Developing Fleet and Asset Tracking Solutions with Web Maps

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1 Developing Fleet and Asset Tracking Solutions with Web Maps

2 Introduction Many organizations have mobile field staff that perform business processes away from the office which include sales, service, maintenance, and delivery scenarios. These workers operate vehicles and are responsible for expensive equipment and products not to mention important clients and government constituents. Tracking these assets and vehicles to make sure they are being used correctly is not an easy task; it is also difficult for management to continuously monitor field operations to ensure that they are operating at maximum efficiency. Enterprise fleet and asset tracking software helps, however it is traditionally very complicated and costly due to proprietary hardware, software, and custom implementations. Traditional fleet systems were often deployed on premise and require specialized hardware, software, and maintenance. Some of these fleet management applications use traditional Geographic Information Systems (GIS) products to display vehicle and asset locations, which add to the complexity and cost. A number of organizations have invested heavily in fleet management solutions, while others have avoided fleet management completely due to the cost of entry barrier and the total cost of ownership. Traditional GIS systems are good for spatial data creation, maintenance, and analysis. While it is possible to do fleet and asset tracking within a GIS system, GIS is typically not designed to handle the larger real-time data streams involved with fleet management. Also, (and all too often), fleet and asset tracking systems use proprietary GPS tracking equipment that are locked-in to a specific software solution. Organizations have invested heavily in GPS equipment only to find out later that it was specific to one vendor s software and could not be re-purposed. GPS tracking equipment should not be limited to one software vendor or another. Due to the aforementioned costs and complexity, new approaches are gaining in popularity such as complete outsourcing of the fleet management software using Software as a Service (SaaS) or Cloud computing models. This approach is easy to start, easy to deploy, and includes a pay as you go model. It is great for simple fleet scenarios. However, since organizations do not control the data, more sophisticated scenarios requiring integration with other systems such as dispatch, HR, and billing are difficult if not impossible. In effect hosted fleet solutions become another enterprise point solution. Typical fleet and asset tracking features often include: Current and historical positions Showing current vehicle and asset position and historical locations bread crumbs Dispatch Allowing visual (and automated) inspection of vehicle and asset positions and selections of closest asset. Geo-fencing When an asset has entered or exited certain geographical areas Reporting Any type of historical reports including miles driven, after hours usage, speeding etc Alerts Can notify software users of field issues such as a vehicle leaving an assigned area. Routing Can be integrated with fleet and asset tracking software to optimize stop order or assignments. 3

3 Fleet and asset tracking solutions add tremendous value to organizations, by reducing fuel and maintenance costs, discouraging misuse, and optimizing field operations. This value can be enhanced by leveraging web mapping services and integrating with existing business processes. Organizations should consider a software + services approach to fleet tracking, where web mapping like Bing Maps are leveraged, and core tracking data is hosted on premise for easier integration and maintenance. Figure 1 Shows asset tracking with integrated video capture, so video can be played back referenced to asset location. Solution Overview and Architecture Fleet and asset tracking applications can be implemented in various ways as discussed previously, either on premise, SaaS/Cloud service, or a hybrid of both known as software + services. Fleet and asset tracking applications require a number of architectural components implemented together, these include hardware, software and connectivity capabilities. User Interface Common users of fleet and asset tracking applications are dispatchers and managers. The user interface provides the application navigation and data visualization features to see fleet and asset tracking information. This includes a list of assets, status, current location etc. Reports are also part of the user interface and can be tabular reports or reporting capabilities that leverage the map. These components are often implemented as a rich client, but more commonly now as web user interfaces that can be easily accessed whether running on premise or as a cloud application. Database A database is required to store fleet and asset data. This includes fleet settings but more important is the current and historical fleet location data (latitude and longitude) coming from GPS equipment. Any database could be used but if implemented with a spatial database such as SQL Server 2008, there are a lot of built in spatial features that can benefit an application, such as optimized spatial queries to find nearby assets, provide geo-fences etc. 4

4 Business Logic Fleet and asset tracking software also requires features to process GPS messages, geofences, reports, alerts etc. This is often provided in the server and/or database and can be implemented with any application server technology. GPS Tracking Equipment Devices that send GPS positions of fleet assets, as well as other information such as speed and direction, or in some cases vehicle specific data such as ignition status. This could be a cell phone equipped with internal GPS, but due to battery performance and reduced consistency of tracking, many organizations prefer dedicated GPS tracking equipment. Dedicated GPS tracking equipment typically involves a box containing key components (firmware, wireless card etc), a GPS receiver, a wireless antenna, and wiring for power and other vehicle sensors. As mentioned previously, proprietary, software specific, devices should be avoided to prevent vendor lock-in. Some good examples of open fleet tracking hardware include the Sierra Wireless PinPoint XT device or the Enfora Spider MT. Wireless Service Is required to transmit GPS data from the mobile asset to the server. This is typically provided by a wireless carrier (although it could be satellite if vehicles are out of traditional wireless coverage areas). The GPS equipment is configured to send GPS messages to a server/port on a preset frequency or when some event occurs e.g. the ignition is turned on. GPS Messages & Data GPS tracking equipment locates the asset position by triangulating with known satellite positions. Once position is determined, the device will transmit information to a specified server. This information is commonly transmitted as NMEA 0183 strings, a standards based format specified by the National Marine Electronics Association, over UDP/TCP to a known server port. The information includes earth position (latitude, longitude), elevation (above sea level), direction, speed, and on some devices virtual odometer readings. It can also contain extended information from sensors connected to the device such as ignition on/off, door open/close, temperature. Mapping Features To visualize fleet and asset information a mapping product is typically used in fleet and asset tracking solutions. Use of a web mapping platform like Bing Maps is ideal, which eliminates the complexity of using traditional GIS for fleet tracking applications. Web mapping displays are ideal for supporting the latitude, longitude location records generated by GPS. The position and history of vehicles can be easily shown against worldwide map and imagery resources without complex mapping platforms. Additionally, web mapping platforms provide geo-coding (e.g. customer locations) and reverse geo-coding (e.g. get an address from the vehicle lat/long) services. Routing is also available which provides drive distance, time, directions, and often route vectors for vehicle stops. Figure 2 Showing a common fleet/asset tracking solution architecture 5

