
The company used Google Drive for storing documents and Google Docs for shared spreadsheets, order forms and a production schedule. Google Chat provided an internal messaging system and Architectural Windows switched from hosted Exchange to Google Apps for email.
“That will roughly cut our expenditure by half,” Anderson said. “What I like about Google’s products is that it’s ultimately affordable and there’s often a free trial and a free version.”
Staff were familiar with Google products through using Google Maps and Gmail.
“It’s not a huge amount (to pay for) and there are no other costs involved. It’s made it so much more attainable,” Anderson. “I can confidently say we’ve become more productive using Google’s offerings.”
Image credit: NormanRichards.com