Having to prove that the snow on a specific road was cleared used to be a complex process. The same was for knowing where the drivers are, what they are doing, how much salt they are using, etc. The list is huge. But all of this nightmare, those tower of papers, those endless phonecalls are now in the past. Today, the trend is for online tools, live reporting, and online visualization.
But where to start. There is a lot of tools out there. From complex software to very basic fleet management. What should you pick? Where to start? And is it only for big organizations and businesses? Those are only some of the questions you might ask yourself. In this post, I am going to answer those questions and set you on the correct tracks to digitize your winter services.
For some part of your winter services, having everything on a computer is almost mandatory. For example, if you own a meteorological station, you need to display the results on an interface. For your vehicle, on the other hand, it's less obvious.
What are the benefits of having software to acquire, analyze, and export data from your vehicle? Thanks to a good software infrastructure, you can automatically get all the data you need from your vehicles. More than just data acquisition, you can also:
- Add feedbacks and pictures taken by your drivers.
- Analyze the live situation of your operators.
- Generate bills or reports directly tailored to your needs.
With that, documenting the clearing of a road has never been easier. With two clicks you export the report you need.
But, before bringing software for every task of your winter services, take a minute to think, plan and read this blog post.
Quickly, you are facing an important decision. How much should you do with software? The more you want to do, the most likely it is that no single software will do everything you need and that a custom-built integration is necessary. But you don't have to start with a colossal and pricey custom-built digital infrastructure, but start small and expand.
For me, the most important thing to look for with software for your winter services can be summarized in one motto "Easy to learn, comprehensive to use". Why? Because, at first, you will need something you can dive in quickly, that does not require too much time or skills to start with and get the data you need. But the more you use it, the more you will want out of it. And a lot of data integrations or automation between software might prove useful.
At first, your goal is probably limited like "Report what and when roads are cleared ". It's only through the usage of your software that other benefits appear. For example, knowing the live position of your drivers or getting feedback from them.
So, make sure to select a system that lets you grow. The ideal for this is picking software that gives you every feature, whatever you pay. It is going to help you figure out how to evolve your digital winter services. Another way of implementing this concept is by selecting winter services software with a default set of features and options for more specialized features. For example, you should pick software that offers data acquisition of vehicles at its core and optional meteorological station integration.
The next important thing to make sure about is if the software you are selecting offers an API. An API is an entry and exit point for this software that lets you integrate it with another software. It enables you to interface this software with any other software that features an API.
Ok. That's for the basics. Now, let's dive into the reality of it.
When entering the world of digital services, there is a lot of specific vocabulary. And it's terrifying. In the previous section, we covered what an API is. But that's only the bridge between different software and tools. So, let's have a look at the first steps for a successful selection and implementation of software for your winter services.
As I emphasized a lot during the previous section, the best is to start small. Fix yourself a clear and limited goal like "Always know where my winter services operators are" or "Generate monthly reports of all my winter services operations". That tip is especially true if you start with digital services. You don't want to go overboard with it. With digital services, you can do (almost) everything you want. The only question is, how much will it cost. And if you don't want to explode your budget, start small and grow.
Most definitely, what you will be looking for in the beginning is winter services management software. Several types of software to digitize your winter services exists. Usually, those systems, because they are specific, require some time to implement and might cost you a lot in set-up fee.
That's why you should target software that are free to start with, ideally with every feature. Usually, this type of software lets you do everything by yourself. I know, it might sound like trouble. However, it's a great benefit to you. Why? Because you are the best person to know what you need, how you need your software set-up, or what exactly you want to do with the software. Without this, you might end up either with generic software not suitable for your needs or custom software costing you a lot.
Why choose winter service management software? Because it's focused on your needs for winter services, as a more generic software doing only fleet management might not suit your specific needs in terms of snow clearing or spraying data acquisition. The experience told us that most customers selecting a generic fleet management software end up switching to software focused for winter services.
But, you might want more, like handling your supplies, logistics, or purchasing. That's when you need a type of software infrastructure called an ERP - Enterprise resource planning. With an ERP you can digitize most if not all of your business processes. There is a lot of ERP in the market. Make sure to choose one that can be integrated with your winter service management software, so that you can keep the best of both worlds. Mention this to your ERP provider before starting the project.
Most winter services managers focus first on systems able to report data about their vehicles and their usage. It's fine. In fact, in the beginning, you probably don't need more than a few data precisely geo-localized such as is the snowplow up or down, the quantity of salt that was sprayed, and the width that you sprayed.
And that's a good start for any winter services. However, you will probably find that with time, your needs will increase. That you will find new things you want to report from the field to the office. Here is a non-exhaustive list of what you might want to integrate in the future :
- On-site reports: Writing after-action reports is usually a good practice. But having to write them on paper and submit them back on paper is a nightmare. That's why it often is one of the first things done with software.
- Sharing problems: Whether it is to signal a broken road sign or an accident, sharing a picture or video via email can be troublesome. And being aware of where it happened even more. But that's something you can easily fix with software able to integrate your note to an intervention with a vehicle.
- Non-vehicle intervention: With some software, you are able to get data also outside of your vehicle. If you are doing hand salting or other activities that require stepping out of the vehicle, that's data you also might want to integrate into your software.
And more than just interventions, a lot of winter services software enables you to integrate data from your meteorological stations or fixed spraying system. You may not use all of this, but by focusing a bit on software built with winter services in mind, you allow for a good expansion in the future.
But wait! If you go with software built for winter services, does it means that it is useless for the rest of the year? Not necessarily. If you choose software with simple vehicle data acquisition, it might be the case. But if you follow our advice from the previous section and go beyond simple data acquisition, then your software although built with winter services in mind, also comes in very handy in the summer.
Many of the features described above are not specific to winter services. While a winter service dedicated software will help you through the winter season. There is no reason you should not benefit from it during the rest of the year. On-site reports, sharing problems, or non-vehicle interventions are things you will do whatever the season. So, to be sure that your winter services management software is suitable for summer operations, what should you pay attention to?
Make sure that you can customize the software to your needs and liking. For example, rather than picking software that forces you to do a predefined set of activities, choose software that lets you configure it to your needs. The same goes for what equipment you configure. You should select software that enables you to configure what equipment is wired, whatever that equipment is.
When you have software that you can tailor to your needs, you have all the cards for a great infrastructure suited for both winter and summer services. For example, that's our approach at bMoves. Fully integrated with Boschung's bVision, we built a system that is well suited for winter services while letting you the level of customization you need to make it your own throughout the year. You could go through our features, or just give it a try. It's free, forever!