5 As mentioned earlier, there are trade-offs to implementing fleet and asset tracking as either on premise software and/or external SaaS/Cloud services: as follows On-premise Software Advantages Better data control Reduced ongoing costs in larger fleets Easier integration with other systems (e.g. dispatch, billing, GIS etc) Easier customization (e.g. new reports) SaaS/Cloud Service Advantages Easier setup Reduced support and maintenance Each approach has advantages, but a hybrid solution of on premise software + services gives you the best of both worlds. Web mapping platforms, like Bing Maps, provide a good balance for enabling fleet and asset tracking solutions. They provide easy to use base maps, imagery, geo-coding, and routing as a set of developer services, which can easily be integrated with other business systems. Bing Maps is a commercial platform from Microsoft that provides a set of geospatial services. Organizations can leverage some or all of these services when building fleet and asset tracking solutions. The Bing Maps service platform provides data resources and comprehensive APIs for developing high performance web mapping interfaces. Bing Maps includes modern web technologies that bring GIS services to the non-gis user with easy to use web interfaces, intuitive navigation, and high performance search results. Figure 3- and Features Showing Bing Maps platform, datasets, APIs and applications. 6

6 Bing Maps allows organizations to focus on value added layers and features of fleet and asset tracking, without devoting internal resources to common mapping layers and services. But it also integrates easily with existing GIS systems, while supporting development of easy to use web interfaces accessible to non-gis fleet tracking users. In addition, the Bing Maps Enterprise Content Network enhances performance by providing many distributed service nodes, that reduce internet latency, while providing improved scalability and redundancy. This provides a reliable web mapping platform for fleet & asset tracking solutions. Bing Maps APIs Bing Maps offers various APIs for integrating maps and location into fleet tracking applications. These include web mapping controls and web services. AJAX/JavaScript APIs These APIs are primarily for web browser development. There is direct support for KML, GeoRSS, native vectors, and raster tile layers. Advantages of these APIs include working directly in a user s browser without specialized plug-ins beyond the ubiquitous JavaScript. Many UI features (such as panning/ zooming etc) are part of the APIs. UI development with these API building blocks is relatively easy, and entry skill level is not high. JavaScript will also work with any web server technologies making the implementation very flexible. Disadvantages are seen with the richness of possible applications, and performance limitations due to JavaScript implementations. JavaScript also lacks advanced UI features such as animation, rich graphic design, transparency etc. For fleet and asset tracking, the JavaScript APIs provide vector overlay which is ideal for showing real-time and historical positions. SOAP/XML APIs SOAP/XML web service APIs support server side calls. Requests can be made with rich result objects in XML. Advantages include ease of use with.net and other development technologies that support SOAP/XML, running as multithreaded background services, (e.g. bulk geo-coding), and support of any type of UI, including older browser versions, mobile, and smart clients. Disadvantages are that maps returned are static, lacking any navigation controls, so these features need to be developed as part of the application. For fleet and asset tracking, using the SAOP/XML API is ideal for reverse geocoding. Silverlight APIs These APIs use Microsoft Silverlight technology, which are primarily.net based APIs with code that runs inside the user s browser. Advantages include ease of development with.net, powerful UI features such as animation, rich graphic design, and transparency. In addition managed client side code means high performance display of large vector data sets and in some cases GPU accelerated graphics (10x performance increases are not uncommon). Applications can use combinations of Bing Maps APIs, i.e. Silverlight for visualizing data and SOAP/XML for geo-coding. Bing Maps APIs provide high performance, feature rich enhancements for use with fleet and asset tracking applications. Important Features Bing Maps AJAX Control Bing Maps Web Service Bing Maps Silverlight Control Native web browser functionality? Yes No Yes Integration with GIS Vector and Raster No Vector and Raster Routing with vectors Yes Yes Via Bing Maps Web Services Reverse geo-coding Yes, ad hoc Yes, large volume Via Bing Maps Web Services Traffic incidents/flow Yes No Yes 7

7 Figure 5 Shows Bing Maps with a fleet tracking application showing current vehicle positions, each vehicle can be selected for more information. Figure 6 Shows one vehicle with real time traffic flow information from Bing Maps. Figure 7 Shows one vehicle with Bird s Eye imagery 8

8 Conclusion Fleet and asset tracking solutions provide significant value to organizations with mobile resources. By implementing a fleet solution that combines on premise software with Cloud mapping services, organizations can maximize benefits and minimize costs. The Bing Maps platform provides easy to use web mapping features with scalable high performance maps, imagery, geocoding, and routing services. For fleet and asset tracking solutions this translates to reliable and responsive display views of mobile assets, customer locations, and the routes between them. More Information Bing Maps Overview - Bing Maps APIs - Enfora Spider MT - Sierra Wireless Airlink XT - 11

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