EAST VENTURA | July 18-24, 2014
By Stephen Nellis
It’s 2 p.m. Do you know where your delivery trucks are?
They could be making runs to customers, or they could be parked at the beach while drivers pad out their time cards.
Luckily for firms with vehicle fleets, GPS tracking through cellular data networks can now track their trucks precisely, helping with fuel, maintenance and labor costs. Two Santa Barbara software veterans have started ClearPathGPS to make that technology affordable and easy to use for fleets as small as five vehicles.
Steve Wells and Chris Fowler have known each other since their days at Software.com and have worked at some of the biggest and fastest-growing tech firms in the area, including Citrix Online, Sonos and RightScale. Wells had also worked in GPS fleet tracking for nearly a decade.
With ClearPathGPS, the pair have set out the goal of blending the latest hard ware with Web-hosted software run in the cloud and a local, in-person touch.
“We really saw an opportunity to provide local GPS tracking in the Tri-Counties. There’s a lot of national players, but no one you can meet with face-to-face,” Wells told the Business Times. “Ten years ago, it was very expensive. The costs have dropped dramatically with hardware getting cheaper and cloud computing.”
In a happy tri-county coincidence, ClearPath GPS uses hardware built by CalAmp Corp. in Oxnard. But the rest of the system was built from the ground-up. Fowler created clever ways to compress the massive amounts of data that come from tracking truck positions every 30 seconds. The entire system can be updated wirelessly and the code is hosted in the cloud, meaning that once hardware is installed, the owners of a vehicle fleet never have to do more than log on or open a mobile app.
That leads to low costs: $250 to install hardware in each vehicle, and then $20 per month thereafter. And users can quit any time or put vehicles on “hold” if they’re not in use. “If you can save five gallons of gas in a month, this thing pays for itself right away,” Wells said.
And the best way to save gas is to prevent speeding. Simply knowing that somebody is watching often does the trick.
“Everyone wants their fleets to slow down. Speeding wastes fuel and creates huge risks,” Wells said. “We call it the halo effect. You put these in the vehicle and it changes the behavior of the driver. We joke that 80 percent of the benefit is just telling the drivers there’s a tracking device.”
Erick Crocker is the owner of Santa Barbara Ice & Propane. He uses ClearPathGPS and keeps a map of where his trucks are displayed on a huge screen at company headquarters.
“I walk by it every day and like to see where everybody is,” Crocker said. “We’re a young company, and things like this help a lot.”
The system generated some immediate revelations, Crocker said, such as a two-and-a-half hour delivery route that suddenly only took an hour once it was tracked. And of course, there was speeding. “We ran a report on who was going over 70 mph, and it was 91 pages long,” Crocker said.
Crocker said he’d been interested in GPS before, but was put off by the fact that he couldn’t meet with people face to face and the technology seemed to go out of date so fast. But ClearPathGPS can add features that customers request. He remembered talking to his brother about how useful it would be to get a text message when one of his drivers was speeding. “Two days later, I got a text,” Crocker said. “It was me that was speeding.”
Fowler had heard the request and built the feature. “Our goal is happy customers,” Fowler said.
Aside from speed and location, the tracking devices can show when a vehicle is turned on or off. Crocker said that he’d taken a truck in for maintenance and something didn’t feel right after picking it up. It turned out that the truck hadn’t been turned on for three days, proof that the garage hadn’t done the work.
The gear helps Crocker know if trucks are idling for long periods, which is is prohibited by California law and clogs expensive soot filters. And tracking driving patterns can help reduce the number of engine rebuilds or brake jobs needed. “You would never believe how useful it can be to know how your trucks are being driven in terms of mechanical problems,” Crocker said.
Wells and Fowler said there’s plenty of business to keep them busy in the Tri-Counties and that the face-to-face appeal of ClearPathGPS means they won’t personally try to expand it to other areas. But the software system itself can be scaled up to any size needed with the help of cloud computing for ClearPathGPS to operate in other markets.
“It’s an easily franchiseable model,” Wells said. “We’ve built an infrastructure that’s totally prime for that.”