Thirty years ago, specifying onboard vehicle technology was easy. There were four suppliers, dispatch and routing systems were the same, and only a handful of commercial applications existed. You picked the one that best fit your needs and made it work.

With the explosion in technology and suppliers since then, the job’s much harder. Today, choosing the right product requires significant time and energy. If your agency can’t afford to expend the resources necessary to learn about how to pilot a system, stop reading right now.

If it can, however, you can take the guesswork out of procurement with the following process. You may have to tweak it a bit for your particular situation, but you’ll avoid wasting taxpayer money.

Step 1: What do you need today?

Your job is to make the most logical choice given your agency’s current needs, future plans, and budget. Create a written plan with specific steps to map your path to successful purchase and implementation.

If you’re starting from scratch, consider things like:

  • What worries you? Are you getting complaints from internal customers, the public, elected officials?
  • Are vehicles and operators dispatched and routed, ideally, every day?
  • Are there areas of the operation where you no longer have insight?
  • If your fleet includes commercial motor vehicles (CMV), which Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Compliance, Safety, and Accountability (CSA) program scores are particularly high?
  • Are some internal customers more expensive to service than others, but you don’t know why?
  • What are operators doing wrong? What are they doing right that they’re not being rewarded for?
  • If you already have vehicle-tracking technology, ask the same questions, plus:
  • Which expectations did it meet?
  • Which ones didn’t it meet, and why?
  • Which areas of operations did it improve?
  • What areas didn’t it improve, and why?

Then determine the needs to which you can attach a return on investment. For example, if you’re a large DOT with multiple maintenance yards, you may suspect that one or two yards have too many vehicles and/or particular equipment. Tracking usage across the agency will help you identify and sell excess equipment.

Next page: Step 2: What do you need five years from now?