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Two-way radios outsmarting phones for intelligent fleet communications

There has never been a more important time for companies – particularly smaller businesses – to take control of their fleet communications, and two-way radios are proving an easy way to do this.

With a growing percentage of the global workforce becoming more mobile, the adoption of newer, innovative technologies is becoming increasingly important in helping organisations stay connected to their employees in the field, while ensuring the benefits of greater operational efficiency.

While we constantly hear about the growing popularity of consumer mobile devices like tablets and smartphones in business settings, what we haven’t heard as much about is the increasing uptake of digital two-way radios in fleet management. Two-way radios might seem dated at first thought, however, the potential benefits these devices offer businesses in terms of productivity improvements, increased efficiency and cost effectiveness make this a hidden growth story.

There are a number of reasons for this popularity. The most important are the unique features of two way-radios. For example, they’re are still one of the only devices through which an organisation can facilitate instant one-to-many group communications. There’s still no faster or more cost-effective way to assign and schedule multiple mobile vehicles and blue-collar personnel than with two-way radios.

Another key differentiator is longevity. Both two-way radio devices and networks have been designed for much longer lifecycles than the average faster moving consumer-oriented mobile devices of today. Overall, these lifecycles combined with usage patterns translates into lower overall total ownership costs for organisations as devices last longer, and organisations do not have to contend with subscriptions or pay per use fees. Users also tend to use these devices for critical communications only, rather than social conversation, thus enhancing productivity.

The advent of digital radios in particular promises to keep this technology relevant for years to come. Modern digital units now enable a whole range of applications such as GPS location-based services, text messaging and other mobile applications – and even roaming onto mobile networks, creating new opportunities for increased efficiency and productivity benefits.

Mr Washer

As always, the proof of any technology is in its practical use. Sydney-based plumbing and electrical services company Mr Washer is a case in point. The company uses digital two-way radio to manage the location of its fleet with the built-in GPS functionality of its smartphone handsets.

Says Tim Cook, Mr Washer owner-manager: “We were fairly adamant about abandoning two-way radios and just persevering with mobile phones, even though they had their downsides with reception problems, but when you analyse the demands of a 21st Century service business, mobile phones just don’t cut it.”

Mr Washer deployed a state-of-the-art Zeon Digital two-way radio system to better manage its fleet deployments when an increasing volume of work required the supply of tradesmen to greater metropolitan Sydney. “What this system offers is not only clear voice communications but GPS tracking along with data transfer,” says Cook. “It’s really refined our business processes.”

When Cook started the enterprise – a maintenance and repair business supplying plumbers and electricians for both domestic and commercial purposes in metropolitan Sydney – business was a vastly different kettle of fish to that which exists today. “It was a one-person business. Today, 20 years later, it’s one of Sydney’s top companies in its specific area of expertise. We employ around 30 permanent employees along with dozens of various sub-contractors.”

Businesses such as Mr Washer expect that they will have up-to-date communications to keep clients informed, as well as facilitating the movement of the tradespeople. In this particular industry you have to be ahead of the game with technology, otherwise you can easily be an also-ran, and technology plays a prominent role.

“It helps if we need to divert someone from one job to another, and additionally it assists with the accuracy of charging,” Cook adds. “It’s of great benefit for our accounting system as well as helping the customer in relation to ‘time on the job’. It’s really sharpened our processes, especially the time management of tradesmen in the field, and it’s definitely saved a lot of time in efficiency. Efficient operations translates to tradesmen spending increased time in the field actually doing the job, rather than having to waste time due to inferior communications.”

Fleet benefits

Most workers and businesses understand the benefits of mobile technology. Apart from the general efficiency, longevity and operating cost benefits mentioned-above, digital two-way radio communications offers the following benefits:

Increased productivity: through improved scheduling, reducing the amount of downtime, optimising the use of your fleet, and in turn, enabling more jobs to be completed.

Administrative accuracy: automatic reporting of all start/stop times, rest breaks, idle times, time on site, travel time and trip distances.

Improved job allocation: instantly view the location and availability of your staff and drivers, then send out specific and accurate job details with site address attached.

Improved customer service: improve response times by having real time visibility of your fleets’ exact location, and provide accurate information of your staffs’ time on site and historical records to resolve invoicing disputes.

Investing in digital radio also makes sense from a business perspective, because the networks tend to be built to last, and are increasingly extending across major metropolitan and regional areas. This means that as businesses expand into new areas, they don’t need to switch communication platforms.

In the ongoing drive to increase efficiency and productivity amidst a backdrop of reported global uncertainty, digital two-way radio can play an important role in creating new applications to help businesses remain more competitive. Businesses, both large and small, are looking for new ways to differentiate themselves and grow in an increasingly competitive market, and technology can provide a compelling opportunity to not only lower operating costs, but also demonstrate added value to customers.

Most organisations understand the benefits of mobile technology. The challenge will be finding the most reliable devices and network solutions that can best support them and make a real difference in the key moments that matter.

­­–Neale Joseph is the general manager of radio solutions for Motorola Solutions in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific.

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