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Beware! Your boss is tracking you
Priyanka Joshi | April 07, 2006
When Shamsher, a truck driver, was pulled up by his boss for rash driving and idling at dhabas, he was intrigued how his boss could have ever known this. Little did Shamsher know that the recently-installed blackbox in his truck was doing the trick.
His three-day journey from Delhi to Mumbai was mapped carefully. The blackbox dutifully recorded the number of times he exceeded the speed prescribed on highways, the number of halts (exceeding five hours) taken and also the route charted by the truck.
While drivers like Shamsher may be wary of the blackbox, their employers are warming up to the potential of Global Positioning System-based vehicle tracking solutions.
"Nowadays almost everyone has heard of this new technology, if not already used it," says Amitabh Satyam, country head, MobiApps. The company, credited with bringing the earliest vehicle tracking solutions to India, has fitted 5,000 vehicles with their devices and the count is on.
For tracking and logging details of vehicles over large geographies such as cities, states or even across countries, GPS/GIS (Geographical Information System) is the most effective answer, agrees V S Puri, MD and CEO of Transworld. This Pune-based company claims specialisation in "vehicle data acquisition systems, vehicle management and security".
So how does a tracking device work? "A small device containing a GPS receiver needs to be fitted in the vehicle. The device can also have an interface for mobile communication. The location and time data received by it is transmitted periodically to the server/system over the mobile network. The server can make use of this information for plotting it on maps, verifying with the predefined conditions, generating alerts or for any required business process," says Dilip Dhanuka, VP-products & technology, Patni.
Easier said than done. Ask Amit Prasad, founder and CEO, Satnav, who designed a vehicle tracking solution, SatTracX, in 2003-04. The product was implemented on a pilot basis in buses deployed with Satyam Computers in Hyderabad and Mahindra Logistics Solutions Group in Pune.
The cost was prohibitive, rues Prasad. Other stumbling blocks included the lack of good quality maps and the concept of roaming charges on GSM networks making inter-state tracking prohibitively expensive.
"Today, we are ready with a solution where the customer pays nothing upfront for the hardware unit provided, but signs a three-year contract with us," he says.
Cost is indeed a sore point. Most devices available today start from Rs 5,000 and go up to Rs 12,000. "Simple maths," says Dhanuka, "indicates that per vehicle deployment is still a costly affair." But hope lingers.
"Curiosity levels have increased steadily and within the next few years location based services could probably be one of the fastest growing market segment within India," says P Sekhar, CMD, Micro Technologies.
The company plans to make its vehicle management products available in IT hubs like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad and Chennai. For now, MobiApps and peer companies have to settle with the vastly unorganised transport and logistics sector as their potential customers.
Satyam says, "A large component of the transport sector is managed by truckers who own five or less trucks. Feasibility and awareness about the system is a major problem for such owners." The market, for such tracking devices, is estimated to be $20 billion worldwide. "The bulk users are the Western and European nations," admits Satyam.
Even as schools, hotels and commercial passenger vehicles are taking up to location-based solutions, currently, companies with a fleet ranging from 2000 to 5000 vehicles use GPS devices.
"The BPO/IT offices are a lucrative segment and we are actively looking into it," adds Puri, who claims to have fitted 1000 vehicles with Transworld vehicle management systems including British petroleum, HPCL, BPCL and even Maharashtra Police.
Call centres have already seen the potential. "Most of our cabs are fitted with Radio Tracking devices that constantly check on the whereabouts of the cabs while simultaneously ascertaining whether the employees have been picked up or dropped safely," says Ranjit Narasimhan, CEO & president, HCL BPO. The company is actively looking at GPS, GIS, SMS-based devices.
Sunil Kumar, senior business consultant, Strategic Solutions, SSA Global (India) says, "Using a wireless device interface can help in route tracking and real time visualisation. Similarly it helps in generating employee pick & drop schedules."
Companies like American Express, Wipro Spectramind, Convergys, Hughes BPO Services, Continuum Solutions, Sutherland Global Services, Vertex and Dell have already adopted the RoutePlanning software solution. The verdict on the tracking devices, though, is that it's too early to predict their future.
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